The tile walls in your recently renovated bathroom look amazing. There’s just one problem.
There’s nowhere for you to hang towels. In the tile shower, you have no grab bar or place to stash your soap.
Then it dawns on you — if you want to hang a towel rod, grab bar or shelf, you’re going to have to figure out how to drill through tile.
Don’t panic. Drilling through tile isn’t as scary as it might seem.
You need the right tools and tricks to get the job done. Here’s how to drill ceramic tile or porcelain tile.
What’s the Difference Between Ceramic and Porcelain Tile?
Before you start drilling into your tile, you need to know what type of material you’re working with. Although ceramic and porcelain tiles seem similar, they have some fundamental differences that will affect how you approach drilling through them.
The big difference between the two types of tiles is the hardness. Typically, porcelain tile is harder than ceramic, according to Better Homes and Gardens. That can mean that when you’re figuring out how to drill through tile, you’ll need to use a bit extra care and caution when drilling through porcelain.
Another big difference between the two is the color. Porcelain tile is often the same all the way through.
Ceramic tile might be glazed on one side only. That means that if the glaze chips, you’re left with an exposed white or buff-colored ceramic.
What Type of Drill Bit to Use on Ceramic Tile or Porcelain Tile
The hardness of both ceramic and porcelain tile means one thing: Tile is no match for your standard drill bit.
If you try to drill a hole into a tile with a regular drill bit, you’ll get nowhere fast. At the most, you’ll end up with a few scratches on the tile.
What you need to use instead, according to Ask the Builder is a carbide-tipped masonry bit. Since it’s important that the masonry bit is sharp, you’ll want to use a new one.
Another drill bit option, if you’re dealing with porcelain, is to use a diamond-tipped drill bit or hole saw. Angie’s List recommends looking for one with a plastic wet containment piece.
The reason you need a particular bit when you drill through tile is that you’re not drilling a hole in the classic sense.
Instead, you’re grinding away the tile. You need a drill bit that sharp and rough enough to wear its way through the tile.
A drill bit that has a water containment piece will keep things from overheating while you make the hole in the tile. Water also helps to provide some grip, so that the drill bit pushes through the tile instead of wearing itself away.
How to Drill Into Tile
The good news about learning how to drill through tile is that while you do need a special drill bit, you don’t need a special drill.
A regular, cordless drill is going to be perfect. In fact, you want to avoid specialized drills for this project, such as a hammer drill.
The back and forth, hammering motion of a hammer drill is going to be too much for your tile to bear. You’ll risk cracking the tile if you try to use one.
Now that the equipment issues have been settled, here’s how to drill into tile.
What you need:
- Stud finder
- Carbide or diamond tip drill bits
- Cordless drill (charge it up overnight)
- Safety goggles
- Spray bottle filled with water
Here’s what to do:
- Mark where you will drill into the tile. If you’re going to hang a towel bar or anything that’s going to bear weight, it’s a good idea to find the studs behind the tile and drill into them.
- Use a level to make sure everything is even. Seriously, what’s worse than a crooked shelf or towel bar?
- Attach the drill bit to your drill. Put your safety goggles on.
- Have a wet sponge and a spray bottle full of water handy. You’ll need water to keep things from getting out of control. If your drill bit has a wet containment piece, you’re all set.
- Start drilling. Go slowly so that the drill bit doesn’t heat up. Spray with water to keep things cool or dab the tile itself with the wet sponge.
- Don’t force the drill. If you’re having trouble getting the drill to cut through the tile, be patient. Using too much force is just going to scratch or crack the tile.
- Put some silicone in the holes. Before you attach the towel bar or whatever to the wall, fill each hole with silicone. The silicone will keep water from the shower from leaking into the holes, preventing damage.
- Attach the shelf, towel bar, etc. Finish up by attaching the item to the wall, using screws to secure the shelf or bar.
How to Drill Through Porcelain Tiles
Learning how to drill through porcelain tiles is pretty much the same as learning how to drill through ceramic tiles. The big difference is the drill bit.
It’s a must that you use diamond-tipped drill bits for porcelain. The annoying thing about diamond-tipped drill bits is that they typically cost more than other types.
But since they are going to save you a lot of time and frustration and are most likely going to save your wall from damage, they are worth the investment.
How to Drill Into Tile Without Cracking
What’s the one thing everyone fears when learning how to drill through tile? Cracking the tiles.
In truth, cracking the tiles when you drill through them isn’t necessarily the end of the world. We’ll be honest, it’s a pain in the rear, but it’s not going to derail your project entirely.
By that we mean do your best to avoid cracking a tile, but don’t panic if one does break. At the worst, you’ll have to replace it.
To save yourself the hassle of replacing tiles, here’s what to do to avoid cracking:
- Protect the wall. One way to avoid cracking and scratching the tile as you drill through it to put some sort of buffer between the tile and the drill bit. An easy, quick fix is to put a strip of masking tape over the area you’re going to drill, according to This Old House.
The masking tape will keep the tip of the drill bit from scratching the tile and will also add some protection against cracks.
- Go slowly. Drilling into tile isn’t a race. You won’t get a prize for going fast.
In fact, you’re likely to end up with a cracked, scratched mess if you try to go too quickly. Instead, take things slowly.
- Use moderate pressure. There’s no need to try to force the drill bit through the tile. It’ll get through it on its own, eventually.
- Use a regular drill. Trust us — you don’t need or want a hammer drill.
- Use water or another lubricant. Too much heat will wreck your drill bit and mess up your tile wall. You need some sort of lubrication to keep things cool while you drill.
Water is the easiest option since you have access to it and it’s mostly free. You can also buy something called cutting fluid, which is a type of oil that does pretty much the same thing.
One last thing to remember so that you don’t end up cracking the wall: Don’t panic. Keeping your cool and remembering to hold the drill steady and to go slowly is going to make a big difference in your finished results.
Final Thoughts on How to Drill Through Tile
The right tools and equipment make all the difference when it comes to home improvement projects. Although there might be times when you can take shortcuts, that’s not the case when you’re drilling through tile.
While you don’t need to go out and buy a fancy drill for the project, you do need to have the right drill bits. Don’t skimp when you purchase the drill bits.
Some non-masonry bits do claim that you can use them on tile or brick but don’t believe them. It’s better to buy the right drill bits the first time than it is to take a risk and end up damaging the tile.
Once you’ve figured out how to drill through tile, putting the finishing touches on your bathroom remodel should be a breeze. Remember to be patient and calm and you’ll have no trouble at all drilling into the tile.