What tile to use in a shower?

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

How to check the tile quality
Poor tile quality

If you want to build or remodel a tiled shower, choosing the right kind of tile is not only a design decision. Although it is often common to think that color, texture, or layout are the deciding factors when choosing the type of tile to be used, are others equally or more critical factors to consider. In this post, we will deal with some of them in relative depth. Which tile to choose? That is the question.

Utah’s construction market offers so many types of tiles and different places to get them. Prices can vary between $ 0.25 to $ 25 per square foot approx; it is good to ask ourselves: Where will we install the tile? If the answer is in the shower, we have to know that different tile uses are inside the shower: shower floor, walls, and ceiling.

The shower floor has high exposure to water and, as such, is one of the floors that suffers the most wear during use. Therefore, We must consider that more outstanding care is required when choosing the tile that we will install.

Although We can use different tiles on the shower floor, it is always highly recommended to use small formats. This recommendation is because the grout lines will have a greater concentration and, as a consequence, a better grip. Therefore, the probability of slipping accidents will decrease. Another advantage of the small format is to smooth the transition between pieces caused by the slope of the shower floor, showing a better finish and consistent result.

Penny Tile use, shower pan
Shower pan, penny tile works perfect!

Regarding the type of tile to use on the shower floor, it is not advisable to utilize natural stones such as marble or travertine. While this type of material is usually sealed as part of the installation, circular stains or discolorations will begin to appear on different parts of the shower floor after a few months or years. That occurs because natural stones have pores and cracks that cannot be seen with the naked eye but that over time begin to leak water into the interior. Thus, we could say that they act like sponges, capturing small amounts of water within themselves.

Porcelain or ceramic are perfect options for the shower floor since these materials do not have pores; therefore, they repel water more efficiently. As a result, over the years, it does not suffer discoloration caused by water accumulation. Although ceramic tile may show a lack of color or wear in some areas, these are due to the quality of the product and not to the water’s exposure. Later we will talk about the quality of the tiles.

Walls, given their verticality, are less likely to accumulate water inside unless there is a water leak in them (within this blog, there is a post that deals with this issue). Instead, this part of the shower is more exposed to steam and soap scum. Thanks to this, it is possible to be more versatile in the size and kind of tile used. The big problem to consider is the difficulty in keeping the walls clean. Small-format tiles naturally have more grout lines. Depending on the type of grout used and the sealing treatment applied to them, these lines tend to accumulate traces of soap and dirt quickly. Thus, we could say that small tile walls need more care to keep them clean.

Another critical point is the type of tile that is installed on the walls. Natural stones such as marble, granite, or travertine need to be sealed periodically; some manufacturers recommend sealing every 12 months; however, better results are obtained by increasing the frequency of sealing. To my clients, I usually recommend sealing these stones in showers every six months. On the opposite side are the glass and porcelain tiles without embossed. These are easier to maintain since they do not need a periodic seal. In addition, as they do not have pores and cracks, like natural stones, they are easier to clean and maintain in optimal conditions.

hand made tile, ceiling
Hand made tile in the ceiling

Finally, talking about the ceiling is becoming more and more common in remodeling and new construction tile ceilings. Tiling ceiling is a tremendous challenge for tile installers because of the installation difficulty and the knowledge required to complete the installation successfully. Although today there are modified thinset designed to improve the adherence of the tile in areas such as the ceiling, it should be considered the expansion and contraction of materials; there is a probability that with time and use, the tile will come off to reduce this risk, it is advisable to use medium or small formats tile in the ceiling, preferably light ones.

Ceramic and some glasses are very light, and when combined with the appropriate thinset, Installation can achieve excellent results and durability. However, in the opposite case, large-format tiles and natural stone tend to be heavier and less recommended to be installed in the ceiling.

As for how to evaluate the quality of the tiles, I like to use the two-step test:

The first step, put two pieces of tiles together, preferably taken from different boxes, and check if the size of both is the same. It is more common to see differences in height size in ceramics and porcelains than you think. The problem with size differences is that the grout lines will lose consistency and look uneven with a sloppy appearance, even though the difference between the pieces is only 1/32 inch.

In the second step, put the same tile face to face and look at them horizontally, checking that a light is not seen between both parts. Again, the tile pieces must be completely smooth and straight; they must not have a banana shape. To be sure, repeat this test from the back. When the tiles are not flat, the corners of the tiles will stand out on the wall, causing unevenness, undulations, and thickening of the grout lines.

In conclusion, I can highlight that not all tiles are for all uses. Although the color, format, or design are essential, you must also consider other factors such as their quality, usefulness, and safety. Which tile to choose? After reading this post, I hope you know the answer to the question.

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