Floor and wall tiles are durable and beautiful design elements that are essential to kitchens and bathrooms. They can give a room a rustic, earthy, and elegant ambiance, and can help tie together an overall color scheme.
Each material has its pros and cons, but the size and shape of the tiles also matter. Some rooms may also require slip resistance and durability. Here are the key questions to keep in mind when buying floor and wall tile.
What materials are floor tiles and wall tiles made from?
- Glass tiles reflect light beautifully, adding rich visual interest to any room. However, they can be damaged easily and have little slip resistance, so they can typically only be used on walls.
- Ceramic tiles are affordable, easy to install and maintain, and available in a variety of beautiful colors and designs. They are often glossy and don't offer as much slip resistance as some other materials. Terracotta is a subtype of ceramic that has beautiful reddish-brown hues and can be very durable if it is sealed.
- Porcelain is a lot like ceramic but is heavier and more expensive. It has superior slip resistance and does not stain easily. However, it can be fragile and needs to be thick to survive on floors.
- Stone tiles are excellent for floors, as they are hard-wearing and last for decades. They also have good slip resistance, and sealed stone tiles resist stains. Some types of stone require occasional resealing.
- Vinyl tiles are inexpensive and easy for DIY installation if they have peel-and-stick backing. They are typically used for flooring and are available in a variety of faux stone and ceramic designs. However, they can stain easily.
- Linoleum interlocking tiles are also inexpensive but can be a little more difficult to install, especially on slightly uneven floors. They are not very moisture-resistant and are better suited to kitchens than bathrooms.
How large should tiles be?
Small and large tiles have very different visual effects on a room and may have varying installation costs. Tiles range from less than 1"x1" to 18"x 18" or even larger.
A good rule to follow when choosing the size of tile for your home is to select a tile that fits the scale of your room. Large tiles are best suited to large, open areas as fewer grout lines give the space a cleaner look, while small tiles are better for smaller areas such as a backsplash.
An exception to this rule is a small bathroom that can benefit from using large, elongated tiles to create the illusion of a larger space. An open plan floor may lack dimension with a single style of large tile and need a section of smaller tiles to break up the visual lines and add depth and interest to a room.
In terms of installation costs, small tiles are more labor-intensive and will usually come with a higher price tag. However, you can buy large tiles that have the mosaic appearance of small tiles to reduce the installation costs.
How do I know that a tile is high quality?
Though the best traits to look for in a tile design will vary based on material, there are a few key things to look for when shopping for floor tiles and wall tiles.
Thin tiles will break more easily, so make sure the tiles are thick enough to hold up to wear and tear. Wall tiles can be as thin as ⅛", but floor tiles should be thicker to withstand the weight of people and furniture.
Porcelain and slate are particularly fragile and should be up to ¾" thick to resist damage when used as floor tiles. Ceramic or terracotta tiles less than ¼" will not hold up as floor tiles. Vinyl and linoleum tiles can be under ¼", but anything less than 1/10" may wear out quickly in high-traffic areas.
A tile's evenness is essential to creating a safe and comfortable walking surface. Wall tiles can be a little uneven without being hazardous, but floor tiles must be as even as possible to prevent accidents. A very light texture is helpful for slip resistance, but too much can result in scraped or stubbed toes.
Consistent Color and Pattern
Though some tiles are given a distressed and vintage look on purpose, other tiles simply aren't made with high-quality manufacturing and glazing techniques, which result in fading and poor color consistency. Look for floor tiles and wall tiles that are identical in shape, color, pattern, and sheen.
What color floor and wall tiles should I choose?
White and pale neutrals keep a room airy and open but can show dirt and stains easily. However, darker colors can make rooms feel smaller and should be avoided in compact spaces. If your kitchen has an open floor plan with plenty of windows, dark neutral tiles work if paired with oak or tan granite countertops.
Kitchens can use the color psychology of red and green to create an inviting atmosphere. Bright colors can breathe life into a kitchen but may make a room feel smaller if used in large quantities on the floor. Look for floor tiles with jewel-tone accents or glass backsplash tiles in olive green to add a pop of color without overwhelming your space.
Pastel blues are an excellent way to round out a beach-themed bathroom or kitchen. For a more festive look, try mixing and matching white, tan, and pale-yellow tiles on a backsplash.
Traditionally, shower or bathtub wall tiles are white, but gray ceramic or stone wall tiles are gaining popularity as well. These are ideal for mature master bathrooms with cozy bathtubs.
Many floor and wall tiles have two or more colors in them. Though these tiles can be beautiful, complex patterns can be overwhelming in large quantities. If there's a tile design that you love but is too busy for use in floors or whole walls, consider using it sparingly as an accent in an entryway or as a backsplash.
What tile shapes should I consider?
Tiles are available in a huge range of shapes and sizes, ranging from squares to intricate arabesque designs. Some natural or imitation stone tiles are designed to look irregularly shaped but are carefully designed to interlock.
For traditional bathrooms, stick with square or rectangular tiles. Square or rectangular tiles can give the appearance of a unique shape using a stylish pattern.
Contemporary and modern bathrooms can choose from hexagons and other unique shapes for more flair. These shapes tend to show off the grout between the tiles and will need more cleaning than standard square tiles.
Should wall and floor tiles match?
While using the same tile on the floor and wall can create a seamless flow in your room, floor tiles do not necessarily need to match the sink backsplash or shower tiles.
Tiles should be coordinated to highlight the colors and shapes in the room to create a cohesive look. Look for floor tiles that have a lighter version of a color used in wall tiles, or that have lines or other shapes in the same color as the wall.
White goes with everything, but it can look very stark in kitchens and bathrooms. When coordinating with existing backsplashes and wall tiles, avoid using plain white. Instead, select a tile that features colors that coordinate with your kitchen or bathroom furniture.
Wall and floor tiles should have similar shapes and designs to tie the room together. A hexagonal tile will clash with a curved arabesque tile but could work with simple geometric tiles.
Which wall tiles work best for backsplashes?
Sink backsplashes are often glass because they catch the light and add depth to a space. Mixing and matching coordinating colors can increase visual interest even more. Glass is fragile but is durable enough to use as a wall tile.
Ceramic wall tiles are also popular because they can be painted with a variety of designs. Flowers, rustic faux stone, and even tiles shaped like dragon scales can make excellent backsplashes depending on your color scheme.
Avoid unsealed stone or terracotta, as they can absorb water. As a general rule, sealed stone and glazed terracotta are suitable for backsplashes but check the manufacturer's specifications to make sure.
Which wall tiles work best for shower walls?
Stone, glass, ceramic, and porcelain tiles all work well for shower walls. These materials resist moisture and can last for years when sealed properly. Make sure to buy tiles that are recommended for bathroom use, since some tiles will not be sealed enough to offer proper water resistance.
Which wall and floor tiles will last the longest?
Though stone and porcelain tiles are the most durable overall, some are only designed for low-traffic areas. Manufacturers use a PEI rating to indicate the type of environment a tile is designed for.
A PEI rating of 1 means that the tile is only intended for low-traffic areas, while a PEI rating of 5 is for tiles that can withstand frequent foot traffic. Most residential applications need a PEI rating of 3, but large families with multiple pets may get more use out of tiles that are rated 4. Tiles with high PEI ratings can still be chipped or cracked by heavy dropped objects, but they can last for decades.
Which tiles are easiest to clean and maintain?
Glass wall tiles are the easiest to clean and maintain, as long as they are not damaged. Vinyl and linoleum tiles will typically stain over time, even with good maintenance. Any spills on them must be cleaned up immediately to minimize staining. Ceramic and sealed terracotta will resist stains and are usually easy to keep clean.
Polished porcelain and sealed stone resist stains very well. Certain types of natural stone need to be resealed occasionally, but this added maintenance cost is well worth it. The texture of natural stone may make it a little more challenging to clean, but the difference is negligible.
- Glass and ceramic are best for walls, not floors. Stone and porcelain make durable floors. Vinyl and linoleum are not as durable but are easy to install.
- Tiles can be a huge range of sizes, but small mosaic tiles can be expensive to install.
- Look for mosaic tiles that are assembled into easy-to-install larger tiles for a quicker and cheaper installation job.
- High-quality tiles are thick, even, and have consistent colors and patterns unless deliberately designed with a distressed look.
- Remember that darker colors can make a room look smaller, especially if applied to floors. Darker colors can be used as accents on lighter floors or as backsplashes.
- Square, rectangles, circles, hexagons, and arabesque shapes are available in a variety of sizes and colors. Try squares and rectangles for traditional decor, and geometric shapes and arabesque tiles for contemporary and modern rooms.
- Wall and floor tiles do not have to match and can instead coordinate indirectly by matching other colors and shapes of the furniture in the room.
- Backsplashes can use glass tiles for depth and charm, and ceramic tiles for complex patterns and designs. Shower walls can use stone, ceramic, or any tile that is clearly rated for bathroom use.
- Though floor tiles can be used as wall tiles, wall tiles cannot usually be used as floor tiles because they are not durable enough and are not slip-resistant. Check the manufacturer's specifications before trying to use a tile for floors.
- Look closely at a tile's PEI rating before purchasing it. PEI is on a scale of 1 to 5, and higher ratings mean that the tile is designed to endure through more foot traffic.
- Vinyl and linoleum floors can stain easily. Sealed stone and porcelain are generally easy to clean. Glass is the easiest to clean, as long as the surrounding grout is sealed.