How to Tile a Shower Floor

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Complete steps to tile a shower floor without puddles.

Many shower floor tile jobs are not set properly. This is most obvious when the shower floor tile holds water. Even some so-called professionals cannot float a shower floor correctly. The following guide will explain the "old school" way of installing a shower floor tile.

Materials and tools needed to tile a shower floor

It is important to have all of the tools and materials before starting this project. You will need a bag of portland cement ( 80 pound bag ), 15 gallons of sand, water, a bag of white unsanded thinset, tile and grout. This amount of portland and sand will complete most showers that are 48 X 30 with a 2 inch deep pan. Larger showers will require more. Sheet tile is preferred. The sheets with smaller squares of tile will create a better finish product.

The tools needed include a flat shovel, 2 five gallon bucket ( one filled with water and the other empty ), sponge, grout float, straight edge, bubble level, tile cutter ( a side grinder with a tile blade works great for cutting around the drain ), margin trowel, masking tape and a pencil. A pair of tile nippers will help but are not necessary. The floor drain should come with a cover preinstalled, if not then install one before starting.


The wall tile needs to be installed before starting the shower floor. The wall tile must be run below height of the finished shower floor. Some showers come with a rubber pan, if so the folds need to be tucked neatly to the corners. Tape the shower drain cover with masking tape. This is done so that the mortar and grout will not fill the drain. Place one end of a bubble level on the drain cover and the other next to the wall tile. Use a pencil to make a mark on the wall tile level with the floor drain. From this mark go up 1/2 inch and make a mark. With the bubble level and pencil make a line around the shower tile at the same height as the top mark. Shower floors longer than 48 inches should have this line 3/4 inch above the level mark. The extra quarter inch will ensure a good shower floor slope.

Mix the portland and sand together on a concrete slab. A sheet of plywood will work if the floors in the house are already complete. Use the flat shovel to mix. This is done by sliding the shovel across the floor, lift some sand and place it onto the top of the pile. Continue to do this until the sand and cement is completely mixed. Make a bowl in the top of the pile. Add some water. Remix the cement mix with the shovel. The key here is to add water slowly. You want just enough water in the mix to make it damp. 

Carry some of the mix in a bucket to the shower pan. Dampen the shower floor with a wet sponge. Dump the cement mix near the far wall. Use a grout float to compact the mix. Build a shelf all the way around the shower wall tile. At this point the mix should be higher than the line on the tile. Use the margin trowel to cut away the shelf until it is even with the line. Leave the excess in the shower pan for later use. 

Dump another bucket of mix in the shower pan. Use the grout float to pack the cement as you did for the shelf. Continue to do this until the entire shower floor has been packed. Use a straight edge to cut away the excess mix from the shelf to the drain. Ideally the mix will finish off 1/8 inch below the shower drain and the slope will be even all the way around the shower. If an area of the packed shower floor is to low, use the margin trowel to break up the mix, add some more and repack with the grout float. Continue to do this until the shower floor is even and smooth with no dips.

Open the bag of unsanded thinset. Dust the shower floor with the thinset. This dusting should be about 1/8 inch thick. Wait 10 to 15 minutes. The thinset should have soaked up some of the moisture from the wet shower floor pack. If there are any dry areas sprinkle a little water on it. Wait 5 more minutes. All of the thinset should now be ready for tile.

Lay the sheet tile on the wet thinset. Gently push the sheet tile down with a clean grout float. Start at the back corner of the shower floor with full sheets of tile. Cut the tile on the last sheet to size before setting. If you set the tile and try to move it the thinset will rip apart the packed floor. Use the grinder to cut the tile around the shower floor drain. Set all of the cut tile. After all the tile has been set wash the floor tile with a wet sponge. Remove all of the wet thinset that has raised into the grout joints or gotten onto the floor tile. At this point any dips in the shower floor tile must be fixed. To do this simply use the grout float to push the high areas of the floor tile down. Let everything dry overnight. Grout the shower floor tile. For a professional look use a margin trowel to cut in the grout joint between the floor tile and the wall tile.

These instructions describe how to install a tile shower floor like a pro. Take your time and you will have a shower floor that will not puddle after use. This will be a tile job that any homeowner will be proud to say " I did this ". 

1 comment

Kristina Daguia
Posted on Feb 16, 2010