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How to Tile a Bathtub Surround

Give your standalone bathtub a new look! I'll show you how to tile a bathtub surround, so you can create that relaxing, spa-like retreat you deserve!

tiled bathtub surround with coordinating wall tile

It's almost the end of my bathroom remodel, and I'm finally finished tiling our built-in jetted tub. The bathtub surround has two different types of tile, which I hope will bring the entire room together and create a relaxing, spa-like feel.

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In case you missed the hideous before pictures, here's what the tub side of the bathroom looked like before.

almond tub and almond toilet with cobalt blue tile in bathroom

It was a bit of a mess after removing the wall tiles.

bathroom with tile removed from tub and walls

Now it's time to make it pretty!

Materials Needed to Tile a Bathtub Surround

How to Tile a Bathtub Surround

Even Out Surfaces

After chiseling, scraping and chiseling some more, I managed to get the majority of the old mortar off the tub deck top. But the front of the bathtub surround was a different story. Large patches refused to come off, even when taking aggressive measures like the rigid scraper blade on my multi-tool.

bathtub surround with old thinset mortar stuck to front

Any lumpy surfaces will make the mosaic tile uneven, so I decided to just start fresh. I picked up a sheet of ¼" cement backer board and cut it to fit the front of the tub. Then I attached it with thinset mortar and 1 ¼" backer board screws.

Much better!

new cement backer board attached to front of bathtub surround

Dry Fit the Tile Layout

Plan out your tile layout before you start. I wanted to avoid cutting any tiles on the top of the tub deck for a cleaner look. Of course, that didn't quite work out as planned! There was about a half inch gap left on the sides of the tub.

bathtub surround with new tile being dry fit

But the front and back sections fit whole tiles perfectly, and I didn't want to mess that up! So I decided to fudge the spacing a bit instead.

The spacing between each row of mosaic tiles in a sheet is 1/16".  By cutting apart each row, and spacing them very slightly more than 1/16", I was able to fill in that ½" gap. You can barely notice the difference!

bathtub surround with new tile being fit

With all the tiles laid out, now is a good time to make the cuts you'll need to go around the deck mounted faucet handles and spout. It doesn't have to be exact. Just make sure that any gaps will be covered up by the bathtub fixtures later.

bathtub surround with deck mounted faucet handles and cut mosaic tiles

Spread Thinset in Small Sections and Apply Tile

I started with the top of the tub deck, which determined the height of the front tiles. I used two different methods for tiling the bathtub surround, depending on the situation.

For the top, I found it easiest to remove a few sheets of the dry fit tiles at a time. Then I spread the thinset over the cleared area before laying the tiles back in place. (I was so busy tiling, I forgot to take a picture! Sorry!)

With small mosaic tiles like this, it's important to keep all the lines straight and even. By keeping the dry fit tiles in place, I could keep them aligned easier.

On the front, I just spread the thinset over larger sections and stuck the tiles in place. The top tiles are even with the tiles on the top of the tub deck. The bottom row needed just the slightest trim in order to fit.

Applying mosaic tile to front of bathtub surround

Clean Up Grout Lines

Even with a small notch in the trowel, there were still spots where excess thinset squeezed out. One nice feature of the OmniGrip adhesive is that it's flexible and dries slowly. After a few hours, it dries to the consistency of Play-Doh, which makes it much easier to remove.

After allowing the tiles to set, I inspected it for squeeze out. Anything poking through could easily be cut out with a utility knife, or pushed back in with one of the tile spacers.

using tile spacer to push thinset back into grout line

Grout the Entire Surface

Originally, I was thinking I would grout all the tile with the same light color. But as soon as I started spreading it over the darker Emperador tiles, I realized my mistake. It looked horrible and emphasized every uneven grout line!

I quickly cleaned out as much of the grout as I could with a putty knife and grout brush, then rushed to the store. Luckily, they had pre-mixed unsanded grout in a perfectly matching shade of dark brown!

I hurried back home and filled in the cleaned area with new grout. Luckily, nothing dried too hard while I was gone, and it covered up easily. Crisis averted!

bathtub surround with dark brown tiles and grout

Make sure to go back over the entire surface of the tile with a microfiber cloth to remove any grout haze and polish the stone. You'll notice that the mosaic wall tiles look dull in comparison with the darker tub tiles. Once they're grouted and buffed, they'll take on a deeper, richer color!

Caulk Around the Bathtub Edge

Grout isn't flexible, which is a problem when your bathtub is constantly changing with the weight of the water inside it! Apply matching caulk instead of grout to the outside edge of the tub to keep water out of the gap.

Load the caulk into a caulk gun, then cut the tip to the desired diameter. Run a bead along one side, then wipe it smooth with a damp cloth.

applying grout caulk to outside edge of bathtub surround

Allow everything to dry for at least a day or two before relaxing in your newly tiled bathtub!

I still have a lot of work to do in this bathroom. But luckily, the majority of the tiling was completed this week. Not only did I finish the bathtub surround, but I also got the tile up on the walls too. The darker squares in the wall tiles and trim match the bathtub tile, bringing the whole color scheme together!

bathtub surround and wall tile

It was a happy accident that the trim tile matched up perfectly with the windowsill! I love how it extends that line visually around the entire tub area.

bathtub surround with window

There's no shower in this tub, so the wall tile only goes up a foot in this area to protect the drywall from splashes.

tiled bathtub surround

On the other side, it raises up another foot at the edge of the tub, then continues behind the toilet to meet up with the vanity backsplash on the other side of the bathroom.

This transition took far too much brainpower to figure out, with all those mitered trim pieces to cut. Thank goodness for all my woodworking experience! I did a little happy dance when everything was square and level. 🙂

bathtub wall tile transitioning to height of backsplash

I've been dreading moving the toilet, but this week I've gotta suck it up and do it so I can finish the tile.

bathroom remodel in progress

Then I'll grout all the wall tile and paint! It's getting close to the finish line now!

bathtub surround with dark brown tiles next to almond tub

Jann Olson

Monday 14th of May 2018

Beautifully done! Thanks for sharing with SYC. hugs, Jann


Wednesday 9th of May 2018

We are looking to do something similar to this on our next bathroom project! I will for sure be checking back here.


Danielle @ clark + aldine

Wednesday 9th of May 2018

We are looking to do something similar to this on our next bathroom project! I will for sure be checking back here.



Tuesday 8th of May 2018

This looks great. The tile is so pretty.


Monday 7th of May 2018

Fill that baby up with bubbles and grab a glass a of wine!! You deserve it, it looks beautiful!!! I can't wait to see the final reveal!!

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