Basic Types of Tile for Flooring and Walls

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Shopping for tile is never an easy feat. What's even more confusing is knowing which tile is best for your floors and which tile is best for your walls. This guide will help you determine which types of tile are best for both of these applications. 

Ceramic vs. Porcelain Floor Tile

  • Use for: The workhorse of kitchen and bathroom floor surfaces, ceramic tile is called both ceramic and porcelain. The difference in names hinges on water absorption rates. Tile that absorbs water at a slower rate is officially called porcelain and is best for high-moisture spaces like bathrooms. The kitchen—a place where moisture is definitely present but not in the quantities found in bathrooms—can have tile rated as porcelain or not.

Porcelain is made with a more refined clay. It is harder and denser than ceramic, making it harder to cut. Hardness also makes it more durable than ceramic.

  • Sizes: From 6"x6" to 16"x16". The ubiquitous 12" square ceramic tile is being edged out in popularity by the larger 16" square tile. Even larger tiles are being installed in kitchens where space permits.
  • Pay attention to: Coefficient of Friction (COF) rating determines how much slip resistance the tile has. Higher numbers provide better resistance to slipping. A COF of .50 (dry) is recommended for flooring. Keep in mind, though, that the more slip resistant the tile, the more difficult it is to wet-mop.

Glazed Wall Tile

  • Use for: As the name implies, it's used for walls only. If rated for walls, it cannot be used for floors; however, flooring tile can be used on walls.
  • Sizes: The most popular wall tile sizes are subway (tile with a width-to-height ratio of about 2:1) and 4"x4" tiles.
  • Pay Attention to: PEI Wear Ratings tell you if the tile is best suited for walls. Ratings graded I or II mean that this lighter-weight tile is best suited for wall installation (lighter is better when installing on a vertical surface). PEI I and II tiles cannot be used on floors, as they will not be durable enough for foot traffic.

Mosaic Tile

  • Use for: Backsplashes and walls. Mosaic tile certainly can be used for floors, but this application isn't popular because its many grout lines make clean-up harder and it tends to have a "busy" look.
  • Sizes: Mosaic is the one type of tile that does not deviate from two sizes: 1"x1" or 2"x2". Sizes smaller than 1" square are not practicable, and anything larger than 2" square cannot rightly be called mosaic. Mosaic can be either square or hexagonal.
  • Pay attention to: Glass mosaic does a great job of capturing and distributing light throughout the room.

Natural Stone Tile

  • Use for: Granite, marble, slate, and travertine tile work well for walls or for flooring where moisture is not of concern.
  • Sizes: From 6"x6" upward. Larger size natural stone tiles can make a room look magisterial.
  • Pay attention to: By definition, the natural stone tile will have rectified edges (this means that the edges are cut). Ceramic tile can be rectified or non-rectified.

Quarry Tile

  • Use for: This unglazed tile is used for flooring, inside or outside. With a COF of .8 and greater, quarry tile provides excellent slip resistance.
  • Sizes: Usually from 3"x3" to 12"x12".
  • Pay attention to: Not all quarry tile is brick-red. While red is the most popular color, you will also find this tile in tan and gray. Due to the difficulty in cleaning quarry tile, darker colors are recommend for home flooring. If you choose to install lighter colors, sealing the surface will aid in cleanup.

Paver Tile

  • Use for: Pressed clay or concrete tiles suitable for exterior walkways, floors, pool decking, pool linings, and patios. Interior residential use not recommended unless for high-traffic areas where aesthetics are not of great concern, such as mudrooms, furnace rooms, work areas, etc.
  • Sizes: Thick tiles (ranging from 3/8" to 1/2") with dimensions ranging from 4"x4" to 12"x12".
  • Pay attention to: Look for COF rating of .60 or greater.