How to Tile a Shower Stall or Alcove

A workman tiling a shower

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Turning an old fiberglass or plastic shower stall or alcove into a custom-tiled shower is easier than you think. The trick is to remove the wall panels while keeping the shower pan in place. This can save you considerable time and cost, and there's no drain connection or the tricky work of setting a new pan. If you have a tub/shower surround, keeping the tub in place will save even more time and money.

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

  • Demolition tools
  • 4- or 6-mil plastic sheeting
  • Stapler
  • Cement backer board
  • Utility knife
  • Drill
  • Cement board screws
  • Bucket
  • Thinset mortar
  • Trowel or drywall knife
  • Cement board joint tape
  • Level
  • Pencil
  • Tile
  • Notched trowel
  • Tile spacers
  • Bathroom silicone caulk
  • Grout
  • Rubber grout float
  • Grout sponge
  • Cloths
  • Grout haze remover (optional)
  • Grout sealer
  • Foam paintbrush
  • Silicone caulk

Instructions

Strip the Walls to the Studs

Remove everything except for the shower pan or tub, including the faucet and showerhead, the wall panels, and any hardware. You many need to cut out the drywall 1 1/2 to 2 inches away from the panel edges to expose the nailing flange of the wall panels. Other panels are simply glued to the drywall and can be pried off with a flat bar or pulled off along with the drywall.

Install Cement Backer Board

Staple a moisture barrier of 4- or 6-mil plastic sheeting over the studs, then install cement backer board. Screw the board to the walls with cement board screws, then mud and tape the joints with thinset mortar and cement board joint tape, using a trowel or a drywall knife to spread and smooth the mortar. Also mud and tape the joints where the cement board meets the surrounding drywall. The backer board should be flush with the drywall.

Mark a Line for the Bottom Row

Using a level, mark the location of your first row of tiles (the bottom row) with a pencil. Be sure to leave a 1/4-inch gap between the shower pan and the bottom edge of the tile. You will fill this gap later with caulk.

Install the First Row of Tiles

Mix a small amount of thinset mortar, as directed, mixing just enough for the first row of tiles around the perimeter of the shower pan. Use a notched trowel to apply an even coat of mortar to the wall below the marked lines. Firmly press in your first row of tiles. The tile should stick without any other aid. Let this row set for at least half a day, because all other rows depend on this row.

Continue Tiling Upward

Install the remaining rows of tile, keeping them spaced evenly on all four sides with tile spacers (inexpensive plastic "crosses" available wherever tile is sold). Continue to the top of the tiled area or to the ceiling, as desired. If you're stopping below the ceiling, use bullnose tile for the top row to create a finished edge. Let the tile set for 48 hours.

Grout the Tile

Mix a batch or grout as directed by the manufacturer. (Be sure to choose a type of grout with a color that complements your tile.) Use a rubber float to press grout into the open joints between the tiles. Make a second pass with the float, moving diagonally across the tile to remove excess grout.

Wipe across the tiles again with a grout sponge dipped in clean water and wrung out very well (it should be just damp) to clean the tile faces and further smooth the grout joints. Wipe diagonally to prevent pulling grout from the joints. Let the grout cure as directed.

Remove the Grout Haze

Buff the tile with a clean cloth to remove the whitish haze left by the grout. You can also use a grout haze remover to speed up the work and to remove any stubborn grout or stains.

Seal the Grout Joints

Seal the grout joints with a grout sealer, using a foam brush as an applicator. Grout sealer is optional but is recommended to help prevent staining and to make the grout easier to clean.

Caulk the Shower

Seal the gap between the bottom row of tile and the shower pan with pure silicone caulk. Let the caulk dry for 24 hours before using the shower.