How to Fix Water-Damaged Shower Walls

Shower head with wet tiles
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Over time, moisture can seep behind your tiles and cause mold, deterioration, and even subfloor and ceiling leaks. Fortunately, identifying and fixing your water-damaged shower isn’t difficult. Here’s a quick how-to.

Identify Your Shower Damage

Many leaks begin at the bottom of your shower wall where the tiling meets the top of the shower pan or floor. Begin your assessment of the shower here. Moldy, discolored grout, loose tiles, and peeling caulk are signs that moisture could be affecting the area behind your shower wall.

Remove Your Tiles

You can remove most water-affected tiles by hand. Use a putty knife or chisel to remove stuck-on tiling. Avoid breaking tiles if you’re only replacing a portion of your shower wall. Matching existing tiles is difficult and can result in an entire replacement. Place tiles with drywall residue in a bucket of warm water to remove any leftover material.

Cut out Your Drywall

Water-damaged portions of your drywall should break off by hand. Once the saturated drywall is gone, cut a line a half-mile length below your remaining tile. This will give you a fresh starting point to install new drywall. It’s also important to inspect the studs behind your drywall. These can also become water-logged and deteriorate. If your studs are in good shape, remove old nails or screws before installing new drywall. Be sure to examine the insulation around your shower as well. Rotted insulation will reduce the efficiency of your home and can contribute to mold and mildew.

Install Cement Board

Trim cement boards to fit your replacement and screw them onto your studs. Use latex caulk to seal the bottom edges of your board. Spread tile adhesive onto the seam between your new cement board and the existing drywall. Press fiberglass tape into the adhesive and let it dry. If you’re tackling a total shower re-tile, install a waterproofing barrier like a Schluter-Kerdi membrane on top of your cement board.

Add Your Tile

Spread tile adhesive onto your cement board or membrane and add your tile. Be sure to use plastic spacers to ensure an even tile arrangement. Add your grout once you’ve installed your tile and the adhesion has dried. Be sure to wipe off your grout within an hour of application. However, it’s important to avoid wiping your grout immediately. Wait several minutes before removing the excess. Touch up any areas with thin or smeared grout.

Understanding the Size of Your Project

It’s not always easy to estimate the size of water remediation projects. Damage can extend beyond obvious signs and expand the scope of your job. Failing to completely eliminate water deterioration can revive mold growth and result in additional demolition. Even if your shower wall damage is minimal, it’s a good idea to plan for a larger project.