The most common question I receive when remodeling showers is what is the best tile for a shower wall or floor? Given there are so many options; it’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed.
Having remodeled showers for over 17 years now, I’m going to make it super simple for you so you can focus on getting on with your project!
Let’s start with the best tile for your shower walls then move to the floor so everything ties in.
Best Tile For Shower Walls
First thing to consider is the material. If you want a thorough review of all materials available, you can check that out here.
For simplicity however, I’ll rank your best three options in order based on my experience with shower remodels:
#1 Glazed Porcelain Tile
The very best material you can put on a shower wall is a larger sized glazed porcelain tile. Why? Well, glazed porcelain is sealed so it won’t stain, very durable, super easy to clean and comes in any size and color you desire.
In fact, the current technology is so good, you can get these tiles in just about any look: wood, marble, etc. without having to worry about the associated costs and maintenance that comes with other materials like natural stone.
Now I say larger sized because the larger the tile, the less grout lines so the easier the maintenance. The most popular sizes now are 12 x 24 and if you want to go even larger, 24 x 24 or 18 x 36.
Another advantage many folks don’t realize with porcelain tile is in the event the tile you selected doesn’t come with a coordinating bullnose piece and you don’t want to put a Schulter edge, then a skilled installer can fashion a bullnose from the tile itself.
So going with a larger porcelain tile for your shower walls gives you the best of both worlds – a great look, versatility, lower cost and very little maintenance. Covers all your bases. For those reasons, this is my number once choice for best shower wall tile.
#2 Glazed Ceramic Tile
The only real difference between a ceramic and porcelain is your porcelain is fired from finer clays at a much higher temperature so it hardens more. You will find porcelain tile prevalent in most tile manufacturer’s product lines but if for some unknown reason you cannot get porcelain, this will be your next best choice.
Since a lot of ceramics are red bodied, you can’t make a bullnose out of the tile if you need one so be sure to get bullnose/edging for this option if you go with it. This is a good, safe choice particularly for redoing rental properties where resilient but economical options are needed.
#3 – Natural Stone
I realize a lot of salespeople try to sell the natural stones like marble, travertine, etc. because not only do they cost more to buy, but also to install. While they are very beautiful, they are softer so are easier to crack, are porous so are easier to stain and need proper maintenance to preserve their pristine look they have when newly installed.
Depending where you live, foundation issues/shifting and/or hard water may be a problem with natural stone. They can sometimes collect mineral deposits and if not properly sealed, can permanently stain/damage the tile.
So unless you have a very high quality penetrating stone sealer like Aqua Mix and it’s applied correctly and you’re aware of it’s natural properties, you’re better off with a stronger porcelain tile.
Even if well sealed, stone can ugly out over time from a very fine coating of water deposits so stone color enhancers would be needed to restore the vividness of the tile.
Quick Tip: If you go with natural stone, be sure to clean it with the recommended stone cleaners. DO NOT use anything with ammonia in it like Windex as it will strip the sealer over time and you’ll wonder why your stone is turning into Frankenstein.
If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck tile for your shower walls, without doubt glazed porcelain tile is the best I’ve personally worked with. They are less expensive to buy, install and maintain than natural stone and above all – they look fantastic.
Try to avoid high gloss or shiny tiles as a lot of clients found they show water spots easier than a matte finish tile. You can always use other materials as accents if you’re doing a particular pattern like glass, stone or metal but having the bulk of the walls porcelain tile is your best bet.
If you wish to have a specific decorative or mosaic made from another material like glass or metal for example; just be sure they are comparable in thickness so you get an even finish.
Best Tile For Shower Floors
Even more critical than the type of tile you put on a shower floor is the size of it.
The shower floor (aka shower pan) needs different tile than anywhere else mainly due to safety. Although larger tile is recommended for the shower walls, you want to go with a smaller format for the shower floor.
A mesh mounted mosaic where each individual squares range from 1 x 1 to 3 x 3 should be your go-to option. They come in square, rectangle, hexagon and many other shapes and they’re perfect for shower floors.
The reason you want grout lines on the shower floor is for traction. The larger the tile, the less footing you have particularly when it’s wet so go for a mesh mounted tile that comes in smaller squares. This becomes even more important for older folks or those needing assistance.
The main advantage with mesh mounted tile (irrespective of material) is it flexes perfectly with the slant of the shower floor making it super easy to install.
Insist on a mosaic tile in any configuration you like for the shower floor as this is by far your best option.
The only other option you could do is have the installer cut smaller pieces from the main floor or wall tile and that is a cumbersome, labor intensive process that doesn’t look anywhere as good.
As far as material goes:
#1 Porcelain: Once again, a bulletproof option that’s well priced and above all, has all the qualities you want in a tile that gets daily usage. It doesn’t need to be sealed and the vast majority of tile manufacturers make coordinating mosaic tile with their field tile for shower floors.
#2 River Rocks: These have become really popular over recent years and having worked with them a lot, I’ll tell you that you will be a lot happier with the flat rocks over the rounded ones. The flatter ones are more comfortable on the feet, easier to clean and don’t need as much grout compared to the rounded ones. They come in an array of different color blends
#3 Natural Stone: Not the place you want to put natural stone. It’s more likely to chip and stain faster on the shower floor compared to the wall. Since a lot of this material comes in a polished finish, you want to be careful putting this down especially if there are wheelchairs or assistance equipment involved.
I have seen this work really well only when the mosaic is very small (1 x 1 squares on a 12 x 12 sized mesh) and it has been properly sealed. Aside from that, stick with options 1 or 2.
Best Places To Buy Shower Wall & Floor Tile
In terms of the best places to find shower wall and floor tile for your project, the options are many.
If you just want the standard, plain Jane selection, you can always go to your local Home Depot or Lowe’s but if you want to see materials not carried in these stores, then these two stores is where a lot of clients buy their materials from.Their selection is huge, carry both floor, wall and shower floor tile/mosaics and they ship quickly all over the US so your project won’t be delayed.
Don’t forget to order whatever you need with your wall and floor purchase like trim pieces, bullnose, accents, etc.
Don’t overthink your tile selections for your shower.
Lock in a material that’s suitable for you and if you can stick with larger format on the walls and smaller on the shower floor and/or shampoo niche, then you’ll already be ready to make other important bathroom remodel decisions.
Make sure your contractor correctly waterproofs your shower before tiling in order to give you maximum protection.
To protect your shower even more, be sure to get a pre sealed grout like Mapei FlexColor CQ or Fusion Pro. This will help keep your shower looking newer for longer and a whole lot easier than buying grout sealer separately and sealing it. Finally, it’s always a good idea to have a couple of extra boxes of material left over in case of future repairs. So order between 10-15% extra to allow for cuts and waste as well as for storage. That way, you can be assured they are all the same shade / lot number.
I hope this guide has been helpful.
Please reach out if you’re in the DFW area should you need any help remodeling your shower.