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How to lay tile for a shower

You've gathered your tools and setting materials and prepared your shower substrate. It might be tempting to roll up your sleeves and start laying tile. However, carefully laying out your design prior to applying will leave your home with a professional-looking shower

Quick Tip

For shower and tub surround applications, tile up to the ceiling if possible. If not, install tile one or two rows higher than showerhead.

Laying tile for shower floors

1. Divide the shower floor into quadrants

A man prepares for tiling a shower floor by dividing the shower floor into quadrants.

 To begin, find the area center point of your shower floor – typically the drain. Using a chalk line tool, snap two perpendicular lines through the center, dividing your shower floor into quarters. Check the intersection’s angles using a framing square.


2. Do a dry run

A person measures out tile while conducting a dry run of the shower tile installation layout.

Before beginning to mortar, dry lay out at least one vertical row and one horizontal row in a quarter – making sure to leave room for grout lines and movement joints.

Movement joints are 1/8 in. to ¼ in. spaces where the tile meets adjacent walls, which you will caulk later. They allow the tile to expand and contract – without cracking – as temperature and moisture levels change.

Grout lines are also important – so important that many small tiles are self-spacing, meaning that they have bumps on their sides that create consistent grout lines between tiles.


3. Use tile spacers

Several grey tiles spaced perfectly with tile spacers.If your tiles are not self-spacing, you’ll need to use spacers to create grout lines. You can buy tile spacers at Lowe's.






4. Adjust tile spacing

A diagram to show how to adjust tile spacing when doing a shower tile installation.

If your layout leaves you with end tiles less than half a tile wide, simply adjust its spacing or vertical centerline. If the problem is unavoidable, arrange your layout so the tile fragments end up in an inconspicuous area.





Laying tile for Shower Walls and Tub Surrounds

1. Plan your layout on the wall
A man holding a level while carefully measuring out where tile will be placed on the wall for a shower tile installation project.Start planning your layout on the back wall. Find its area center point and draw two perpendicular lines through it. Check the intersection of these angles using a framing square.








2. Create a "story pole"

 Next, you will create a story pole for your shower’s vertical layout. A story pole is a simply a ruler for tile – ideally the height of your shower. Lay tile against an unmarked board, leaving room for grout lines. Draw a pencil line at the beginning and end of each tile. Remember, this board is for the vertical layout of your tile, so orient the tile appropriately.

If your tile is square, you can use the same story pole for the horizontal layout of the tile. If not, however, you’ll need to create a separate story pole.

3. Lay tiles from left to right
Lay the tile as it will be oriented from left-to-right across your shower along an unmarked board, and repeat the process. Using your story poles, see how many tile are needed, adjusting to find the best layout. Remember to leave room for movement joints at wall intersections, fiberglass or acrylic shower base, and fixtures, and around the tub.

4. Adjust tile spacing
If your layout leaves you with end tiles less than half a tile wide, rearrange its spacing or reposition its vertical centerline. If the problem is unavoidable, arrange your layout so the tile fragments end up in an inconspicuous area

A diagram of a shower and tub to show how to adjust tile spacing when doing a shower tile installation.If you’re tiling a tub surround, find the lowest point of the tub line. Draw a horizontal line ¼ inch plus the height of one tile up from the tub line. This line will serve as your horizontal guideline. You can then use the measurements on your vertical storyboard and your chalk line tool to draw more horizontal guidelines, parallel to the first, that span the entire height of your shower.

When the layout process is complete, each wall should have one vertical centerline line and a series of horizontal lines to guide tile placement.

5. Cut a tile "sandwich"

Hands using a wet saw to cut tile to fit around shower fixtures.

Shower tile installations may require cutting tile for the edge of the walls and around plumbing fixtures. You will want to position and cut tile as you go – rather than in advance.

To cut the tile, you may need a tile cutter and/or a wet saw. You may be able to rent a wet saw tile cutter at your local Lowe's. A "tile sandwhich" is tile that is correctly cut and positioned, and ready for mortar. Each tile you cut to fit your floor, should be measured and cut individually.



A diagram showcasing the first step of what to do when preparing to cut tile.Step 1: To begin cutting your tile, place a loose tile atop the last laid-out full tile. Instead of positioning it directly on top of the tile, however, put it against the wall, corner or edge where the floor stops. Remember to leave room for a movement joint between the tile and wall.


A diagram of the second step to cutting tile for a shower tile installation.Step 2: Lay a second loose tile over the first. However, align this tile exactly with the last laid-out full tile, instead of placing it against a wall, corner or edge. The loose tile you placed previously should stick out – reaching the wall, corner, or edge – between this tile and the bottom tile. This “tile sandwich” will demonstrate the necessary size of the partial tile. The tile that is the “meat” of this tile sandwich will become the partial tile.

A diagram of the third step of what to do when needing to cut tile for a  shower tile installation project.

Step 3 Mark the cut line on the “meat” tile, using the second loose tile as a guide. For straight cuts, use a tile cutter. "Polish" the edges with a rubbing brick. Cut openings around pipes, faucet stems, etc. using a power drill with a hole cutter attachment.


Now that you have laid and cut your tiles, the next step is to begin applying shower mortar. Read on to the next step of our “How to Install Shower Tile Guide” to learn how to do this.

Our diy Expert

Ron Sheldon

Ron Sheldon is a tile and floor installation guru. He has far too much knowledge on obscure topics like grout and floor leveling. A passionate tile contractor by trade, Ron’s spent the past decade dedicated to educating people about tiling, and has great advice on how to perfect your project.

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