Tile Tub or Shower Surround Wall Preparation

Applying waterproofer to cement backer board before tiling.
Applying a waterproofing sealer to cement backer board before tiling.

Since a tile tub or shower surround gets wet, it requires a waterproof backing, rather than just drywall. Here are the steps involved in preparing tub or shower walls for tile.

Tub or shower wall tile preparation:

    1. Apply a layer of 1/2″ thick cement backer board to the wall studs.
    1. Tape any seams and corners with fiberglass tape.
    1. Apply thin-set adhesive over the fiberglass tape, and allow it to dry.
  1. Roll a waterproofing sealer over the walls, and allow the sealer to dry.

Watch this video to find out more.

Further Information

Danny Lipford: Installing a backsplash is relatively easy, and people often assume that applying tile to any wall requires the same process. But a tub or shower enclosure is very different because of the constant moisture it endures.

A backsplash is primarily decorative and can be installed directly over drywall. But for a tub or shower, you need to begin with a cement backer board base, because the tile will be constantly wet.

Next, you’ll tape the seams of the backer board, and apply a waterproofing sealer to the surface before you begin installing the tile. That way, even if moisture makes it through the tile or the porous grout, it won’t be able to get inside the walls behind them.


  1. Surround came down sheet rock behind…what do I seal watwrproof.it with..not tearing out Sheetrock…is there panels???

  2. I have an old house with plaster walls and I am having a shower kit installed next week. What should I be considering for behind the new shower walls? Should I have 2 x 4 studs to support the walls/base? How should I finish the edges of the shower stall once the install is completed?

    Karen Case

  3. A far better way to to construct shower walls for tile is to start by drapin g a sheet of heavy duty 6 mil thick polyethylene over the walls. Do it in one sheet wrapping the walls and go from ceiling height down to flash over the shower membrane. That is your vapor barrier and part of the shower waterproofing. Next screw durock to the studs with rock-on screws.
    Then use the fiber mesh tape with thin set to tape the joints. No need to redguard everything in the world and then stick tile to that rubberized product with cement based thinset. Adhering tile to cement board with cement based thinset creates the strongest bond. The tile, thinset and cement board become one. Any moisture that penetrates the tile and the wonderboard (which is probably almost never on a vertical surface) will hit the 6 mil polyethelene and roll down to the shower membrane.
    And no, don’t cover the weep holes in the shower drain. Use pebbles that are rounded and don’t block the holes…

  4. Our grout on the shower seat started disintegrating, then the bullnose tiles started loosening. We removed one bullnose & found the cement board edges were not taped, letting water travel inside. We found water damage at the base of that wall in our bedroom. Do we need to remove all the tiles on the bottom part of the shower or just the shower seat area?

  5. I have read that you leave a space between the shower base and the wall board on the wall. I believe it said about 1/4 inch so water does not wick up. My Question is what is used in the 1/4 inch space around the shower base? Thanks for the info.

    • Hi, Beverly! There are no shortcuts — you will need to air out and fully dry the wall before applying primer and paint. Good luck!

  6. We took out a shower in the basement and put in a tub that we are going to tile. The tub has a flange and the wallboard comes down to the top of flange so the tile will go down to the tub leaving the gap between the flange and back of tile. I’m wondering what kind of cement or other medium to fill that area before I apply I tile it?

    • Hi, Jim!
      We’re always looking for homeowners to call into our radio show and ask questions directly to Danny and Joe. We’ve reviewed your question and shared it with our radio show’s producer.
      Thanks for writing! 🙂


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