How to tile a wall – perfect the look of your shower, bathroom or kitchen space

Where to start when tiling a wall in your shower, bathroom or kitchen space for professional results. Our DIY video and step-by-step method can help.

December 2019: Katy Waters and husband Jason have created a Scandi-inspired master bedroom in the loft of their home in Ealing
(Image credit: Chris Snook )

Patience and preparation are key when tiling a wall whether you're working on your shower, around the bathroom basin or in a kitchen. Wall tiles are that ever decorative and functional material so tend to be the go-to option for rooms where there is a lot of moisture but they are also hugely popular to work in around a fireplace or in the hallway. 

The looks you can create are endless, whether you go for solid stones like granite and marble, handmade terracotta, quarry tiles or for budget-friendly but stylish options like porcelain and ceramic. Knowing how to tile a wall properly is key to get a professional and Insta-worthy finish (the latter being very important), our video and step-by-step guide with tips from industry pros can help you with that. 

Can you tile directly onto a painted wall?

Andra DelMonico, Lead Interior Designer for Trendey recommends, 'As a general rule, you shouldn’t tile over a painted surface. The paint creates issues with adhesion.. If you have painted drywall, you can thoroughly wash and dry the walls. Then use 80-grit sandpaper to give them a rough finish. This helps the tile adhere to the wall. Be sure to wipe away the dust before you begin tiling.'

According to Max Cohen, founder of FLHomeBuyers.com adds, 'The paint on the wall is not as important as the quality of the drywall behind the paint. Just make sure that the drywall is free of cracks, holes, or bumps. Before we apply the tile adhesive, we always sand the subject wall regardless if it is painted or not. Sanding the wall will ensure that you are getting the best grip possible on the actual drywall itself. That is important so that the drywall is actually supporting the tile, not just the adhesive.'

1. Work out how many tiles and what tools you need 

To work out how many tiles you need, measure the wall height and width and multiplied the two measurements to calculate the meter-squared value.

Make sure to measure each wall separately and add together the values to get a total coverage. It’s a good idea to include a 10 per cent contingency for off-cuts and any mistakes or breakages. This is particularly important if you’re creating a more decorative laying pattern, such as herringbone.

Lee Devlin, Director at Homecure Plumbers adds, 'Make sure you’ve got all your essential tools, including the tile cutter, tiles, spacers, notch trowel, spirit level, and adhesive. The necessary number of tiles can be calculated by measuring the height and width of the space and then multiplying the figures. It’s always best to buy a few extra tiles, in case of breakages or other issues. This also accounts for you measuring incorrectly and not having enough!'

Tool and materials list:

2. Protect the area

Begin by laying a protective cover on the floor and secure this with masking tape. Then, using a clean, damp cloth, wipe down your wall surface, or use a suitable degreasing agent, such as sugar soap, and wash this away with water before leaving the wall to dry completely.

pink wall tiles, marble countertops on grey painted kitchen cabinets with gold faucet.

(Image credit: Tile Giant)

3. Prep and level the wall for tiling

'First and foremost, make sure the wall is level. Make sure there are no bumps or swollen areas, that will throw off the grout lines and make it look bad. Then you need to use a tile adhesive like this to apply the tile to the wall. Make sure to use a good trowel, to apply the adhesive so that the tile gets a good grip.' Adds Cohen.

So if you find any cracks in the wall or any areas that need repair, it’s a good idea to fix these before you begin to tile. It’s important to make sure the surface is flat, too, so make sure to sand away any lumps and bumps at this stage.

'Before you begin tiling, you need to prep the wall by removing fittings, fixtures, hardware, and wallpaper. Then make any necessary repairs to ensure you have a smooth and level surface. Clean and sand the wall so you can promote strong adhesion.' Adds DelMonico.

4. Prime surfaces that need it

Depending on the tiles chosen, you may need to prime the wall, but check with the adhesive manufacturer to see if this is recommended. Remember that in wet areas, such as a bathroom or near a bathroom sink, apply a specialist waterproofing product, such as BAL Waterproof Plus

Depending on the tile size and substrate cement, Hardiebacker boards may be required to ensure the wall will hold the weight of the tiles. It’s best to check with the tile manufacturer to see what’s recommended.

5. Find your starting point

Find your starting point by locating the center of your wall and mark a pencil line. Then, using a tile measure, or tile staff, mark the width and length or the tiles so you can see where they will lay. Where the bottom tile is less than about half a tile, re-arrange the layout slightly by raising the tile so you have at least half a tile and mark the wall once you are happy.

On the mark nearest the floor, use a spirit level and draw a straight line horizontally across the wall and fix a timber baton into the surface – you’ll use this as a guide and tile up from this point. Remember, the baton will need to be removed later.

'Start tiling your wall by marking the vertical and horizontal center of the wall. Then position your tiles from the center out towards both wall edges. The tile on each end should be roughly the same size. You may need to adjust your vertical centerline to make this happen.' Says DelMonico.

6. Prepare the adhesive

Mix the adhesive in a bucket according to the packet instructions. For smaller tiles, it is fine to use a pre-mixed adhesive, but for larger designs, a cement-based type, which you mix yourself is recommended. Follow the packet instructions to ensure the mix is right. To apply the adhesive, use a notched trowel held at a 45 degree angle, to spread the adhesive on the wall.

Drag it across the surface to ensure an even coverage right up to the timber baton and pencil outline. Make grooves in the same direction and only cover enough to suit your application without the adhesive going off, meaning it will harden, before the tiles are fixed – around one square meter. 'Once you have proper positioning, use your adhesive to adhere the tiles to the wall as you work your way out from the centerline.' Adds DelMonico.

7. Tile from the bottom to the top

 Place the first tile onto the wall and push gently, twisting and sliding it, to make sure it sticks. Put a tile spacer along each edge and use a cloth to wipe away any excess adhesive as you go. Carry on the above steps until you’ve covered the whole area.

'Work in a square meter space at a time as your position tiles with spacers between each tile. Work your way up from the bottom of the wall towards the top.' Adds DelMonico.

'My guys find it is best to work from bottom to top. That way as the tiles stack the ones below it can support the ones going above them while using the correct spacers.' Adds Cohen.

8. Fill any gaps with cut tiles

When you come to the edges, you may need to cut some of the tiles to fit. To do this, use either a manual cutter, which is best for straight cuts; a tile scribe for thin tiles; or an electric cutter for right angles or curved edges and for thicker tiles such as those made from porcelain or natural stone.

How to cut tiles with...

A manual cutter: A manual cutter is used for straight cuts.

A tile scribe: This method can be used on thinner tiles.

An electric tile cutter: Electric cutters are used for right angles, curved edges and thicker tiles such as porcelain and natural stone.

9. Finish the edges

Then, follow the same steps to secure the edge sections of tiles to the wall. Adhesive drying times vary by substrate and type so check guidance on the adhesive packet. Once dry, remove the spacers and any remaining excess adhesive then prepare your grout.

10. Prepare and apply the grout

Mix the grout powder and water in a bucket, but don’t mix too much at once, as this too will set quickly. Using a grout float, push the grout into the gaps and wipe away any excess with a damp sponge. You’ll need to wipe the wall again after around an hour to get rid of any residue and use a grout profiler to smooth the grout lines. Avoid over wetting the grout while removing as this will weaken the finished grout.

Pink modern bathroom with white patterned floor and ceiling tiling and artistic shower curtain

(Image credit: @candycoloredhome)

11. Seal the edges

Finally, use a silicone sealant to seal the edges of the wall, ensuring a watertight finish. Use a caulking gun to squeeze it from the tube and a sealant profiler or your finger to take away any excess, but make sure to wear rubber gloves. Leave the sealant for 24 hours to fully cure and then your newly tiled wall is complete – with a perfect professional-style result.

En route to tile greatness!

Hebe Hatton
Hebe Hatton

Hebe joined the Real Homes team in early 2018 as Staff Writer. As a renter, she is always looking for creative ways to make her flat feel like home. She loves boho and 70's style and is a big fan of Instagram as a source of interiors inspiration.