10 Dos and Don’ts of Subway Tiling A Tub Surround

Happy Monday! Oh, my word y’all! Ernie and I just sat here cracking up while we made this list of 10 Dos and Don’ts of Subway Tiling a Tub Surround. We are so not experts and this was our very first tiling job. Of course, we didn’t start with a backsplash or small job. We got all ambitious and decided to tile the tub surround up to the ceiling.  It is full of boo-boos, imperfections and memories. I’m sure we will remember this experience for a long time.

Our inexperience makes for some hilarious moments when we do projects. Sometimes we get frustrated, but we always end up laughing…Ernie is SO good at making me laugh.

10 Dos and Don’ts of Subway Tiling A Tub Surround | MyBlessedLife.net

{FYI, we are grouting and caulking tonight…}

If you’re considering DIY-ing some tile, here is a list that you must read….

10 Dos and Don’ts of Subway Tiling A Tub Surround

1. DO cover your floor and bathtub with plastic. Trust me. Mortar isn’t fun to scrape or sand off. Ugh.

2. DON’T attempt to cut Hardy Backer {the concrete sheetrock stuff} by scoring with a knife and breaking it. NOT easy! Use a jigsaw or skillsaw and have plenty of carbide tipped blades on hand. We finally got smart toward the end after freezing our behinds off trying to break Hardy Backer late at night in the freezing cold. It was quite a sight! HA!

3. DO trust your level and not your bathtub to be straight. Otherwise the tile will look like it’s falling off a cliff and then you might want to do the same. Ahem.

4. DON’T glob on too much mortar. Spread it thinly with the grooved side of a trowel.

5. DO make sure that the very first row of tile is PERFECTLY level. Then let it set for a few minutes before adding more tiles above.

6. DON’T mix your own mortar. Save time and energy by just buying the premixed stuff. SO worth it!

7. DO rent or purchase a wet saw. I’m absolutely in love with mine.

8. DON’T leave mortar-covered trowels sitting overnight. Scraping off concrete is loads of fun…not.

9. DO measure twice {or thrice LOL} and cut once when cutting tile.

10. DON’T forget to account for grout lines on both sides of the tile. Our spacers were 1/8″, so we always took that into account when measuring and cutting the tile.

Just for fun, here’s one more…

11. DO remember to have fun! Sometimes DIY is stressful, but laughing at mistakes and imperfections is part of the process. We live in an imperfect world! Embrace it. I’m preaching to myself. And don’t look too close at our first tile job! 😉

10 Dos and Don’ts of Subway Tiling A Tub Surround | MyBlessedLife.net

Have you ever tiled anything? Do you have a tip to add? I would love to hear! :)



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    • Shanna says

      Some installers will use epoxy depending on the material they are installing……but it’s not necessary for a ceramic brick like down here…..good old regular thinset will work just fine

        • Cathie says

          To clarify, epoxy is a grout. The reason some prefer it over traditional grout is because it’s stronger, stain resistant and NEVER needs sealing. Downside? Costs wayyy more, short working time and not every installer knows how to use it correctly. I just used it and its fabulous!

  1. says

    After moving in a house we lived in two weeks, living in temp housing and moving again, and then trying to do home repairs before we moved in, I feel like we could write a book on do’s and mostly don’ts.
    Deborah´s last blog post ..Cinderella

  2. Candace Fuller says

    Looks great, and I absolutely love that style of tile!! My dad’s house had a window in the tub/shower area, so I don’t think that’s odd at all. I actually looked out once and saw my elderly neighbor lady looking back at me from her window. Yikes! lol I would definitely frost it or something similar. Great job, Myra!!

  3. Crystal says

    Great tips! My husband tiled our floors in the living room, kitchen, hallways and both bathrooms. He did a great job!

  4. Stacy says

    Looks so good! I am currently starting a tub surround with subway tiles, I have already glued borders and larger tiles halfway . I can’t believe how um level our tub is ad it just got installed . We put level 1×2’s on the bottom to start . I seriously hate this job because I can’t just put glue on with a trowel I have to butter the tiles cause of. uneven walls and I spend most of my time digging out glue withs pocketknife .

    • David says

      It would depend on what you want your walls to do. If it’s a perfect job I recommend a charcoal or grey grout to help get the wall to pop out and make the work a real feature. (But it depends on the look the client wants)
      I show clients different pictures of the different looks and let them make ethereal decision

  5. Heather says

    Beautiful! We added a window to our shower. Lol. I love the natural light. Big learning curve with beveled subway tile as well. I love the clean look though. Enjoy your made over bathroom.

  6. Kelly says

    We found out that I measure correctly but my husband couldn’t transfer correct measurements on tile to cut. So we switched jobs and got done a lot quicker. We has so much fun that he went out and bought me my own wet saw for our anniversary. It looks ridiculous hanging around my neck, since I was expecting a necklace with our kids birthstones, but it’s built up my back muscles! Bonus! Next anniversary I think I will buy him a new washing machine and see how far he gets down the race track with that! Sounds like a YouTube video coming out of that! Thanks!

  7. says

    Nice job! We did 2 bathrooms and I’ll add this:
    *if your home is old and your walls are wonky and you’re not a seasoned DIYer and you’re a sucker for perfection, hire out.
    *don’t use grout booster.
    *re-seal your grout early on(we had our bathtub reglazed and they recommended it and we read about it on YHL). It will save you from issues down the line!!
    Karri´s last blog post ..What I love Wednesday | Crochet

  8. Michael robertshaw says

    To cut hardibacker board easily use a diamond disc in an angle grinder. Goes through like a hot knife through butter. You can also use the disc on your L cuts also.

  9. Florence Salt says

    Our son is in the process of putting subway tile (white tile with bright white grout) and one of the short walls is uneven; I notice he has been using 1/8″ spacers in between but because of the unevenness of the wall, some of the grout lines (one row in the middle where the faucet goes) will have to be about 3/8″ but the rest look fine. Is this going to look unsightly when it’s grouted? He hasn’t started that part yet. Unfortunately it’s the wall that will be seen the most … other two walls are pretty level though. Is this something I should be concerned about or will it look better when it’s grouted?

  10. Florence Salt says

    By the way, I forgot to mention that this is a bathroom renovation so there are three walls involved: the middle (long) one and the two side panels. The one he has finished tiling (but not grouted yet) is where all the plumbing fixtures are … showerhead, one-handled faucet and spout and this is where the 3/8″ grouting will be. I am quite concerned about this because I’m somewhat “OCD” so ….

  11. Constance says

    This looks great! I’m hoping to re-tile my tub/shower which also has a window in it. I was wondering where you found resources about how to tile the window in after taking off the wood trim.

    • David says

      Keep the main window box on and waterproof if with a tile adhesive compatible waterproofing then just stick the tiles over if using subway tiles buying a chrome trim to run around the window box will hide the cut edge of a tile. If wanting to mitre the tile edge reverse the cut to have factory edges on the visible side

  12. Cathie says

    One more thing, notice the gap on the one end?
    A way to avoid that is starting at the lowest level of the tub first, that way as you follow the top of the tiles’ level line towards the higher point, you can trim the tile and voila! No large gap on one side.

    Cutting hardie backer? I find scoring and snapping somewhat easy: TIP: once scored find a 2×4 or similar and slide it under your score but under the main piece (not the piece you’re trying to snap off) then just gently put pressure (i stand and sometimes jump) on the piece you’re trying to snap off. Snaps just like that! Works for even 2″ pieces.

  13. Annie Banannie says

    It looks great!!! We have a botched subway tole surround that we actually paid someone to do…. :-/ we should have just given it a try ourselves!

  14. says

    I would love to see how you finished out the outside corners. Did you just stop the tile or use some sort of transition strip. I’ve seen metal ones for a hard edge. I was thinking of just not doing anything and stopping the tile just outside the edge of the tub. Thoughts?

  15. says

    Another tip would be that the inside corners cont. the pattern. Do not go in the corner with a full tile and make the turn with a half. Big home owner mistake. I’ve even seen so called tile guys make the same mistake.

    • David says

      Not really a issue you go for what looks the best and most times that is not the way especially if the walls are out of plumb which most are.

      • Stephen says

        Do you k own what your even talking about? A plumb corner or not has nothing to do with the pattern of the tile. Also to do a proper coner once again the pattern must match continue not start all over.

  16. David says

    I’m a tiler and have notice a couple of flaws In your Install. 1 bottom row wasn’t started on the lowest point of the bath.or first row was out of level. You Didn’t double check that! And will look terrible with a silicone joint that wide

    Several verticals joints don’t match up. Bad setout and looks horrible. People say that tilers are too expensive but you can buy experience from the corner store and you get what you pay for

  17. says

    Ive just got my qualifications in tiling! id not recommend doing it untrained at all unless your a wizz at DIY, an you can always spot a bad job instantly!

  18. says

    I agree that you should cover your floor and tub with plastic. Otherwise, you’ll have to spend more time cleaning up. It’s probably possible that you may even do some damage, too.

  19. says

    Not for nothing, but of the little that I can see from the photo, I see more don’t’s than do’s.

    First of all, don’t put hardi backer on a wall that is out of plumb, like the left wall in the photo. You had the sheetrock/plaster off the wall, reframe it so that it is plumb. Either scab 2 x’s to the side of existing studs or cut tapered pieces and attach them to the front of the existing studs.

    Secondly, never start with a full tile on the high side of a base that is not level. Start on the low side and cut the tiles to fit so that you don’t end up with a HUGE caulk joint like you have on the right side of the photo.

    Thirdly, center your tiles on the wall. Don’t just start in one corner and work your way out, try to avoid having small pieces anywhere.

    When you tile around the window, do the return tiles first so that the wall tiles hide the joint that you see in your picture.

    I’m sure your next tile project will be better.

  20. Myra Hope says

    Natalie…the window is original (the tub was just a tub…no shower) and I’m a sucker for natural light. The bathroom would be SOOOOOOO dark if we took it out. We are waterproofing the whole thing, so mold won’t be a problem. If you search on Pinterest you will see that a window in the shower is not odd. LOL! Thanks for your comment though! 😉

  21. Brenna says

    Not to mention if there isn’t a fan in the bathroom, the window has to stay due to code requirements for ventilation.


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