What Type of Tile to Use on a Shower Bath Wall

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You can find many finishes on the market for the interior of your shower, whether it's a standalone or combined with a bathtub. Before choosing a particular tile, consider the design of the shower, such as the inclusion of niches, ledges or a bench; while curves can be cut into tile, tiles do not flex and bend with convex or concave surfaces. Another important factor is ease of cleaning based on your lifestyle and preferences.

Confirm with the manufacturer prior to selection and installation that the tile you like is suitable for shower use. This step may seem unnecessary, but all tiles are not created equal, and the recommended installation method may prove inadequate for the water exposure of a typical shower.

Tile Type

Porcelain and Ceramic

Both porcelain and ceramic tiles are clay-based and kiln-fired. Ceramic tiles, however, are less dense than are porcelain tiles, making them easier to cut. The harder body of porcelain tiles makes them more durable and less prone to chipping and scratching. Porcelain tiles are more moisture-resistant, with an absorption rate generally less than 0.5 percent.

Glass

Glass tiles add a reflective quality to a shower’s interior, a definite bonus in smaller, darker spaces. However, the size of the glass tile bears careful planning: Larger glass tiles are more challenging to install, and they are more prone to moisture buildup behind their surfaces than are mosaic glass variations. For a non-expert installer, stick with colored glass.

Natural Stone

Natural stone includes materials ranging from granite to marble and onyx to limestone. Regardless of the stone type or size, natural stone requires more maintenance than ceramic or porcelain. Most manufacturers recommend that the stone is sealed prior to use and that the sealant is reapplied at regular intervals to balance the stone’s natural porosity. Crystalline stones -- granite and quartzite -- are less absorptive (usually less than 1 percent) than sedimentary rocks -- sandstone and limestone, which can score as high as 10 to 12 percent water absorption.

Cleanliness

Though many manufacturers suggest that you can simply spray your shower walls with one of their products and the walls will instantly clean themselves, these products do not work on all tiles. Additionally, the chemicals in some of these cleaning solutions can eat away at the tiles’ surface, particularly natural stone, even if it has been properly sealed.

The easiest shower walls to clean feature three key characteristics:

  • Smooth tiles
  • Shiny surfaces
  • Minimal grout lines

Purpose and Tile Size

Any flat surface, whether it's the shower surround on which the shower glass is placed, a bench seat, or a ledge or niche, is more apt to suffer from water damage if the water sits on it or puddles. In these cases, custom-sized pieces are recommended, and they should be installed on a slight slope to ensure the water runs down and toward the drain rather than settling into a crack. If you cannot find a tile in the required size to match the rest of the shower, create accents within the design.

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