Bathroom tiles: tips to help you make the right choice

Torben Schröder

They come in small and large sizes, can be simple or colorful, and are available in ceramic or natural stone – there is a wide selection of bathroom tiles. Here we explain what you should pay attention to before you buy, what different types are available and what materials they are made of. We also present alternatives.

View into a bathroom: an open shower can be seen front left. To the right, under a sloping roof, are the toilet and bathtub.
© Getty Images/iStockphoto

In this article

Why choose tiles for the bathroom?

They are the classic bathroom surface – both on the floor and on the walls: tiles. And not primarily for aesthetic reasons, but for practical purposes. We list a few of their advantages below:

  • Robust: they withstand acids, alkalis, cosmetics and bathroom cleaners and are therefore particularly resistant.
  • Colorfast: even if the sun shines into the room for several hours, they do not fade, but retain their color.
  • Hygienic: models with smooth surfaces are easy to clean. But dirt settles quickly on tiles with a structure, providing a surface for bacteria to attack.
  • Heat conductive: firstly, moisture evaporates relatively quickly on bathroom tiles, and secondly, they are very good at conducting heat from underfloor heating, ensuring a comfortable feeling underfoot.
View into a bathroom with blue and white tiles on the walls.

No matter what color or size – bathroom tiles offer many advantages as flooring.

What to bear in mind when choosing a design

Regardless of the type of tiles, there are a few other important ways in which bathroom tiles differ from one another. We explain them here.

The color

In the past, smaller tiles with brownish and yellowish tones were considered modern. Today people tend to opt for rather large tiles in light and grayish colors. The choice is basically infinite, so you are bound to find your favorite color. We recommend that you should always test the desired color in real conditions in your bathroom – especially with regard to the light. The color will look different depending on whether you have halogen or LED lamps, for example. Ask the retailer to give you some sample tiles to take home.

The size

The trend is generally towards large tiles. Not only does this ensure a more elegant look, but it also has practical advantages: due to the lower number of joints, the tiles are easier to clean and form less breeding ground for mold. There are many options open to you, ranging from the small standard format of 20 x 20 centimeters to unusually large tiles measuring 120 x 120 centimeters.

Close-up of two male hands laying bathroom tiles.

A mixture of bathroom tiles of different sizes provides visual variety.

The joints

This is the crucial question: with or without? The smaller the bathroom tiles, the more unsightly-looking joints there will be spread over the floor. This “grid pattern” does not meet the taste of many people nowadays. The solution: lay the tiles very tightly – i.e. with no visible joints. This will give your bathroom a uniform look and the surfaces will feel more pleasant to the touch. Without joints, the tiles will also be less susceptible to dirt buildup.

However, this technique also has a disadvantage: joints always act as a buffer that allows the entire tile structure to expand and contract. Without joints, the forces act directly from one tile to the next, and damage can occur. When making this decision – with or without joints – always consult a specialist company for advice.

The resistance group

Another important factor is resistance. Depending on the location of the tiles in the bathroom, they will be subjected to greater or lesser stress due to friction on the surface. You can work out how much the relevant tiles can withstand on the basis of the resistance group, which is divided into levels I to V. Since you usually enter the bathroom barefoot, the tiles on the floor do not need to be particularly resistant – low wear resistance is sufficient. An overview of the five resistance groups is given below:

  • Resistance group
  • Usage
  • Area of application
  • I
  • Very light: low walking frequency with soft shoe soles
  • Bathroom walls
  • II
  • Light: low walking frequency with normal shoe soles
  • Bathroom floor
  • III
  • Medium: medium walking frequency with normal shoe soles
  • Floors in bathrooms, living rooms and bedrooms
  • IV
  • Strong: higher walking frequency with normal shoe soles
  • Floors in kitchens, offices and hotels
  • V
  • Very strong: high walking frequency with normal shoe soles
  • Floors in restaurants, garages and schools

Types of bathroom tiles

Even though they may look similar in appearance, bathroom floor tiles are quite different from those used on the walls. In addition to the resistance group just described, they are also evaluated with regard to their anti-slipping properties. This is not important for wall tiles, but floor tiles should be sufficiently non-slip. It’s useful to know that floor tiles can also be used on the wall without any problems. However, you should never lay tiles intended for walls on the floor – they can pose a risk of accident.

The method of production is a further distinguishing feature. In the case of glazed tiles, a protective covering layer of liquid glass is applied. The closed surface offers greater resistance to stains and UV radiation, but also makes the tiles more susceptible to damage. Unglazed bathroom tiles have an open surface and are therefore more robust.

View into a completely white tiled bathroom.

There are differences between bathroom tiles for the floor and for the walls – for example in terms of their anti-slip properties.

The most common bathroom tile material: ceramics

Ceramic tiles offer everything that a bathroom surface requires: they are hard-wearing, easy to clean and conduct heat well. There are three categories, each with different material compositions and firing methods. We present them all here:

  • Earthenware: these tiles are porous and therefore absorb relatively large amounts of water. They are mainly suitable for bathroom walls.
  • Stoneware: these tiles are significantly denser and more robust than earthenware tiles, making them suitable for bathroom floors.
  • Porcelain stoneware: these tiles are very hard, repel moisture even better than stoneware tiles and are therefore ideally suited as a surface for bathroom floors.

Set the style

There is such a wide variety of local retailers and specialist suppliers on the Internet that you may find it difficult to decide on the right tile design – between mosaic, floral patterns, individual engravings or a natural clay look. We present ideas for two styles below:

  • ·The Castle earthenware wall tile is characterized by its distinctive oriental-looking features. A blurred structure also radiates a certain vintage charm. The tiles measure 20 x 60 centimeters and cost 36.50 francs per square meter (price on 13 November 2020).
  • The Power porcelain stoneware tiles by SK Keramik & Stein create a very sophisticated marble look. They measure 60 x 120 centimeters and have a lavish price tag of 84.50 francs (price on 13 November 2020).

From natural stone to parquet: alternative materials

Even though ceramic is the most common material for bathroom walls and floors, there are several other possibilities, which we present briefly here:

  • Natural stone: this is the highest-quality material from a visual perspective. Granite, quartz, slate or marble come from quarries and are cut accordingly before laying. They often have inclusions and veins which make them unique. They are very durable, but react sensitively to some liquids.
  • Terracotta: terracotta tiles create a Mediterranean flair. This breathable material made of red clay absorbs a lot of water in its untreated state, which is why impregnation is essential for use in the bathroom.
  • Vinyl: thanks to its moisture-resistant properties, vinyl is also suitable for use on bathroom floors. You have the choice between many realistic decors.
  • Parquet: despite sounding unusual, it can be quite effective – a wooden floor in the bathroom. You should always consult a specialist, who will glue and seal it properly. You must make sure you wipe off any wetness immediately and ventilate sufficiently.

Ideal for cold feet: a bathroom rug

When you’ve just got out of bed, and your limbs are still heavy with tiredness, taking those first few steps on the cool surface of the bathroom floor is not exactly a pleasant experience. A fluffy bathroom rug can provide the necessary comfort in the morning, especially for households without underfloor heating. It also enhances the room visually. We present three models here:

  • The Kansas Natur bath rug by Kleine Wolke, which measures 70 x 120 centimeters, is made of 100 percent cotton and has a distinctively simple appearance. A coating on the underside ensures that it holds well. It costs 84.90 francs at Manor (price on 13 November 2020).
  • The “Rosina Wachtmeister” bathroom set is a little more fun. It will instantly boost your mood in the morning with its rich colors, interesting shapes and tangible motifs. The individual elements, for example a 60 x 100-centimeter bathroom rug or a 50 x 50-centimeter washbasin mat for the toilet, can be purchased separately from Brigitte Exclusiv.
  • The “Shaggy Uni” bath mat fulfills its purpose: it gives you a lovely soft feeling as soon as you step out of the shower or bathtub. The surface of the 50 x 70-centimeter bathroom rug consists of 50-millimeter-high anthracite-colored fibers. It costs 34.90 francs at Ackermann (price on 13 November 2020).
A woman is vacuuming a bathroom rug while a little girl looks on.

A bathroom rug provides a pleasant feeling in the morning.

Conclusion: not an obligation, but a classic bathroom surface – tiles

Virtually indestructible, easy to clean and visually appealing – tiles on the walls and floor of the bathroom offer distinct advantages. Moreover, there is a very large selection available. If you prefer to use a different material, you can opt for natural stone or even wood.

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