Types of Tile and When to Use Them (To Avoid Crazy Expensive Mistakes!)
When you think “tile,” what do you picture? If we asked five different people this question, we’d probably get five different answers. Tile is one of the oldest building materials we have – there’s evidence of the use of tile as early as the 13th century B.C.! Talk about staying power! 💪
Even if you’ve pored over catalogs and scrolled late into the night searching for your ideal tile floors, you’ve likely only scratched the surface of the breadth of tile styles available. The variety out there will definitely make you go from “ooh, lots of fun choices” to total choice paralysis, 😱 so let’s take the stress out of the equation and bring back the fun with this demystifying guide.
Ceramic tile is a bit of a wunderkind because it can perform beautifully in a variety of applications and look right in nearly any area of the home.
Not only is ceramic tile widely available because of its perennial popularity, but you can also find nearly any color or shape your heart desires. Durable, affordable, and easy to clean, ceramic tile is an excellent gateway to the world of tiles.
Frankly, ceramic tile is suitable for almost any indoor use. From kitchen backsplashes to entryway/mudroom flooring, from shower floors to bathroom walls, you can get great bang for your buck with ceramic tile. The only thing we’d caution against is choosing ceramic tile for outdoor uses like a patio, where you’ll generally want a stronger type of tile to stand up to the elements.
Watch Out For
Make an informed decision about whether you’d like to use glazed or unglazed ceramic tile. Unglazed tile can help you achieve an elevated rustic look but is less durable than glazed tile. Glazed tile may be a better choice for flooring, especially in high-traffic areas like a bathroom or entryway.
PRO TIP: The “slip factor” is an important concern with every kind of tile, including ceramic. In the U.S., commercial flooring needs to meet a certain slip coefficient (COF), and we highly recommend complying with this commercial level in your home. A good rule of thumb is that you’ll want tiles rated at ≥ 0.42 wet, but we also recommend that you check with the vendor to see the slip rating on any products you are considering.
Glass tile can add a lovely texture and depth to a kitchen backsplash or bathroom wall. It’s also remarkably easy to clean. Because of its relative delicacy, glass tile won’t be a good choice for flooring, but really sings as a decorative accent.
Available in all manner of colors and shades and both matte and shiny finishes, glass tile is ideal for an array of decorative applications. Specifically, high-gloss glass tile can be a lovely, easy-clean shower wall choice that adds the appearance of depth in a small space. It can also bring a chic shine to your kitchen backsplash. Glass tile is great for outdoor use – think about these tiles for gorgeous wet bands around pools and spas. There are also wonderful resources out there for recycled glass. Beautiful and eco-friendly? We love it! 🤟🏻
Watch Out For
In higher-traffic situations, glass tile will splinter around the edges, which can be dangerous. Again – it’s not a good choice for floors. Even textured tiles will be slippery when wet, so it’s best to use glass tiles sporadically in small, 1-inch squares. Also, glass tiles can be pricier but worth the bucks if you need that wow factor.
Does it get any more effortlessly elegant than marble tile? Honestly, no. Even a small decorative touch of marble tile adds instant refinement to your space. This natural stone tile is expensive and high maintenance, but if it’s a look you love, it is absolutely worth the investment. There are 100’s of variations, ranging from virtually solid to highly-veined, and deep black to the whitest of whites, Carrera. Marble is delicate, and it’s not appropriate everywhere. It will perform best when used either in a decorative quantity or as trim tile for entry halls. For something so durable the archeologists will find it, you can achieve a similar black-and-white look and feel with porcelain or even cement.
Marble is a popular option for bathroom floors and tub surrounds, entryway trim, and fireplace surrounds. If you have the funds, large marble tiles in a bathroom or even in your larger rooms can be simultaneously modern and classic – but watch out for the COF! More subtle uses might create a focal point out of a transitional space with smaller marble tiles.
Watch Out For
Whether on the floor or the wall, marble tile requires a commitment to consistent upkeep. It’s quite porous and is easily scratched, stained, and etched by simple fruit acids. Some varieties are harder and more stain-resistant, but regardless, marble requires sealing regularly to maintain its original appearance.
Granite tile has gotten a bad rap lately because of its unfair reputation as a cheap version of marble. While it may have been a bit overused, we are seeing some truly creative work with granite tile – it just takes a keen editorial eye. There are literally hundreds of varieties of granite, giving you tons of style options. Virtually impervious to damage like staining and scratches, granite is a fantastic choice for those who prefer a more carefree approach to their floors. This popular stone can also be finished with a slip-resistant texture, making it ideal for kitchens, bathrooms, and wet areas.
Far more affordable than marble – and easier to clean – granite tile is right at home for bathroom and other indoor floorings, and even outdoors. Avoid dated, overly-speckled granite choices and colors, and look for a solid color or more unexpectedly speckled patterns. That will help keep this durable tile looking fresh and timeless on your floors instead of 90s blah. 🥱
Watch Out For
Granite comes in different classifications – make sure you choose Class A, B, or C tile, and steer clear of Class D, which can yellow over time.
Rubber tile floors aren’t just for refinished basements anymore – though that’s still a functional application of this waterproof and versatile tile. Affordable, easy to install, simple to customize, and available in every color of the rainbow, we can have a lot of fun with rubber tile.
Rubber may not typically come to mind when you think of flooring material, but it has its place. Rubber tile can be appropriate for any room’s floor – within reason. Though unexpected, we love textured rubber floors in kitchens and bathrooms or bright colors in a living room. Rubber tile in the laundry room is a more traditional (and noise-dampening) choice that I’m also on board with. Long-lasting, inexpensive, and easy to install, rubber tiles are also an excellent option for a home gym or playroom. It comes in many styles and is installed through interlocking tiles.
Watch Out For
Rubber tile is affordable, but don’t cheap out – lower-end rubber tile can fill your space with a rubbery smell for weeks to months after installation, splinter, or quickly develop wear areas. No, thank you!
Metal tiles look fantastic in a modern or contemporary home! They can be installed as your entire floor or used as beautiful, gleaming accents with other flooring materials like porcelain or ceramic tiles. The design options are almost endless when you consider the different finishes, textures, and shapes available. We’ve certainly seen metal mosaic tile used to a lovely effect in bathrooms and on kitchen backsplashes. On the other side of the spectrum, rustic copper gives off a delicious modern farmhouse vibe. With copper, aluminum, tin, and stainless steel to choose from, metal tile is a lot more versatile than you might immediately expect.
Many types of metal tile can be used as an accent to bring in another texture on bathroom or kitchen walls and floors. For an industrial yet sophisticated look, consider metal tile for the floor or walls of a guest or primary bath.
Watch Out For
Metal tiles are vulnerable to scratching. If you can embrace this evolving patina, fantastic. If not, skip ‘em. If you love the metal look but don’t love the way it holds heat and scratches, you might be better served by metallic porcelain tile instead.
While it is quite delicate, mirrored tile can be a super glam detail for vertical application. Available in every shape, size, and color (including clear!), and with or without a beveled edge, you can definitely get creative with these tiles.
Mirrored tile is fantastic, modern, and fun on the walls of a bathroom or kitchen backsplash. Especially in a small room, a wall of mirrored tile can help things feel more expansive and open.
Watch Out For
Mirrored tile is delicate and slippery – we wouldn’t recommend using it for your floors except as part of a mosaic detail or another decorative flourish.
Mosaic tile isn’t a material but a style of application, but we thought it deserved its own entry here because it is so popular – and can be so fabulous. We like a glass-stone mix because it adds a lot of depth, AND it cuts the cost! Go on and slash the price while still getting that rich look by mixing porcelain glass and stone in a mosaic pattern.
Kitchen backsplashes and shower walls are your most likely candidates for mosaic tile, but your floors can also benefit from a tasteful mosaic accent. We often see mosaic patterns on the bathroom floor for a daringly bohemian touch, but don’t be afraid to bring a mosaic into more public areas of your home!
Watch Out For
Mosaic tile makes for a fabulous accent – but if it goes too big the result can be a kaleidoscopic mess. When it comes to mosaic tile, a little subtlety will take you far.
So there you have it! By the way, you’ll also want to take a sneaky peek at these:
Are you in the market for a general contractor? Make sure they check off all the right boxes! How to Hire a General Contractor
Looking to learn all there is to know about floors? I’m here for you! Check out Flooring Fundamentals in the The Library!
Ta-TILE for now!