Can I Glue a Tub Surround Over Existing Tile?

Bathroom renovations are one of the best ways to improve the value of your home and offer more comfort for your family or guests. A tub surround is a popular way to do this. 

However, tearing down the tile to add a tub surround adds much more work to the mix. Can you glue a tub surround over existing tile?

In a word: Yes. You can install a tub surround over an existing tile with proper preparation and materials. 

What Is a Tub Surround?

When recently completing my bathroom renovation, I discovered how easy it is to install a tub surround and quickly update the look of my bathroom space for a fraction of the cost of hiring a contractor.

A tub surround is an enclosure that fits around the outside of the bathtub and protects the bathtub shell while keeping the surrounding walls from sustaining water damage. Tub surrounds also help create a clean and finished look for a bathroom. 

Most tub surrounds are a set of basic, waterproof walls meant to go up around the tub. Some surrounds have other accessibility features like steps, shelves, or decorative pieces like patterns and angled ledges. 

Many bathtubs use tub surrounds in modern bathroom design regardless of their shape. 

When Should I Avoid Gluing a Tub Surround to Existing Tile?

Before you install a tub surround over your tiling, you should be wary of some signs that it won’t work well. If you spot a problem with the tiling or tub surround, it might be better to tear out the old tile or replace the tub surround before you risk water damage in your home. 

For example, old or dull tiling signifies that you should remove the old tiling first. Old tiling won’t allow the glue to adhere well to the tile’s surface, which can eventually lead to structural issues. Old tile also requires more maintenance than newer tiling, which is harder to do with a bathtub surround glued to the tiles. 

Another important point to keep in mind is that not all tiling takes adhesive, even when new. Porcelain tiles use a different type of glue, making them incompatible with many modern adhesives used for tub surrounds today. 

Your best bet when working with older tiles is to reach out to the manufacturer for the tub surround and the adhesive. The company can share the best adhesive for your bathroom as well as tips for installation.

How Much Does Tub Surround Installation Cost?

Tub surround installations vary in price depending on your type of installation. Usually, a contractor will have you select from either a solid surface project or a plastic tub surround kit.

Solid surface projects offer the most structure and durability but at a higher price. These surrounds fill all the gaps between the bathtub shell and the exterior of the surround. Usually, these projects cost between $1000 and $2000 for materials and labor. 

These projects require contractor knowledge and materials to install. 

This price tag led me to look into other options for updating my bathroom space. That’s when I found plastic tub surround kits. 

Plastic tub surround kits are exterior walls that will go outside the bathtub, and these walls create the tub surround finish without filling all of the interior space between the wall and the tub shell. The most expensive kits tend to go for $500, but budget options exist for as low as $60, and installation is straightforward for the average DIY builder. 

How to Install a Tub Surround Over Existing Tile

To make the process of installing your tub surround over existing tile as easy as possible, follow these steps:

Clean Up the Existing Tile

Before you install the surround, you’ll want to clean up the existing tile. Over time, tile can build up mineral deposits and soap residue. These contaminants will prevent your adhesive from sticking well, if at all. 

To clean up the tile, use a tile cleaner. Scrub the walls with the tile cleaner and then rinse with water to remove the cleaner and the residue. Depending on the thick residues on the walls, you might want to repeat the wash and rinse off the tile. 

After you rinse and thoroughly dry the tile, you can move on to the next step. Remember, the tile needs to be completely dry; even damp tiles won’t properly hold an adhesive. 

Get the Right Adhesive

The most important part of this step is using the correct adhesive. Not all adhesives work with all tiles, meaning you need to match your adhesive to your bathroom tile. Most tub surrounds require flexible, water-based adhesives, allowing them to bond with most surfaces. 

However, adhesives have different requirements to activate the glue; some require mixing and manual application, some need exposure to air, and others need caulking guns for a successful application.

You’ll also want to ensure that the tiling is level before you apply the adhesive. 

Create a Cardboard Template

The easiest way to measure drill hole placement in the surround is with a cardboard template. If your kit came in a cardboard box, you can use that to make your template. 

Hold the cardboard up to where the surround will go and measure out sizes and holes with a pencil. You can then take that template to the surrounding wall and make necessary cuts to line up with your tub tile and fixtures. 

Glue the Surround to the Substrate

With the tub surround cut, apply your adhesive using the method and gear indicated by the product. You’ll want to apply adhesive to one wall at a time so that the glue doesn’t set before you place it on the tub. 

Once you apply the adhesive, you’ll line up the wall with its position on your tub and press against the wall. Hold the wall in place for a few moments before letting go and allowing the adhesive to dry. 

FAQs

Here are the answers to some of the other common questions out there regarding tub surrounds: 

How do you install a tub surround over an existing tub?

Once you have removed the existing fixtures, the surround installer will measure up the shower walls and create a template to use when drilling holes for the fixtures. Once drilled, caulk and adhesive allows the installer to place the walls without removing the bathtub. 

How do you glue a tub surround?

Once the surround walls have holes from the cardboard template, you want to apply adhesive specifically made for tub surrounds to the back side of the walls. Using a zigzag pattern with the caulk gun will ensure an even adhesive coating goes onto the wall. 

Once applied, the worker can press the wall into position and hold the adhered wall in place while the adhesive cures. 

What can I put behind my tub surround?

In addition to hiding parts of the tub or the plumbing for it, tub surrounds can house moisture-resistant backings to help prevent water damage. These fillers repel water from the space between the wall and the tub, preventing water damage over time. 

Wrapping Up

Tub surrounds are an easy way to update your bathroom with a clean, new look. The price tag for a tub surround is less than a surface removal project with contractor fees. This project is a relatively simple DIY for homeowners with the correct adhesive and proper measurements. Follow the step-by-step guide to clean your bathroom wall surface, create a template for installation, and seal your new tub surround into place.

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