Installing a tub surround is a straightforward weekend project that can completely transform the look and feel of a bathroom. With many stylish, low-maintenance surround panel options widely available today, upgrading your tub area with a fresh new surround is an easy way to update your bathroom aesthetics without the mess and high cost of a full gut renovation.
When taking on a tub surround installation or replacement project, an often overlooked but extremely important detail is selecting the right adhesive. The adhesive you choose will make or break the success of your newly installed tub surround panels. Having the right adhesive is key – it’s what literally bonds and secures your surround panels to the wall for a seamless, water-tight finish.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through how to select the optimal adhesive for your specific tub surround material and installation needs so your new bathtub walls stay firmly secured in place for years of beauty and enjoyment.
Table of Contents
Assessing Your Tub Surround Material
With many options on the market today – from fiberglass to acrylic to polystyrene and more – the first step is identifying what material your specific tub surround panels are fabricated from. This will determine which type of adhesives will create the strongest, long-lasting bond.
Fiberglass bathtub surrounds have an extremely smooth, glossy finish that mimics the look of acrylic at a lower cost. Most quality fiberglass tub surrounds are made using SMC (sheet molding compound) for maximum durability and water resistance. Fiberglass tub surrounds are on the lighter side, making installation fairly straightforward.
When selecting an adhesive for fiberglass tub surrounds, look for a versatile formula designed for multiple materials like fiberglass, PVC, acrylics, and other plastics. Waterproof adhesives made for wet area applications are also ideal.
Acrylic tub surrounds offer an ultra-glossy finish, custom molded shaping ability, intrinsic waterproof and mold/mildew resistance properties, and lasting durability. Because acrylic is a rigid, inflexible material, the adhesive chosen needs to allow for minor expansion and contraction of the material in changing temperatures over years of use.
For acrylic surrounds, look for adhesives specifically designed for permanently bonding acrylics as well as other non-porous materials like fiberglass and PVC.
Polystyrene tub surrounds are lightweight foam panels faced with a waterproof, protective coating. They’re an affordable DIY-friendly choice, but the foam core can corrode over time when exposed to moisture. This means selecting an impervious adhesive is particularly important.
For polystyrene foam-based surrounds, look for adhesives capable of bonding foam that offer 100% waterproof and mold/mildew resistance.
Factors to Consider When Selecting Adhesive
In order to get the best results from a tub surround installation, there are several performance factors you’ll want to assess when evaluating which adhesive is right for your application:
Since tub surrounds endure warm, humid conditions and direct water contact, moisture resistance is an absolute must for tub surround adhesives. Look for products specifically formulated for wet area applications that have waterproof properties built right into the adhesive formula. The adhesive you select should be 100% waterproof and free of water-soluble components.
The adhesive used for bonding tub surround panels needs to have some degree of flexibility and latitude when setting. As temperature and humidity levels shift in the bathroom, minor expansion and contraction can occur. A rigid adhesive will crack or fail under these subtle movements over its lifespan. Seek out adhesives intended for bonding materials in fluctuating temperature conditions that allow for a small degree of flexibility.
Ideally, you’ll want an adhesive that reaches an initial bond rapidly so your panels stay aligned and in proper position, but takes at least 24 hours to fully set-up and reach maximum strength. This working and drying timeline allows you to precisely place surround panels while offering the patience required for a permanent bond.
Ease of Application
Applying panel adhesive overhead while maneuvering an awkward surround panel piece is tricky enough. Don’t make it harder on yourself by wrestling with an adhesive that is thick, gummy, or hard to smoothly apply. Seek out smooth, easy-to-dispense adhesives that go on evenly. Some one-part polyurethane formulas have these ideal dispensing characteristics.
Best Adhesive Options for Tub Surrounds Reviews
Now that you know what traits to look for in the optimal tub surround adhesive, let’s review some of the top-rated products popular with DIYers and professionals for securely installing tub surrounds of all material types.
1. Liquid Nails Tub Surround & Shower Wall Adhesive
Specifically designed for bonding tub and shower surrounds panels, Liquid Nails TNS-50 works with fiberglass, acrylics, PVC, polystyrene and other non-porous materials. This versatile waterproof formula bonds firmly yet remains subtly pliable. Offering impressive strength, TNS-50 sets rapidly while still allowing time for adjustment during installation. An easy-to-use adhesive built for the challenges of tub surround applications.
- Specifically designed for tub surrounds
- Bonds to multiple materials like fiberglass and acrylic
- Waterproof formula
- Allows for minor flexibility
- Has a strong odor during application
- More expensive than some other options
2. OSI Quad Maximo Construction Adhesive
Formulated to glue practically any non-porous material in wet or dry uses, OSI Quad Maximo lives up to its name with an ultra-versatile, super-strong polyurethane adhesive formula. Offering four times the coverage of ordinary tubes for greater value, Maximo bonds quickly with extended workability time. Great for securely adhering large surround panels.
- Extremely versatile formula bonds virtually anything
- Very strong adhesive power
- Covers 4x more area than standard tubes
- Bonds quickly yet gives extended working time
- Can be tricky to smoothly apply due to thick formula
- Clean up requires more effort than some adhesives
3. Loctite PL Premium Polyurethane Construction Adhesive
Loctite PL Premium develops strong bonds on contact and reaches full strength in 24 hours, making this polyurethane adhesive a go-to choice for setting tub surround panels. 100% waterproof and tolerant of temperature fluctuations, Loctite PL Premium allows for minor expansion and contraction of surround materials over time without compromise. Easy to gun out smoothly for bubble-free application.
- 100% waterproof
- Allows for minor material expansion
- Easy gunnable formula
- Bonds quickly and reaches full strength in 24 hrs
- More specialized for indoor use than outdoor
- Has potential to foam if overworked
4. Gorilla Heavy Duty Construction Adhesive
Trusted name Gorilla offers this heavy duty adhesive option formulated to bond wood, drywall, metal and plastics in indoor and outdoor applications. With a quick 20 minute initial tack time, Gorilla Construction Adhesive provides ample opportunity to align surround panels properly when installed. Reaches full bond strength in 24 hours. Its thick gel formula clings to vertical surfaces easily during application.
- Gorilla brand notoriously strong adhesive power
- Bonds to multiple construction materials
- Fast 20 minute initial tack time
- Thick non-sagging gel consistency
- May not offer sufficient flexibility for some materials
- Can be difficult to fully remove any overflow seepage after dry
Applying Adhesive for Tub Surround
Once you’ve selected the right adhesive, proper application technique is equally essential for getting your tub surround installation off to the best start. Carefully follow manufacturer instructions and these professional tips:
The condition of the wall surface you are adhering panels to will impact results. Start by removing any remaining old caulk or wall coverings until you expose a solid surface layer of drywall or substrate. Use sandpaper to scuff and degloss shiny new cement board. Vacuum away all dust, dirt and debris. Ensure the target surface is fully clean, dry and structurally sound for robust adhesion.
Apply adhesive in a pattern of vertical beads approximately 1/4” wide by 3/16” high, spaced 2-3 inches apart. Run beads from top to bottom in the panel’s planned install location. Follow the adhesive container’s guidance on open time before pressing your panel in place. Using a typical tub surround panel size of 30” x 60” as an example, apply adhesive beads in an area roughly 2” wider and higher than that measurement. This ensures ample adhesive for full border adhesion, while also keeping messy squeeze-out to a minimum.
Pressing the Surround Panel
Carefully lift or have an assistant lift up the surround panel piece once adhesive is prepped on the wall. Align panel placement properly before making contact. Once positioned correctly, slowly lower the panel into place pressing gently but firmly starting in the middle and smoothing towards edges until full contact is made with adhesive and wall. Use a soft sweeping motion across the entire panel face, being careful not to drag the panel sideways once adhesive touched the wall. If needed, use painter’s tape at the perimeter edges to temporarily hold panel position as adhesive sets.
Have a container of mineral spirits, paint thinner or adhesive manufacturer recommended solvent and clean rags at the ready for clean-up. Gently wipe away any adhesive squeeze-out along the edges or wall perimeter before drying begins, taking care not to smear adhesive onto the visible face of surround panels. Follow the adhesive product instructions for proper spill or overflow cleanup recommendations specific to that formula.
Curing and Next Steps
With panels solidly applied to the wall using your selected adhesive, the final step is allowing proper cure time for maximum bond strength before finishing touches:
Give your installed tub surround panels at least 24 hours to fully cure and reach their ultimate adhesion strength before proceeding with caulking, accessories or actively using the shower. During this adhesive drying period, avoid wetting the panels or tub surround area. Following your product directions, note if longer cure times are required before exposure to moisture or submersion.
Once cured, seal all seams and edges between panels and along tub, floor and ceiling junctures using a flexible, mold-resistant silicone or polyurethane caulk rated for bathroom use. Follow the caulk manufacturer’s application instructions. Proper water-tight caulking is crucial to prevent moisture infiltration and damage over time.
Enjoy Your Fresh New Tub Surround
Now you can relax and enjoy your beautiful upgraded bathtub surround installation finished off professionally with durable, long-lasting water protection assured by using the best adhesive from the start. Investing the effort to select and properly apply the right adhesive specifically engineered for permanent bonding of tub surround panels is the key to getting years of like-new performance from your new bathroom focal point.
What thickness of adhesive bead should be used for tub surround panels?
Apply adhesive in 1⁄4” wide beads spaced 2-3 inches apart running vertically top to bottom in the planned panel location.
Can tub surround adhesives be used on ceiling areas or just walls?
Most quality tub surround adhesives are suitable for use on walls, ceilings, backsplashes and other non-flooring areas. Always check individual product instructions to confirm.
Is liquid nails a good adhesive for bonding acrylic tub surrounds?
Yes, certain heavy duty formulations of liquid nails like Liquid Nails Fuze It work very well to adhere acrylic surrounds. Just ensure any liquid nails used is waterproof.
How long does tub surround adhesive need to dry before caulking?
Allow adhesive to fully cure for 24-48 hours before applying caulks or actively using the shower. Always follow individual adhesive product dry times.
Will silicone or polyurethane caulk stick to adhesive overflow or residue?
For best results, thoroughly clean up and remove any adhesive overflow before caulking. If small amounts remain, test caulk adhesion. If inadequate bonding occurs, remove adhesive prior to caulking.
Installing a new bathtub surround with quality adhesive specifically engineered for that application may be the most important factor in getting exceptional performance and longevity from your upgraded bathroom. While the tub surround itself gets all the visual attention, taking the time to appropriately choose and properly apply the unseen adhesive behind-the-scenes determines how well, and for how long, that surround stays perfectly adhered in place.
With many adhesive options available, consider factors like your surround’s material, the bathroom’s humidity, ease of use, dry time and flexibility when selecting the ideal adhesive. A weekend well invested in careful adhesive selection and skilled application technique yields years of durable enjoyment ahead.