How to Remove a Tub Surround and Replace with Tiles (And Save $600)

Did you know that the average labor cost to replace a bathtub surround is $300 to $600? Don’t get me wrong, trying to remove a tub surround and replace it with tiles by yourself is by no means easy. However, taking the time to learn to do it yourself will pay you dividends in the long run.

Not only that, but once you’ve become good enough, you could treat it as your side hustle! 

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What to Consider Before You Begin

Expertise: Properly removing tub surrounds requires some finesse and dedication to learn the proper procedure. If you’re doing this for the first time, it may feel daunting. But don’t worry! With adequate research, the right tools, and by following the steps below, you’ll be able to remove your bathtub surround without incurring costly mistakes. 

Budget: While there is no harm in hiring a professional, it may bring the total costs to more than double. A DIY project may require more time and effort on your end, but it’ll free up money to refurnish other areas of your home. 

Type of tub surround: Is your tub surround made of acrylic, fiberglass, or even tiled marbles? Is it a single-piece or multiple-piece type? Was it installed direct-to-stud or with adhesives? Removing different kinds of bathtub surrounds will require various tools and methods, which we will explain below. 

Safety precautions: Always put on proper safety attire such as work gloves, safety goggles, respirator masks, long sleeves, and pants. Moreover, you should cover your floors with a tarp or thick cardboard before you begin removing your tub surround. The last thing you want is a sliced finger or extra repair work.

How to Remove a Tub Surround

What you’ll need:

  • Electric and manual screwdriver
  • Utility knife
  • Hammer
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Wrench
  • Allen wrench

1. Ensure proper safety attire & flooring protection

Before you begin, you must put on proper safety attire. The project involves sharp tools and materials that, if not handled carefully, may result in serious injuries. 

Proper attire: Work gloves, safety glasses, respirator, long sleeves, and pants

While optional, you should also cover your floor with a tarp or thick cardboard. This will prevent any damages to your tiles if, say, you accidentally drop a hammer. It’ll also make cleanup much easier after you’re done removing your tub surround walls.

2. Turn off the water supply

You can turn off the water supply to the bathtub by turning the shutoff valves. They are usually located in your basement, under the tub, or behind a removable wall panel near your bathtub.

How to find the water shut-off valve at your home: 

If your shower is a single-handle shower: 

3. Remove faucets and tub spout

To remove the faucet handles, turn the screws counterclockwise with a screwdriver. Then, pry off the exposed plate with a hammer or with your hands. As for the tub spout, use a screwdriver or Allen wrench to remove any screw sets. Then, with a wrench or your hands, turn the spout counterclockwise until it is removed. 

For single-piece tub surrounds: Single-piece tub surrounds usually aren’t reusable, so you’ll have to remove the bathtub along with the surrounding walls. Before you remove the bathtub, you must remove the tub drain to prevent any damage to the plumbing. 

You can remove the tub drain by turning it counterclockwise with a tub drain remover. 

Tip: Each system is slightly different, so be sure to check what’s needed to remove your faucets and tub spouts. 

Video Guide: Removing the tub drain

4. Cut the caulking or sealant with a utility knife 

With a utility knife, cut along the side and top edges of the surround. Your goal is to cut off all the silicone or sealant so that it is easier to remove the panels. For multiple-paneled surrounds, you should also cut the caulk or sealant with overlapping corners.

5. Mark a cut line around the edges of the surround with a pencil and level 

You want to expose the flanges and nails holding the surrounding walls to the studs beneath them. So, you should mark a cut line 6 inches from the top perimeter of the tub surround and 2 inches from the sides.

6. Remove the drywall by cutting along the cut line

Use a utility knife or reciprocating saw (Sawzall) to cut along the marked line. This will remove just enough drywall to expose the flanges but not too much that it’ll damage the existing drywall in the room. Then, with a hammer, chip and pry out the drywall between the cut line and the tub surround walls.

Video Guide:

7. Remove all screws, nails, and other fasteners that are holding the tub against the wooden framing

You will be able to see nails or screws securing the tub to the wooden framing. You have to remove these fasteners with a screwdriver or by prying them out with a hammer. Most bathtub surrounds are installed direct-to-stud, so it’ll be necessary to remove the aforementioned fasteners. As for adhesive tub surrounds, you can usually immediately pry the panels out with a hammer or with your hands. However, there’ll still be screws you have to remove before you pry out the panels.

8. Remove the panels in one piece / large pieces

With a reciprocating saw, cut the bathtub surround into three or more large sections for safer and easier removal. Then, slowly remove them by pulling or prying them out. If your tub surround is tiled rather than fiberglass or acrylic, you can use a hammer to smash the tiles out and pry them open. 

It is almost impossible to reuse a single-piece tub surround. So, you’ll have to cut and remove a bathtub also if it is a single-piece surround. 

Note: Be careful not to cut too deep when using a reciprocating saw. You may risk cutting any wiring that is behind the drywall.

How to Replace Your Tub Surround with Tiles

What you’ll need: 

  • Backer board
  • Mesh tape
  • Electric screwdriver
  • Tile Adhesive
  • Hammer
  • Utility knife
  • Reciprocating saw (Sawzall)
  • Grout
  • Grout float
  • Tile cutter (to resize the tiles)
  • Tile adhesive trowel
  • Paint roller/brush
  • Tile spacers
  • Pencil
  • Level (preferably laser)
  • Wet sponge
  • Silicone/sealant + sealant gun

1. Remove all nails, caulking, and adhesives from the wall studs

The wooden framing should be clean from any nails, caulking, and construction adhesives. You can use a hammer, utility knife, or electric screwdriver.

2. Determine the location of your showerheads and faucets

Credit: Popular Mechanics

With a pencil, measure and mark the location of the shower heads on your backer board. Then, cut along the lines on the board.

3. Screw the backer board to the wall studs

Credit: Armchair Builder

Screw the backer boards directly to the wooden framing. Every backer board has slightly different installation specifications. So, you should follow the manual that comes together with your board when you purchased them. 

Note: The board needs to sit on the flange and not the actual tub, as shown in this drawing. 

Credit: SgtDonovan on YouTube

4. Seal the joints of the backer board with a mesh tape

Credit: FibaTape

Cover all the seams with fiberglass mesh tape and press them against the boards. One layer of mesh tape is enough.

5. Waterproof the boards and mesh tapes

There are several methods to waterproof your tub surround walls. Generally, you must seal the gaps with a silicone sealant and let them dry before you continue waterproofing the boards. Also, you have to coat all the fiberglass mesh tape with a waterproofing membrane. Regardless of the waterproofing membrane you use, make sure to follow the specific instructions written on the product manual or packaging. 

Optional: Apply a waterproofing coating on the entire board. While some people skip this step, it won’t hurt to apply an extra layer of protection while using all the leftover waterproofing membrane. 

Video Guide

6. Mark the tiling areas with a level and pencil

Find the lowest point where the tile will be installed against the tub. Then, place a tile against the wall and mark it on the top of the tile. At the mark, draw a level line all the way around the three sides of the tub surround. 

Note: There should be a ⅛ inch gap between the tub and the first row of tile. 

Keep reading for a video guide on steps 6-10.

7. Apply the tile adhesives on the backer boards

Follow the instructions of your specific tile adhesive for a good mix. Then, with a trowel, apply the tile adhesive onto the boards.

8. Install the tiles from the bottom

You should use tile spacers to leave small gaps (2-3 mm) between each tile. If required, level the first row of tiles with spacers. 

Note: You should also cut and resize the tiles for the showerhead and faucets.

9. Apply grout all over the tiles 

After the tiles have dried, apply grout all over the tiles with a grout float. Leave it to dry for 10 minutes, then clean the excess grout with a wet sponge.

10. Seal the joints

Seal all edges and corners with silicone or caulk. This includes the edges between the surrounding panels and the edges between the wall and the tub. Leave the sealant to dry for 24 hours before using the shower.

Video Guide (Steps 6 – 10)

Key Takeaways

There is no one-size-fits-all guide for removing a tub surround and replacing it with tiles. Every bathroom and DIY project has different requirements to be met. Regardless, the above steps are a general guide for what you need to do in your DIY tub surround replacement project.

Related: Sanded vs Unsanded Grout – Which is Best for Tiling?


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