At times, wall and floor tiles appear nearly identical. This similarity leads many to wonder if they are interchangeable.
Wall tiles should not be used on the floor. Wall tiles are not built to be durable enough to walk on. They also tend to lack texture resulting in slippery surfaces.
Wall and floor tiles each have unique characteristics. These traits make each tile well suited to their intended application. Read on to learn more about these differences.
Main Differences Between Wall and Floor Tiles
The average person might have difficulty distinguishing between wall and floor tiles. But the truth is, these tiles have completely different uses.
These differences are evident in the fact that each tile results from a different manufacturing process. These specific processes produce varying qualities in each type of tile.
Two of the most important qualities are below.
- Skid Resistance – The level of friction the texture of the tile provides.
- Durability – The ability to withstand impact over time such as foot traffic.
These two factors are essential when it comes time to choose tiles. As you would expect, slipperiness and durability are safety factors. This is why there are rating systems for each of these attributes.
The requirements for floor tiles are more stringent. This is because your walking surface needs to be reliable. Floor tiles that are slick or that crack easily do not provide a safe walking experience.
Since wall tiles are not meant to be walked on, the requirements are a bit less strict. Take a look at the chart below to see what this means.
Skid Resistance and Durability for Floor and Wall Tiles
|Floor Tiles||Wall Tiles|
|Skid Resistance||High||Low or High|
|Durability||High||Low or High|
Since no one will be walking on your wall tiles, they can really have any level of friction and durability. On the other hand, floor tiles must rank high in both of these categories.
In addition to these differences, there are more common discrepancies between wall and floor tiles. For example, floor tiles are typically thicker. This thickness, along with a specific enamel treatment, contributes to the durability of the tile.
Wall tiles are generally thinner. This characteristic makes them lighter and more fragile.
The good thing is it is not your responsibility to weigh all aspects of tiles individually. There are standardized ratings for these and many more tile characteristics.
The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) has created general classifications for tiles.
PEI Rating Groups
Each of the groups below is suitable for different uses.
- NR – Natural stone with no enamel treatment, and therefore no rating
- Group 1 – Easily scratched. Suitable for areas with extremely light foot traffic. Should not be walked on with shoes.
- Group 2 – Can be used in areas of light foot traffic such as bathrooms
- Group 3 – Applicable to all residential uses. It can withstand continuous foot traffic
- Group 4 – Suitable for some commercial settings such as hotels and restaurants
- Group 5 – Highest durability. Withstands heavy foot traffic, suitable for industrial settings
This information listed above is useful. However, as a consumer, you do not need an in-depth understanding of the rating system.
Instead, keep matters simple. When in doubt, use each tile for their original purpose. But keep in mind, that there is one scenario where you can deviate from your tiles’ intended use.
What About Using Floor Tiles on Your Walls?
Let’s be clear. You should never install your wall tiles on your floor. But you often can go the other way.
When putting tiles on a wall, aesthetics are often a primary factor. If the tile you want on your walls happens to be labeled as a floor tile, don’t let this stop you.
Tiles on your wall don’t need to be durable or skid resistant. So, virtually any kind of tile can be put on your wall.
Now that we’ve covered these fundamental distinctions let’s take a more in-depth look at tile options.
Common Tile Materials
When it comes time to choose your tiles, you should be aware of the options available to you. Here are a few common material options available to you.
- Natural Stone
Each of these materials comes with unique pros and cons (source).
Ceramic tile is made of clay. In the process o producing this tile, the clay is formed into the desired tile shape. Then it is fired in a kiln.
These tiles are widespread and readily available to homeowners. Ceramic tiles typically have the following characteristics.
- Low density
- High water absorption
- Tendency to chip
Because of these traits, ceramic tiles are usually treated with a unique glaze. This treatment diminished the downsides inherent to the material.
Mainly, the glaze helps to prevent the tile from chipping. It also acts as a seal preventing the tile from absorbing water. This protective coating is an essential feature that will allow you to use ceramic tile in high moisture areas such as a bathroom.
Porcelain tile is often sold alongside ceramic tile, but its natural qualities are very different. This difference arises both from the materials used and the process for making the tile.
Porcelain tiles are similar to ceramic in that they are both made of clay. However, porcelain is made from much more refined clay that is packed together under high pressure.
As a result, porcelain is far less porous than ceramic. This composition means it is far less able to absorb water. Porcelain is also a stronger material.
Take a look at this simple outline of the pros and cons of porcelain tiles:
|Higher durability||Harder to cut|
|Less water absorption||More expensive than ceramic|
Both ceramic and porcelain are prevalent tile options. And they each have their upsides and downsides. But there is one other very common material you should consider as well.
Natural Stone Tile
As the name implies, natural stone tiles are made from natural materials. Some of the most common stone varieties are below.
Unlike porcelain and ceramic tile, the production of natural stone tiles does not require a kiln. Instead, these stones are cut to their desired shape. After that, they then go through one of three finishing processes.
- Natural – The surface of the stone is unfinished. The inherent irregularities of the stone remain.
- Honed – The surface is smoothed but maintains some texture. This creates a consistent exterior with skid resistance.
- Polished – The smoothest finish option. This option in more slippery than honed finishes. It also drastically reduces water absorption.
When choosing a natural stone finish, keep your application in mind. For instance, a natural finish is much better for outdoor areas. Honed and polished natural stones are more suitable for indoor spaces.
Glass tiles have their own list of benefits compared to other tile materials.
- Many color and shape options
- Minimal water absorption
- Easy cleaning
Glass is a good option for wall tiles. The variety of colors and shapes allows you to create striking patterns. On the other hand, the slipperiness of glass means it is not the best option for flooring.
When it comes to choosing tile, there are many options out there. Knowing different materials and their specific qualities will make your shopping much more manageable. But remember one fact. While you can use floor tiles on your wall, you should never use wall tiles for flooring.
As a homeowner, I am constantly experimenting with making the structure of my house more energy-efficient, eliminating pests, and taking on DIY home improvement projects. Over the past two decades, my family has rehabbed houses and contracted new home builds and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I share my hard-learned lessons so that you can save time and money by not repeating my mistakes.