All tile feels hard, but some types of tile are actually harder than others. Tile is rated by a series of standardized tests. The tests evaluate a tile's relative hardness (the Mohs scale), its ability to stand up to wear and the percentage of water absorbed.
The Porcelain Enamel Institute hardness ratings are:
- Group I Light Traffic: Residential bathroom floors where bare or stockinged feet are the norm
- Group II Medium Traffic: Home interiors where little abrasion occurs. Don't use in kitchens or entries
- Group III Medium-Heavy Traffic: Any home interior
- Group IV Heavy Traffic: Homes or light-to-medium commercial areas
- Group V Extra-Heavy Traffic: Use it anywhere
These ratings are important, but don't get too bogged down in analysis. They serve to help you find the right tile for your application.
Brick tiles are a good floor choice for informal or rustic décor.
Available in several earth tones, brick tiles should be treated with a stain-resistant sealer. Floor brick is normally used in outdoor settings (such as patios) and can be arranged in interesting geometric patterns.
Cement-bodied tiles are poured into molds, then fired or dried naturally. Color may be added. Sealing is required after installation for moisture and stain resistance.
Ceramic tile is made from clay or other minerals. The extruded material is shaped and heat-treated (fired) in a kiln. Clay tiles are then further treated in one of two ways:
- Glazed color is added to the tile after firing. The glasslike surface is bonded to the tile. Glazing allows brighter colors to be used and adds stain resistance. Because of their slick, glassy surface, glazed tiles are used mostly on walls or countertops. Glazed tile offers more color choices than unglazed.
- Unglazed tiles are also called quarry tiles. The pigment or natural color is present during firing and is part of the tile itself.
- Unglazed tile needs sealing for stain resistance.
Porcelain or ceramic mosaic tiles are 2 inches a square or smaller.
They can be installed individually or can be found premounted on mesh or paper sheets. Mosaics may be glazed or unglazed.
Pavers resemble brick but are thinner. Shale-based pavers are used for patios as well as interior floors. Like quarry tile, pavers need sealing for moisture and stain-proofing
The material is fired at a high temperature, making a dense tile. The density makes porcelain tile more resistant to moisture.
Quarry tile is unglazed and requires sealing in wet areas. Clay-based quarry tile is used extensively in commercial settings. Because it's a durable and relatively inexpensive material, it's becoming more acceptable in homes. The predominant colors are earth shades of red and orange.
Saltillo, or Mexican tile, is air-dried rather than kiln-dried. Drying outdoors in the sun makes this tile a little softer and less durable.
The exposure to the elements also gives the tile a look that's unique.
When used indoors, a sealer is required.
Terra cotta is the same material in construction and appearance as clay garden pots. These tiles are absorbent and need to be treated for indoor use.
Stone or marble chips embedded in cement make up a terrazzo floor. The polished surface makes a durable floor material.