Tile offers virtually limitless design possibilities. Before you shop for the colors and styles you like, check out this guide to help you choose the right tile materials for your kitchen backsplash or flooring.
Tile, marble
Subway Tiles

Tile is a durable surface available in thousands of colors and patterns -- so many that the options can be overwhelming. Whether you are looking for classic white ceramic tiles or reflective glass mosaic tiles for a backsplash, or stone tiles for the floor, use these tips to help you pick the perfect tile.

Types of Tile Tiles range in size from tiny 1x1-inch mosaics to massive 36x36-inch pieces. Squares and rectangles are the most common shapes, but tiles can be circular, too.

Square Tile: Square tiles are most commonly 4x4 inches. Create a unified look with a single color, or add interest with a pattern of mixed color tiles.

Rectangular Tile: Rectangular tiles are often 4x6-inches--also called subway tiles. They are typically white or light colored and are versatile in the kitchen or bath. Specialty long, narrow rectangular tiles add interest.

Mosaic Tiles

Mosaic Tile: Mosaic tiles generally range from 1/2x1/2-inch to 2x2 inches. One-inch square tiles are most common. They are most often available with mesh-backed sheets that make installation easier.

Mural Tile: Murals are made up of individual tiles that create one large picture. By using a mural, you can express your personality and add a distinctive touch to your kitchen.

Listellos: Listellos are commonly referred to as border tiles. They are often more ornate than field tiles and are usually installed as accent pieces or as a transition from one material to the next. Because of their decorative quality, they tend to be more expensive.

Terra cotta tile floor
Terra-Cotta Tile Flooring

Types of Materials

Ceramic Description: Ceramic tiles are clay coated with a kiln-fired glaze that provides color, resists stains, and cleans with water. Uses: Ceramic tile can cover walls or backsplashes.. It also can be used on floors when rated safe and sturdy enough for use underfoot. Cost: Expect to pay about $1-$20 per square foot, uninstalled, for basic ceramic tile and $8-$30 per square foot for upscale designs. Specialty tiles can cost $50 or more per piece.

Porcelain Description: Slightly harder than ceramic, porcelain tile has color all the way through the tile, so damage is less likely to show. Uses: Porcelain can be installed on walls or floors and is an exceptional choice for high-traffic areas. These tiles are also frost-resistant, so consider using them in your outdoor kitchen. Cost: For basic porcelain tiles, expect to pay $2-$4 per square foot, uninstalled. Like high-end ceramic tiles, handpainted porcelain tiles can cost up to $50 or more per piece.

Terra-Cotta Description: These unglazed clay tiles display their natural reddish-brown color for casual, rustic beauty. Uses: Applying sealant periodically makes terra-cotta suitable for kitchens on walls, floors, and countertops. Cost: Domestic terra-cotta tiles run about $1-$3 per square foot, uninstalled. European terra cotta can run much higher.

Glass Description: Because light refracts through the glass rather than just bouncing off the surface, these tiles have distinctive depth and luminescence. Uses: While not ideal for high- traffic floors, glass tiles work well on kitchen backsplashes. Cost: On average, glass is the priciest tile surface, starting at $15-$20 per square foot, uninstalled.

Stone Description: Granite, marble, and limestone are three popular options that lend timeless elegance to a kitchen or bath. Uses: Stone tile can be used for countertops, backsplashes, floors, tub surrounds, and showers. Ensure stone surfaces are sealed periodically to block stains and moisture. Cost: Common varieties of marble, limestone, and granite start at $4-$15 per square foot, uninstalled. Rarer stones and patterns can run $40-$50 per square foot.

Choosing the Right Tile Choose a tile that can withstand anything your family members--including Fido--can dish out. A PEI number, as assigned by the Porcelain Enamel Institute, rates the hardness and durability of tile on a scale of 0 to 5. -- Class 0 tiles should be used only on walls. -- Class 1 and 2 tiles hold up well in light-traffic areas, such as a guest bath or powder room. -- Class 3 and 4 tiles work well in hardworking kitchens. -- Class 5 tiles are hard enough for use in a commercial kitchen.

Choosing Grout The color of the grout can change the look of the room. For example, white grout next to colored tile will stand out and clearly define the edge of the tiles. Gray or colored grout creates a muted look that appears more seamless.

Maintenance Tips

Ceramic is one of the most durable and easy-to-clean tile materials. It can be cleaned with warm water and most household surface cleaners. Both stone and metal tiles can be cleaned with a soft cloth (or a mop if the tile is on the floor), warm water, and a little dishwashing soap. Glass tile is impervious to water and stains and can be cleaned with any household cleaner designed for glass. Avoid abrasive or solvent-based cleaners on tile because they could harm the surface. With all tile, it's the grout lines that can be most difficult to keep clean, especially light grout colors on heavily used surfaces. So be sure to seal grout or choose a grout that doesn't require sealing.

Sealing Tiles and Grout If you're working with a glazed ceramic tile, you need to seal only the grout joints. It's best to wait a couple of weeks after installation before applying the sealant so the grout has plenty of time to set. If you're working with porous material that easily absorbs water and stains, seal the tiles before installation. To maintain the tiles, reapply a sealer about once a year.

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