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Do You Need to Tile Around a Freestanding Tub?

Freestanding claw foot tub with brown tile wall behind it


I’m thinking of putting in a freestanding tub, but I’m wondering if I’ll need to tile around the tub to prevent water damage on the wall. After a fair bit of research, as well as talking to a bathroom designer, I got my answer.

While it’s not necessary to tile around a freestanding tub, if the freestanding tub is against a wall, you’ll need to protect the wall from water damage. Tile is not the only option. Alternatives include wainscot, glass brick, and mildew-resistant paint.


wainscoting on wall behind freestanding tub
Wainscoting on wall behind freestanding tub.


If you’ve ever had a mold or mildew problem, or if you’ve ever had water damage in your home, you won’t need any convincing that it’s worth taking proactive steps to prevent these expensive problems from occurring in the first place. (And if you have a problem like this right now, check out Bathroom Mold: A Battle Plan to Destroy It.)

Whether or not your freestanding tub is in the center of your bathroom, you’ll want to protect your walls at least somewhat.  


Is the Freestanding Tub Against the Wall?


woman in freestanding tub blowing bubbles
Do you like to splash in the tub?


Determine how much protection you need by considering the following:


Distance Between the Freestanding Tub and the Wall


If your tub will be flush to the wall, the wall is more likely to get wet. Not only might you splash a bit getting into and out of the tub, but there’s more likely to be condensation on the wall from the hot water.


Children or Pets Using the Tub


If children will use your freestanding tub, you may get more splashing action and bubbly fun, and this could end up soaking your walls. Also, if you bathe your dog in your bathtub, you may wind up with the same.


Freestanding Tub With Shower Attachment


If you plan to stand in your tub to shower, you’re likely to spray the wall. This is true whether or not your tub is flush to the wall or several inches from it.


Depth of the Freestanding Tub


The deeper the bathtub, the less likely you are to slosh your suds over the edges and the more protected your walls will be.


Mold Prevention Equipment in the Bathroom


A good bathroom fan can do a lot to mitigate water from accumulating on your walls and floors. Purchase a bathroom fan that will circulate the right amount of air for the cubic footage in your bathroom. 

Be sure to run your fan for 15 minutes after you take a bath to dry out the bathroom. And if you have serious moisture issues in your bathroom, consider a good compact dehumidifier.

Here’s my favorite fan, because it’s quiet and energy-efficient.




How to Protect a Wall Behind a Freestanding Tub


glass brick wall by freestanding tub
Glass brick wall beside freestanding bathtub


There are several options for protecting your bathroom wall from water damage. It may be worth investing the extra thought and expense upfront so that you don’t have to deal with expensive repairs down the road. Here are five strategies that you can use:


1. Position the Tub By a Window or Glass Brick Wall


Glass is easy to clean as long as you can reach it. If the tub is flush against the glass, you’ll have more trouble with pooling water on the floor. However if you’ve got enough room—say a foot of space—between the tub and the glass wall, then you can easily clean and dry the wall with a squeegee and a microfiber cloth. 

Of course, there are plenty of considerations when using glass by a bathtub. You’ll need to use privacy glass, adhere to safety codes and take care to guard your privacy. For much more on placing a tub by glass, see this post.


2. Install Painted Wainscot


If you don’t want to tile, you can protect the wall by your freestanding tub with painted wainscot. This decorative wall paneling became all the rage in the 18th century. Typically, it’s applied only up to chair-height on a wall, but in the bathroom, you can lay it up to five feet from the floor or even all the way to the ceiling. This would be an ideal choice for a freestanding tub without a shower.

That said, you’ll need to be careful to use a moisture-resistant wainscot material. Though it’s usually made of wood, you can also find wainscoting in ceramic tile and PVC plastic, which are both water resistant. By using wainscot, you can add some texture to your bathroom while protecting the walls at the same time. 


3. Tadelakt the Bathroom Wall


Tadelakt is a plaster commonly used in Morrocan architecture. It’s waterproof and commonly used in bathrooms. The wonderful thing about this material is that it can be shaped into domes and curves without leaving a seam. You can get it in a range of colors and it can add a punch of color and a flair for the exotic surrounding your freestanding bathtub.


4. Use Mildew-Resistant Paint Over Waterproof Drywall


If you’ve already got waterproof drywall, and you’re looking for the path of least resistance, try a mildew-resistant paint with a moisture-resistant primer underneath. It may cost a bit more than regular paint, but it could save you buckets in the long run.


5. Install Non-Porous Tile


Once you consider the other options, you may come back to tile. After all, there are so many types of tile that the opportunities for uniquely styling your bathroom are endless. But don’t be fooled. Contrary to common opinion, most tile isn’t waterproof. Different types of tile are more or less dense and absorb different amounts of water. You’ll want to choose a non-porous tile.  

Even though non-porous tile usually won’t need to be sealed, the grout lines between the tiles does need sealer. See my guide to bathroom tile and grout sealer to get the best products for your project.


How to Save Big on Your Bathroom Tile


If you’re looking for ways to save big money on bathroom tile, and you also want other money-saving hacks for your bathroom remodel, get the Bathtubber’s easy cheat sheet.

These genius designer tips have the potential to save you thousands of dollars. Simply fill out this form and I’ll send it straight to your inbox:


Tiling Around a Freestanding Tub


A Designer's Guide to Choosing Bathroom Tile


After much consideration, you may in fact choose to tile around the tub. If you do go for this option, then there are several additional questions for you to answer:


Tile At Least 48 Inches from the Floor


Where you tile depends if you have a freestanding tub against the wall. Designer Kathleen Stacey Finley says:

“If you have a freestanding tub, the height of the surround depends somewhat on the height of your tub. At least 48” from your floor is a good place to start. If your tub sits next to the wall, the tile functions as a backsplash and should extend at least 12” up the wall from the edge of the tub.”

However, if you’re installing a shower ring as well, then you’ll need to go from the floor 12 inches above the height of the showerhead.

If your freestanding bathtub faucet comes with a handheld showerhead, then you should tile up to the ceiling, unless you plan to have a shower curtain protecting the perimeter of the tub. With a handheld showerhead, a bather is quite likely to spray the height of the wall every now and again.



Use Non-Porous Tile Like Ceramic or Glass


Common to contrary opinion, tile is not waterproof. Some tiles are more porous than others, meaning they absorb more water. Glass or ceramic and porcelain tiles are popular choices for the bathroom, as they are non-porous. You might also choose sealed natural stone, which may not be as durable but can look great. For more, check out my post Glass or Ceramic Tile? Pros and Cons.


A Tile Calculator


It can be quite complicated to calculate how much tile you need, especially if you’re tiling more than just the tub backsplash. To help with this, download The Bathtubber’s Official Bathroom Tile Calculator. Simply fill out this form and I’ll send you the free tool:


Do Not Ignore the Grout


Make sure to pay as much attention to your bathroom tile grout as you do to the tile itself. The grout width and color can absolutely change the appearance of the tile. You’ll also want to apply a grout sealant in order to make it waterproof.

If you want thin grout lines, be sure to read my post on How to Make Thin Grout Lines. You do need to know a few tricks to get it right and this post contains a step-by-step guide.  


How to Tile Around Your Bathtub


If you want a DIY project you can complete in about 10-15 hours, save a bundle, and learn a life skill, why not try tiling around your tub yourself? If you’re game, this post provides detailed, step-by-step instructions for how to replace your bathtub tile. I explain the 12 steps and the materials you need to complete each one.

And be sure to plan not just the tile, but also the substrate—the material behind the bathtub walls that isn’t visible to the naked eye. It’s critical to add water-resistant layers in order to protect your walls. Learn more about how to protect your walls before tiling.


Choose the Right Tile Size

One decision that can make or break your bathroom tile project is choosing the right size tiles for your space. The walls of a large bathroom can use different tile sizes than the walls of a small bathroom. But the shower floor of any size bathroom should use the same tile size. For help choosing the right size tiles for your bathroom, see my detailed tile size guide.



So Will You Tile Around Your Freestanding Tub?


Choose a main tile for the bathroom - neutral or statement tile
This fun decor uses statement tiles


In the end, tiling around your freestanding tub is one of many options. Just be sure to consider the potential for water damage and take steps to mitigate the issue before you’ve got a problem on your hands. That way, you can soak in relaxation, instead of soak in worry.

Check out my ultimate guide to freestanding tubs and my ultimate guide to bathroom tile.

Do you already got a freestanding tub that you’ve decided to tile behind? If so, be sure to read How to Choose the Perfect Bathroom Tile for You.

And check out my post on Glass vs Ceramic Tile for the Shower. Many people end up debating between these two tile materials. But there are some pretty significant differences. Once you know what they are, the decision will become much easier.



Tags: bathtub backsplash, bathtub surround, freestanding bathtub, Kathleen Stacey Finley, mildew resistant paint, nonporous tile, tile around tub, wainscot

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