Ceramics are an ancient craft that date back some 4,000 years, originating in Ancient Egypt around 4,700 BCE.
The origin of the word “ceramic” comes from the Greek word “keramos,” or pottery. The word “tile” originates from the Latin “tegula” and its French derivative, “tuile.”
The art of tiling spread west from the Middle East, becoming popular in Europe during the 11th century, when mosaic floorings and panels became prevalent.
Tiles are made from clay, which once shaped and dried, are fired in a kiln at very hot temperatures. This process hardens the tiles, creating “bisque,” which can then be glazed and fired a second time. Tiles can also be used unglazed, although the color range is limited to the natural shades of the clay.
Ceramic tiles have been a popular material for interior and exterior decoration for thousands of years. They come in all shapes and sizes, colors and glazes and can be used plain, decorated or as part of a mosaic.
Ceramic tiles are a popular choice of flooring due to their aesthetic appeal, as well as their durability and easy care. A properly installed ceramic tile floor will outperform and outlast nearly any other floor covering product created for the same application. Glazed ceramic tile resists stains, odors and dirt and can be cleaned with a damp mop or common household cleaners.
Grade III and Grade IV glazed ceramic tiles are extremely scratch resistant. You never have to worry about a cut or tear like you do with other floor coverings.
Modern technologies have added to the range of shades, finishes and shapes available. In addition, there has been a resurgence of more traditional looks with terracotta and other natural unglazed finishes.
Additional benefits of ceramic tile include:
Cleanliness: Environmentally friendly, ceramic tile is manufactured using natural materials and does not retain odors, allergens or bacteria.
Versatility: Modern ceramic manufacturing technology has created a virtually limitless number of colors, sizes, styles, shapes and textures that can add rich beauty and character to any room in your home.
Fire Resistance: Ceramic tile doesn't burn or emit toxic fumes. Even hot kitchen pans or skillets can’t scorch or melt the surface of glazed ceramic tile!
Water Resistance: Most glazed ceramic tile has a dense body that permits little or no moisture accumulation.
In short, ceramic tile is a timeless, luxurious and durable flooring choice that offers a unique opportunity for self-expression because of its detail, flexibility and sheer beauty. From simple terra cotta tiles to highly decorated individual tiles that create intricate mosaics, ceramic tile offers a level of versatility that makes the possibilities truly endless.
So you’re considering ceramic tile for your floors? Excellent choice! Ceramic tile is a beautiful and durable product that dates back thousands of years. But before you sign any contracts or make any purchases, know this before you buy:
Do Your Homework
There is a defined step-by-step procedure for applying trim and decorative tiles to your ceramic tile floor:
- Identify the room and its application
- Select the type of tile
- Select the color and shade
- Select the texture and size
- Design a layout pattern and/or a decorative pattern
- Select the grout color and type
Sticking to this process will help guarantee a smooth installation.
Bullnose has one rounded finished edge to create a nice finishing touch. Sometimes it’s used as a substitute for a cove base.
Corner Bullnose has two rounded finished edges, enabling it to complete a corner.
Sanitary Cove Base has a rounded finished top like a bullnose to cover up the body of the tile.
Many of today’s ceramic tiles are designed to look and feel like natural stone, emulating their rugged surface and color variations. These tiles are intentionally designed to show variations in color and texture, just like the real thing. Since the composition of a tile’s glaze can vary, different tile styles will also exhibit different gloss levels. Solid color tiles create a consistent look, but shade variation is inherent in all fired ceramic products and certain tiles will show greater variation within their dye lots.
Color consistency or shade variation is typically listed on the back label of each ceramic tile sample with a low, moderate, high or random rating. What’s the difference?
Low Consistent shade and texture
Moderate Average shade and texture variation
High Extreme shade and texture variation
Random Severe shade and texture variation
You’ll notice color variations between a manufacturer's sample and the same color installed on countertops, wall tile or ceramic floors.
The color of the clay available in a manufacturer’s geographic region determines the color of the body of a tile. Look at the tile to see if its color is red or white. The quality of a tile is more about the manufacturer than the color of the tile, itself.
In the same way that the composition of glaze can vary, different styles of tile exhibit different gloss levels and surface textures. For example, in areas that get wet, like a shower or bathroom floor, the tile should have low moisture absorption and good slip resistance.
By moisture absorption, we mean that as the density of a tile increases, the amount of moisture it can absorb becomes less. Similarly, by tile density, we mean that as the weight or the density of the tile increases, it becomes stronger.
Here’s some terminology to help you decide:
Non-Vitreous Tiles absorb 7% or more moisture. They’re best suited for indoor use only.
Semi-Vitreous Tiles absorb from 3% to 7% moisture. They're best used indoors only.
Vitreous Tiles absorb less that 3% moisture. They are referred to as frost resistant tiles, but can’t be used in exterior areas where freeze-thaw conditions might cause tile cracking.
Impervious Tiles have less than .5% moisture absorption. These tiles are frost proof and can be used outside or on building facades. If you have serious winter weather, these are the tiles for you.
Grout is usually mixed on site, but slight color variations can occur within different areas of the same installation. In fact, grout color can vary from the manufacturer’s sample you saw in the store. This is due to variations in temperature and humidity at the time of grouting. It’s also common to see grout variations when comparing the grout color in a tile floor with the same grout color on a tile countertop or wall.
When choosing grout color, it’s a good idea to select a color that blends in with the overall color of the tile to minimize the appearance of the grout. Though if the tile is installed in a high traffic area, then it may be wise to select a darker grout to hide dirt.
Exact layouts, types of grout and grout joint widths are determined by a tile setter at the time of installation. These decisions are governed by the actual size and shape of the tile you chose and the exact dimensions of the area to be covered.
Once your tile has been laid and grouted, it’s up to you to guard all caulked areas against water damage. Grout may darken over time in areas with heavy water use.
Also, weather can cause surfaces adjoining the tile to expand and contract, causing the grout to crack and separate. Ain’t nothing you can do about it.
No subfloors are perfectly level. Nope — not even yours. As a result, you may hear hollow sounds where your subfloor’s surface dips and ridges. But fret not. This won’t affect the integrity or installation of your ceramic tile. Hollow sounds are normal and aren’t considered a product or installation defect.
“Cost per square foot” is just one component of the overall price tag for ceramic tile flooring. Ask your retailer to calculate the total cost of your floor covering project. Here’s what he or she may include beyond the cost of the ceramic tile, itself:
- Furniture removal/replacement
- Some retailers or installers may charge to remove (and then replace) furniture in the installation space.
- Demolition/disposal of old floor covering
- Unless your home is brand new, there’s probably an old floor covering that is going to need to be removed and properly disposed of.
- Sub-floor preparation
- Depending on its condition (after removal of the old floor covering), your subfloor may need to be prepped for ceramic tile installation.
- Product delivery
- Delivering your ceramic tile may not be included in the “cost per square foot” price.
- There will most likely be a “cost per square foot” to install your ceramic tile flooring.
- Materials required to complete the installation
- Additional materials may be required to properly install your ceramic tile.
- Many retailers offer financing as an option of payment. Be sure to check the interest rate, minimum payment due and any finance charges if you choose to pay your purchase off over time.
- Ask your retailer and/or consult the manufacturer’s warranty and care guide for directions on cleaning and maintenance for your new ceramic tile floor.
Dirt adheres easily to the surface of ceramic tile, especially styles with textured surfaces. Regular sweeping loosens and removes most dirt. A vacuum cleaner can also be used to sweep, but make sure you use one without a beater bar to avoid dulling and scratching the tiles. Vacuum cleaner attachments are great to suck up dirt along edges or in between tiles.
Use doormats to keep dirt from coming into your home. And shake them out often. This will reduce the amount of dirt being tracked across your ceramic tile floor, and will reduce the wear to the finished surface.
Ceramic tile floors should be damp-mopped using manufacturer-recommended grout and tile cleaners. For heavier soil, spot clean the floor with a sponge or clean cloth using the same recommended cleaners.
Mild scrubbing with a soft brush or electric polisher/scrubber may be required for textured tiles. After cleaning with a mild detergent, rinse thoroughly with clean, warm water to remove leftover residue. If necessary, wipe the tile dry with a clean towel to remove any film.
For soft water situations, an all-purpose cleaner may be necessary. Apply it to your floor and let it stand for 3-5 minutes. Then lightly scrub with a sponge, rinse well and you’re good to go.
Cleaning products available from your local grocery or hardware store can be used to remove soap scum, hard water deposits and mildew stains from ceramic tile. Be sure to consult the cleaning product’s instructions to ensure the product is recommended for your type of tile. After cleaning, rinse well and wipe dry for a sparkling shine.
Dos and Don’ts
Do clean up spills as quickly as possible so your grout won’t become stained.
Don’t use steel wool, scouring powders, or other abrasives that can scratch the finish of your ceramic tile.
Do remember that while ceramic tile is very durable, it’s not indestructible and may crack or chip under extreme force.
Don’t use bleach or ammonia-based cleaners — these products can discolor your grout if used too often.
Do take the proper precautions when moving heavy objects across a ceramic tile floor.
Do cover furniture and table legs with protectors to guard your floor against scratching.
Do remember that if a repair is necessary, the replacement product may be a slightly different dye lot and/or texture than the original tile, however, with time and usage, the replacement tile will blend in with its neighbors.
Once your tile has been laid and grouted, it’s your responsibility to caulk areas that may be exposed to water. Caulking will prevent expensive subsurface damage and keep the tiled areas looking as good as new.
Depending on your lifestyle, sealing your tile and grout may also be an option. After installation, sealing the grout and tile can provide protection from dirt and spills by slowing down the staining process.
Grout colorants can transform the original color of your grout and, in some cases, can act as a form of sealant. Be aware that non-epoxy grout joints should be treated with a silicone sealer.
Regular care and maintenance will keep your ceramic tile floors looking their very best for years to come.
If you need tile care products, or help from a local ceramic tile professional? Click here to find a professional ceramic tile cleaning store in your area.