How To Drill Through Tile

If you buy something through a link in our posts, we may get a small share of the sale.

Tile can be used in many different areas of the home. As an excellent water-repellent surface, you will commonly find it in a bathroom, but this brings on the issue of holes for plumbing going through the tile. In those situations, you will need to know how to drill through tile without cracking it.

How To Drill Through Tile

Tile, and especially the outer glaze that exists on most tiles, can be very susceptible to cracking. Make sure that you have the right drill bit ready for your type of tile, whether it is ceramic tile, glass, or porcelain.

Always use safety goggles and a dust mask when drilling, and gloves may be important to protect your hands when drilling through glass-based tile.

Man demonstrating how to drill through tile
  1. Find the spot to drill and mark it with something erasable like a pencil. You will need to measure to this area again, so make sure you can repeat the steps you need to find that spot.
  2. Cover the drilling area with masking tape. You will be covering your previous mark.
  3. Add a new mark with an X or T to start drilling. The crossing of the lines should be your drilling start point.
  4. Start drilling slowly with even pressure.
  5. If the bit starts to heat up, stop drilling and cool the bit in cold water.
  6. Get ready for the change in feeling once you cut through the tile.
  7. When you are past the tile and starting to hit the underneath material (called the substrate), change drill bits to one that matches the tile backing.
  8. At this point, you can increase the drill speed to get through the substrate cleanly.
  9. Remove the drill bit from the wall once you are all the way through.
  10. Blow or brush out the flutes from the drill bit(s). These are the grooves that curve down the sides.

Tile Drilling Tips

The primary thing that we want to accomplish here is a clean hole through the tile, avoiding any scratches, cracks, or splitting. To do this, we need to only press directly perpendicular to the tile with smooth, even pressure, and a drill bit that is intended for the material we are drilling.

Use Masking Tape

Masking tape is incredibly useful in many home repair tasks, from painting walls to sanding windows. In this case, we are using masking tape not to protect areas from what we are doing, but to focus our point and force on one area.

Drill going through a marked tile

Tile is a very slippery surface and if we do not address that quickly, our drill bit may drag all over the place. This will create unacceptable scratches on the surface.

The use of masking tape helps to add an extra layer of friction to the tile so that the drill bit can cut in a focused spot, as well as possibly protecting the outside area from additional damage.

The additional step of adding masking tape to the surface may seem like a bit much, but it is one of the easiest ways to avoid drilling the hole in the wrong spot, or not piercing the tile’s outer glaze. Always check the initial marking from before the taping to after – if they do not line up, you may need to drill another hole.

Use the Right Drill Bit

Knowing what type of tile you will be drilling through is the most important part of this entire process. There are three main types of tile that we normally see in home construction, however there may be additional types in specialized architectural buildings.

  • Glazed ceramic tile – This is the form of tile we see most often in home construction, especially in bathrooms. The ceramic is coated with a glazing very similar to glass, creating a multi-layer tile that drilling through can be a challenge.
  • Porcelain and natural stone tile – These natural stone tiles are usually granite stones or travertine, they are extremely durable and much harder to drill through than ceramic tiles. Because of the hardness, however, they are also very susceptible to cracking.
  • Glass tile – Normally used in accents or as very thick shower facing, glass tile is not normally drilled through, but should be treated about the same as porcelain tiles.

These different tile types need different types of drill bits to be able to get through them efficiently. Diamond drill bits, which look like miniature holes saws, can go through all of these types of tile with little difficulty. Ceramic tile and natural stone, however, can respond well to a carbide bit if that is what you have available.

Drill bits

Drilling the Substrate

When you get past the main tile that you are drilling through, there will be another layer underneath called the substrate holding the tile in place. This could be standard stucco walls, wood, cement backer boards, standard brick wall, or even concrete. In all of these cases, the drill bit you use to get through the tile will probably not be appropriate to drill through the substrate.

  • With concrete backing, you will want to switch to a masonry bit.
  • You should switch to jobber drill bits when you encounter a wood substrate.
  • Cement backer boards will accept just about any masonry drill bit.

Most of the time you will already know what the substrate is underneath the tile, but if you don’t, take a look at the drill bit directly after you get through the tile. You may be able to tell from the residue and extra material that sticks in the flutes of the bit. Just be sure that the diameter of the drill bit is the same as the one you used to get through the tile.

The reason we want to switch out drill bits is that when we drill through tile, it is normally to mount something like a towel rack, vanity, or other decorative object. To do this we will probably have to use anchors that rely on the stability of the material underneath. If we use the incorrect drill bit and blow out the substrate, the anchors may fail.

Conclusion

It is not difficult to drill through tile, but having the right equipment and patience is important to be sure that we do not end up with scratches or cracks. Use slow, even, and direct pressure, and be sure that you do not end up blowing out the substrate.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.