December 2, 2019
The most common question received 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 be confused and overwhelmed.
Having remodeled showers for over 19 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.
The 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:
The very best material you can put on a shower wall is a larger-sized glazed porcelain tile. Why? Well, glazed porcelain won’t stain because it’s sealed. It’s very durable, super easy to clean, and comes in any size and color.
The current technology is so good; you can get these tiles in just about any look. In addition, you don’t have to worry about the associated costs and maintenance that come with materials like natural stone.
Now I say larger size because the larger the tile, the fewer 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 you can fashion bullnose out of it. If the tile you select doesn’t come with a bullnose, a skilled installer can make it from the tile.
So going with a larger porcelain tile for your shower walls covers all your bases. You get a great look, versatility, lower cost, and very little maintenance.
For those reasons, this is my number one choice for the best shower wall tile.
The only real difference between ceramic and porcelain tile they fire porcelain from more refined clays at a much higher temperature. This makes it harder as it sets. You will find porcelain tile prevalent in most tile manufacturer’s product lines. If you cannot get porcelain for some reason, this will be your next best choice.
Since many ceramics are red-bodied, you can’t make a bullnose out of the tile. So if you need one, be sure to get Schluter edging. This is a good, safe choice, particularly for redoing rental properties where resilient but economical options are required.
I realize many salespeople try to sell natural stones like marble, travertine, etc. because they cost more to buy and install. While they are stunning, they are softer, easier to crack, porous, easier to stain and need proper maintenance to preserve their pristine look.
Depending on 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, 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. If this happens, you need a stone color enhancer 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. Please DO NOT use anything with ammonia in it like Windex, as it will strip the sealer over time.
If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck tile for your shower walls, without a doubt, glazed porcelain tile is your best option. 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 they tend to show water spots easier than a matte finish. You can always use other materials as accents if you’re making a particular pattern like glass, stone, or metal.
If you’re doing this, be sure they are comparable in thickness, so you get an even finish.
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 works perfectly for the shower walls, you want to go with a smaller format for the shower floor.
A mesh-mounted mosaic where each square ranges 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. 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 of 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 sealing, and the vast majority of tile manufacturers make coordinating mosaic tile with their field tile for shower floors.
#2 River Rocks: These have become popular over recent years. Having worked with them a lot, you will be 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 as the rounded ones. They come in an array of different color blends
#3 Natural Stone: Not the place you want to put a natural stone. It’s more likely to chip and stain faster on the shower floor than 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’s properly sealed. Aside from that, stick with options 1 or 2.
The options are many in terms of the best places to find shower walls and floor tile for your project.
If you want the standard, plain Jane selection, you can always go to your local Home Depot or Lowe’s. However, if you’re going to see materials not carried in these stores, these two stores are worth exploring. Their selection is vast; they have 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.
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Don’t overthink your tile selections for your shower.
Lock in a material that’s suitable for you. If you can stick with a larger format on the walls and smaller on the shower floor, you’re set. From here, you can make other important bathroom remodel decisions.
Ensure your contractor correctly waterproofs your shower before tiling 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. It’s also a 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 get the exact 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.