A Beginners Guide to Tiling a Bathroom

Tiling is a task that’s often viewed with trepidation. Especially if you’re not a dab hand at DIY. But, it doesn’t need to be a task to be feared. If you want to tile your bathroom and get it right, then find out everything you need to know with Plumbworld’s beginners guide to tiling a bathroom.

Before you start: think safety

Tiling is a relatively safe task, but like any form of DIY it’s sensible to take precautions. If you’re going to be chipping away and removing old tiles or cutting new ones, then make sure you have appropriate eye protection. Likewise, if you’re going to be handling tools such as  trowels, then you may want to wear appropriate safety gloves. You may also opt for a face mask.

It can also pay to know the location of any hot water pipes in your bathroom walls. The same goes for any electrical connections. If you’re unsure of where the pipes are located, you can use a pipe locator to easily find any pipes. 

You may also want to switch off the water and electricity supplies to your bathroom before you start work. 

What tools do I need for tiling?

There’s nothing worse than trying to do a job when you haven’t got the right tools for the task. So, make sure you’ve got the following tools to hand before you start tiling your bathroom. 

Tape measure 

Measuring up accurately is perhaps THE most important part of tiling a bathroom. Get your measurements wrong and you’ll have a nightmare of a job. Make sure you invest in a good quality tape measure (with no obscured markings). 

Pencil 

Marking up your tiles is also an important part of tiling your bathroom. After all, if you can’t see where you’re supposed to be cutting, you’ll end up with a load of dodgily cut tiles and off-centre holes for pipes etc. The best sort of pencil to buy for marking up tiles is a chinagraph - they are ideal for marking up hard, glossy surfaces such as tiles. 

Tile cutter

This is where things get a bit more serious. If you’re going to tile your own bathroom, then we’d strongly recommend investing in a tile cutter. We generally find the best type of tile cutters are the railed versions (they’re a bit like those guillotines you’d use at school to cut paper and cardboard). 

Most variants of tile cutters include a scribe wheel and a breaking arm. Rail cutters are available in a variety of sizes. However, if you’re going to be tiling your bathroom with exceptionally hard tiles such as Quartz tiles, then you may need to use a wet wheel cutter instead, as standard tile cutters won’t be up to the job.

Tile nipper 

Not necessarily an essential tool for tiling your bathroom, but tile nippers can come in handy if you have a particularly difficult or small tile cut to do. For example, if you’re trying to shape a tile to fit around a pipe, a piece of sanitary ware or a light fitting, then you’ll be grateful that you’ve got a tile nipper to hand.

Tile spacers

You don’t want to spend ages measuring and cutting tiles, only to find that the spacing between them is off when it comes to grouting. Tile spacers will help you avoid this particular DIY nightmare. As the name suggests tile spacers allow you to equally space tiles while you’re fixing them in place. You can buy tile spacers in a variety of sizes so that you can achieve the grouting finish you desire. 

Bucket

You’re going to be mixing adhesive and grout while you’re tiling your bathroom, so you’ll need something to mix them in. Whilst an old washing up bowl will do the job, you’ll find that things get very messy, very quickly. Instead, it’s wise to invest in a sturdy bucket. What size you should buy depends on the amount of grout you’ll be mixing, but many people opt for either 10 litre or 25 litre buckets.

Mixing paddle

You can just mix your grout with an old stick can’t you? Well, you can, but if you want to make life a bit easier for yourself (and who doesn’t?!), then a mixing paddle is a great tool to have at your disposal.

Notched trowel

If you want to effectively spread the adhesive on your substrate (the part of the wall that the tiles actually stick to), then you’ll need a notched trowel. This is an absolutely essential bit of kit. Notched trowels are typically made from steel, with notches set into the leading edge. You can buy different sized trowels that feature different shaped notches (buy a trowel with curved notches if you’re tiling a wall. Buy a trowel with square notches if you’re tiling or laying a floor). 

Grout float

A grout float will help you to press in the grout into the gaps between your newly laid tiles. They are usually made with a flat rubber base with a handle on top. The rubber base ensures that you don’t damage the tiles while you’re working the grout into the gaps.

Spirit level

As part of the process of planning your tile layout, a spirit level will be invaluable. There are many different types of spirit levels available, including laser varieties. 

Sponge

A small investment, but a worthy one. Having a fresh sponge ready will help you finish off your tiling job and remove any excess grout that may have made its way onto the surface of your tiles. Ideally, you should get a dual-purpose sponge as the dense cell construction will be tough enough to remove any stubborn grout.

With safety preparations made and all these tools at your disposal, it’s now time to look at the steps involved in tiling your bathroom.

How to tile a bathroom

Now, you’re ready to tile your bathroom. We’ve set out the entire process in easy-to-follow steps below. 

Make a plan

We’ve all heard the saying about best laid plans etc, but when it comes to tiling your bathroom, you really should have a plan in place!

Figure out which walls you want to tile. Think about what size tiles you’d like. Do you want your bathroom walls to be fully tiled or only partially tiled? All of these factors will influence what type and how many tiles you’ll need to buy. These factors will also influence how big of a job it will be. 

Make sure you’ve thought about all of these things before moving on to the next step.

Select your tiles and plan your pattern

Once you’ve got a plan in place, it’s time to select your tiles and then decide the pattern in which they’ll sit. 

When selecting your tiles it’s important to get the right amount to cover your walls. You figure out how many you’ll need by measuring the area that needs covering in square metres. Do this by measuring the length and width of the wall. Then multiply these numbers together. Take the area and then divide it by the size of the tiles that you’ve chosen. This final figure will give you an idea of the number of tiles you’ll need to buy.

When measuring for tiles, always round up to a whole number if your calculations arrive at a decimal point. And, remember to add approximately 15% to allow for cuts and wastage.

Many tiles are sold in boxes which are labelled with detailed sizing information.

Types of tiles

There are a huge variety of tiles available on the market and which type is right for you is generally down to personal preference. However, certain types of tiles can be better for certain applications or environments.

Let us explain. We’ve set out the different types of tiles and their typical applications (and limitations) in the table below:

Type of tileApplication
TerracottaDry areas only (unless glazed)
Ceramic or porcelainBathrooms (when glazed)
SlateFloors, countertops, walls
GlassFeature walls, within mosaics
Natural stoneBathrooms (when featuring a waterproof layer)
LimestoneFlooring
GraniteFlooring
TravertineFlooring and walls

As you can see, certain types of tile lend themselves better to bathrooms than others. Factor this into your purchase decision.

Tile patterns

When it comes to the pattern of your tiled wall, there are a world of options. It’s all down to personal preference. You can stick to a simple linear grid pattern, or you can get more creative. 

Some of the tile patterns that have been popular in recent years include:

  • Diamond. 
  • Linear.
  • Brick bond.
  • Herringbone.
  • ¾ Brick Bond.
  • Hexagon. 
  • Mixed Linear.
  • Arabesque.

It’s important that you buy your tiles with matching batch numbers. This will ensure they all look the same. Given the manufacturing process of tiles, if you buy sets of tiles with different batch numbers, you increase the likelihood that you’ll end up with a tiled wall that doesn’t look ‘quite right’. 

Prepare the wall

With your tiles purchased and ready, it’s time to get the wall(s) ready. 

Begin by ensuring the wall is clean, dry and flat. If it’s been previously tiled, then set aside a few hours so that you can really get it back to pristine condition. You don’t want to be setting tiles on tops of bits of leftover grout etc.

If you find any holes in the plaster, then fill these in. Bear in mind that plaster can sometimes take months to dry (depending on what type of plaster you use), so consider this when making any repair jobs to the wall. 

Once your wall is prepared, it’s then time to think about adhesives and grout…

Adhesive & Grout

It’s important to draw a distinction between adhesives and grout. You’ll sometimes hear the words being used interchangeably, but they’re actually very different.

Adhesive

Adhesive is what you’ll use to actually stick your tiles to the wall. There are different types of adhesive that fall into ‘classes’. For tiling a power shower or bathroom wall you will generally want a class D 2 T E adhesive (don’t worry if this sounds complicated. Most adhesives available from DIY stores will clearly state on the packaging where they can be used). 

For the average domestic bathroom, a ready-mixed adhesive will do the job. There are a wide variety of brands available including Mapei, BAL, Dulux and many more. 

Remember, you’ll need both adhesive and grout to properly tile your bathroom. Never use grout to affix tiles to a wall (unless you want them falling off a later date).

Grout

Grout is what you’ll use to fill in the gaps between your tiles once they’ve been affixed to the wall. Grout helps ‘seal’ the tiles and prevent the ingress of water to the wall behind. 

Like adhesives, grout is available in different grades. There are three distinct types of grout: cementitious grouts composed of a Portland cement base; epoxy grouts which are made of epoxy resins; and, furan grouts which are made from a furan resin and a filler powder with an acid catalyst.

The type of grout that is right for you will often depend on the type of tiles you are using. For example, you may need to use a sealant if you are using natural stone tiles in order to prevent staining. 

Epoxy grout is one of the most popular grouts for wet environments such as bathrooms and showers. However, epoxy grout sets faster than other grouts, so can be difficult for amateur DIYers to use.

Setting out your tiles

You will want to set out your tiles, thinking about where the eye is drawn, where the centre line should be and how many cuts you will need to make. Make sure you take plenty of time doing this and double check everything. 

It can be easier to lay your tiles out on the floor with tile spacers in between. Once laid out, mark the points of each tile against your measuring tape. Then copy these measurements onto your wall. It’s best to start from the middle of the wall and work outwards. When marking the wall with your tape measure and pencil, make sure you use your spirit level to ensure all of the markings are level. 

At the end of this, you should have the position of all your tiles marked out on your bathroom wall.

Cutting your tiles

With your wall marked up, you’ll probably find that the tiles at the edges will need to be cut down. Use your tape measure to work out what size the tile needs to be (measure against the edge of the wall and the relevant wall marking). 

Then take that measurement and apply it to your tile. Mark the point at which the tile will need to be cut using your chinagraph pencil. This’ll give you a point to aim for when using your tile cutter. 

Then it’s time for the tile cutter to make an appearance. Make sure you’re wearing safety gloves and goggles before proceeding any further. Cutting tiles can involve sharp flying fragments, so make sure that no friends or family members are in the vicinity of the work. 

Once you’ve cut all of the necessary tiles, it’s time to apply them to the wall. 

Applying your tiles

This where your adhesive will come into play. When applying it, start small. Try not to go over one metre square per time. This’ll give you time to concentrate on placing your tile in the correct place. Apply too much adhesive and you run the risk of it drying before you have a chance to apply your tiles. 

You should be spreading your adhesive using your notched trowel. Apply the adhesive using the trowel with strokes at a 45 degree angle. This will help you achieve a consistent spread of adhesive. 

Placing the tiles is as simple as lining them up with the appropriate wall markings and pressing them onto the adhesive. Do this one at a time and remember to place tile spacers in between each one (this will help you achieve nice equal spacing between each tile). Make sure you place the spacers in firmly enough so that they aren’t protruding above the surface of the tile. You’ll be grouting over the spacers, so you don’t want them sticking out and being unsightly. 

Once you’ve finished applying adhesive and placing all of your tiles, it’s time for a rest!

Adhesive generally takes around 24 hours to fully dry, so now’s the time to finish your work for the day, kick back and relax. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve earned it!

Grouting

Once you’ve let (at least) 24 hours pass, it’s onto the grouting. 

Begin by preparing your grout. Put some water in your bucket, add the grout bit by bit and mix to a thick consistency. Many grouts will feature instructions on the packet - usually, detailing how many parts water to how many parts grout you should add to the mix.

At this point you may also be wondering how much grout you’ll need. The amount of grout you’ll need is usually determined by the size and thickness of the tile you have chosen. 

To make your calculations easier, there’s a formula which can help:

  1. Add the width and length of the tile together. 
  2. Multiply the resulting number by the width of the tile you have chosen. 
  3. Multiply that figure by the depth of your tile.
  4. Then multiply that figure by 1.8, which will give you the standard kg/metre coverage you can expect. 
  5. Multiply the width of the tile by the length of the tile, then take the figure from number 4 above and divide it by this figure. 

The resulting number will give you an idea of the amount of grout you’ll need to successfully grout your bathroom wall. Again, don’t worry if this sounds complicated. Many packets of grout will tell you how much wall space they can cover.

Anyway, once you’ve mixed your grout and achieved a thick consistency, leave it for five minutes. This will give oxygen bubbles a chance to escape and let your grout settle.

The next step is to start applying your grout in the spaces between your tiles. Do this using your grout float. Hold it at a 45 degree angle and use it to really work the grout into the spaces between the tiles. Remember, the grout helps seal your bathroom wall, so you want to make sure you achieve consistent coverage. 

It’s a good idea to stop after you’ve applied about 2-3 metres worth of grout and clean up any excess which may have made its way onto your tiles. Use your sponge to do this. By cleaning as you go, you’ll prevent the excess grout from drying and becoming more difficult to remove later on. 

Once you’ve finished adding your grout to the wall, leave it to dry for around an hour. When you are satisfied that it’s dry, give the entire wall a good gentle polish with a soft dry cloth. 

And there you have it! Plumbworld’s beginners guide to tiling a bathroom. We hope you have found it useful. If you’re looking for tiles for your bathroom, explore our huge range now

Ollie Lyon

Ollie is a self-trained DIY expert who particularly enjoys kitchen and bathroom renovations. In his spare time, Ollie enjoys cycling and hiking.

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