Give Your Shower a Facelift with Tile Trim

Reader Contribution by Troy Griepentrog
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The paint around the top of my shower surround started chipping due to exposure to moisture from the shower. I considered simply adding a bead of caulk around the top of the shower, but decided to add a single row of tile instead. I added a simple white border because I was primarily concerned about durability, but you could also use this technique with a colorful border as a decorating option.

You’ll need a few supplies before you start:

  • Tiles with one edge rounded (“bullnose”)
  • At least two tiles with two edges rounded (for the ends of the “row”)
  • Mortar/adhesive to attach the tile to the wall
  • Grout to fill the gaps between tiles
  • Grout sealer to protect the grout
  • Caulk for sealing corners and the top and bottom of the tiles
  • Tile spacers (for small tiles, you’ll probably want eighth-inch spacers)

Try to get grout and caulk that match in color.

Tools (photos and explanations of these and other tools are here)

  • A notched trowel
  • A grout float
  • A tile nipper and/or cutter

Prepare to Tile!

Start by marking the area you want to tile with a pencil. Then mark the center of each of the three walls. For a balanced look, you’ll want to tile out from the center mark on each wall, trimming the corner tiles to fit. But leave a bit of room (an eighth of an inch or so) in the corners to allow for expansion and contraction of materials.

Using wide masking tape to mark the area makes cleanup easier — and the edges are easier to see if you spread mortar over them.

Pull back the cover around the showerhead pipe (if your shower has a cover) and rough up the surface of the wall where the tile will be placed with 50-grit sandpaper. If you were covering a larger area, you should replace the wallboard with an appropriate backer board for tile, but that’s unnecessary for a small tile trim.

To make straight cuts on the tiles, use a tile cutter. This tool scores the tile lightly with a blade. Then leverage from the handle breaks the tile in a (hopefully) straight line. Buy a few extra tiles to allow for breakage. You can also use a tile nipper to cut tiles, but the edges won’t be as straight. The nippers are good for cutting odd shapes from the corners of tile (for working around a pipe, for example).

Stick it to ‘Em!

You can attach the tiles by spreading the mortar directly to the wall using a trowel or by “buttering” each tile individually and setting it in place. After you’ve spread a thin layer (on either the wall or the tile), use the notched side of the trowel to make grooves in the mortar. As you’re placing each tile, twist it slightly to spread the mortar evenly behind it.

Keep the rounded edge of the tile toward the ceiling. And save the two tiles that have two rounded edges for the ends of the border so you have smoother visual transition from the tile to the wall.

After the mortar has set according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, fill the gaps between the tiles with grout using the grout float. Move the float diagonally across the lines between the tiles. Don’t fill the corners with grout; use caulk to allow for expansion and contraction. Use a sponge to wipe the grout residue off the face of the tiles.

Protect the grout with grout sealer. Run a bead of caulk along the bottom and top of the tiles and fill the corners with caulk, too. You can easily shape and smooth the caulk with a wet finger.

Hometime has instructions for each step of the tiling process if you’d like more detailed information.

Get creative! You can mix and match different colors (and sizes) of tile, buying leftovers from your local ReStore.

Share comments about your own tiling experiences below.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368