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Floor Tile vs. Wall Tile

December 7, 2022

Is There a Difference Between Floor and Wall Tiles? 

When you install a new tile floor, backsplash or feature wall in your home, you want it to perform and look great for years to come. But how do you ensure that your tile installation rises to the challenge?  

A successful tile installation starts with choosing the proper tile for your application. To get it right, understand that there are differences between floor and wall tiles based on their performance features.  

custom tile bathroom showing both floor and wall tile

Are Floor and Wall Tiles the Same?

The general rule is that most floor tiles can be used on both floors and walls, but not vice versa. All wall tiles are not rated for use on floors.

The Main Differences Between Floor and Wall Tile 

Not all tile is created equal. While floor and wall tiles are often manufactured from the same materials, they are engineered for different uses.   

Floor tiles are engineered to a higher standard across critical characteristics: 

  • Weight Bearing 
  • Durability 
  • Water Absorption 
  • Friction 

MSI Tile summarizes the differences between the two tile products: “Floor tile is made thicker and harder to withstand foot traffic, appliances, furniture, etc. And most have added texture to reduce the risk of slips.”

“Wall tile tends to be thinner, smoother, and more delicate. It’s also much slicker when wet, so wall tile is not recommended underfoot.”  

Esmer Tile Cultura Pebbles in Cream

Emser Tile: Cultura Pebbles. Color: Cultura Ivory 

Image Source

Floor Tile vs. Wall Tile Ratings 

When shopping for tile, it can take time to figure out which tile is best for your exact application. That’s where product ratings are helpful: Most manufacturers list tile ratings on their packaging and in product descriptions to help consumers identify the product’s proper (or intended) application based on performance features. These ratings include:  

Weight Bearing 

Floor tiles need to be load-bearing. They need to support the weight of people as we walk on them, but also to support heavy furniture and appliances.   

Make sure to check the weight load rating for your specific case. The rating can vary widely depending on material, length/width and thickness. 

The amount of weight can also fluctuate based on where the tile is installed and the subfloor used. Tiles are brittle and can break when subjected to a bending force. Installing tiles on a flexible base, like a wooden subfloor, will hold less weight than tiles installed on a rigid concrete base. 

Friction 

COF, or Coefficient of Friction, determines how much friction a tile has and to what degree the surface is safe to walk on based on its slickness.  

Natural stone tiles can have very low COF ratings (0.04 – 0.08) and are highly slippery, whereas terracotta tiles have much higher COF ratings (0.3 – 0.6) and are more suitable for wet flooring installations.  

Floor tiles must have a minimum level of friction to be safe. For an interior floor tile, the minimum COF must be at least 0.5 to be rated safe for walking. 

Durability 

PEI, or Porcelain Enamel Institute, tests the strength and durability of the glaze as well as the strength or hardness of the tile.  

Consider that floor tiles are abused: We walk on them, drag stuff across them and scrub them. They need to withstand scratches from our pets’ claws and more. Tiles are rated according to hardness/durability on a scale of 0-5 PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute). Products with a lower rating (0-1) are generally used for residential walls. At the same time, the highest ratings (4-5) are used for industrial applications (and usually are not attractive for home use). 

PEI uses a five-class rating system that ranges from Class 1 (walls only, no foot traffic) to Class 5 (heavy foot traffic).  

MSI Tile notes that most manufacturers suggest a PEI rating of Class 3, 4 or 5 for residential floor tiles and Class 4 or 5 for commercial-zoned floors. By contrast, most wall tiles have a PEI rating of Class 1 or 2.  

Adding heavier grout lines can help provide extra grip on tile flooring installations for greater stability and security.

Water Absorption 

Floor tiles can be exposed to standing wet environments, whether water from a tub or shower or tracking in snow from outdoors. Water absorption is directly correlated to the density of the tile.   

The denser the tile, the less water it will absorb. The ANSI water absorption rate measures this. The least dense tiles will absorb as much as 7% water, whereas the densest will absorb only 0.5%. floor tile with integrated shower drain

Can Floor Tile Be Used on Shower Walls? 

Using the same tile on shower floors and walls is a popular trend that creates a cohesive look and a unique design statement in a bathroom space.  

To create the look, you can use floor-grade tile on all shower surfaces. From oversized to mini tile, porcelain, ceramic or natural stone, floor tile is ideal for shower walls. Just be sure to follow manufacturers’ instructions regarding waterproof installation for the best performance. 

Are Floor Tiles Stronger Than Wall Tiles? 

Floor tiles are generally stronger and more durable than thinner, more delicate wall tiles. They also score a higher PEI rating: The higher the ranking, the more wear and tear the tile can withstand without breaking or cracking. 

The hardest among all types of floor tile is porcelain-bodied tile, made from refined clay and fired at higher temperatures than ceramic tile products. This makes it denser and more durable than ceramic tile. (Note: There is one exception. Some genuine natural stone tiles can be heavier than porcelain.) 

Can You Use Floor Tile on Any Wall? 

The direct answer is yes; you can use floor tile on walls. While there are no restrictions for tile installations on interior walls, some industry experts suggest that maximum weight (tile + grout) should be at most 15 lbs. per square foot. Oversized and heavier tiles, such as 30″x30″ tiles and larger, will require anchoring with mechanical fasteners for security. 

Most tile floor patterns are also available for wall tile applications and may even save you money.

But while you can use floor tile on walls, the choice might make your installation job a bit more difficult for a DIY project. Floor tiles are generally — but not always — thicker, harder and heavier than tiles specified as suitable for wall installation only. Particularly in this scenario, when working with a heavier tile, going with a professional installer will help ensure a proper and secure finish. 

What Happens if I Put Wall Tile on the Floor? 

While polished, high-sheen or glass tiles look stunning on walls, they are impractical for high-traffic floors.  

Because flooring tiles take much abuse, buying a tile rated too low for your application will increase the chances that the tiles will fail or cause a safety hazard. 

Wall tiles break easily. Wall tiles can crack when you walk on or place furniture on them. Even high-quality tiles will break if you exceed their ratings. 

Wall tiles may be too slippery. As a rule, the less texture a tile has, the more slippery it is, which can create hazardous conditions, particularly in areas where moisture is present such as bathrooms and mudrooms. So, in some cases, using wall tile on the floor can be a safety concern. 

A final thought about the difference between wall and floor tile. 

Beyond looking for the proper tile rating to help find the wall or floor tile best suited for your home remodeling project, remember that choosing premium materials is a must. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. And selecting a high-quality tile product along with high-grade grout and professional installation goes a long way toward creating a flawless tile finish. 

If you’re in the Cleveland area, contact Dover Home Remodelers or connect with us at the Dover Floor & Tile Center in North Olmsted. Our team is standing by, ready to help you with your next home renovation project. 

The best is yet to come, 

Beth Orr