Porcelain tiles provide an ideal surface option for flooring and walls, combining lots of practical and aesthetic benefits. They’re exceptionally hardwearing – resisting stains, scratches, moisture and frost; they don’t harbour dust, so they promote a clean, healthy environment, and they’re really easy to look after.
There are also an abundance of design options available, in an endless choice of colours, patterns and sizes, making porcelain suitable for all interior design styles and rooms, including kitchens and bathrooms.
Understanding the different types of porcelain tile
Are porcelain tiles the same as ceramics tiles?
No, they’re made in a different way and perform slightly differently.
Porcelain tiles are made from a refined mixture of white clay, sand and feldspar, which is a rock-forming mineral. The tiles are fired at really high temperatures and this creates a hard, dense finish.
Ceramic tiles are made from brown, red or white clay, so they tend to be softer, less dense and more porous.
For this reason, we tend to recommend ceramic tiles for walls and porcelain for walls and floors.
What’s the difference between a through-body and glazed tiles
Glazed tiles tend to have a colour or pattern that’s just applied to the tile face. A through-body or full-body tile has colour and design that runs through the tile, so wear and chips are much more difficult to see.
You can easily check the type by looking at the side or underneath of a tile; a glazed finish will only partially cover the edge of the tile and the bottom will be a different colour.
What are natural-effect porcelain tiles?
Natural-effect porcelain tiles replicate natural materials, like wood effect, marble and stone effect. There are also other ‘effects’ like metal, concrete and cement. Modern designs are realistic and they allow you to create the look of a natural material in areas where the real thing might not be suitable. For example, real wood isn’t always practical in bathrooms or wet rooms because it can be damaged by water, whereas wood-effects can be used in any room.
Here’s our entire range of porcelain tiles.
Choosing a tile to suit your home and lifestyle
When choosing a tile, the best starting point is to consider the practical aspects of where it’s being laid. You can then move onto aesthetics. For example, a porcelain tile with a textured, matt surface is the most practical option for a kitchen or bathroom, as opposed to a tile with a highly polished finish. It will provide better grip underfoot than a glossy surface which will be slippery. This is especially important in areas where tiles may get wet. In kitchens and other busy areas, as well as commercial spaces, durability is important too and a hardwearing ‘through-body’ porcelain tile will provide the best longevity.
Make sure your tile is future-proof
Unlike floor coverings that are rolled out onto a subfloor, like carpets and vinyl, tiles are glued and grouted into place. This makes them a much more permanent feature, so it’s worth carefully considering design options to ensure that the tile you choose is future-proof, in terms of looks and practicality. Natural effects, neutral colourways and classic patterns tend to be a safer option than bold, fashion-focused finishes.
Finding the right pattern and style
With so many different types of tile available, it can be hard to make a decision. To help narrow things down, consider what type of style you’re trying to create. Do you prefer modern, clean lines or a more rustic, country look? Do you want your tile to complement the room’s colour scheme, to provide a quiet, neutral backdrop or to create a feature in its own right? Moodboards can be very useful tools; by grouping together colours, fabrics and tiles you’ll quickly be able to see if they work well together.
Most room schemes tend to fall into one of five categories and they’re often steered by the style of property:
- Clean contemporary – this design style is modern and minimal. Colours tend to be fairly neutral. White, cream and grey tones are popular options and tile finishes tend to be more simplistic.
- Urban contemporary – this look is more industrial and masculine. Cement and concrete-effects are popular choices.
- Country rustic/elegant rustic – this style has a more natural feel. Country rustic is very wholesome and organic – cottagey and homespun – whereas elegant rustic has more of a modern country mood or a Scandi-inspired look. Wood and stone-effect tiles in neutral tones work well in these settings.
- Classic/traditional – these interiors tend to follow the style of a certain era and the look is more historic, for example, Georgian or Victorian. Mono-chrome or chequer-board floors are popular options, as are encaustic-look tiles in traditional curlicues.
- Eclectic – this look combines different styles. For example, a rustic wood-effect tile in a very contemporary, urban setting. These combinations can work well because a natural-effect tile will soften the stark lines of an industrial-style interior and create a more welcoming mood. Likewise, a bold tile may be chosen for clean, contemporary space to create a style statement. This approach can be trickier to pull off but, with careful planning and consideration, it can work incredibly well.
In addition to colour and pattern, you’ll also need to consider the tile finish. Do you prefer flat, matt or a glossy? Are you looking for a smooth or ‘honed’ finish or a tile with a texture? As mentioned earlier, the room’s use may well steer your choice, with textured, matt tiles providing a much safer option in family kitchens and bathrooms, and in patio installations.
Do porcelain tiles need to be sealed?
Porcelain tiles with a matt finish don’t need to be sealed, unlike natural stone which often needs sealing. However, polished tiles might need protection after installation. A polished tile finish is created as part of the manufacturing process. As a result, micro-pores in the surface of the porcelain are opened up. This makes the surface more susceptible to staining. Some tiles are sealed as part of this process, whilst others are left unfinished. Your tile stockist should be able to advise if further treatment is necessary and which product to use.
In any installation, protection of the grout joint is recommended, especially if you opt for a light-coloured joint. Grout can be very absorbent and a discoloured joint will compromise the look of the tile. There are also various sealants and treatments available that can help protect grout joints from stains. If your tile is being installed in a high traffic area, it’s often worth choosing a darker colour grout, rather than a crisp white, as any discolouration will be disguised.
Can porcelain tiles be installed over underfloor heating?
Yes, porcelain tiles are a great partner to underfloor heating. There are two types of underfloor heating – electrical systems, where wiring is woven into a mat-like construction, and piped water or ‘wet’ systems. Electrical systems are generally cheaper to install and more expensive to run, whereas wet systems are more disruptive to install but cheaper to run. As a result, electrical systems are often used in rooms that are being modified and wet systems are generally chosen for more extensive refurbishments. In either case, a professional installation is always recommended, to ensure the best match of tile and system; it’s essential that the subfloor is correctly prepared and that the correct installation materials are used, including flexible adhesives and grouts, and that the heating system is correctly commissioned.
Can porcelain tiles be laid outside?
Yes, porcelain tiles are ideal for patios and pathways and they can be used to create a fabulous seamless finish, from inside to outside. We always recommend a minimum tile thickness of 20mm for external installations and a textured finish – with a R11 anti-slip rating – to provide good grip underfoot.
Here’s more about the best types of tiles for outdoor use.
Here are the pros and cons of natural stone vs porcelain for outdoor use.
How to clean porcelain tiles
Porcelain tiles floor can be swept, vacuumed and cleaned with mop and bucket, as necessary, using a floor or tile detergent. It’s always best to ask your tile stockist which cleaner they recommend. Some inferior products might leave a residue or sticky film on the tile and this can make ongoing cleaning more difficult, as dirt will stick to the residue. Or, a very harsh, chemical-laden solution may damage a sealant that’s been applied to a polished tile, or the tile’s grout joint. We always recommend a gentle, pH neutral cleaner, used at the correct dilution; this will provide the best option, for a clean floor and a healthy home.
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