Remodeling Tips and Reviews

How to lay Subway Tile in a Shower Area

How to lay Subway Tile in a Shower Area

Jan 30, 2012

Notice as we trowel mastic on here you can see the 2 vertical lines we use to line up the tiles.

Laying Subway tile in a shower area with a tub is not too difficult. There are several things that need to be considered for the final product to look professional. When preparing the walls for the tile you will want to draw a line up the middle of the long wall with a level. You then measure over 3″ and draw another line up the wall so you have 2 parallel lines. These will be your reference point for each row. This will allow you to offset the tiles in a brick style fashion. I prefer to use mastic on the walls but mortar is also fine.

Tools needed for this project:


You will also need to make sure the tub is level, then cut and adjust your first row of tile as needed. What you want to have is a level row ready for the second row of complete tiles. If the tub slopes one way or another you may need to shave some of the bottom of each tile off the first row. This is important since the entire wall and how fast the install goes will depend on how straight the starter row is.

Laying Subway Tile

Soap Dish is installed in the center on the 3rd row here. Corners are cut

Once you have troweled mastic on the first 2 feet from the tub it is time to set the tile.  Starting from your middle line mark, lay the first row on and take extra time to level this row out. You may need to shim one side a little to keep everything level. Once this row is set you can move on to the next few rows, alternating which line you start with on the wall to form the subway pattern. Keep in mind if you have a soap dish you will need to place it on row 2 or 3 normally.

Tip: Keep a sponge handy to clean the tile after the mastic has set up an hour. If you need to get a sample tile you can order a few from Amazon.

Surface caps run vertical with the subway tile on the outer edges of the side walls.

You will also need to use mortar to set the soap dish, not mastic, so you should consider drawing a box on the wall roughly where you are going to place the dish and not troweling mastic there.

Once you have progressed up several rows I  will then start cutting the corner tiles, if the wall is straight up and down these cuts should be the same large/ small repeating pattern so you can cut several of the same sized tiles at once. You will continue working your way up the large wall in 2 foot increments until you reach a stopping point. If it is a normal tub with sheetrock at the very top that is usually around 5-6 feet from the tub. It definitely needs to be a few inches above the shower head pipe. At the top you will want to install a row of surface caps with rounded edges to give the tile a finished appearance.

Tiling the side walls

The side walls have a few tricky concerns that have to be dealt with. The surface caps run vertically to the top row so you will need to draw a vertical line with the level. I like to run the surface caps all the way to the floor outside the tub, when possible. I also like to line up my surface cap tiles with my subway tiles. It creates a cleaner look. Once you have the outside perimeter line drawn you can start troweling mastic on the wall in 3′ high sections.

Tiles meet at the corner in a clean line.

I place the surface caps on the wall first and make sure they are level. I will then cut 20 tiles in half to start every other row next to the caps. I then run my rows into the corner and cut tile there as needed. Keep in mind that you want these tiles to meet level with the large walls tile, this may also require trim tiles across the bottom of the first row.

Once this side is done you will repeat across the other wall and make cuts around the shower valve and plumbing as needed.  Allow the mastic to set up over night and then clean the tile thoroughly and grout. When grouting you will want to use a float and work the grout in at a 45 degree angle relative to the face of the tile and never run the float straight over seams, it will remove too much grout. Once the grout on a wall is up you will need to use a sponge to wipe it down and clean it up. Allow it to dry for a day and then seal it and caulk the tile where it meets the tub with mold resistant silicone caulking.

Incoming search terms:

  • how to lay subway tile
  • how to install subway tile
  • laying subway tile
  • how to install subway tile in a shower