How to Tile a Bathroom Wall
Tiling the Bathroom Walls
Waterproof ceramic tiles are an obvious choice for lining showers or for other areas of a bathroom that will be splashed with water, and there’s an almost inexhaustible range of colours, textures and patterns to choose from.
The majority of tiles are square, the dimensions varying according to use and the manufacturer’s preference. Rectangular and more irregularly shaped tiles are also available, and coving tiles are sometimes used to cover the joint between the wall and a bath or basin, or for finishing the edge of a half-tiled wall.
It takes very little time to hang even a fairly large area of tiles, but the work becomes far more time-consuming when you have to cut and fit border tiles and accommodate bathroom fittings and accessories.
- Home-made gauge stick
- Adhesive spreader
- Tile cutter
- Tile saw
- Grout spreader
- Tile nibblers
- Tile-cutting jig
- Claw hammer
- Spirit level
- Plumb line
Making a gauge stick
First make a gauge stick (a tool for plotting the position of tiles on the wall) from a length of 50 x 12mm (2 x 1/2in). Lay several tiles beside it — butting together those with lugs, or adding spacers if the tiles are square-edged — and mark the position of each tile along the softwood batten.
Using the gauge stick
Holding the gauge stick firmly against the wall, mark the positions of the tiles on the surface.
Preparing the Walls
The walls of your bathroom must be clean, sound and dry. You cannot tile over wallpaper, and you need to coat flaking or powdery paint with a stabilizing primer to make a suitable base for the tiles. It is important that you make the surface as flat as possible, so the tiles will stick firmly. Setting out the prepared surface accurately is vital to hanging the tiles properly.
Setting Out the Wall Tiles
- The way you set out the walls of your bathroom depends on the scale and shape of the area you are tiling. To tile a plain uninterrupted wall, for example, use the gauge stick to plan horizontal rows starting at skirting level. If you are left with a narrow strip at the top, move the rows up half a tile width to create a wider margin.
- Mark the bottom of the lowest row of whole tiles. Temporarily nail a thin guide batten to the wall, aligned with the mark. Make sure it is horizontal by placing a spirit level on top.
- Mark the centre of the wall, then use the gauge stick to set out the rows of tiles on each side of it. If the border tiles measure less than half a width, reposition the rows sideways by half a tile.
- Use a spirit level to position a guide batten against the last vertical line, and nail it to the wall. 4 If you are tiling part of a wall only (up to a dado rail, for example), start by setting out a row of whole tiles at the top. This is particularly important if you plan to use RE tiles.
- If you have to accommodate a window in your scheme, use it as your starting point so that the tiles surrounding it are equal in size — but not too narrow. If possible, begin a row of whole tiles at sill level.
- Position cut tiles at the back of the window reveal.
- Fix a guide batten over a window to position a row of tiles temporarily.
Avoid cutting difficult shapes
Check with the gauge stick how the tiles will fit round pipes and other obstructions. Make slight adjustments to the position of the main field to avoid difficult shaping around these features.
Tiling the Walls
Most ceramic-tileare sold ready-mixed, although a few need to be mixed with water. The tubs or packets will state the coverage.
Use a waterproof tilein a bathroom or shower. Some can also be used for grouting (filling the joints between the tiles). A notched spreader is usually supplied with each tub, or you can use a special serrated trowel.
- Spread enough on the wall to cover about 1 metre (3ft) square. Press the toothed edge of the spreader against the wall surface and drag it through the adhesive so that it forms horizontal ridges.
- Press the first tile into the angle formed by the setting-out battens until it is firmly fixed, then butt up tiles on each side. Build up three or four rows at a time. If the tiles do not have lugs, place proprietary plastic spacers between them to provide space for grouting.
Wipe away adhesive from the surface of the tiles with a damp sponge. Spread more adhesive, and tile along the batten until the first rows of whole tiles are complete. From time to time, check that your tiling is accurate by holding a batten and spirit level across the faces and along the top and side edges.
When you have completed the main area, scrape adhesive from the borders and allow the rest to set before removing the setting-out battens and proceeding with marking out and cutting border tiles.
Tiling around a window
Tile up to the edges of a window, then stick RE tiles to the reveal so that they lap the edges of surrounding tiles. Fill in any space left between the edging tiles and the window with cut tiles.
Grouting the Tiles and Sealing the Gaps
Use a ready-mixed paste called grout to fill the gaps between the tiles. Standard grouts are white, grey or brown, but there is also a limited range of coloured grouts to match or contrast with the tiles. If you need to match a particular colour, mix pigments into a dry powdered grout, and then add water. Waterproof grout is essential for showers and bath surrounds.
Spreading the grout
Leave the tile adhesive to harden for 24 hours, then use a rubber-bladed spreader to press grout into the joints. Spread it in all directions to make sure all the joints are well filled.
Wipe grout from the surface of the tiles with a sponge before it sets. Smooth the joints with a blunt-ended stick— use a knife and abrasive paper to shape one end of a dowel. When the grout has dried, polish the tiles with a dry cloth.
Leave the grout to harden for about a week before using a tiled shower.
Sealing Around Bathroom Fittings
It’s best not to use grout to seal the gap between a tiled wall and shower tray, bath or basin — the fittings can flex sufficiently to crack a rigid seal, and allow water to seep in. Instead, use a silicone-rubber caulking compound to fill the gaps. The compound, which is packed in cartridges with pointed nozzles, remains flexible enough to accommodate any movement. These sealants are available in a choice of colours to match tiles and bathroom fittings, and can cope with gaps up to 3mm (1/8in) wide.
Using a sealant
Trim the end off the plastic nozzle (the amount you cut off dictates the thickness of the bead) and press the tip into the joint at an angle of 45 degrees. Push forward at a steady rate while squeezing the applicator’s trigger or the base of the cartridge itself to apply a bead of sealant. Smooth any ripples with the handle of a wetted teaspoon.