Tile vs. Vinyl Plank For Your Bathroom Remodel

Ceramic/porcelain tile and vinyl plank are different, always will be.  While the twain shall never meet, the gap between the two is getting narrower all the time.

Context matters.  In most rooms of the house, vinyl and laminate flooring are close contenders.  But in the context of the bathroom, laminate falls to the wayside and tile steps in.  For one, vinyl and tile share qualities (such as superb water-resistance) that other coverings such as wood and laminate sorely lack.

  • 01 of 08

    Installation: Which One Goes Down Easier?

    Installing Ceramic Floor Tile 86464768
    Installing Ceramic Floor Tile. Getty / Photo 24

    Winner:  Vinyl plank, by a long shot

    Installation is the linchpin that controls cost and time-frame.

    Ceramic and porcelain tile cannot be dry-installed.  It always requires mortar and grout.  No one has yet invented a self-stick mortar-less mat for flooring like Bondera did for vertical tile.  Tile cutting can be difficult for do-it-yourselfers, as the cleanest cuts are produced with wet tile saws, not cheap snap cutters.

    Vinyl plank is nearly always dry-installed.  One exception is with some types...MORE of luxury vinyl tile that look like stone, like Armstrong Alterna, which allow for grouting as an option for a more realistic look.  Vinyl is easily cut by scoring it with a utility knife and snapping it off.

  • 02 of 08

    Transport:  Getting The Stuff Home

    Winner:  Comparable

    Once you have bought the product, how easily can you get it home--whether from a local brick-and-mortar store or online?  Almost as important, how do you get the stuff back to the retailer if you need to return it?

    Both products lend themselves to easy transport in cars or SUVs, pickups not required.  On a square-foot by square-foot basis, tile is far heavier than plank vinyl, especially when you add in the additional required layers of thinset, cement board, and grout.

  • 03 of 08

    Appearance:  Looks Do Count!

    Winner:  Tile

    Sure, you can find the ugly ceramic tile.  Bad tile abounds.  Pitting the worst ceramic tile against the highest-quality luxury vinyl plank is no contest:  plank wins out.

    But in an apples-to-apples comparison, taking one of the best-quality plank brands (i.e., Shaw 5th & Main) vs. the best ceramic/porcelain tile, tile wins out.

    Largely, this is because of the limited number of quality plank brands, whereas there is no shortage of premium porcelain brands, not just from...MORE established tile companies but from myriad artisan tile makers around the world.

    Simply put, high-end tile can often be the unique vision of an artist.  High-end plank is still a group-think product from a corporation.

  • 04 of 08

    The "Just Get The Thing Done Already" Factor

    Winner:  Vinyl plank

    I estimate that, in a 120 sq. ft. bathroom installation, you can lay down an entire vinyl plank floor in 3 hours, not including toilet removal and re-installation.

    With ceramic tile, by the end of the 3rd hour, you would have finished screwing down the cement boards.  If cement board is not needed, you would likely have finished laying down a few rows in the thinset.  Remaining:  the rest of the rows, plus a day or two to let everything solidify before grouting.

    But "Get...MORE The Thing Done" is about more than the speed of installation.  It's about removing obstacles to starting the installation, and with that, the vinyl plank is superior.  Unlike tile, plank requires no mixing, no water, no bucket clean-up, no cutting with a wet tile saw, no tile spacers.  It's an easy in, easy out process.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Moisture Resistance: Keeping Water At Bay

    Winner:  Comparable, with tile nudging ahead of a little.

    The face of a vinyl plank is 100% impervious to water.  

    The face of porcelain tile is defined as impervious, though strictly speaking, it is not, as it has a water absorption rate of < 0.5% as defined by American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) C373. This means that, under rigorous test conditions, porcelain tile will absorb a trace amount of water.  Consider that tile is used for heavy water conditions, like pools and showers,...MORE and you'll understand why < 0.5% isn't anything to worry about with flooring tile.

    Seams are more the issue.  With both, if seaming is done right, water will not infiltrate.  But which flooring provides better conditions for the DIYer to get the seams right?  

    Plank seams can be tricky, and if you leave a gap, that gap is always there.  With tile, all seams are filled with grout and are sealed.  While you can poorly grout and seal a tile floor, it's always possible to go back and fix it.  A gapped plank vinyl floor cannot be un-gapped except by re-installing the entire floor.

  • 06 of 08

    Winner:  Comparable

    The world of tile is too vast to draw a valid comparison with vinyl plank.

    Just look at raw figures:  at the time this article was written, on BuildDirect the cheapest 8 mm ceramic tile is about $0.70 per square foot.  The cheapest self-stick 2 mm* vinyl plank is $1.09 sq. ft.  

    But do you really want rock-bottom?  To get a decent vinyl plank worthy of your bathroom, you'll want to step up the thickness to 5mm, which doubles the price to the low $2 range.  Increasing the...MORE tile cost to $2 sq. ft. brings you slightly thicker tile (8.7 mm), but more importantly, gives the tile greater visual appeal and fewer repeated patterns.

  • 07 of 08

    Resale Value: What Do The Buyers Think?

    Winner:  Tile

    Call it prejudice or call it sound reasoning, but home buyers still tend to value an expertly installed quality tile floor over plank vinyl.

    Tile imparts a greater feeling of permanence and solidity than vinyl.  Consider this:  a roomful of floating vinyl plank can be taken up in minutes by hand; tile requires hours of laborious chipping.  Plank's ease of removal means that you can change it out at a whim, as long as you're willing to spend the money.  Tile is a decision you...MORE dwell long and hard on and then make the irreversible leap.

    A house with high-quality tile used as bathroom flooring will be one factor that contributes to a home's greater resale value.

  • 08 of 08

    Notes

    Tile: This refers to either ceramic or porcelain tile, a clay product fired in ovens until it is rock-hard.  Tile often will mimic the look of stone, but a recent innovation is a tile that looks surprisingly like wood.

    Vinyl Plank:  Vinyl (resilient) has long been available in squares or large sheets, but recently plank vinyl flooring has been making its way into homes.  Usually taking on the look of wood or stone, the vinyl plank is long and narrow--48" x 6" is one popular size.

    * =...MORE Ceramic/porcelain tile will always be thicker than comparable vinyl planks; it's just the nature of the material.