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Can You Tile Over Drywall? Is It Safe?


Installing tile over drywall.

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It might seem like hanging tile on drywall isn’t the best idea because drywall just doesn’t seem sturdy enough to handle tile, but drywall is actually what most people use under wall tile.

You can tile over drywall in areas that are not exposed to excessive moisture, and it is safe. It is not safe to tile over drywall in areas that are exposed to wetness like in the shower. Water in these areas can eventually seep behind the tile and cause damage, mold, or pest infestations.

In most cases, you’ll be fine to tile over drywall. Even a backsplash in the kitchen, which may be exposed to a small amount of moisture, can be put up over drywall.

Pro Tip: Always use a tile sealer (link to Amazon) to protect and ensure the durability of your tile.

Can I Tile Over Drywall?

In most areas of your home, you can put tile over drywall without any issue at all as long as you prepare the drywall first and use the right mortar for your project. It is safe and effective and what most professional contractors do.

In fact, I’ve done this (or had it done) many times in both homes that my wife and I have remodeled as well as new construction projects.

The only time you can’t tile over drywall is if you’re hanging the tile in a location that gets wet or is exposed to frequent to constant humidity.

Here are some areas of your home you should NOT install tile over drywall:

  • Around shower or bathtub
  • In a sauna
  • Any place outdoors like in your outdoor kitchen

Places that may experience some moisture are usually okay, but you need to be aware of the risks. For example, many people tile over drywall behind their kitchen sink or in their laundry room. If these areas experience a plumbing issue or a leak, you can experience some of the issues we’ll talk about below, but in general, it is considered safe.

Why Can’t You Tile over Drywall in Wet Areas?

Tiling over drywall in a wet area isn’t always against building codes, so why is it so bad? I’ll give you three good reasons to avoid tiling over drywall in a wet area:

  • Mold: Moisture can seep behind the tile and the drywall and wood behind the drywall. Mold will flourish in these wet and dark conditions, and you won’t notice until your tiled wall starts to feel soft when you press it. By then, you have a serious issue on your hands.
  • Damage: Moisture can cause damage to the drywall and wood behind the drywall. If mold is also present (and it probably is), it can also cause structural damage.
  • Pests: All pests like a water source. Insects like carpenter ants and termites will find the moisture creeping behind the tile in your bathroom and take advantage of it. These insects can cause damage to other parts of your home as well.

Clearly, putting tile over drywall in the bathroom isn’t a good idea, but it is made even worst by the fact that the tile may not show any signs of damage until it is too late. If you have moisture or mold problems, you want to be able to see it. 

How to Tile in Rooms that Get Wet or Humid

So, we’ve established a strong argument for not putting tile directly over drywall in places that get damp. But what can you use to tile in wet areas?

Use Cement Board for Tile in Wet Areas

The best product to use under tile in wet areas is cement board. This is similar to drywall in that it comes in sheets, but cement board will not develop mold or deteriorate when exposed to water.

You hang cement board in the same way you hang drywall with two important differences:

  • A vapor barrier is installed behind the cement board to help prevent moisture problems.
  • A water-resistant tape is used for sealing up the seams.

You could also use a water-resistant tile backer like Densheild, but you could avoid moisture-resistant drywall. It isn’t effective in wet areas like the bathroom.

How to Prepare Drywall for Tile

Thin-Brick tile that we had installed over drywall in our new home.

Before hanging tile, it is essential that you prepare the drywall in order to get the best results. Thankfully, the process isn’t much more difficult than what you’d do before painting, although, like most things done right, it will take you some time.

How to Prepare Unpainted Drywall for Tile

If you’re in the middle of a kitchen renovation, you might be surprised to find some places where the builder skipped painting drywall, or maybe your working on a new wall. Either way, you’ll have to prep this bare drywall before hanging the tile. Here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Ensure that the drywall has had the seams sealed. If the seams still need to be sealed, you can apply a skim coat over the entire wall instead of worrying over perfect seams.
  2. Sand any areas that are not smooth. You’re just going to be covering it up with tile, but you want a smooth and flat surface for the tile to adhere to. (You don’t want lumpy or bumpy looking tile.)
  3. Vacuum and clean up the work area to eliminate dust.
  4. Wipe down the wall with a damp cloth to remove dust and allow the wall to dry.
  5. Prime the wall with a primer. This will seal the drywall and help protect it from moisture, and it will help smooth the wall. This is an important step and should never be skipped.
  6. Wait for the primer to dry before handing the tile.

How to Prepare Painted Drywall for Tile

If the drywall is painted, then the process is a little bit different. Here’s what you’ll do to prepare painted drywall for tile:

  1. Clear the area where you want to tile. Remove the faceplates for any outlets or light switches. Remove trim if there is any. You want these things to sit on top of the tile.
  2. Clean the wall with TSP. This will scrub away grease or build-up, which makes it easier for the tile to adhere to the wall. Allow the all to dry before moving on to the next step.
  3. Fill in any significant holes and sand away imperfections. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth, but you don’t want anything that will cause your tile to adhere improperly or sit unevenly.
  4. If you had to patch with spackle, you need to sand the spackle and wipe the area down with a damp rag. Allow the wall to dry before moving to the next step.

You can prime or paint the wall before a tile installation, but it isn’t necessary since you won’t see it.

If you do paint or prime, scuff up the paint with sandpaper to help create a strong bond between the tile and the wall.

Note that in the case of new drywall construction it is recommended that you wait approximately 4 weeks before tiling to ensure that the drywall plaster is completely dry and set (source).

What Mortar Do You Use to Tile Over Drywall?

It’s recommended that Thin-Set be used when putting tile over drywall, especially when installing a backsplash around a sink.

Technically, you can use a mastic, but it isn’t good for areas with any moisture or humidity, and why risk it when you could just use thinset? 

Can You Install Large Tiles Over Drywall?

Actually, yes! If you were installing something that was more like a brick than tile, you might have trouble because the weight per square foot may exceed what is recommended for drywall, which is 15 pounds per square foot.

In our new home, my wife and I wanted the appearance of a brick wall in our entryway. We used a product called Brickweb (link to HomeDepot).

It is sections of actual brick cut into thin slices and glued to a mesh that allows for better adherence. Each section was heavy but it has never given us even a moment of worry. Once it set, it was a permanent fixture in our home.

Is Tiling Over Drywall Safe?

It is safe to install tile over drywall in areas of your home that do not experience excessive wetness as long as you prepare the wall before installation and use the right mortar.

If you’re installing tile in your bathroom, it should be installed on a cement board or a tile backer meant for use in wet areas.

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Paul

As a homeowner, I am constantly experimenting with making the structure of my house more energy-efficient, eliminating pests, and taking on DIY home improvement projects. Over the past two decades, my family has rehabbed houses and contracted new home builds and I've learned a lot along the way. I share my hard-learned lessons so that you can save time and money by not repeating my mistakes.

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