Ceramic or porcelain tiles – which ones are best for our new bathroom – or can we use both? These are just some of the (many) issues my wife and I have been discussing during our extension build.
Porcelain is dense and non-porous, so porcelain tiles are good to use on bathroom walls, within shower units, and around the bath and sink. They are heavy, however, so depending on the structure of your bathroom walls, you may want to use ceramic tiles on the walls and porcelain for wetter areas.
Let’s dig down into the topic of using porcelain tiles in your bathroom in greater detail, and consider whether they are good for use in humid environments, if they are better than ceramic tiles in bathrooms, and also discover if we can actually use both types of these tiles in the same bathroom…
Can Porcelain Tiles Be Used on Bathroom Walls?
Yes most probably. Porcelain tiles are a great choice in moist areas, like a bathroom. But porcelain tiles are heavy, so you may need to check out the type of walls you have in your bathroom first.
If you are confused about the difference between porcelain and ceramic, you aren’t alone. Both types of tiles are made from clay and fired in a kiln. But while porcelain is a type of ceramic – ceramic is not a type of porcelain.
The difference is in the composition of the clay, the pressure used to create the tiles, and the heat of firing.
Ceramic tiles have been used for centuries, from at least 1,000 B.C. Many ancient ceramic tiles are still around today. Ceramic tiles are made from white and red clays. They are fired in kilns or ovens at temperatures of around 1,650° F.
Ceramic tiles can be printed with colorful patterns with an inkjet-like process. Often, they have imperfect or wavy surfaces.
Porcelain tiles are made from much finer-grained clays, including quartz, feldspar, and kaolin. This composition of fine particles makes porcelain tiles very dense. After the clay particles are mixed together, the paste is rolled flat with up to 100,000 pounds per square inch pressure.
Then, the porcelain tiles are fired to temperatures between 2,200° F and 2,600° F. These temperatures turn the clay into a glass-like (vitreous) substance.
Porcelain’s surface is silky-smooth, dense, and hard. Because of the fine clay grains, high pressure used, and high-temperature firing, porcelain tiles have virtually no porosity – no pores to suck up water.
Interested in seeing the tile-making process? Here’s a video from a modern South African ceramic and porcelain tile factory.
Are Porcelain Tiles Recommended for Shower Walls?
Yes. Porcelain tiles are excellent for shower walls.
Can Glazed Porcelain Tiles Be Used on Shower Walls?
Yes. Glazed porcelain tiles have a shiny, mirror finish that can brighten up a small shower space and are easy to wipe clean. The high gloss is elegant and timeless.
Glossy, polished tiles are normally not recommended for the floor because they can be slippery.
Can Matte Porcelain Tiles Be Used for Shower Walls?
Manufacturers create a matte (or lusterless) finish by mechanically grinding the surface of the tiles. The result is a surface that doesn’t reflect any light, like a flat finish on a wall.
Matte tiles will work well on a shower wall. However, the mechanical process of grinding the porcelain leaves small pits on the surface of the tile. The small pits may show dirt more readily than a glossy finish.
The matte porcelain tile is still easy to clean, though, and won’t show fingerprints or spots like a glossy tile might.
Can You Use Floor Tiles for Shower Walls?
Probably. Floor tiles are generally larger and heavier than wall tiles, so you should contact the manufacturer first.
Call or research online to see their recommendations as to whether their floor tile can be used on a wall and, if so, which tile thin-set you should use.
What Kind of Tiles Are Best for Bathroom Walls?
We looked at expert opinions but couldn’t find a consensus.
The good news is that porcelain tiles absolutely won’t soak up water. They are dense and hard and will last forever. If you manage to chip a porcelain tile, you won’t notice the chip or crack because they usually have a through-body construction – the color is the same all the way through the tile.
On the other hand, if you pride yourself on your DIY cost-saving skills, you should do some careful research before buying porcelain tiles. Because porcelain is very dense and brittle, it won’t break along a scored line like a ceramic tile will. You may need special tools for your bathroom wall project.
Also, porcelain is heavy. Check the link below whether your bathroom walls can hold up the weight.
The downside to glazed ceramic tiles is that they are most often brick red on the inside. That means that if one breaks in a few years or chips you can see the chip or break plainly.
Another downside is that glazed ceramic tiles have a higher water absorption rate than porcelain (porcelain is 0.5% and glazed ceramic up to 3%).
On the other hand, glazed ceramic tiles are easy to DIY because they break cleanly along a scored line or are easy to cut with a tile saw. They weigh less than porcelain, so most wall types will support them.
And, glazed ceramic tiles have a wide range of colors and patterns if you want a bright, informal and cheerful bathroom.
Are Porcelain Tiles Too Heavy for Bathroom Walls?
The answer depends on your bathroom walls. Porcelain tiles are significantly heavier than ceramic ones. Find out what type of walls you have and then check out the website below.
This is an excellent reference article on different wall substrates and the weight of tiles they can support.
Can You Put Large Tiles on a Bathroom Wall?
Yes. Large tiles are in. Walls made with large tiles have fewer grout lines to break up the wall, resulting in a cleaner, more modern style. Because there aren’t as many grout lines, small bathrooms look larger.
Also, grout is porous and sometimes rough. It has to be sealed periodically and is notoriously hard to keep clean (especially white grout) – the less grout, the better.
If you are DIY’ing the bathroom, call the manufacturer or research online to get advice on whether their tiles are recommended for walls.
What Is Better Ceramic or Porcelain Tiles in Bathrooms?
For bathrooms, experts recommend using ceramic tiles on the walls, behind the sink and vanity. For areas with heavy water splashing, like the shower floor, use porcelain.
The two biggest differences between ceramic and porcelain tiles are 1) water resistance and 2) cost. If you have the budget, porcelain tiles may be the better choice in a high moisture area, like a shower.
If you don’t have the budget, hedge your bets with porcelain in super wet areas and glazed ceramic on the rest.
Check out this white paper from Home Depot on the ranking system you’ll find on most tile packaging for grade, wear, water absorption, friction coefficient (how slippery it will be), frost, and tone.
Should Bathroom Floor and Wall Tiles Be the Same?
Nope. Today, floor and wall tiles don’t have to match. In fact, most style experts recommend that they don’t. Not the color or the finish.
For smaller bathrooms, style experts say that having matching floor and wall tiles will result in making the space feel smaller. Instead, choose wall and floor tiles that complement each other. In a small bathroom, consider larger tiles for both the walls and floor.
Most style experts recommend choosing a color palette and sticking with 2 or 3 – no more – colors for tiles and paint in the bathroom. Vary the patterns and be mindful of your grout choices. Dark grout lines can make small spaces seem smaller.
If you are looking for contrasting floors and walls, experts recommend using lighter tiling on the walls and darker on the floors. The contrast of light walls and dark floors will make the space bigger and classier.
Consider varying the tile finishes as well – matte for the floors and glossy for the walls. Glossy, reflective wall tiles will make a small bathroom brighter.
Although a glossy tile on your floors may be attractive, experts do recommend that floor tiles be non-slip, so check out the C.O.F (coefficient of friction) – or slipperiness – rating of your dream tiles.
No slippery tile floors for your children or elders.
That’s decided then – we’ll use large and lighter ceramic tiles on our new bathroom walls – and less porous, more dense porcelain tiles in our shower unit and around the bath and sink.
This is also a good move as ceramic tiles are cheaper than porcelain ones, so we should be able to save some money covering the larger wall space – then invest a bit more in some really top quality tiles for the higher humidity areas and parts of the bathroom that frequently come into direct contact with water.