Choosing the right tile for your bathroom renovation or new construction project can seem overwhelming with so many options to pick from. However, getting the tile right is key to creating a beautiful, functional bathroom you’ll love for years to come. Follow these 10 essential tips when selecting, installing, and caring for bathroom tile.
Choose the Right Tile for the Space
Picking the appropriate tile for your bathroom depends on several factors:
Consider the Size of the Bathroom
Small bathrooms appear larger with small, light tiles that reflect light. Use mosaic tiles or tiles smaller than 4 inches on each side. Medium-sized bathrooms look best with 4- to 6-inch tiles. For large bathrooms, choose larger tiles 6 inches or bigger. The larger tiles establish scale.
Factor in Moisture Levels
Bathrooms have high moisture levels. Porcelain, ceramic, glass, and natural stone tiles resist water best. If installing tile on shower walls or the tub surround, use tiles rated for wet areas. Avoid highly porous tiles like Saltillo.
Think About Textures and Patterns
Add visual interest with tiles in different textures, finishes, and patterns. Mix gloss and matte tiles or combine shapes. Useaccents like subway tile, mosaics, decorative tiles, or inlays. Varied textures prevent a flat, boring look.
Consider Traffic Patterns and Bare Feet
Choose textured tiles with grip for bathroom floors. Opt for smaller grout lines too. Larger grout lines collect more dirt and feel rough on bare feet. Use mosaic sheets on floors for added traction. Keep kids and aging adults in mind too.
Choose Durable, Low-Maintenance Materials
Bathroom tiles get splashed with water daily. Look for durable, water-resistant tiles in finishes that resist staining, scratches, and discoloration. Stay away from high-maintenance materials like unglazed tiles. Porcelain is very durable.
Complement the Color Scheme
Pick tiles that coordinate with the colors you already have in the bathroom. Accent colors in towels, rugs, shower curtains and other accessories pull the whole room together. Neutral tiles give you flexibility.
Carefully Select the Right Grout and Tile Setting Materials
Choosing suitable setting materials and grout prevents issues down the road:
Find the Right Mortar for the Tiles
Mortar bonds the tile to the underlayment. Use latex or polymer-modified thinset for ceramic, porcelain, and natural stone. Epoxy mortar works for glass tiles. Choose white mortar for white grout, gray for colored grout. Read package directions.
Pick Stain-Resistant Grout
Grout absorbs stains and needs sealing yearly. Epoxy grout is extremely durable. Polymer-modified sanded grout resists staining best for floor tiles. Stay away from dark grout if you don’t want to seal constantly.
Buy a Bit Extra
Always buy 5-10% extra tiles and grout. Keep leftovers stored together for repairs. Manufacturers discontinue styles. Finding more of your tile later may be impossible.
Carefully Prep and Lay Out Your Tiles
Preparation and layout are key for proper tile installation and alignment:
Remove Existing Flooring Properly
Do not install tiles over existing vinyl or linoleum floors. Use a solvent like an adhesive remover if needed. For wood subfloors, check for flex and add backerboard if needed. Scrape up old thinset.
Make Sure Subfloors Are Prepped
Substrates must be rigid, smooth and clean. Fix cracks in concrete and use leveling compounds if needed. Add waterproofing on shower walls. Acclimate tiles before setting.
Plan Tile Layout
Dry lay tiles to confirm the pattern and fit. Ensure cut edges are in unnoticeable spots. Border tiles should be equal widths, generally at least half a tile wide. Layout minimizes thin slivers.
Use Spacers for Consistent Grout Lines
Spacers keep grout lines consistent widths. Check grout joint size recommendations from the manufacturer. Keep grout lines in shower tiles narrower—1/8 inch vs. 1/4 inch for floor tiles.
Follow Advice on Product Packaging
Follow all manufacturer’s instructions for mortar use, trowel size, open time, and tile spacing. Don’t spread more mortar than tiles can cover before drying starts. Mix to proper consistency.
Focus on Proper Tile Installation Techniques
Good installation techniques keep the tile even, aligned, and firmly bonded:
Work in Small Sections
Install tiles a few square feet at a time. Apply mortar only to areas you can tile before drying begins. Use even pressure when setting tiles. Work any mortar up through joints.
Apply an Even Coat of Mortar
Use the right trowel and hold it at a 45-degree angle to get full mortar contact and proper thickness. Scratch mortar further for large tiles. Spread only what tiles can cover within time limits.
Check Alignment Frequently
Place tiles aligned with your layout lines. Use tile spacers if needed. Check edges and grout lines stay straight every few rows. Don’t let spacing vary or tiles will be uneven.
Embed Tiles Properly in the Mortar
Use a rubber grout float or rubber hammer to fully embed floor tiles. Do this while mortar is still fresh. Ensure good contact between tiles and mortar. Remove any thinset between tiles.
Make Precise Cuts Where Needed
Mark and cut tiles with a tile cutter for straight cuts. Use a tile saw for detailed cuts like L-shapes and notches for fixtures. For small adjustments, carefully sand edges. Smooth cut edges before installing.
Allow New Tiles to Cure Before Grouting
Letting freshly installed tiles sit gives the mortar time to cure and prevents grout-related problems:
Allow Mortar to Cure Per Package Directions
Before applying grout, ensure mortar has firmed up and tiles are set. Check manufacturer’s directions for recommended mortar cure times. This prevents tiles from shifting when grouting.
Avoid Grout Hazing and Staining
If grouted too soon, mortar isn’t fully cured and unbonded cement in the grout can create a cloudy haze on the tile surface that is hard to remove. Wait at least 24 hours.
Prevent Grout Cracking
Rushing grouting increases the risk hairline cracks can form in the joints. Mortar needs time to develop its strength. Especially wait on vertical tiles set with mastic adhesive.
Minimize Grout Shrinkage
Uncured mortar leads to greater grout shrinkage and hollow joints. Grout in a properly cured tile installation maintains its volume.
Avoid Efflorescence Issues
Efflorescence is a whitish haze that can develop on cement-based grouts. Letting tiles cure fully helps prevent efflorescence from the mortar wicking through.
Use Proper Grouting Techniques for Great Results
Applying grout takes some finesse. Use these tips for best results:
Clean Tiles Before Grouting
Use a barely damp sponge to wipe a light film of water over tiles just before grouting. This prevents grout from sticking excessively. Never apply any sealers before grouting.
Apply Grout Diagonally
Hold the rubber grout float at a 45° angle and force grout diagonally across joints to pack fully. Holding the float vertically can leave voids. Apply only a small area before initial cleaning.
Clean Grout Off Tiles
Use a damp sponge in a circular motion to smooth joints and remove excess grout off tile surfaces before drying. Rinse sponge frequently and change water often. Caution: Don’t wipe tiles completely dry.
Opt for Two Finishing Rinses
Do two final light water rinses using minimal pressure to clean film off tiles but not pull grout from joints. Vinegar added to the rinse water can further help remove haze.
Avoid Sealing Tile Before Grouting
Sealers prevent effective grout bonding and curing. Only apply tile sealers at least 48 hours after grouting and tile are completely dry. Use an impregnating, penetrating sealer.
Make Tile Maintenance Manageable
Caring for bathroom tile properly keeps it looking its best for years of beauty and enjoyment:
Use Non-Acidic Daily Cleaners
Vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or saline solution make safe daily cleaners. Acidic cleaners degrade grout and attack tile sealers. Rinse well and use a squeegee to minimize water spots.
Reseal Tile and Grout Yearly
Reapply penetrating sealers annually to protect from stains. Epoxy grout doesn’t require sealing. Make resealing part of a thorough deep cleaning regimen.
Address Grout Haze Promptly
Grout haze forms from improper rinsing or cleaner residue. Resealing can make haze worse. Use moderate pressure and whitening cleaners to safely remove it.
Repair Cracks Right Away
Don’t ignore minor crackles in grout lines. Cracks allow moisture entry and lead to further damage. Re-grout small sections as needed.
Limit Use of Matte Finishes
Matte and honed tiles require more frequent sealing than polished finishes. The porous unglazed surfaces absorb more water and are harder to keep clean.
Answer Common Bathroom Tile Questions
How is ceramic tile different than porcelain?
Porcelain tile is denser, more water-resistant, and durable than regular ceramic tile. Ceramic tile comes either glazed or unglazed, while porcelain is unglazed. Porcelain also has higher breaking strength.
What are the best grout colors?
For walls, white or colored grout works. For floors, earth tones like browns or grays hide dirt best. Contrasting grout colors define the tile pattern but requires more cleaning. Matching grout color minimizes the grout.
How do you remove hard water stains from tile?
Use an alkaline cleaner formulated to remove hard water stains and mineral deposits. Apply per product instructions, let dwell, scrub gently with a brush or pad, and rinse thoroughly. Vinegar, ammonia, or phosphoric acid also work.
Can you change the grout color?
Regrouting lets you switch old grout color to any new color. Rake out the old grout properly without scratching tiles. Apply new grout following all directions. Multiple passes and sealing may be needed for drastic color changes.
How often should you seal bathroom tile?
Sealing intervals depend on the tile material, amount of use, and exposure to moisture. Typical bathroom tile needs sealing every 1-2 years. Inspect occasionally for signs of absorption like water droplets darkening the tile. Reseal as needed.
Installing bathroom tile brings exciting design options to your space, but getting it right does take careful planning and execution. Focusing on tile that suits your bathroom, proper prep work, thoughtful layout, good installation techniques, proper grouting, and routine care makes the difference in creating a durable, easy-care bathroom you’ll love. Use these 10 tips when planning your bathroom tile project and you can expect beautiful results. Doing your homework in choosing the right tile and setting materials and competently installing them helps ensure your new tile finishes will retain their beauty and function for many years of family use.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bathroom Tile
Here are answers to some common questions about bathroom tile:
What kind of tile is best for bathroom floors?
Porcelain and ceramic tiles are best for bathroom floors. Porcelain is denser and more water-resistant. Mosaics and small tiles allow more grout lines for traction. Textured tiles are less slippery. Avoid highly porous tiles.
How do you clean and maintain bathroom tile?
Use pH-neutral daily cleaners. Reseal tile and grout yearly. Address stains, mildew, and grime promptly. Do a deep cleaning every 6-12 months. Make any needed grout repairs right away to avoid moisture issues.
What’s the best way to cut bathroom tiles?
Mark tiles neatly and use a manual tile cutter for straight cuts. For detailed cuts around fixtures and outlets, use a wet saw. For minor adjustments, sand tile edges. For holes, use a tile bit on a drill or have the store drill tiles for you.
How long should bathroom tiles take to set before grouting?
Check manufacturer’s directions, but most require 24-48 hours. Allowing tiles to cure prevents shifting, cracking, hazing, and other issues. This also allows moisture in the mortar to evaporate so efflorescence is less likely.
Is electric or hydronic radiant floor heat compatible under bathroom tiles?
Yes, radiant floor heating works well under bathroom tile if properly installed, providing comfortable underfoot warmth. Use an uncoupling membrane and proper waterproofing. Limit surface temperature to 85°F to avoid damage.
What’s the best way to remove old bathroom tiles?
Carefully chip off old tiles using a hammer and chisel, proceeding cautiously to avoid damaging the substrate. Never use a sledgehammer. Remove all old thinset. For floors, rent a floor scraper. Wear eye and breathing protection.
I hope these bathroom tile tips help you successfully choose, install, and care for the perfect tile to create your dream bathroom! Let me know if you have any other tile questions.