DIY Bathroom Remodel without Tub

Less Than $500

Ugly laminate flooring, a basic orange-ish vanity, unframed mirror, and an 8 dollar light fixture. Does this sound like your bathroom? Do you want to upgrade your bathroom but are worried that it’s beyond your skill set? This is how I felt before remodeling our full bathroom. Keep in mind, this is a DIY full bathroom remodel but, I didn’t touch the tub.

A bathroom remodel doesn’t have to be expensive though, or hard. Oh, you’ve never done that before? Well, neither have I and it turned out great, and it was done the right way. A DIY bathroom remodel doesn’t have to be hard, as long as you take your time and pay attention to detail.

In this post, I’m going to go over exactly what I did to transform my bathroom from builder’s grade bullshit to modern and clean – all for about $500. Keep in mind I didn’t touch my bathtub/shower area, but I will certainly tackle that at a later point.

The reason I decided to do this myself was to not only save money but to make sure it was done right…after thorough research of course. My sister was ripped off when she paid a contractor (still trying to recoup losses) and the tile work that they did actually complete, was AWFUL. There were gaps everywhere and it was uneven and sloppy. Of course there are good contractors out there but I’ve heard so many horror stories that it’s like a coin flip sometimes.

 In this post I’ll give a good overview of each task but for detailed steps I’ll create a separate post. To give you an idea of what I had to demo in mine, it was a vanity, laminate flooring, and toilet.

1. Demolition

As I mentioned, I didn’t want to deal with the bathtub/shower at this time so I just left that alone. Demo-ing a bathroom is quite easy but does require some heavy lifting. You’ll want to start with the vanity and toilet.

Make sure the water is turned off. Test this by trying to turn the water on your sink. If it doesn’t come on, then you obviously turned it off – good job. Disconnect the water lines and then start removing the baseboard that pressed up against the vanity.

                Remove the Vanity

I took a utility knife and cut around the sink, where caulk or silicone adhered it to the wall. I was able to pry it up the sink after the silicone was cut and plumbing disconnected. The rest of the vanity should be screwed into the wall in places. Locate all the screws, which could be adhering the back of the vanity to the wall, or you might find some on the top of the vanity where the sink was attached.

Once all the screws are removed, you should be able to pry it away from the wall and lift it off the plumbing. There, the vanity is gone. That wasn’t so hard, right?

As an alternative, if you don’t want to remove your vanity, or keep the same one, you could always just paint it to give it a fresh updated look.

                Remove the toilet

The toilet might be a bit wet so just be prepared but the way I did it was by flushing the toilet and making sure all of the water was out of the top of the tank. Soak up the remainder with a rag. I scooped the toilet water (that I could) out with a cup, or ladle if you prefer. Again, I stuffed a rag in the toilet to collect the remaining water. After that, there really wasn’t much left.

You might have to go along the base of the toilet with a utility knife again to cut the caulk. Next, remove the two bolts on either side of the toilet. With a little force, you should be able to lift the toilet over the two bolts and remove it. Bam, toilet done.

Now stuff a rag in the hole in your floor, where the toilet drainage attached to. This prevents any debris from falling in there and any smells from getting out, yuck.

Side note – I reused my toilet because it was in good condition after I thoroughly cleaned it.

                Removing the Laminate

The laminate “tile” that you see is probably adhered to a thin piece of plywood. If you try to remove the glued on laminate from the thin piece of plywood, it will take you forever. Instead, I just ripped up both, the laminate and thin piece of wood, in one fell swoop.

Before doing this, you’ll need to remove the rest of the baseboard, transition strip, and caulk line where it bumps into the bathtub, and anything else that might prevent you from removing it.

Start with one piece and start pulling up the thin piece of plywood. This thin piece of plywood should be stapled to the subfloor, which is what you really want to expose. Don’t worry about the staples now, just keep removing the laminate and cut it with a utility knife where there are two separate pieces of plywood, removing it in chunks until it’s completely removed.


After everything is removed you might have to remove the wax seal around where the toilet connected. Make sure that area is spotless when you install the new toilet.

Remove any remaining debris with a broom and/or shop vac. Now, there are two methods to deal with the staples holding on the laminate/plywood. The first method is to go through and methodically remove each staple with a screw driver/pliers.

The second method, which I chose, was to hammer the staples flush with the subfloor. If you choose that method, make sure that there are no staples still sticking up and that all of them are flush to the subfloor.

Lastly, remove any remaining nails from where the baseboard attached. Cover up and drains/pipes with rags or plastic bags. Sweep up debris and wipe down floors with a damp rag.

2. Installing Tile

There are two types of tile, large format and small format. I’ve done both and they each have their advantages and disadvantages. For this bathroom I did large format tile (meaning they’re big – like 1ft by 2ft). Regardless of what tile you picked, you’ll need to put cement board or hardie backer board down first.

The “proper way” to do this is:

  1. Put thin set directly on your subfloor
  2. Lay the cement board on top of it
  3. Adhere the cement board to the subfloor with screws
  4. Spread another layer of thin set on top of cement board
  5. Lay tile on top of that thin set
  6. Grout tile

I’ve heard of cutting corners by not doing this, but you’ll probably regret it in the end.

                Prep Work

I ran into a unique issue where there was a “weak spot” in the subfloor that kind of sunk in when I stepped on it, possibly from water damage. Because of this, I went with a thicker cement board around a ½ inch or .4 inches. But if your subfloor is fine, you can probably just use the ¼ inch hardie backer board.

After you have the cement board that you’ll use make measurements and cut the board to fit before doing anything else. I would do a “dry run” to make sure all of the cement board is cut correctly and fits nicely. It says you can cut cement board with a razor, but I opted for reciprocating saw with a concrete blade. If you do go that route, just be advised that it will be very messy and dusty. Cut holes out for the toilet hole and plumbing as well.

After you laid out your board and determined that it fits, remove it for the next step.

                Thin Set

I used a pre-mixed 5 gallon tub of thin set for this. Working in sections, lay down the first layer of thin set directly on the subfloor. Make sure you have “trowel lines” as well. Make sure you put enough down so that all areas are covered when you put the first piece of cement board on top of it.

Keep working in sections and putting the cement board down as you go. Don’t put more thin set down than you have to, because if you have to reach a stopping point, you don’t want it to dry without the cement board on top of it.

                Cement Board

After all of the cement board is down on top of the first layer of thin set, adhere it to the subfloor with cement board screws. Cement board screws are just special screws that will keep them from corroding and rusting. The nice thing about “Hardie Backer Board” is that it has small circles on it outlining where to put the screws. Put all of the screws in where the circles are showing.

If you had to cut your cement board, which you probably did, be mindful not to put the screws too close to any edge, as it could break off a piece of the cement board. Also make sure the screws are at least flush with the cement board, if not slightly recessed.

After the cement board is screwed in, you’ll have to cover the seams where two pieces of the cement board meets. You can do with this with Cement Board Tape. It’s basically a fiber glass tape that’s sticky on one side. Put the cement board tape down to cover the seams and then cover it with a thin layer of thin set.

                Tile Prep Work

It’s important that you lay out the tile first (using the spacers as well of course) to make sure you won’t have any very thin pieces that you’ll have to cut on any of the ends.

Also figure out what spacers you’ll need before starting. The box of tile that you bought will usually have a recommended spacer size to use so I wouldn’t defer much from what the recommendation is.

Since I was using large format tiles, I wanted to make all of my cuts first since there is smaller room for error. Since I was making all of my cuts first, I needed to do a dry run with the tile and laid every piece out beforehand. It did save me from panicking because you’re not racing against the clock before the thin set dried and allowed me to take my time with cuts.

If you choose this route, cutting large format tile can be a little tricky at times. You’ll need a combination of a wet saw, which I borrowed from my friend, and tile nippers.

I’ve also done small format tile and just cut that as I went since making cuts was easier and quicker. I still did a rough layout of the tile again to make sure that I wasn’t left with a thin strip of tile at either end.

Another thing you may have to do is cut under the door jamb. Slide a test piece of tile under the door jamb to see if it’ll fit under it. If it doesn’t you’ll probably have to cut it a bit. To do this, I pressed a scrap piece of tile up against the door jamb then used a Dremmel tool to cut around the entire door jamb, until the tile could slide under it.

                Laying the Tile Down

As with the first layer of thin set, you’re going to work in sections with the tile, meaning you DON’T cover the entire floor in thin set then just put tile down after it. You have to do it a little at a time.

After you determined where you want to start, put a layer of thin set down and make the trowel lines. It is also recommended that you “back butter” the tile, meaning you put some thin set on the back of the tile as well before laying it down. This lets the tile stick better and you make sure the entire thing is covered.

After that, press firmly, but not too hard, shifting the tile back and forth AGAINST the trowel lines, so that they “collapse”. This means if your lines in the thin set are going north to south, you want to press on your tiles and slightly shift them east to west, against the direction of the lines, not with them.

After the first tile is down, wipe any excess thin set, especially any that gets on the tile, with a damp, but not wet, sponge. Then, put more thin set down and put the next tile on top, placing your spacers in between each tile. Continue doing this as you work your way towards the door as your escape route.

                Grouting the Tile

After the thin set dried, I removed all of the spacers to prepare for grouting. I believe I used an un-sanded, pre-mixed grout. I firmly pushed the grout down into the cracks, scraping up the excess and then wiping down the tiles as I went. I just continued this until all gaps were filled.

When I got to the tub, I had a decision to either grout the gaps or use caulk. I used grout and it’s still holding up fine. If you do that, just make sure to grout it good so that no water can leak through.

After the grout dries, you’ll have to seal it with grout sealer. It’s basically a liquid that you put over all grout lines to keep it from becoming too porous and staining. I went over it twice after the first layer dried.

3. Installing the Vanity

Now that the tile was down, I could install the new vanity. The vanity usually consists of the vanity “body” and the sink itself.

                Securing the Vanity

Put the body where you want it but be mindful that you may have to cut holes in either the back or bottom of it for the plumbing. If that is the case, remove it and make the cuts, then line it up again.

After the vanity is in place, make sure it’s level and put shims under the legs, or the back of it, if you need to. After you ensure the top is level and the sink top fits, you can adhere it to the wall with a few screws.

                Adding the Sink, Faucet, and Drain

Once it’s secure, put a bead of caulk on top perimeter of the vanity and then put the sink on top of it. Next, put caulk, or silicone, around the top of the sink wherever it contacts the wall.

Follow the directions for installing the drain and faucet (usually purchased separately).

                Connecting the Plumbing

My plumbing consisted of Pex Tubing, which is the flexible plumbing lines that are usually red and blue. They’re super easy to work with and that’s what I’m going over in this post.

I cut the Pex lines so it was just essentially a bare line with no connector up top, being mindful about the length needed to reach the faucet. I really just started from scratch.

My Pex lines were 3/8 inch so I needed to get it up to a half inch for the faucet. After a lot of trial and error, I found a plan that worked but it involved 3 different pieces, from a “shark bite” connector to ½ inch to valve to faucet. Apparently there’s just a kit on Amazon that would get me there quicker, but who knew?

4. Installing the Toilet

We reused the toilet after cleaning it up a bit but removing the wax ring, meant replacing the wax ring. Instead of dealing with the wax first hand, we bought a kit called the “perfect seal toilet wax ring” from Home Depot.

There’s very simple instructions to set this up and you basically place it in the toilet drainage hole before putting the toilet on top. I had to trim the product a bit because I made the tile too close to the drainage hole, but it still worked great, leak free.

After the wax ring is on and the screws are in place, I carefully put the toilet on top of the wax ring and lined up the screws. Once the toilet was on, we tightened the screws down on either side of the toilet and connected the plumbing in the same fashion as the vanity. The last step was test it for leaks with a couple of test flushes before caulking around the toilet, where it touches the floor.

5. Finishing Up DIY Bathroom Remodel

To finalize our bathroom reno, we bought new pieces of baseboard and installed them with wood glue and finish nails from a nail gun. I caulked all of the seams and gaps in the baseboard and we touched up some paint.

After that, we installed a transition strip when you first enter the bathroom and I finished caulking around all of the door jambs that we undercut to slide the tile under.

That is it. It may seem difficult if you’re reading all of these steps, but if you literally just take it step by step, it is not so overwhelming. Like I said, if I did it, you can do it. I’m no one special and it only cost me around $500 for a massive home improvement.

We also painted the bathroom after it was complete. If you need some pro-tips on how to paint a room, or cabinets, be sure to check out our other posts.

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