How to Install a Penny Tile Shower Floor Without It Looking Awful

white penny tiled shower floor

Installing a Penny Tile Shower Floor

The last thing I wanted was for my bathroom to appear on a Bad Penny Title Google search. And I can bet you also can only hope this doesn’t happen to you either!

I tiled my shower floor using white penny tiles, and I want to share what I learned to make your experience even easier.

Here is how I installed a penny tile shower floor, the tools I needed, the mistakes I made, and what I’d do differently the next time around. There are a few differences between installing penny tiles and other types, so pay attention!

white penny tile floor

You’ll want to check out this post on how to tile a bathroom floor for details and a complete step-by-step guide to installing tile on a floor. Then, come back here and see what I did specifically to install penny tiles.

Let’s go! 

Prep for Tile

shower ready for tiling

I started by clearing the shower area, removing all the stuff I was storing there, and then sweeping it clean.

I followed this by doing a dry run of the tiles. I checked to see if there was any way to minimize cuts. I then removed the tiles I had just carefully laid out and paid no attention to where I had started. I was so focused on the bad penny tile job that I didn’t realize it until I laid my first tile in the adhesive. 

Whoops, mistake number one. I didn’t follow my tiling guide, including marking a center line on the floor. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about or don’t want to make my same mistake, you can find these details in my post on how to tile a floor.

Apply Adhesive

v notch trowel size 3/16

The trick to installing this tiny tile is using very little Thinset. I used a 3/16 v notch trowel which is quite small and makes the whole “don’t use too much grout” thing much easier. Even so, I noticed that the adhesive would ooze between the tiles if I pressed too hard. 

Also, unlike regular tiling, I did not back-butter these before laying them. Well, I’ll be honest. Curiosity got the best of me, so I tried it, and it was a failure. Back-buttering penny tile makes a big old mess on the tile side because the adhesive seeps through the holes (duh!). 

Once the adhesive had started to set, I tried removing as much excess as possible. I used a punch to knock it down and kind of scoop it out as best as I could. A dull pencil tip works too! I also used a damp rag to wipe away excess.

Tile Spacing

I did not use spacers with this tile. Instead, I used the handy “flower” trick to correct my spacing. It’s one of those things I couldn’t see at first, but once you see it, you can’t unsee it!

I also used this visual guide when installing individual pieces, which I did several times for various reasons. 

Here is what you’re looking for:

white penny tile
white penny tile spacing flower visual
white penny tile flower visual guide for spacing with red dot in the center shower the flower
red dots showing the flower spacing visual for penny tile

Cutting Penny Tile

My tile saw (with a diamond blade) worked great to cut these penny tile sheets. But the trick is that it worked best on the first cut when I had more to trim. Cutting the middle tiles was the easiest because the end pieces bend as the blade hits them. 

It got harder with smaller cuts, like less than half the tile. I was able to lift the tile and shave off smaller bits carefully. Don’t try this at home, folks! 

After using my saw, I used these handheld tile cutters (nippers) to clean up the edges of any pieces that needed trimming. 

Using the cutters was finicky, to say the least, but they worked, and I recommend investing the twenty bucks toward getting a pair. As I mentioned, I used them to trim. I found this easier than trying to cut multiple tiles in a row, which requires more grip strength than I have. Also, these tiny clippings take off, so I wore eye protection. 

Remember that the wall tile or threshold tiling will slightly cover these cuts. So, to know if my cut was good enough, I had a wall tile handy. Before applying Thinset, I positioned the entire sheet of penny tile I had just cut and held the wall tile in place to see if I was happy with my cut. 

Cleaning Up Penny Tile Edges

penny tile edge with glue backing on the edge
penny tile edge with glue backing removed

I also used scissors to remove the mesh backing and glue from the tiles on the end row. Although they’re tiny, these pieces cause the spacing of the next sheet to be unlevel or slightly off. 

Tiling Around a Shower Drain

penny tile around a shower drain

Let’s talk about tiling around the drain. Because, being completely transparent, I messed up the first time around! 

shower drain with tile too low

I did not have the entire drain in and did not go high enough with the adhesive. The way I had it, the water would pool around the drain instead of going down it. 

penny tile around a shower drain showing the drain is too tall and the tile is too low

To remedy my error, my dad took a grinder and made a space large enough to install the drain cap properly. Making the entire drain flush, actually a smidge lower than the top of the tiles. Once the grout was put down, it looked seamless. 

Grouting Penny Tile

I decided to go with white grout for two reasons. First, there were a few sections where the adhesive came through a little too much, leaving insufficient room for grout. 

Next, I talked myself into thinking that the black grout would highlight any spacing flaws. Lastly, I figured white may be easier to keep clean in a shower because bleach works on white, and black would show more soap residue. I could have this all wrong, but it sounded good in my head and at the time. 

In my opinion, the most annoying part of grouting tile is the washing. Whenever I don’t like doing something, I try to find ways to make it go faster. I love perfecting my technique, so I become super efficient and spend the least time on this task that I don’t like. 

What I came up with for grout washing is a technique that makes less mess and prevents grout haze. Read all about this in my post on washing grout step by step.

I wanted to capture what it looks like while I work…. pretty much a mess! This is real life for ya 🙂

in the process of penny tiling a shower flower

Now that the shower floor is laid, grouted, and sealed, I’m ready to move on to the shower walls! I’m feeling so close to finished, yet still so far away from finished. 

Considering that this tiny shower floor area took me four hours to tile, these shower walls suddenly looked huge. The next day, when my hamstrings were so sore that I had trouble going from standing to sitting (from all the bending down), I started feverishly Pinteresting “larger shower tile ideas.” 

Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything that would match my design, so oversized subway tiles, here I come!

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