How to Tell if Your Shower Is Really Waterproof—And What to Do if It’s Not

Audrey Bruno
Written by Audrey Bruno
Updated December 22, 2021
Bright clean shower
Justin Paget/DigitalVision via Getty Images

If you’re struggling with a shower that always smells funky, it might be because your tile isn’t actually waterproof

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Despite what many believe, the tile and grout in most showers isn’t waterproof all on it’s own. It’s actually protective membranes and sealants that are installed before and after new tile. 

This sealant is key to preventing wet areas and mildew from developing, and will keep your morning shower a relaxing way to wake up.

How Do I Find Out If My Shower Tiles Are Waterproof?

If your shower has a funky smell that won’t go away no matter how many times you clean, it’s probably because your tile isn’t actually waterproof. Wet areas or noticeable molding—whether on the shower walls or floor—are other signs this might be your problem.

The next error occurs when the tile setter overlooks mistakes made by the builder and plumber. They will install the wall board that they are comfortable with and float a sloped mud set pan over the vinyl liner in an attempt to provide positive drainage in the finished shower floor.

If there’s no standing water (often called a birdbath) in the shower pan when you turn off the shower valve, the shower pan must be working correctly, right? Many go on to compound the mistakes by not taking measures to install any waterproofing measures prior to setting the tile.

Quite a few bathroom tile contractors also will puncture the liner in critical areas on the curb and below the curb line inside the shower pan while fastening the wall board. Another requirement of a vinyl shower pan liner is a bed of pea gravel in the mud set around the drain, a step that is often ignored.

Should I Try to Waterproof My Existing Tiles or Start Over Entirely?

It all depends on the current state of your shower. If there are severe structural damages, it’s probably going to be necessary to pull up the existing tile and grout and replace everything. 

Newer tile installations that haven’t received much use will be fine with a coating of liquid membrane or sealant. The only catch: you may have to reapply this sealant over the years.

How Much Will It Cost to Waterproof My Shower Tiles?

While shower waterproofing kits can be pricey, they’re worth the splurge to prevent costly repairs down the line. They include everything you need to complete the project—including sheet membrane and a shower tray—and can cost anywhere from $477 to $745 depending on the size and setup of your shower. 

Alternatively, you’ll pay much less for liquid membrane upfront—between $55 and $770—but may have to spend more on upkeep in the future.

Clean shower tiles
John Keeble/Moment via Getty Images

What Tools and Materials Do I Need to Waterproof My Shower?

Shower waterproofing kits include most of the materials you need to complete this project. And remember, all of this needs to be installed before laying down tile:

  • 1 shower tray

  • 2 shower curbs

  • 2-3 rolls of waterproofing membrane

  • 1 shower collar

Some kits will also include crack isolation membranes to prevent tile or grout from cracking. You can always buy this separately. 

From there, you’ll also need some common tools to complete the job: a paintbrush, a smoothing tool, and scissors for cutting the membrane. If you choose to hire a pro, they’ll have all the necessary equipment to get it done. 

Even if your shower is already equipped with under-tile waterproofing, it can still be worth it to add an extra layer of security. For this, you’ll need your preferred brand of liquid sealant, a smoothing tool, and a bit of time to let it fully dry.

Is This a Project I Can DIY, or Should I Hire a Pro?

Once again, this is going to depend on the shower’s current condition. If it’s experiencing serious damage from years of insufficient waterproofing, you might need a total replacement. In these cases, it’s best to hire a tile installer in your area to guarantee everything is up to code so the same problems won’t reoccur. 

On the other hand, it’s easy to apply a layer of protection to a newly completed tile installation on your own.

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