How to Buy Bathroom Tile

Glass tile is perfect for your bathroom
Photo & copy: Oceanside Tile

Choosing the right bathroom tile can be a challenge. There are so many different looks and materials, different installation methods, and different characteristics. 

You want something that looks good but also something that is meant for bathroom use and that will be easy to maintain given your time and abilities.

This is your go-to guide for learning more about the different types of bathroom tiles. It will help you make the best choice for your purchase and give you the basics of cleaning and maintenance.

Before Buying Tile for Your Bathroom

You're ready to change the look of your bathroom, and the old tile just has to go. It is time for a bathroom remodel to bring it to a more modern and up-to-date look. This project can become quite overwhelming as there are numerous bathroom designs available. The type of tile you choose can be a factor, so as you start on the trek to find the tile that is perfect for your bathroom, take a moment to learn and see which kind is a good fit. Then head out and start shopping around!

Buying Considerations for Bathroom Tile

Size of Tile

The size of the tile that you put in the shower or tub area, on the walls, for a backsplash above the vanity, or on the floor will change the look of your bathroom. If you use a large size tile in a small bathroom, it can make it look more spacious. The appearance of a large room than it really is, is due to the fact that there are fewer grout lines in between the tiles.

Shower floors typically are best with smaller size tiles for better gripping for your feet as there are more grout lines. But the bathroom flooring itself is usually done in larger tiles.

Tile Color

The variations and hues of colors abound when it comes to tile. Blues, greens, tans, whites, blacks, and so many more colors will have you looking on in amazement as you stroll through the aisles and look at the abundance of choices. Select the color you want, and then look within that color palette selection to help narrow down the options.

Grout Color and Thickness

The color that you choose for the grout lines is just as important to figure out once you select the bathroom tile color. A dark grout line in between the tiles can make the pattern or color variations in your tile stand out a bit more, while a thin white or lighter color grout line in between closely spaced tiles blend into the background.

Style

Determine if you want a more traditional and classic look or if you're going for one with a bit more flair and modern look. A white tile is timeless, while a glass iridescent one or brightly colored one is one that provides a bit of oomph when you walk into the bathroom.

Types of Bathroom Tile

Bathroom tile also comes in various types. In this section, we focus on three kinds: glass, natural stone, and ceramic and porcelain tile. These three different types of tiles come at different prices and have different styles. If you like variety and color, you might decide that glass tile is perfect for you, and lovers of luxury and natural materials will love natural stone, while people on a budget will appreciate the durability of ceramic and porcelain.

Here you will find information on each type of tile, including their characteristics, planning your purchase, installation, and maintenance.

Glass Tile

Glass tile is among the oldest type of mosaic tile you'll find. Ancient Greeks and Romans, along with other cultures in the Middle East and Asia, used glass to beautify their homes. Despite its age, glass tile has never gone out of fashion. For the 21st century, glass tile is still an affordable, stylish, and practical solution for bathroom walls, backsplashes, and even shower/bath tile.

Characteristics of Glass Tile

  • Style: Glass tile comes in an almost infinite variety of shapes and colors. Transparent, semi-transparent or opaque, shiny or matte, in all the shades of the rainbow: whatever your dream style, it probably exists in glass tile.
  • Bathroom-friendly: Glass tiles are resistant to humidity and moisture, stains, fungus, and mold.
  • Durable: Glass tile is known for its durability. Although it is prone to scratches, it is overall resistant to breaking and signs of use.
  • Easy to maintain: Because of its durability, glass is easy to clean and maintain. Your usual mild surface cleaner will do.
  • Affordable: Glass is a beautiful yet affordable material because it is easy to produce.

Planning Your Glass Tile Purchase

If you don't have a style in mind, you need to first begin by choosing what kind of tile you want on your walls. Do you want something clear and minimalist or something dramatic and dark?

The first thing you must do is calculate the space you plan on covering with glass tile. This will determine the cost of your whole project.

Once you have the surface measurement, you can start looking at tiles that fit your budget.

Most glass tile comes in squares and is sold by the square foot. Simple glass mosaics can sell for as little as $3.50 per square foot, while designer series can sell for up to $20 per square foot. Something within that range will surely fit your budget.

Installing Your Glass Tile

The Home Renovations section has a great article for learning how to install glass tile by yourself. If you're not confident you have the right skills, ask a handy friend to help out or hire a professional.

Cleaning Your Glass Tile

Glass tile is easy to clean. You don't need anything exceptional; a mix of soap and water, or better, water and vinegar in a spray bottle will work. Spray, rub a little with a soft brush for stains and grout (always gently to avoid scratching) and wipe off.

The benefit of glass tile is that it is not porous, so it doesn't absorb liquids or stains. All you need is to wipe it off.

Natural Stone Tile

If you prefer a more natural, neutral look, natural stone might be an excellent choice for your bathroom tile. Made directly from natural stone and finished and sealed to resist stains, humidity, and mold, stone tile has a beautiful look that isn't to be ignored.

Natural stone tile has plenty of beneficial characteristics for your bathroom.

Characteristics of Natural Stone Tile

  • A natural material: A neutral, natural style preferred by lovers of traditional, modern, and contemporary decor.
  • Beautiful patterns: The natural patterning of stone is preserved, giving your room a unique look.
  • Durability: Stone is naturally durable, whether it's used for flooring or on walls.
  • Variety: Natural stone tile comes in many materials: marble, travertine, quartz, granite, slate, limestone, and sandstone. Not all of these are appropriate for a bathroom—consult an expert when making that choice.

Planning Your Natural Stone Purchase

If you've chosen the natural stone way, you need to plan your purchase properly. The first step is to have a general idea of the color and patterning you would prefer. Bring color chips for inspiration with you to the store as well as the total surface you plan on covering.

Granite and soapstone are perfect choices for the bathroom since they are less porous than other stones such as marble or slate. However, each stone will require at least a bit of maintenance and cleaning.

Stone tile also comes in squares or rectangles, usually sold by the square foot. Marble and granite are sold at the higher end of the spectrum; for cheaper choices, opt for travertine.

Installing Stone Tile

Stone tile can be installed with or without grout. You might want to consult an expert and make sure you are installing your stone properly because not all stone types are installed the same way.

Cleaning Stone Tile

Each stone will need a different type of cleaning routine. More porous stones such as marble or soapstone, require a regular sealant treatment to keep them stain- and humidity-resistant.

Consult an expert about your stone tile to make sure you are using the right kind of cleaner; some cleaning products may damage stone surfaces.

Ceramic and Porcelain Tile

A great thing about ceramic and porcelain tile is its price. For those with a low budget and designer tastes, ceramic or porcelain might be the best choice.

Ceramic and porcelain come in a variety of styles, colors, and textures. They are as versatile as they are beautiful, and they are perfect for the humid conditions of a bathroom.

Characteristics of Porcelain and Ceramic Tile

  • Affordable: You won't break the bank with these tiles.
  • Stylishly versatile: Any decor style will do well with porcelain. Traditional, rustic, modern, contemporary, eclectic, Asian, etc. can all benefit from the look of porcelain and ceramic.
  • Great for the bathroom: Porcelain and ceramic are moisture-, and stain- and scratch-resistant.
  • Accent or focus: Whether you're thinking about an accent wall or a whole floor, ceramic and porcelain will do the job.

Planning Your Porcelain or Ceramic Purchase

As always, begin by choosing your style and colors. The benefit of porcelain and ceramic is that they come in many different styles, from white-marble-like to dark and moody.

Measure the surface to be covered, and calculate the price by the square foot. Ceramic and porcelain tile cost as low as $1.69 per square foot and are the perfect low-budget, high-style choice.

Installing Your Porcelain or Ceramic Tile

Installing your newly purchased tile is easy—but it's also easy to do badly. Make sure you know how to install your porcelain or ceramic tile properly.

Of course, if in doubt, don't be afraid to ask your DIY expert friend or neighbor, or hire a professional. Sometimes it's worth investing in a little help if you want to maximize your investment.

Cleaning Your Porcelain or Ceramic Tile

Cleaning porcelain and ceramic tile is easy. However, cleaning products and techniques will vary depending on whether the material is glazed or unglazed, so make sure you know which one ahead of time.

These tutorials for cleaning porcelain and ceramic floors can easily be applied to bathroom tile—just switch a floor mop for a hand cloth.

Cost

The price of bathroom tiles, just like the available selection, has quite a wide range in cost. It can start at around $1.00 per square foot for the least expensive and up to $200 per square foot. Be aware of what you can afford to spend, and watch for sales or discounted tiles to save money.

How to Choose Bathroom Tile

As you go shopping for tiles to remodel your bathroom, don't let the inundation of selections and prices put your mind on overload. Stay the course and find the tile that suits your taste, doesn't hurt your wallet, fits with the rest of the home's design, and brings the look that you desire. Ask yourself a few questions to help you figure it out:

What Does the Rest of Your Home Look Like?

Take the time to look at the rest of your home, as it is best to try to keep within the same style and tones, so your new bathroom fits in rather than becomes a "what have I done?" every time you walk in. Unless you are planning on remodeling your home with a new look to follow with the newly designed bathroom, plan to follow in the same lines of the style of your home so it will blend in and provide better resale value down the road if you decide to sell. 

How Long Do You Plan to Stay Where You Are?

Changing the tiles in a bathroom can be pricey. Determine if you're going to be staying long-term or short-term in your home, as that could be a factor when it comes to how much you're willing to spend on updating the room.

Where to Shop

Bathroom tiles can be found in multiple places, including home improvement stores, tile manufacturers, tile and flooring specialty stores, and online retailers. The selection of tiles is a personal preference, and to be able to view the tiles in person is a good opportunity to see the quality, color, and material selection. You can also look to match your selected tile with other ones that will be used in different areas of the bathroom. The ability to walk into a showroom and see some examples of bathroom remodel ideas, plus talk to a design specialist is invaluable in the remodeling process.

Don't hesitate to ask questions and compare prices at other stores and online retailers as you shop around to locate the ultimate fit for you and your bathroom. It is something you will enjoy for years to come.

FAQ
  • Should a shower be tiled floor to ceiling in a small bathroom?

    Tiling the shower all the way to the ceiling can help make the shower feel and look larger and bring a more modern look to the room.

  • What do you tile first, the walls or the floor?

    Typically if you are tiling both areas, you should tile the walls first, and then the floor.

  • What colors make a bathroom look larger?

    Lighter colors including whites, tans, and light grays can provide the illusion that the bathroom is larger and more open.