How To Drill Into Bathroom Tile To Hang Hooks And Shelves

Let me set the scene for you. You just painstakingly finished all the bathroom tiling and grouting, the trim went up, and your space is looking pretty good. Pats self on back. Good job self. But now, you have all these things to hang in your freshly tiled bathroom. A shower rod, shelves, towel hooks, and maybe even a shower system. So just how to drill into bathroom tile you ask?

How to drill into bathroom tile like this white ceramic subway tile using a drill bit specifically made for drilling into harder materials like tile without breaking them

Panic sets in (at least it did for me) because the last thing I wanted to do was crack one of my precious ceramic tiles and then spend a few days replacing the cracked tile. It’s no fun, I’ve done it. It’s especially no fun when all you want to do is take a shower in your pristine, newly renovated bathroom.

Today’s post contains all the tips and tricks we’ve learned about drilling into tiles without cracking. Often things we learned the hard way. From choosing the right drill bit, keeping the bit from slipping on you, and even how to help preserve the shower waterproofing as best you can.

Let’s dive in, shall we?! First up…

Determine The Type Of Tile

Not all tiles are created equal. Ceramic tile is a very common and relatively simple to drill into vs. porcelain tile or natural stone tiles which are harder.

Before choosing the right tile drill bit, determine the materials you’re drilling through. Because material determines which bit to use.

Choose The Right Tile Drill Bit

Regular drill bits or a standard drill bit just don’t work for drilling through tile.

Carbide drill bits work great for drilling into ceramic tiles. The carbide tip is hard enough to get through the tile’s protective glaze.

Diamond-tipped drill bits can drill through ceramic, porcelain, and glass tiles. They are a slightly more expensive option than a carbide bit. However, we’re talking $10 for a 1/4″ Milwaukee carbide bit vs. $22 for a 1/4″ Milwaukee diamond-tipped bit. When in doubt about the type of bathroom tiles you have or if you want a more versatile bit, go for the diamond bit. It may be the best drill bit for the job.

Diamond tipped hole saw with arbor and carbide drill bit for drilling into tile

For our bathroom, we had a carbide bit that we had originally used to drill through the marble tile in the girls’ bathroom and then again for the ceramic tile in our bathroom. The carbide bit wasn’t the best choice for the marble. It worked, but it was much more difficult than drilling through the ceramic tile.

Measure And Mark

If there was ever a time to measure twice and cut, I mean, drill once it would be when you’re drilling into tile. The stakes are higher than if drilling into sheetrock or wood. It’s not like a little putty or spackle can repair a wrongly drilled hole.

Grab your hardware and hold it where you want it to go to get a general hole location. You don’t want to be hanging a towel bar in the wrong place so you’re screwing into grout lines. It’s also best to keep screw holes closest to the center of the tile as possible since the tile is more prone to cracking at the edges. Use a marker or a Sharpie to mark the hole location.

Measuring the wall tile for the hole location for drilling into the tile and hanging the mirror above the bathroom sink

If you’re hanging something with multiple holes, like towel bars or towel racks, break out the level to ensure you’re installing the hardware level. Or sometimes when you live in an old, 1700s home that’s completely unlevel (it’s us), you eyeball it to make it look level and line up with the grout lines.

Another tip is to use masking tape to measure and mark the location of your drill holes. Place the tape underneath where you plan to drill, mark the drill location, and then you can drill straight through the tape and the tile. The bonus is that it keeps the drill bit from slipping or walking while drilling.

Safety First

With the tile surface prepped and marked for drilling, grab your safety gear. It’s always a good idea to wear safety glasses when drilling into tile. A dust mask can be helpful since drilling into hard surfaces like tiles produces a decent amount of dust.

Select The Right Tools

As with any DIY project, selecting the correct tools for the job is essential. When choosing a power drill for drilling into tile, a cordless drill is a great choice.

Milwaukee M18 cordless drill with carbide drill bit attached

A hammer drill isn’t a great idea for this application since the hammer function can crack the tiles you’re drilling through.

Drilling Tile

It’s time to drill into the tile wall. Deep breaths, you got this, and insert you’re favorite pep talk here. You’re armed with an appropriate drill bit and the right tools. You can do this. In the worst-case scenario, the tile cracks and you replace it. It’s not like the whole house is going to collapse.

Hold the drill and bit in location, firmly against the tile at a ninety-degree angle, although not too much pressure. Start drilling slowly to ensure the tip of the bit stays exactly where you want it.

Drilling into ceramic tile using a Milwaukee cordless drill and a carbide bit specifically for drilling into tile

Once the tile bit penetrates the tile surface and you’re sure the bit won’t slip, increase the drill speed from the low-speed setting to a higher speed. Medium speed is a great place for effective drilling without burning up or overheating the drill’s motor.

Pre-Fill Holes With Silicone

But how do you drill into the shower tile? What about waterproofing the holes? This is a bathroom after all and sometimes you need to screw into wet areas to hang things like shower hardware or a curtain rod.

I did so much research on how to ensure that all the shower waterproofing would remain waterproofed even with the addition of screw holes. The two schools of thought were “I’m doing nothing,” which didn’t sit well with me, and “pre-fill holes with silicone.” This seemed like a great option.

After drilling each hole in the wet area of our bathroom, we pre-filled each hole with silicone before placing the wall anchors. We skipped this step for the non-wet areas since the walls weren’t waterproofed underneath.

Filling holes with silicone in tiled shower walls to help secure waterproofing when hanging shower hardware

Insert Wall Anchor

With the holes drilled and pre-filled with silicone where appropriate, we placed the wall anchors. All of the bathroom hardware and accessories came with wall anchors. But if you need some, Home Depot sells a plethora of anchor options.

Placing a wall anchor into a hole drilled into tile to secure towel bars

Screw In Hardware

It’s the home stretch and time to install those toilet paper holders and bathroom accessories. Simply screw the hardware to the bathroom wall and anchors using the fasteners included with the product. A basic screwdriver hand tool can do this job or you can switch to screwdriver bits for your cordless drill.

Attaching towel hooks to a tiled wall by first drilling pilot holes, adding anchors, and finally screwing the hooks into place

Clean Up

Put on every toddler’s favorite clean-up song and tidy your work space. Drilling into the tile produces a bit of dust. Clean up the dust with a wet sponge or a damp rag.

And done! Congratulations, you did it! Time to kick back and relax, or take the inaugural shower in your updated bathroom.

What About Larger Holes

Sometimes, small holes just aren’t going to cut it and you need to drill a larger hole in your tile. This is pretty common when it comes to holes for plumbing or fixtures. 

A hole saw is helpful and one of the easiest and cleanest ways to drill larger holes into tile. However, it’s also an expensive bit. For example, a 1″ Milwaukee diamond hole saw currently costs $45 from Home Depot. And if you don’t have a hole saw arbor, that’s an additional cost usually around $15.

To drill holes in our tile for plumbing we purchased a 1-3/8″ diamond hole saw and used the arbor that came with our basic hole saw kit. Since the arbor has a drill bit that’s not for drilling into tiles, we first drilled a pilot hole using a diamond drill bit and then cut into the tile using the diamond hole saw.

While perusing the Home Depot site for arbors and diamond-tipped hole saws, I learned that Milwaukee makes a retractable arbor specifically for cutting tile. It makes it so you can skip the drilling of a pilot hole step. We’ll have to try this with our next tiling project.

Larger holes drilled into white ceramic subway tiles for plumbing

Mistakes Happen

I know it is so, so daunting to drill into the walls of a newly tiled bathroom but I’m here to root you on that you can do it too. Drilling into hard materials isn’t difficult, it just takes patience and the right tools.

So I leave you with my top tip for making the tile drilling process easier. Take your time. One more time for the cheap seats in the back. Take. Your. Time. Mistakes happen when you rush and it’s a pain to rectify a tile drilling mistake.

​We sure know. We’ve made our fair share of mistakes, especially when renovating our first home and learning from our mistakes. If you do mess up, don’t stress. There is a way to remove the broken tile, replace it, and try again.

​Even though we know better, we still make mistakes. We even made a mistake in this bathroom as well. Do you want to hear the story?!

When we hung the vintage medicine cabinet above the toilet, we did everything by the book. Measured, marked, broke out the level, double-checked. But when we hung the cabinet, the sides weren’t quite level. Huh.

It didn’t dawn on us to check the levelness of the cabinet both vertically and horizontally. Sometimes vintage pieces aren’t square. Lesson learned. But it’s just slightly unlevel and I’m 98% certain we are the only ones who will ever notice it so it wasn’t worth it to replace tiles and redrill.

So thar she hangs in all her crooked gloriousness.

Vintage black bathroom wall cabinet for storage hanging above a toilet in a white subway tiled bathroom

So I hope you learned a little something about how to drill into bathroom tile and feel encouraged to try your hand at it.

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