Whether it’s a newly tiled bathroom or an existing one, having to put holes in tiled walls is a common task. Almost anything that mounts to the wall—from installing hardware for toilet paper rolls and soap dishes to a new medicine cabinet—is going to require drilling through tile.
In most cases, these bath accouterments will be mounted using wall anchors, so getting through the tile is only part of the job. You also need to drill through the substrate behind it in a way that doesn’t cause damage which would prevent the wall anchor from working.
Steps for Drilling Through Tile
Step 1: Figure out what kind of tile you have
In general, there are three kinds of tile:
- Glazed ceramic tile is the most common, what you’ll find in almost every older home, and the easiest to drill through.
- Glass tile is used more as an accent and has only been around for 15 years or so.
- Porcelain tile looks a lot like regular ceramic tile, but it’s much harder.
Step 2: Have the right bit for ceramic tile
Standard drill bits don’t work on tile, but not to worry. Ceramic tile can be drilled with a carbide bit, while glass and porcelain call for a diamond-tipped bit.
While that sounds expensive, a ¼ inch diamond tipped tip costs under $20, and a carbide bit of the same size can be had for less than $10. When in doubt, buy the diamond bit. It will drill any type of tile.
Step 3: Layout the wall for success
They say to measure twice and cut once, but given the consequences of drilling a hole in a tile wall in the wrong place, it’s a good idea to measure three times and drill once.
- First, adhere masking tape to the wall in the area where you’ll drill. It’s easier to accurately mark the hole location on tape than on tile.
- For accessories such as towel bars with two mounting brackets, use a level to make sure both sets of holes align.
- Try to locate the hardware close to the center of the tile – the edges crack more easily.
Step 4: Drill slowly
- The tape not only makes it easier to mark the wall but also helps to keep the drill bit from skidding when starting the hole.
- Go slowly, particularly at first, to make sure the hole ends up where you want it.
- Once the hole is started, you can increase the drill speed, but don’t run it at full speed.
- Steady pressure and a medium speed will drill the hole without overheating and damaging the drill bit.
Step 5: Speed up at the end
- You’ll feel a change in resistance when the bit gets through the tile. Now you can speed the drill up while backing off the pressure. This will extend the hole into the drywall or backer board with minimal damage.
- Once you’re done drilling, push the anchors in place, screw the hardware home, and vacuum up the small amount of dust.
What is the Best Drill Bit for Tile?
A carbide-tipped masonry bit is the best drill bit to use for bathroom ceramic tile. Regular twist-drill bits can’t cut through the fire-hardened glaze.
How to Drill a Large Hole in Tile Without a Hole Saw
But what if you need to bore a 2-inch hole for a plumbing stubout? Contractors typically use expensive hole saws with carbide-grit cutting edges, but there is another way.
- Draw the hole outline on the tile with a felt-tip pen or grease pencil.
- Use a ¼-inch masonry bit to drill a series of closely-spaced holes around the circle. Then take a hammer and very lightly tap the tile along the ring of holes.
- Tap inside the outline and be patient, as it could take a couple of minutes before the center of the hole breaks free. The hole edge will be rough, but you can hide it with a decorative escutcheon plate.
This drill-and-tap technique can also be used to make a square or rectangular cutouts in tile.