Preparing to Tile

Dear NH,
We are thinking about putting tile above our shower where the drywall is now. The problem is that there is some mildew and I am not sure how to deal with it. Should the drywall be cut away and patched or can it be bleached or sanded down? I am at a loss. What would you suggest?
ME from Gainesville, GA

Tiling above the top of a shower enclosure is a permanent way to end moisture problems (and the endless repainting or re-wallpapering) in that area. I've always recommended this as the #1 repair option for this vulnerable area.

You have two issues with which to deal: the mildew itself and the solidity of the walls. Surface mildew can and should be removed with bleach and a cleaner. Once the walls are totally dry, apply a coat of oil-based primer sealer before installing the tile.

For a non-stressed surface such as the area above a plastic shower or tub enclosure, tile can be applied directly to the existing standard drywall as long as the surface is smooth and solid. If the drywall has become mushy from water exposure, it should be replaced or repaired. For example, if the area right above the enclosure is soft, which is a typical scenario since water tends to collect there, you can cut it out with a utility knife. If the area you cut out is small, you might be able to just leave it and tile right over the top, provided the tile has sufficient gluing area to solid drywall. This, of course, will depend on the layout of your tiles. If at least 2/3 of the tile can be solidly glued, that should be sufficient for this situation.

Though a new installation should use the most modern material, waterproof tile backer board, this specific installation does not really need such extensive reworking. However, if quite a bit of the wall is soft from water damage, you should use water-resistant "green" drywall as an easy replacement material.

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