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.
You don’t need to tile around a freestanding tub. However, if the freestanding tub is going to be near a wall, consider how likely the wall is to get wet. Then take steps to protect the wall in order to prevent damage. There are several options to protect your wall aside from tiling it.
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.
How Wet Will the Wall By Your Tub Get?
Determine how much protection you need, by asking yourself the following questions:
Will Your Freestanding Tub Be Flush to a 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.
Will Children or Pets Use 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.
Does Your Freestanding Tub Have a Shower?
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.
How Deep Is Your 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.
Do You Have Mold-Fighting Equipment In Your 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. (Here’s my favorite fan, because it’s quiet and energy-efficient.) 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.
5 Ways to Protect The Wall Near Your Freestanding Tub
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 Your Freestanding Tub by a Large 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 Your Bathroom Wall Beside Your Freestanding Tub
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. Apply Mildew Resistant Paint & 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. Put Up 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.
Considerations for Tiling Around a Freestanding Tub
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:
Where Should You Tile?
Where you tile depends on how flush against the wall your bathtub rests. 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.
What Kind of Tile is Best?
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.
How Much Tile Will You Need?
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.
What About 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.
So Will You Tile Around Your Freestanding Tub?
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.
If you’re in the market for a freestanding tub, check out our ultimate buying guide.
And if you’ve already got a freestanding tub and you’ve decided to tile behind it, be sure to read How to Choose the Perfect Bathroom Tile for You.