How to install wall tile in a bathroom

Updated February 21, 2017

Any type and any size of tile can be installed on a bathroom wall, but wall tiles are good for wall installations only. Remember the following rule when shopping for bathroom wall tiles: you can put floor tiles on the wall, but you cannot put wall tiles on the floor. The most popular wall tiles are the 4 x 4 inch square tiles that are usually solid colours with a glossy finish. These tiles are generally the easiest to install on a bathroom wall; after all, that is their purpose.

Measure the dimensions of the walls you would like to tile and purchase enough tile to cover the square footage, plus an extra 10-15% for cuts and waste. Four-by-four-inch wall tiles usually come in 12.5 square foot cartons (100 tiles).

Clean the wall to make it free from any dust, dirt, and grime. Wall tiles can be installed directly to painted or unpainted drywall. If the drywall is painted with a semigloss or a hogh gloss paint, the paint must be treated with a TSP solution, or a liquid sanding solution, to degloss the paint surface so the tile will stick to the wall.

Measure the walls that will be receiving tile and mark the middle point of the wall. Draw a thick line down the middle of each wall. This will be the starting point for the tile. Place a dropcloth on the floor underneath the wall being tiled.

Use a margin trowel to load acrylic mastic onto a v-notch trowel. Starting at the floor level, spread the mastic onto a 2-foot x 2-foot area on the wall using upstrokes. Place the edge of the first tile on the middle line with spacers between the tile and the floor. Repeat this to cover the mastic along the bottom of the wall, and then work your way up the wall to cover the mastic with tile. Do not slide the tiles together. Sliding tiles together will cause mastic to gather in the grout lines and indifficult to remove. Touch the edges of the tile together before pressing the tile into the mastic. Repeat this process until most of the wall is covered.

When the whole wall is covered, except for the last row of tiles that will meet the corners of the other walls, stop and measure the sizes that the remaining tiles must be cut to to finish the wall to the corners. Cut these tiles at the same time if they are all the same size. If the wall is not square and each tile must be cut to different sizes, cut and install each tile individually, testing the fit of each tile before spreading mastic on the back of the tile (called back-buttering) and adhering it to the wall. Repeat this process for the other walls that will be tiled. Then, allow the mastic to dry according to drying specifications on the container.

Mix a batch of non-sanded grout either by hand or with a drill and mixing attachment. Use a margin trowel to load grout onto a grout float. Spread the grout over the tiles using upstrokes, focusing on forcing the grout into the grout lines. Repeat this porcess over the remaining wall tiles for 15-20 minutes. Next, either stop spreading the grout over the tiles and begin cleaning the grout from the faces of the tile already installed, or have a helper begin at that time. Grout is easiest to clean off of the faces of the tile with warm water and a damp grout sponge. While cleaning, form the grout lines to their finished quality. Allow the grout to cure for 72 hours. Then, apply two or three coats of a high-quality penetrating grout and tile sealer.

Things You'll Need

  • Wall tiles
  • Wet tile saw
  • Acrylic mastic
  • V-notch trowel
  • Nonsanded grout
  • Grout float
  • 2 Margin trowels
  • Penetrating grout and tile sealer
  • Tile spacers
  • White silicone caulk
  • Dropcloth
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About the Author

Josh surprisingly found himself as an English Literature major one day after planning on becoming a doctor for most of his life. He graduated with a BS from Utah Valley University in April 2003.