Use this guide to help sort through the maintenance and design options for bathroom tile choices.
There are many types of bathroom tile—but not all tiles are best used in wet spots. One important factor? Vitreosity, which is the tile's ability to absorb water. Nonvitreous tiles absorb water and are appropriate only for accent areas; vitreous tile works well in spots prone to splashing. In addition, glazed tiles are impervious to water but unglazed are not, and all bathroom tiles should have a high coefficient of friction to prevent slipping. Here's an overview of the types of bathroom tile choices, maintenance, and design ideas.
Ceramic or Porcelain
Ceramic and porcelain tile is created from a mixture of clays that have been pressed into shape and fired in a kiln at high temperatures. If glazed, these tiles are ideal for baths; they come in an array of colors, patterns, shapes, and sizes. They may also be glazed with high-resolution digital images fused onto the surface.
Typically rough and imperfect, stone tile can be equally at home in rustic or contemporary bathrooms. It is not typically impervious to water, which means that it requires a waterproof membrane to withstand moisture in a bathroom.
Glass tile is typically luminous and quite elegant; it comes in a range of stock colors as well as custom hues. Glass tile in a bathroom is often used in mosaics or as a focal point on walls; they are impervious to liquids and resist staining, but are best used on walls or low-traffic floor areas.
Marble is a natural stone created from limestone that has been crushed and heated by the earth for millions of years. Sophisticated and traditional, marble tile can be highly polished and comes in a range of sizes. Marble can be patterned or veined, adding interesting color to a bathroom.
Decorative tiles may be made of a range of materials and embossed or decorated with a variety of images or patterns—leaves, birds, or stripes, for example. These are perfect collected in a mural or mosaic, in a border, or as an accent.
Granite, available in a range of colors and textures, is harder than other natural stones. It works well as countertops or floors in high-traffic areas.
Limestone, a natural stone, typically has a honed surface and is most often found in brown, beige, and yellow hues. It is appropriate for countertops and flooring.
Metal tiles can be made from solid metal or from resin with a metallic coating. Available in a range of finishes, including bronze, copper, and stainless steel, metal tiles are often used as bathroom accents in conjunction with other types of tiles.
Terra-cotta tile is fired at low temperatures; it is low-density, nonvitreous, and suitable only for dry areas. However if glazed, it may have additional bathroom use.
Travertine is a limestone formed from minerals that have been dissolved in groundwater and pushed through the earth's crust by water. Travertine tile, a multilayer stone, is available in a variety of earthy colors and offers a sophisticated choice for walls and floors.
Cement-bodied tile, a cured sand-and-mortar mix, is a nonvitreous tile with excellent durability. Some tiles look rough-hewn, others sport smooth finishes.
Saltillo tile is dried but not fired; it is a low-density, nonvitreous product with a rough texture. Its natural imperfections can add rustic charm, but this tile also absorbs water readily.
Slate is a fine-grain stone created from shale and clay, transformed by heat and pressure. Featuring a textured surface that's naturally slip-resistant, slate can be used on floors, walls, and countertops.
Quarry tile, extruded and fired at high temperatures, is semivitreous or vitreous. It is fired unglazed with bisques in many colors, sizes, and shapes.