How To Drill Through Ceramic Tiles

by Drew Henry

If you’re a keen DIY enthusiast (or even a reluctant one!), drilling through a tile can sometimes be unavoidable.

It might be as simple as installing a holder for toilet paper rolls or putting up a new bathroom cabinet, and getting through the tile without it cracking is only part of the challenge. 

Drilling through ceramic tiles is actually pretty straightforward, and you can use a regular household drill. You just need to know what type of tile you have and find the right bit for your drill.

The Tools and Equipment You Will Need

As with any DIY task, success always lies in the preparation. Get everything together before you start. Here’s what you’ll need.

  • A drill bit to suit the tile you have (it won’t be a standard drill bit as they don’t work on tiles)
  • A tape measure
  • Masking tape
  • Marker
  • Bubble level
  • Safety goggles and a mask to cover the nose and mouth
  • Water spray
  • A soft cloth and surface cleaner for cleaning up

1. Observe Safe Practices Throughout the Process

Throughout the process, ensure you’re taking all necessary safety measures. The idea is not to shatter the tile, but as a precaution, always wear safety goggles or glasses to protect your eyes. You’ll want to wear a dust mask as well. 

Use all appropriate safety gear and observe proper safety protocol throughout the process. 

2. Work Out What Type of Tile You Have

Figuring out whether your tile is glazed ceramic, glass, or porcelain is pretty crucial. Porcelain is a bit tricky as it looks like ceramic but is much harder and more challenging to drill through.

Porcelain is fired at a higher temperature, which means it is more durable and resistant to chips and cracking, which is perfectly fine until you want to drill a hole through it.

Porcelain tiles have a lower water absorption rate than ceramic tiles, so they're a popular choice for kitchens and bathrooms where there are high moisture levels.

Other products such as terrazzo, with marble, pearl, or colored glass sprinkled throughout the tile, are also drillable with the right drill bit as are cement tiles.

The range of tiles for indoor and outdoor use in the home is incredible, so always make a note or keep the paperwork when you buy tiles to remind you what they’re made from later.

3. Prepare the Work Area

Remove any clutter or items from the area where you’re going to drill. There’ll be some dust and a bit of a mess, so it will make cleaning up easier afterward and provide enough room to work. 

Ensure you can plug the drill in safely without leaving trailing cables, a trip hazard. 

4. Clean the Surface of the Tile

Cleaning the tile before you start work will reveal any tiny or hairline cracks. If the tile is damaged, you’ll need to replace it. Otherwise, it will crack completely when you drill it.

5. Choose the Right Drill Bit

You’ll need a carbide bit to drill ceramic tiles and a diamond-tipped drill bit for glass and porcelain. These aren’t expensive additions to your toolbox despite what their names might indicate.

A regular twist drill bit won’t penetrate the glaze on a ceramic tile, or it will cause it to shatter. Diamond drill bits are abrasive to help penetrate harder porcelain tiles and are shaped to reduce the risk of cracking brittle materials.

If you’re unsure about the type of tile you have, always buy a diamond bit, as they drill any tile. Avoid masonry bits. These are made from carbide-tipped steel but are the wrong shape, increasing the likelihood that the tile will shatter.

If you have multiple tiles to drill through, you may need to change the bit; this applies to both ceramic and porcelain tiles. Repeated drilling wears down the bit.

6. Measure Up

Because of the implications of getting it wrong, always measure two or three times before you drill.

7. Prepare the Surface of the Tile

Masking tape on the tile is easier to mark than the shiny tile surface, so mark the location where you want to drill on masking tape instead of directly on the tile. The masking tape also helps stop the bit from skidding when you start drilling.

If you’re drilling two holes or more, use a spirit level to ensure you’re drilling straight.

It’s best to aim to drill the hole near the center of the tile. This area is less likely to crack than the edges.

8. Make a Pilot Hole

Making a pilot hole before you start drilling can help keep the drill bit steady. Before you attach the bit, hold it over the center of the X and tap it in gently with a small hammer.

Make a tiny dent in the glaze so that when you start drilling, the pilot hole will reduce the likelihood of the drill jumping off the tile.

If the hole is large and your drill bit is bigger than ¼”, you can make a pilot hole with a smaller bit first.

9. Start Drilling!

Start slowly; rapid drilling will only encourage the tile to crack, and you’ll damage the drill bit. Gradually increase the speed as the hole emerges, but never run the drill at full speed. Diamond bits are particularly vulnerable to being damaged from drilling too fast, so keep it under 600 rpm for diamond bits under ½ inch, and 450 rpm for those between ½ to 1 inch.

Keep a steady pressure and then speed up when you feel the bit go through the tile; there’s a telltale change in resistance when this happens. Reduce the pressure when you increase the drill speed.

The drill needs to extend into the backing board or drywall so you can securely anchor the hardware. You can swap to a regular drill bit to do this once you’ve penetrated the tile.

10. Lubricate with Water

Even though you’ll only be drilling for around 3-4 minutes at a slow and steady speed, this process will create a lot of heat. The tile can break, or the drill bit can become scorched.

A constant trickle of water can help cool the metal.

Of course, water and electricity don’t mix, so you’ll need to take extra care.

Keep the electric plug for the drill at least four feet away from the actual location where you’re spraying the water. Another option is to use a circuit breaker.

The simplest option is a spray bottle, but you’ll need someone to help as you’ll be busy drilling. The alternative is to dip the drill bit into water every so often.

As you drill, you should move the drill bit up and down periodically, allowing water to progress to the tip of the drill bit, which is the hottest part.

Don’t let the drill overheat; it should only ever be allowed to get slightly warm. If it gets too hot, you’ll need to stop and wet it until it is cool enough to continue.

An alternative to water is drilling oil, which lubricates the drill bit and lowers friction, thereby reducing heat.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Drill a Hole in Ceramic Tile Without Breaking It?

Drilling a hole into ceramic without breaking it involves a careful process and the correct bit. Make sure you read up on the entire process before attempting it. If you have any blank tiles left over from a room refit, practice on these first to refine your technique before you drill into a wall-mounted tile.

Should You Drill a Pilot Hole in Ceramic Tile?

Ceramic tiles are less dense and have a more porous surface than porcelain tiles, so many people drill into them without using a pilot hole. If you’re experienced at DIY and have done this before, you can probably get away without drilling a pilot hole.

Looking for New Tiles? Shop LiLi Tile!

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are a combination of hard and brittle, so it’s easy to damage the tile and even the drill bit when you’re drilling.

If you’re refitting a kitchen, bathroom, or shower, always keep a few spare tiles so that you can replace any that become stained, cracked, or chipped. It’s also handy if you damage a tile during drilling, as you’ll have a perfect replacement ready to go.

For a full range of tiles for both indoor and outdoor use, shop our collections at LiLi Tile for an extensive selection of colors and designs for your next project!

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