Quarry Tile Basics

Quarry Tiles
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It can be very confusing sorting through the various types of hard, stone-like floor tiles available, so much so that the differences between terra cotta, quarry tile, ceramic and porcelain tile get lost in the shuffle. But quarry tile is markedly different from other tiles, and it's one that you just might find yourself installing someday on either your home interior or exterior.

In fact, if you think that quarry tiles are used only in high-traffic areas like walkways, you might be surprised to learn that quarry tiles can be used practically anywhere. Quarry tiles are found in living rooms, hallways, kitchens, or sunrooms.

What Quarry Tiles Are

Quarry tile is a hard, impervious paving tile made from the ground minerals formed and fired in much the same way as is used to make brick. Quarry tiles are typically harder than ordinary clay bricks, due to the minerals used and the high firing temperatures. Unlike clay terracotta, quarry tiles are not porous and will resist water; and unlike ceramic tile and porcelain, quarry tile does not have a surface glaze layer. 

Quarry Tile Basics

Quarry Tile Is Fired

Quarry tile does not come from a quarry. Quarry tile a misleading name. The tiles themselves are not sliced from a quarry like granite slabs. Instead, minerals such as feldspar, clay, and shales (all of which may have been quarried) are ground together and then extruded into tile forms, then baked at high temperatures. 

Quarry Tile Is Used on Residences and Commercial Buildings

It's a myth that quarry tile is only found in commercial buildings. Many commercial buildings use quarry tile because it hides stains well and is very durable.

That doesn't mean that quarry tiles are limited to strictly functional, work-a-day spaces. Many homeowners install them when they want to add a unique, warm feel to certain rooms in the home. While you may not find quarry tiles in the bedroom, you can often find them in a sunroom, entryway, or even a kitchen.

Quarry Tiles Come in Many Colors

Yes, quarry tiles are often thought of as being red. Quarry tile is often red, but it can be brown, gray, or tan. Lighter shades of quarry tiles can be found, but remember that unsealed quarry tiles hold stains. So, your light-colored quarry tile will show dirt if it is installed outdoors. It's this pallette of colors that allows quarry tiles to be installed in far more areas than just exterior patios and walkways.

Quarry Tiles Are Absorbent, But Barely

Though they are used on exteriors, quarry tiles absorb water but not very much. According to Ron Williamson of Metropolitan Ceramics: "We often run into absorption confusion about quarry tile because it is so similar in looks to inexpensive red unglazed pressed tiles that are very high absorption." Quarry tile is sometimes confused with terra cotta, which does absorb water. 

Quarry Tiles Don't Need Sealing

Williamson of Metropolitan Ceramics further says that quarry tile is "fired at high temperatures reaching over 2,000 degrees." 

This means that the tile is "low absorption and qualifies as vitreous." That last word is the most important. Vitreous, or "glass-like," means an absorption rate of 0.5 percent to 3 percent. This is just one level below the ultimate low absorption rate of "Impervious." In many applications, good-quality quarry tile does not require sealing, though it will never be quite as impervious to staining as a glazed ceramic tile. 

Quarry Tile Comes in a Few Sizes

Generally, you will not find the 12-inch by 12-inch or larger sizes that you can find with ceramic tiles. Quarry tiles are most often found in the 6-inch square size but can range up to 8 inches square.

Quarry Tiles Generally Are Thick

Quarry tile is thicker than ceramic tile. Most quarry tiles are from 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch thick. But ceramic tiles are also found in thicknesses of between 3/8-inch to 5/8-inch, as are some ceramic tiles. 

Quarry Tile Has a Variety of Textures

The surface of quarry tile is not always rough. One distinguishing aspect of quarry tile is that it can have a rougher texture, which provides great traction for exterior applications. But you can also find quarry tile intended for interior use that is surprisingly smooth and welcoming to bare feet. 

Sealing Does Not Ruin Quarry Tile

It's a myth that sealing ruins quarry tile. No, sealing quarry tile does not change its color or ruin it. In certain locations, in fact, sealing will prevent the tile from staining or discoloring. 

For Both Indoor and Outdoor Use

Quarry tile doesn't belong everywhere. Due to its unique surface and color characteristics, you may want to limit your installation to these types of areas:

  • Main interior floor areas: Some examples of main interiors where quarry tiles work well are living rooms, dining rooms, and kitchens. Homes that have quarry tiles in main living areas typically use area rugs to soften the tiles and soften sounds within the room.
  • Interior or exterior walkways and entryways: Because of quarry tile's high degree of slip resistance, it works well for any area where people need to walk without slipping. It's also very durable and stands up to traffic well.
  • Backsplashes: Despite the name, backsplashes typically do not receive much in the way of splashes from sinks. Thus, unglazed quarry tile can work well for backsplashes. One notable exception would be backsplashes near stoves, where stains from cooking grease and food may be a problem. Even so, quarry tiles can be installed near high-grease areas if it is sealed.
  • Some countertops: Heavily-used kitchen and bathroom countertops should not be tiled with quarry tile. However, side counters that are not areas for food preparation can be tiled in quarry tile.
Mosaic Tile
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Consider Color Options

While not exactly representing all of the colors of the rainbow, quarry tiles can be found in a small variation of earthen tones, such as dark gray, light gray, tan, brown, dark brown, and beige. Most users are able to find a color to match the decor.

Yet the most popular color of all? You guessed it. Red quarry tiles are most commonly made, sold, and installed. Red most closely approximates the color of the natural clays which comprise many quarry tiles. Not only that, red is the optimal color for hiding stains.

Quarry tile
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When You Should Seal Quarry Tiles

Although it's sometimes advised that quarry tile should always be sealed, this is not necessarily true. Ron Williamson of Metropolitan Ceramics says that quarry tile from his company, "...can be sealed with a water-based penetrating sealer, which can help with some staining, especially on the grout. It does not, however, have to be sealed."

So, for normal wear, sealing is not required for this type of tile, but for abnormal wear, such as high traffic, oil, and grease, you may want to seal the tile. If so, you should use a water-based penetrating sealer. Metropolitan recommends against using a surface-type seal. The sealant should penetrate deeply in order to effectively repel moisture.

Stacks of Red Quarry Floor Tiles
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