The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Bathroom Tile for Your Walls, Floors, and More
Selecting bathroom tile can be a daunting task, because there are just so many gorgeous options out there. Where to begin?
In this latest installment of our Dream Bathroom Remodeling Guide, we’ll lay out all the information you need to know. Here’s what you should consider to find the right bathroom tile for your project.
Types of tile: Pros, cons, and price
Let’s talk about tile choices. “The first thing you need to understand is that all bathroom tile is going to get wet, due to moisture and water vapor,” says Cristina Miguelez, a remodeling specialist at Fixr.com.
That means that every single piece of tile in the entire bathroom—yes, even walls far from a shower or sink—should be able to withstand water. So you want a nonporous tile in the bathroom whenever possible. Porcelain, ceramic, and glass tiles are nonporous and hold up well; meanwhile, marble and many natural stones are porous and should be avoided.
Here’s what else you need to consider:
Cost: About $2 to $15 per square foot.
Pros: This low-maintenance tile is ideal for both bathroom floors and walls, because the surface absorbs little moisture. That means it also resists stains. In addition, only soap and water are needed to maintain it.
Cons: The one big downside of porcelain is that it’s a pain to install. The material is very dense, which makes precise cuts harder and means that the installation takes longer to complete. This type of tile also requires a fair amount of grout, which can easily get dirty if it isn’t sealed properly.
Cost: About $3 to $30 per square foot.
Pros: Ceramic tile not only comes in classic white subway tile but offers a range of colors and patterns that give remodelers a lot of possibilities to choose from. It is exceptionally durable, and examples of ceramic tile have survived intact for thousands of years. It is often used on shower walls.
Cons: Ceramic is softer than porcelain, so it’s not a good option for high-traffic bathroom floors. And when ceramic chips, the color underneath is different from the shade on top, which makes the breakage more noticeable (porcelain is the same color throughout). The tile is also not as water-resistant as porcelain.
Photo from Houzz.com
Cost: $1 to $18 per square foot.
Pros: The biggest advantage of stone tiles is their uniqueness and beauty. These eco-friendly tiles are also not as slippery as porcelain and ceramic tile, and their durability makes them a good choice for showers.
Cons: Acid like vinegar can stain or damage natural stone, so you have to be very careful when cleaning it. And because the stone occurs naturally rather than being fired in a kiln, it can have small natural cracks that get larger over time. Just make sure to seal the tile to make it water-resistant. “Never use natural stone in a steam shower, and try to keep green marbles out of the bathroom, as they have a tendency to get flaky around water,” says Miguelez.
Cost: About $30 to $40 per square foot.
Pros: Glass tiles add an opulent touch to any bathroom. Since they are resistant to stains, mold, and mildew, they are easier to keep clean. The tile is available in a rainbow of colors, as mosaic collections with a mesh backing and also as individual tiles.
Cons: The upscale feel of glass tiles comes with a price tag to match: This is one of the most expensive tiles. Glass can also be tricky to install. The tile is also easily scratched, which means that a floor of glass tiles will only look good for a few years.
How to save money on tile
When you’re pricing out home upgrades, you’ll find that remodeling a bathroom has one of the highest costs per square foot in the entire house (a bathroom upgrade typically costs about $9,000, and tops out at $20,000). So before getting started, determine the style you want, and make sure you can live with it for years to come, advises Jay Kallos, senior VP of architecture for homebuilder Ashton Woods.
One way to save money is to skip tiling a bathroom from floor to ceiling. Instead, tile only the areas that truly need it, like the shower, bath, and sink backsplash. Find alternatives to covering the other areas: for example, wallpaper, panels of reclaimed wood, or shiplap.
You can also use more expensive tile as an accent in your bathroom.
“Custom handmade tile and natural stone can add up quickly, so if you have a small budget, use these sparingly, such as in the back of a shampoo niche or the backsplash at the vanity,” says Erin Davisof Mosaik Design & Remodeling in Portland, Oregon. You can also use less expensive tiles in an unexpected layout, which can make them look more sophisticated. “Try a herringbone or chevron pattern.”
Wall tiles vs. floor tiles
Any floor tile can be installed on walls … but wall tiles can’t necessarily be installed on the floor, depending on the finish. For instance, glass mosaic tile isn’t typically rated to go on the floor, because bathroom floors get slippery. Instead, use a small tile with a lot of grout lines, or a non-skid tile, to keep the floors safe.
“Keep in mind that softer ceramic floor tile can crack or may stain over time, making porcelain your best bet for flooring,” says Miguelez. Another tip? “Try choosing one tile that comes in several sizes and using it on the bathroom floor, shower floor, and walls of the bathroom, to make the space appear larger.”
Tile tips and tricks
Just as when you pick out a paint, “Be sure to look at physical samples in your own home when selecting a tile for your bathroom,” says Abby Sanders of Pennsylvania tile installer Stone Interiors. “Every space has its own unique lighting, wall colors, and layouts, which can alter the look of your tile, compared to the version you may have seen at the showroom.” Ask your installer for a few samples of similar colors, and take them home for a few days before making a final decision.
And don’t forget about grout. “There’s a growing trend of pairing plain tiles with colored ‘designer’ grout as an accent,” says Curt Rapp, CEO of The Tile Doctor. “For example, use grout in bold hues like oranges, blues, and even reds, with simple white or black tiles.” The contrast creates a fresh, unexpected look.