The right flooring can make or break a room. You want to choose flooring material that’s durable yet chic. You also want one that blends with other design elements in your home. Whether you’re choosing floors for a new custom build or renovating your home, you may be considering ceramic tile flooring.
Many homeowners choose this option because quality ceramic tiles last for a long time, and they’re easy to clean. Ceramic tile is also available in a variety of styles and colors, so you can match it to virtually any decorating scheme. If you’re still deciding whether these floors are right for you, check out this guide and learn everything you need to know before you purchase your flooring.
What Is Ceramic Tile?
Ceramic tile is made from clay and sand that has been shaped and molded and then fired in a kiln. It’s available in multiple colors and patterns and can be made from many different types of clay. You install ceramic tile with grout – a mixture of water and cement or epoxy that reinforces the tile and holds it in place.
Ceramic tile is commonly used on floors, but you can also use it for a backsplash, shower walls, swimming pools, and a variety of other ways. You can opt for a classic and simple design like white subway tile or hexagonal tile, or you can find a finish that’s bolder and more creative. There’s an option for any style.
How Is Ceramic Tile Made?
Most ceramic tile is made of brown, white, or red clay and can be mixed with other materials like sand, quartz, and other materials. Each tile starts out as a lump of clay and other materials before it is rolled into a ball which differentiates the body of the tile from its eventual glaze.
Once the body has been pressed and shaped, it’s fired in a kiln at high temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Each tile is then glazed with a mixture of silica and other metal oxides depending on the desired color and finish. The glazed tiles are fired again in the kiln to set the glaze.
The Pros and Cons of Ceramic Tile Flooring
There are plenty of reasons to consider using ceramic tile flooring in your home. Here are some pros and cons comparing it to other flooring materials.
- Easy to clean
- Works in any room
- Water resistant
- Low maintenance
As mentioned earlier, ceramic tile is one of the more durable flooring materials you can use in your home. With proper care, your floor can last for decades. Although, if it’s not installed properly, the tiles could crack and need to be replaced.
Ceramic tile is also one of the more affordable flooring options depending on the materials and the method of creation. Although more opulent designs could break your budget, simple tile flooring starts below $5 per square foot. Often, the most costly part of ceramic tile is its installation. You can save money by installing it yourself with the right tools.
Glazed ceramic tile is low maintenance and easy to clean. Since the glaze keeps moisture from seeping into the tile, you can clean spills and other dirt and debris pretty easily with a mop and a broom. Tile is not as porous as other flooring materials like hardwood, so it’s easier to clean spills before they stain the floor.
Ceramic tile flooring isn’t perfect, however, and it does have its drawbacks. Some of these cons include:
- Harder to replace
- Uncomfortable to stand on for long periods of time
- Installation can be tricky
Since ceramic tiles are made of clay, you can break them. If you drop something heavy on your floor, it can cause large cracks or even breakage, which makes the surrounding tiles more prone to cracking. Most tiles are made to withstand a set amount of pressure, like the weight of your appliances, but they can crack on occasion for a variety of reasons.
If you’re using a common type of ceramic tile like white subway tile, it can be fairly simple to replace a damaged section of your floor. However, if you have custom tile or if you’re working with a particular color or pattern, it can be tough to track down the right tile to fix the floor. When you install your floor, buy some excess tiles and store them in case you ever need to replace a section.
Those who are newer to flooring may find it difficult to install a ceramic tile floor. You need specialized tools and a good eye to install your tile like a pro. It’s easier to install larger tiles because they have a bigger surface area, so you don’t have to worry as much about your tile placement.
How to Maintain Ceramic Tiles
Since tile (particularly glazed tile) is waterproof and non-porous, it’s stain-resistant. The grout lines are often the most difficult part of your ceramic tile floor to maintain. You can maintain your floor with regular cleaning: sweep and mop your floor or vacuum it with a soft brush attachment. Depending on your lifestyle, you should clean your floors at least once a week.
If your grout gets dirty and starts discoloring, you can clean it with soap and water, as the solution is gentle and won’t damage the sealant. You can use a small cleaning brush or even an old toothbrush to gently scrub the grout until you remove the stain.
For old grout or really tough stains, mix white vinegar and water together in equal parts and use the solution to scrub the grout. If you’re dealing with large stains and you don’t want to kneel on the floor with a toothbrush all day, look for a mop that’s specially made for grout, or get a larger cleaning brush. Deep clean your grout once a month to keep stains at bay.
Choosing the Right Ceramic Tile Flooring
Ceramic tile comes in so many shapes, styles, and colors that you might be overwhelmed at the thought of choosing the right type for your own floor. Use these tips to pick a ceramic tile floor that works best for you.
Consider the Size
One of the reasons ceramic tile is so versatile is because it’s available in multiple sizes. Common sizes for rectangular flooring tiles are 12″ x 24”, 24” x 24”, and 12” x 48”. Many people prefer square tiles, as the most popular sizes for ceramic flooring are 13” x 13”, 16” x 16”, and 18” x 18”. When you opt for larger tiles, you will have fewer grout lines, which can make your space look cleaner.
Smaller tiles are good for incorporating patterns and designs, like a smaller diamond at the intersection of four squares, alternating colors, or decorative borders that offset a section of your floor. Larger tiles are easier to install, and they can actually make a small space look bigger.
If you’re working in a small space like a half bath, you might pick smaller hexagonal tiles or mosaic tiles to add some visual interest to the room. Since these tiles are smaller, they are easier to install in little rooms. You could put mosaic tile in the kitchen, but you would be more likely to stain the grout, and the grout might be harder to keep clean.
Decide What Shape and Style You Want
With ceramic tile flooring, you’re not limited to squares and rectangles. You can choose hexagonal tiles, planks, mosaic tiles, and much more. Plank flooring can make a narrow room look wider. You can also find planks that resemble hardwood, but they’re much more durable and easier to keep clean. Consider these tiles in a room where you want to continue a rustic décor theme.
If you choose small, hexagonal tiles, look for the kind that come connected in a mesh sheet so you don’t have to lay each individual tile and risk it looking uneven. When choosing a shape, consider your room’s layout. Pick a pattern that’s easy to incorporate with moldings, posts, kitchen islands, and other elements in your room.
There are many style options available for your ceramic tile flooring. You can choose tiles that look natural or opt for marbled tiles. Some tiles offer heavy textures, while others are smooth and shiny. Consider your wall finishes, paint colors, and other materials in your house to determine which style of ceramic tile will accentuate the rest of your home.
If your house is decorated in a minimalist, industrial style, you might consider dark ceramic tiles that resemble concrete. Conversely, if you’re interested in a country style, you might prefer tiles painted with rustic designs, or panel tiles made to look rusted for a shabby chic look.
Consider Tile Materials
Ceramic tile is all made of clay, but there are differences in its composition depending on the type of clay in the tile. If you’re looking for maximum durability, consider terracotta tile. This material has been in use for thousands of years, so you can be sure it will stand the test of time in your home.
If you’re not into the reddish color of terracotta but want a tile that is hard and dense, you could choose porcelain tile. This tile is fired at a higher temperature than other ceramic tiles are, making it less porous and easier to clean. However, it is more brittle, so you might not want to use porcelain tile in an area where you think you might put heavy pressure on the floor. Additionally, always check your porcelain tiles to make sure they’re made for flooring and not wall use.
Installation is one of the main challenges that comes with ceramic tile flooring. Ceramic flooring isn’t as straightforward as other flooring styles like vinyl flooring or engineered hardwood planks that come with slats for easy assembly. If you’ve installed tile before, you should be comfortable installing your own flooring. If you’re a novice, you can still do it, but it’ll probably be easier if you’re installing larger tiles in a smaller space.
Where to Install Ceramic Tile Flooring
Ceramic tile is commonly associated with Southwestern and Mediterranean décor, but you can incorporate it into any design scheme. It’s a popular flooring material in kitchens and bathrooms because it’s easy to keep clean and water-resistant.
Other areas in which you can install ceramic tile include a bar area, a mudroom, entryways, or in front of a fireplace. You can put ceramic tile flooring in any heavily-trafficked area you want to keep clean. Ceramic tile floors are also popular at beach houses and in other climates where it’s easy to track in dirt and mud and you want to be able to clean without a lot of hassle.
How to Choose the Right Grout
Like ceramic tiles themselves, the grout used to fill the spaces in between tiles also comes in a variety of styles and colors. One type is made with a base of Portland cement with sand added for additional strength. The other is made with an epoxy base that’s also strengthened with sand.
These days, you can spruce up your grout with additives that make it brighter and even shimmery. If you’re not interested in distracting from your tile, choose a grout based on your tile. If you’re using a tile that includes multiple colors, pick the most neutral and opt for a grout that matches that color.
If you want to accentuate your tile, use a grout that is several shades lighter or darker than your tile. If you prefer a more muted look, choose one that is closer in color to the tile. Using a grout color that fades into the tile can also hide your mistakes more easily. If you think you might end up setting your tiles less precisely than you would like, consider using a lighter grout color.
When to Install Tile Yourself
Some ceramic tile is best left to professionals if you want it to look clean and polished. Large rectified tile, natural clay tile, Saltillo tile, and polished stone are usually trickier to install. If you’ve chosen one of these ceramic tile flooring styles, call a professional or you might end up wasting a lot of time and money on your floor.
You can install your own cement tile and other ceramic tile flooring yourself if you want to save some money on your project. However, if you make mistakes that are too large for you to correct, you’ll end up paying a professional anyway.
What You Need to Know About Installation
- Wet saw to cut tile
- Floor scraper
- Rubber mallet
- Utility knife
- Tile membrane
- Waterproof tape
- Tile spacers
- Thinset mortar
DIY Installation Steps
Make sure that your subfloor is flat and is at least one inch thick. If you’re starting with an old tile floor, remove it and use a floor scraper to pull up old mortar and bits of tile. Your floor might not be level after you’re done removing the old tile. In this case, use a leveling compound to fill uneven spots in the floor. If you’re starting with a wood floor, you will need to add a cement board over it.
Layout Your Pattern
Layout your tile pattern before you start putting down mortar. Create a design that allows you to make the best use of whole tiles. When you have odd-sized tiles in your design, try placing them out of sight like underneath an appliance or vanity or away from the main sightline from your room’s entryway.
Next, measure each wall and mark the midpoint. Snap chalk lines on the subfloor and start laying your tile at the intersection of these lines. Put down a straightedge and lay a row of tiles along its edge. For more consistency, use tile spacers to help ensure that each tile is the same distance from the others.
Continue laying your tile out on the dry floor marking various points to help guide your design once you’ve started laying tile on the mortar. You might have to adjust your design and your starting point based on how many whole tiles you can use in the room. If starting in the center would mean that you’d have to cut every tile on the room’s perimeter, you can start tiling in a different spot to optimize your whole amount of tiles.
After you’ve determined where you’ll start installing your tile, spread thinset mortar on the subfloor. You’ll mix it in a bucket with an electric drill. Let it rest for 10 minutes before you lay it out on the floor. Make sure you only mix what you will use in two hours, or it may start to dry.
Hold your trowel at a 45-degree angle and apply the thinset mortar in broad, curved strokes. Start with a small area of about 2 feet by 3 feet and coat the subfloor in increments until it’s coated (or until you’ve run out of mortar if your project will take longer than two hours).
Lay Your Tiles and Let them Set
Next, lay the tile at your desired starting point. Continue until you’re done. If you have any areas in which you need to cut the tile, use a wet saw. If you don’t have a wet saw, you can rent one. To save money, save all of the pieces you need to cut for last. Once you’re done placing your tile, let it set overnight hours before grouting.
When you’ve let the tile set, use a margin trowel to remove any excess mortar from the tiles and the joints. Next, mix up your grout by adding water in small increments. You can use a sponge to wring water into your grout mixture. Use the trowel to install grout using the same strokes you used to lay the mortar. Start at the edges and work your way to the center.
Let the grout set for 30 minutes and then gently clean it to avoid pulling up the grout. Let your tile set completely before walking on it and adding appliances into your room.
Tips for Hiring a Pro
You might not feel comfortable installing your floors on your own, or you could have chosen a difficult style of tile that is best left to the pros. Thankfully, there are plenty of professionals around to help you install your new ceramic tile flooring.
Find someone in your area who is licensed. If you need help installing a special sort of ceramic tile like natural clay or Saltillo, look for someone who specializes in that type of materials. Read through online reviews on various home-repair sites to get a sense of the company you’re considering hiring.
Most companies will likely have a few bad reviews, but that’s to be expected — no business can make everyone happy. Still, you should be able to get an idea of how a company will work in your home by reading most of the reviews. Once you’ve narrowed your search, call a few companies to get a sense of how they work and how much you might expect to pay. Let each company know you already have the materials. Before calling, prepare some important questions:
- How much is an estimate?
- Are you licensed and insured?
- Can I see a copy of your license?
- How long does installation take?
- Do you offer a warranty?
- Do you have worker’s compensation insurance?
- What is involved in clean up?
- Can I see photos of your previous work?
Pick someone with a good reputation who offers a decent warranty. When you’re interviewing potential installers, ask them what they would do if the floor breaks immediately after installation. Make sure they will come out and check it within a certain time period. If you can, ask previous customers about their experience.