You might know a thing or two about tile, but there are still a few lingering questions that you want answered. If there’s something about floor or wall tile that has you stumped, don’t worry! This tile FAQ compiles the most common questions we hear from inquiring minds, and provides in-depth answers to satisfy your curiosity.
Ready to learn? Let’s start.
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What is Tile? Learn the Basics
Before we get into the more hard-hitting questions, it’s a good idea to cover the basics of tile, including the different types, and the pros and cons.
What is Ceramic Tile?
Ceramic tile is the most common type of tile, and it’s a broad category that includes many subsets of tile. It is made from a solution of clay minerals and water, then pressed into a tile shape and fired in a kiln.
Often ceramic tile has two layers: the bisque, or body of the tile, and the glaze, which is the top layer that includes the tile color and pattern. Some ceramic tiles don’t have a glaze, and they have a solid color throughout. This is called a through-tile construction, and these tiles are typically the natural red or brown on unglazed ceramic.
Ceramic tile is durable, and waterproof when glazed, but it’s porous enough to be susceptible to chipping, and it’s not suitable for outdoor use.
What is Porcelain Tile?
Porcelain tile is a type of ceramic tile. It is made from a dense mix of clay minerals and water. The clay is often made of feldspar, kaolin, and quartz. This combination of clay, and the higher pressure during construction makes porcelain denser than ceramic clays.
Porcelain is more durable than ceramic, meaning it’s less likely to chip. It’s also waterproof when glazed, and can even be used outdoors.
The Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA) determined that a real porcelain tile must absorb less than 0.5% of water, so not all manufacturer’s claiming to sell porcelain are necessarily selling certified products.
If you’d like to confirm your porcelain tile is up to the standards of real porcelain, check for the PTCA logo on the box, or search their database.
What is the Difference Between Ceramic and Porcelain Tile?
Porcelain and ceramic tiles are constructed differently. Both porcelain and ceramic are made of water and clay, but porcelain contains denser clay minerals like quartz and feldspar. Porcelain tiles are more dense and less porous as a result.
Because porcelain is less porous, it’s more durable. It’s less likely to chip than standard ceramic, and it can even handle the freeze/thaw conditions of the outdoors.
Porcelain can also have a through body color, meaning the top layer of the tile matches the body of the tile, or a color body, which means the body of the tile closely matches the color of the surface design.
These options allow you to install porcelain in high traffic areas, because wear and tear is less obvious. Meanwhile, ceramic tile typically has a red or brown body color, which can be really noticeable if the surface chips or gets worn.
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What’s the Difference Between Floor Tile and Wall Tile?
Floor tile is made to be thick and sturdy so it can withstand foot traffic. Meanwhile, wall tile is thinner and lighter for easier installation. Some floor tiles can be installed on walls, depending on the size and weight, though you should consult a professional before choosing to install floor tile on your walls. These tiles should never be used on floors, because they’re not designed to do so.
They can also be more decorative, with unique finishes and 3D textures that wouldn’t be practical for flooring. Wall tiles are also more likely to be smaller than floor tiles, since mosaics and backsplash wall tiles are so popular.
Can Floor Tiles be Used on Walls?
Many floor tiles can be installed on the walls, but you should consult with a contractor and the manufacturer’s instructions before determining if a particular floor tile is suitable for wall installation. Consider size, weight, and installation location for the tile when installing floor tile on a wall.
Is Tile Waterproof?
Glazed tile is water-resistant when installed properly, but not all glazed tiles are suitable for use in high-moisture areas like bathtubs, showers, and around pools. You will need to check the manufacturer’s instructions to find tile that is approved for those locations.
What are the Pros of Tile?
- Durable: Tile is one of the most durable flooring or wall treatment options out there, thanks to the firing and glazing process that makes it so tough. Porcelain tiles are especially resistant to scratches and high traffic.
- Stylish: Since tile can take on basically any color, shape, or size, there’s no end to the style possibilities.
- Easy to clean: Tile doesn’t require any special cleaning products. Simply sweep and mop tile flooring, and scrub tile walls to keep the surface looking great.
- Low-maintenance: No need to polish or refinish! Your tile will maintain its beauty without a lot of hassle.
- More affordable than stone: With ceramic and porcelain tile, you can get the look of natural stone without the price or the maintenance requirements.
What are the Cons of Tile?
- Difficult installation: Unless you spend a lot of your free time laying tile, you probably won’t have the experience to perfectly tile your floor or wall. Professional installation is often recommended. However, you can still make it into a DIY project if you’re determined.
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Tile Construction Questions
Now it’s time to get more technical. Discover how different types of tile are made, and how those differences impact performance. You’ll also learn about important concepts like PEI ratings, tile bodies, and finishes.
How is Ceramic Tile Made?
Ceramic tile is created using a mixture of clay and water. A dryer removes moisture from the clay before pressing the mixture into a tile shape. It is then left on a rack to dry again, and is called “green tile” or “greenware” at this point, because it hasn’t been fired in a kiln.
Once the tile has dried, a printer will add the color and pattern before adding the top glaze layer. The glaze protects the imagery and ensures that the tile is non-porous. The ceramic tile will remain porous if not glazed.
To finish, ceramic is fired at 2000F to set the glaze and bake out any remaining moisture.
How is Porcelain Tile Made?
To make a porcelain tile, a dryer removes excess moisture from the clay mixture, and then the tile is then pressed into shape at extremely high pressure before left to dry on a rack. Once dried, a high-tech inkjet printer will add a layer that includes the colors and pattern. At this point the tile is glazed to protect this image, though porcelain can also be left unglazed.
Finally, porcelain is fired at an 2500F, which is 500F higher than ceramic. This temperature both sets the glaze and bakes out the remaining moisture, creating an impermeable surface.
What is a PEI rating?
PEI stands for the Porcelain Enamel Institute. This organization rates porcelain tile based on the hardness of its glaze. These ratings determine how and where to use different kinds of tile. This rating system is only applicable to porcelain products.
The ratings are as follows:
- NR: Natural Stone and other unglazed categories that are not rated.
- Group 1: Suitable for residential or commercial walls. Not suitable or recommended for foot traffic. Use this tile for bathroom walls, backsplashes, and accent walls.
- Group 2: Suitable for general light residential traffic in bathrooms and informal rooms.
- Group 3: Suitable for all residential and light commercial areas, including residential kitchens, commercial offices, reception areas, and home uses.
- Group 4: Suitable for residential, medium commercial and light institutional applications. Restaurants, hotels, lobbies and commercial spaces with moderate traffic.
- Group 5: Suitable for heavy traffic in both residential and heavy commercial applications, such as schools, airports, and malls.
What is Tile Body Color?
The body color refers to the color of the bisque (or biscuit) that makes up the base of the tile. Body color doesn’t always match the top glaze, so if the glaze is chipped, the body color can be revealed.
You will typically find four types of tile bodies to choose from.
- Through Body: This is what you’ll see in porcelain floor tiles where the body (inside) of the tile matches the glaze (outside). If the surface chips, the body color underneath will be the same.
- Color Body: Color body porcelain refers to porcelain tiles that have a multi-color glaze pattern. In color body porcelain, the bisque of the tile matches the dominant color in the glaze. This design can often hide the appearance of chips, though not as completely as through body tiles.
- Double Loaded: Porcelain tiles can also go through a process known as doubling loading. In this design, the patterned top layer is extra thick, so only very deep chips will show the color of the body underneath.
- Red Body: This is typical in traditional ceramic tiles. You will see a decorative top layer, but the inside of the tile is the natural red/brown clay color. This color will show through if your tile becomes damaged.
What Tile Finishes are Available for Ceramic and Porcelain?
- Glazed: The glaze is like the finishing touch to your tile. It works like a bodyguard to protect your tile from moisture and stains. Most ceramic tiles are glazed, but people sometimes prefer the natural, earthy look of unglazed tiles. Additionally, the glaze can cause these tiles to be more slippery when wet so we recommend using a textured tile if you plan to use a glazed tile in a bathroom or water-prone area.
- Polished: For a truly flawless surface, polished porcelain floor tiles are ground down to a high polish just like natural stones like marble and granite. A polish top coat finish is added to protect your tile from absorbing dirt and debris, offering you a sharper-looking floor with less maintenance and that ‘glassy’ look.
- Unglazed: Unglazed ceramic tiles have no extra finish added after firing. They often look more earthy and natural than glazed ceramic tiles, but they are not quite as impervious to liquid or as easy to maintain. While these tiles can be (and are) still used in rooms such as bathrooms and kitchens, they will require more maintenance than their safeguarded glazed counterparts.
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How to Install Tile
Installing tile requires some skill and effort in order to get a professional-looking result, so give yourself a strong start by reading up on these installation FAQs.
How Do You Tile a Floor?
While some people would consider a DIY tile project too much of a challenge, it’s not impossible! With the right tools and enough preparation, your DIY tile installation will be a success.
Start by cleaning and leveling out your subfloor. This will give you a good foundation for a successful project. Always consult a contractor to see if your subfloor can hold the load of the tile, even if you choose to install on your own.
Mix the mortar. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to achieve the right consistency.
Spread the mortar. Start in the center of the room and spread the mortar with a trowel. Comb through the mortar with the notched side of your trowel.
To start laying tile, follow your reference lines. Lay your first tile along the guidelines of your room
Place tile spacers. To ensure even spacing between tiles, use spacers along each edge. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended grout joint for the specific product you’re installing.
Keep spreading mortar and laying tile. Continue working along your reference lines until you reach the edges of the room
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How Do You Tile a Wall?
Hanging wall tile is a similar process to tiling a floor, but the vertical surface adds some complications. Tiles have the potential to slide down. Plus obstructions like walls, windows, and doors can require lots of extra cutting.
Before tiling, make sure your walls and floor are squared up by using a level. If the walls are really “un-square” then you can use trim and baseboards to square up the look of the room before you start.
When tiling a floor and a wall together, you should start with the wall first, but leave the bottom row of tile empty until the floors are completed. This method saves you the most time, and decreases the risk of you messing up your brand new floor while working on the walls.
To prevent slippage when hanging wall tile, build up in a pyramid shape. This method allows for more support for your tiles.
You can also hang a batten board for extra support. A batten is a squared board that holds up the tile as you install, preventing slips.
Using a mastic adhesive can also give you an advantage when installing wall tile. Mastic is a kind of tile adhesive that’s extra thick and sticky. However, mastic isn’t as water-resistant as thinset mortar, and the bond isn’t necessarily as strong, either.
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How Do You Cut Tile?
To cut tile, start by measuring it and marking your cut line. Mark the cut line on the surface of your tile. For straight cuts, a tile cutter is the easiest solution. If your tiles are thick, you may need to rent a tile saw and be sure to go slow with your cuts. If any breaks occur, you can remove jagged pieces and smooth the edge using a tile nipper. You can also file away rough edges.
How Do You Grout Tile?
To begin grouting tile, you should remove all tile spacers and mix the grout according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Apply the grout using a grout float. Cram the grout into the gaps between your tiles, removing the excess as you go. Let it dry for the amount of time recommended by the manufacturer. Finally, clean the grout lines by wiping down the grout with a wet sponge.
Tile Cleaning and Maintenance
To keep your tile looking its best for years to come, learn how and where to use it, and how to take care of it properly.
How to Clean Ceramic and Porcelain Tile
Clear loose dust and dirt by sweeping with a broom and dustpan. You could also use a vacuum with a soft-bristled brush attachment. Then mop the tile using warm water and a cleaning solution appropriate for your floor (check the manufacturer’s instructions). Use a chamois mop for the best results.
As you mop, you will need to refresh the water bucket whenever the water starts looking too cloudy. Once the mopping is completed, dry the tile with a microfiber cloth to prevent any water spots from air-drying.
As a final touch, get rid of any grime still hiding in the grout lines. To clean grout, use soapy water and scrub at any stains with a soft-bristled brush, like a toothbrush.
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Can Ceramic Tile be Used Outdoors?
Ceramic tile shouldn’t be used outdoors, because it’s too porous and can absorb water. That means it can become damaged during freeze/thaw conditions as any absorbed water expands and contracts.
If you want to use tile outside, choose a certified porcelain tile with a water absorption rate of less than 0.5%. Be sure that the product has outdoor use as a recommended application as to not void any warranties. This will ensure that your tile looks good even through harsh weather conditions.
Is Tile Scratch Resistant?
Both glazed ceramic and porcelain tiles are fairly scratch-resistant, but porcelain is more so. Since it’s made from a denser material, you’re less likely to scratch porcelain tile. When searching for scratch resistant tile, look for a product with a higher PEI rating. A higher PEI rating means a harder, more scratch resistance glaze.
Should Ceramic Tile be Sealed?
You can put a penetrating sealer on your unglazed tile or your grout joints. Penetrating sealer is an invisible, stain resistant shield that is absorbed into the surface. However, you should not apply a tile sealer when working with glazed tile, since the glaze already acts as a seal.
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Tile Cost Questions
How Much Does Porcelain Tile Cost?
Porcelain tile is cheaper than natural stone tile, but typically more expensive than ceramic. Because it’s more durable, less likely to chip, and can even be used outside, it makes sense that porcelain is a bit pricier than ceramic. Because there are so many varieties of sizes, colors, and styles, there isn’t a reliable price range for porcelain, but it’s safe to say that the price is worth the quality.
How Much Does Ceramic Tile Cost?
Ceramic is one of the most affordable options for tile, and is cheaper than both natural stone tile and porcelain. The cost ranges from product to product, so there’s not one perfect answer. However, if you want to reduce the budget of tiling a room, you can always install the tile on your own.
How Much Does it Cost to Install Tile?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick and easy answer to this. Like most design and building projects, the cost of installing tile can vary depending on the specifics of each project. We recommend that you get a few different quotes and then choose the best option for you.
After reading through all those FAQs, you’re practically a tile expert now! You know about the different types, how to install it, how to clean it, and a whole lot more. That also means you probably have a much better idea about the kind of tile you’re looking for. Are you ready to shop around and put all that knowledge to use?