Installing Adhesive-Type Tub and Shower Surround Panels

Shower, sinks and mirror in modern bathrooms

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An easy and inexpensive option when renovating the walls of a bathtub or shower is to use one of the three-piece or five-piece adhesive panel kits available for purchase. The adhesive walls are usually thin waterproof panels that gain their support from the surrounding wallboard, and installation is similar whether used in a bathtub or standup shower. If you are looking for a thicker surround, try a product designed for direct-to-stud installation.

The thin adhesive surrounds are the easiest to adjust for bathrooms with windows, or where the bathtub or shower enclosures are oddly sized. Before buying a surround, do some checking to make sure you buy the right-sized product for the tub or shower that you have.

NOTE: Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that the warranty is not voided by improper installation.

  1. Prepare the walls. Since this type of surround is going to be glued, the walls need to be clean to allow the adhesive to make good contact. The walls also need to be patched if there are any holes. All of the shower or tub valve trim needs to be removed before you can begin. Clean the joints between the tub or shower base and the wall very well to remove any old silicone or caulking.
  2. Start with the back wall. Make sure you have plenty of tub-surround adhesives to spread on the wall. Apply an even coat of adhesive. It's best to use a caulk gun to apply the adhesive in a pattern, then spread and smooth it out with a notched trowel. This will prevent any rough spots or clumps when the panels are pressed onto the wall.

At first, lightly stick the surround panel to the wall and level it. Starting from the bottom, move the panel into position. Move it up and make any necessary adjustments before pressing harder on the panel, so it sticks fast to the wall. Smooth the panel out all around to make sure it is sticking to the wall everywhere. Work out any areas that are not smooth. 

  1. The next panel to install is the side wall that does not have the plumbing on it and does not have to be drilled. It is easier to get this side wall and the back wall out of the way before starting on the plumbing wall, which will require drilling for plumbing connections. Spread the adhesive and trowel it down, as before. Position the side wall panel lightly against the adhesive, then level, adjust and stick it down firmly to the wall. Smooth out the entire panel before moving on.
  2. The last panel will have to be drilled for the tub or shower valve and perhaps a tub spout. Measure from the back wall to the center of the valve and from the tub or shower base to the center of the valve, and transfer these measurements to the surround panel. Do the same if there is a tub spout. Make sure to measure at least twice to make sure these measurements are correct.
  3. Use a hole saw to drill the holes carefully. Cutting holes with the drill set to reverse is a good idea because it will prevent the bit teeth from ripping into the surround and causing damage. The hole for the valve needs to be drilled large to allow you to attach the trim screws holding the shower or tub plate to the valve. Once the holes are drilled, put the panel on the wall without adhesive to make sure it fits properly.
  1. Use surround adhesive to stick the last side panel to the wall, as you did with the other panels. You must make sure to level the panel and smooth it out evenly from the bottom up.
  2. Use kitchen and bath silicone caulking to seal the bottom base of the surround. Apply caulk all along the tub or shower base, and also where the side walls meet the back wall. Make sure to smooth the silicone caulk out to make a nice-looking seal. Install the tub or shower trim and allow for proper drying times before use.