You’ve found the perfect tile for your bathroom floor, but it’s advertised as a wall tile. What does that mean, exactly? Can you put wall tiles on the floor? There’s a bit of confusion surrounding floor and wall tiles, but we’re going to sort it all out for you here.
Floor Tiles and Wall Tiles: What’s the Difference?
Outdated and inaccurate rules of thumb surrounding floor and wall tiles abound. You may have heard that ceramic tiles are for walls and porcelain tiles are for floors, or that large tiles are for floors and smaller tiles are for walls. Forget everything you’ve heard. The truth is, while floor and wall tiles have some differences, these don’t always preclude using wall tiles on the floor. It all depends on the tile itself.
In general, tile made for the floor is extra strong and durable and is made to resist wear and tear. By contrast, in general, wall tiles can’t bear as much weight as floor tiles and are typically smaller and more lightweight.
But that’s only in general. It all boils down to three important tile ratings.
A tile’s Porcelain Enamel Institute, or PEI, rating indicates a tile’s ability to resist wear and tear. The PEI evaluates a tile’s resistance to wear on a scale of one to five. Lower ratings indicate a weaker tile, while higher ratings indicate a stronger tile:
- PEI Class I: Ceramic tile recommended for commercial or residential wall application.
- PEI Class II: Ceramic tile recommended for interior commercial and residential walls and floors and residential bathroom floors.
- PEI Class III: Ceramic tile recommended for residential floors receiving light to moderate traffic, such as the bathroom or living room, and for wall applications.
- PEI Class IV: Ceramic tile recommended for residential floors receiving moderate to heavy traffic, such as the hall and kitchen, and for wall applications.
- PEI Class V: Ceramic tile recommended for all residential floors and for commercial floors with moderate traffic. May also be appropriate for wall installation, depending on the weight.
Another important metric to pay attention to is the coefficient of friction, or the COF rating. This rating indicates the skid resistance of a tile. Super slippery tiles are best installed on walls, since slips and falls in the bathroom and kitchen can cause serious injury. The range of the COF rating is zero to one. The higher the COF rating, the more friction and traction, meaning the tile will be less slippery. The lower the COF rating, the less friction and traction, meaning the tile will be more slippery. A COF rating of 0.5 or higher indicates appropriate friction for floor installation. For exterior use, tiles and pavers should have a COF of at least 0.6.
The water absorption rating, or the WA rating, of a tile is another metric to take into account when deciding whether to use wall tiles on the floor. This rating tells you how the tile will react to water. This metric is important to consider when you’re installing tile in the bathroom. The four WA grades are:
- Non-vitreous tile is not appropriate for outdoor use or use in wet areas.
- Semi-vitreous tile is appropriate for use only in dry indoor areas like a hallway or living room.
- Vitreous tile can be used in areas with moderate moisture, like the bathroom or basement.
- Impervious tiles have zero water absorption and are perfect for the bathroom, shower, pool, and basement.
Choosing the Right Tile for the Floor
In most cases, wall tiles aren’t appropriate for the floor, for a variety of reasons. They may be more slippery or less water resistant than a floor tile needs to be. Glass wall tiles, like these luxurious tiles in white and shades of blue, are generally too fragile for the floor. But the good news is that with all of the flooring options available, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a floor tile that you love and which suits your decor vision.
Floor tiles are made from either ceramic, porcelain, or stone. Ceramic tiles are typically softer and less resistant to wear, while porcelain and stone tiles are generally very dense and extremely durable on the floor.
Although most wall tiles can’t be used on the floor, most floor tiles can be used on the wall, as long as the wall can bear the weight of the tile. This is good news if you’re looking for a unique look in your decor, such as using large-format flooring tiles on the wall or on both the wall and the floor. There are endless options for matching floor and wall tiles.
Large tiles on the floor can make your space feel larger than it is, because there are fewer grout lines to break up the visual field. Large floor tiles are dramatic and can give your rooms a minimalist look. Small tiles on the floor are ideal for very small spaces, such as the powder room or a small foyer. Small tiles create luxurious texture and visual interest.
Tiles for the floor don’t have to be square or rectangular. Other shapes, such as these luxe porcelain hexagonal tiles, are classically beautiful and interesting, and they’re impervious to water, making them ideal for the bathroom or kitchen.
Tile Floors Are Beautiful and Durable
Tile is one of the best options for flooring. It’s easy to clean, requires very little maintenance, and is often less expensive than wood floors, depending on the type of tile you choose. When considering a tile for the floor, look at the manufacturer’s specs to determine the PEI, COF, and WA ratings, and choose a tile that will ofter maximum safety and minimum wear for the long-haul.