The best tile for floors, counters, and backsplashes

The best tile for floors, counters, and backsplashes

The pros and cons of ceramic, porcelain, stone, cement, and glass

Published: January 02, 2015 03:30 PM
Photo: Whirlpool Digital Library

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Walking into a tile showroom can be as overwhelming as it is inspiring. The displays are spectacular, but there are so many options, at so many price points. Before you run to the home center for a box of plain white subway tile—and miss out on the chance to make a bold impact in your kitchen—use Consumer Reports’ tile primer to get the lowdown on this durable, beautiful material. To help you shop, we’ve asked an expert panel of tile manufacturers, retailers, and installers for their best tips on the pros and cons of the most common types of tile.

Ceramic

Price: $2 to $7 per square foot
What is it? A mix of clay, minerals, and water, ceramic tiles are fired at high temperatures. Glazed styles are then treated with a liquid glass coating and fired again, creating a hard, stain- and scratch-resistant surface. Unglazed tiles are sometimes referred to as “quarry” tiles.
Best for: Ceramic tile is typically affordable, durable, easy to install and comes in a nearly endless array of colors and designs.
But: Colors can vary from lot to lot and ceramic is not ideal for high impact areas. Handmade or “art” tiles can be extremely pricey.

Porcelain

Price: $3 to $7 per square foot
What is it? Porcelain tile is a type of ceramic tile that is fired at a higher temperature than standard ceramic, making it denser and less porous.
Best for: Use stain- and impact-resistant porcelain tiles on floors, walls, backsplashes. It’s easy to clean and comes in a wide variety of styles.
But: It requires a special setting material designed to adhere non-porous materials—DIYers often buy the wrong one. Check with the manufacturer to be sure you’re using the recommended adhesive.

Photo: Manufacturer

Glass

Price: $7 to $30 and more per square foot
What is it? Thin pieces of glass sold individually or as a mosaic, sometimes with other types of tile, on a mesh backing.
Best for: Colorful, reflective, easy-to-clean glass tile is best for walls and backsplashes. Some glass tile is rated for use on floors. The wide range of colors gives glass tile great “wow” factor.
But: It can be expensive and difficult to install. Because the tiles are transparent, the adhesive is visible through the tile. Unless you’re highly skilled, getting professional-looking results is difficult for a DIYer.

Cement

Price: $9 to $17 per square foot
What is it? Handmade of natural materials, cement tiles—also known as encaustic or Cuban tiles in the U.S.—typically boast bold patterns.
Best for: Resilient and beautiful, cement tiles are appropriate for floors, backsplashes and walls.
But: They’re pricey and not as common as other tiles, so your installer may not be used to working with them. Also, cement tiles are prone to etching by acid or harsh detergents and must be sealed on installation and resealed periodically.

Stone

Price: $6 to $15 per square foot
What is it? Pieces of natural stone—granite, slate, travertine, marble, onyx, sandstone, to name a few—cut into thin, regular pieces, stone tile has a rich, one-of-a-kind look.
Best for: Use stone on walls, backsplashes, or floors. Get the look of a granite countertop for less by using granite tiles instead of a slab.
But: Most stone tile can be damaged by exposure to water, pigment, or acid, so be prepared for extra maintenance. Seal on installation and reseal every 10 years.

SnapStone Beige

Best flooring and countertops

Consumer Reports tests both tile flooring and tile countertops. In our flooring tests, only vinyl scored better. The top tile performer is SnapStone Beige 11-001-02-01, $8.00 a square foot. It was aces at withstanding foot traffic and resisting stains, scratches, and fading. However it was only so-so at resisting dents.

In our kitchen countertop tests, ceramic and porcelain tile fell behind winners quartz and granite but at $5.00 a square foot was by far the most budget friendly. It was only so-so at resisting stains but was a champ at standing up to heat and slicing and chopping.

—Adapted from Consumer Reports' Kitchen Planning & Buying Guide

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