Tile 101: Floor Versus Wall Tile

April 15, 2017


How do you keep your favorite tiles looking fresh and beautiful year after year? You start with the right kind of tile. Not every tile is fitting for every surface, so ensuring the ones you choose are made specifically for their purpose on either walls or floors is an important first step. While there is crossover—almost all floor tile can be used on walls— the reverse isn’t true. Using wall tile on your floors? Bonkers. And it’s worth noting that like most things, quality reveals itself over time. Always. Choose. Premium. Surfaces.

To demystify the differences between floor and wall tile, we’ve enlisted the help of our product and design teams. In exchange for our most frequently asked questions, our tile experts served up the basics, along with some product insights and design trends. If your dream space includes tile, get comfy and read through our Q&A. We can’t promise that all of your tile installations will be a walk in the park, but at the least, you’ll be well-informed and updated on the latest styles.


Question: If you’re in one of our showrooms, perusing our site, or working with a designer, you’ll get a clear sense of which tile to use where. But what if you’re on your own? 

Answer: Porcelain and ceramic manufacturers often categorize wall and floor tile on their packaging with two ratings to help you clarify their application. Look for COF or Coefficient of Friction and PEI, Porcelain Enamel Institute ratings. COF determines whether a surface is safe to walk on (Wet DCOF > 0.42 is considered safe under wet surfacing conditions); and PEI tests strength and durability of the glaze as well as the strength of the tile, with a five-class rating system that ranges from 1 (walls only, no foot traffic) to 5 (heavy foot traffic). 


Question:  So if a surface is sleek, the DCOF is less than 0.42, and the PEI is 1 or 2, it’s better suited as a wall tile?

Answer: That’s correct. That’s why polished tiles are not typically recommended for high traffic zones. Materials like Glass tile may look stunning on the wall, but for high-traffic floors, they’re impractical. As a rule, the less texture a tile has, the more slippery it is. Most manufacturers suggest a P.E.I rating of 3, 4, or 5 for residential floor tiles, and 4 or 5 for commercial zones. Most wall tiles have a PEI rating of 1 or 2. 


msi-antoni-nero-porcelain-wood-tile-laundry-room-minAntoni Nero Porcelain Wood Tile

Question: Are there telltale visual cues that separate wall and floor tiles?

Answer: 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 it’s wet, which is why wall tile is not recommended underfoot.


Question: If you had to pick one popular trend that stands out in 2017 for both wall and floor tile, what would that be?

Answer: More and more residential and commercial designers are choosing the high-end look of large-format floor tiles (especially porcelain) and then bringing them up the walls. When one design is used on both surfaces, it has a way of dramatically increasing the impact of a space. Plus, because there are fewer grout lines in large-format tile installations, it creates a cleaner look that people are drawn to.

msi-bianco-dolomite-geometrica-tile-bathroom-minBianco Dolomite Geometrica Tile

Question:  Any considerations homeowners should be aware of when opting for large-format wall tile?

Answer: By industry terms, a tile is considered large-format when one side is longer than 15”. When using these oversized tiles on walls, they require different installation materials like specially formulated mortar to set properly. We recommend following the instructions carefully. For wet zones like shower surrounds, we like porcelain, ceramic, glass, and natural stone. Beyond those considerations, it’s just a matter of style preference.


Question: Do wall and floor tile have different glazing? 

Answer: Either a floor tile is manufactured with a glaze or it must be designed to naturally absorb a glaze to make it waterproof. The majority of our ceramic and Porcelain Wall Tile is glazed with a variety of finishes like matte or semi-gloss. Our Natural Stone finishes include tumbled, honed, beveled, and polished.


Question:  What’s one of the biggest differences style-wise between wall and floor tile? 

Answer: Wall-walking isn’t a thing (that we know of) so wall tiles can have uneven surfaces. They can also be more ornamental. There’s a wider range of materials (Metal, Glass, Stacked Stone, etc.) at play with wall tiles which helps to dial up the creativity. However, there have been many innovations and technological breakthroughs in the last few years that inspired unique floor tile designs – including porcelain and ceramic textile-inspired styles and wood looks. The popularity of natural stone floor tiles like Granite, Marble, and Travertine are also on the upswing.


Question:  What would you say to a homeowner who is interested in using a floor and wall tile collection that can be used indoors and out?

Answer: We just launched Livingstyle Porcelain, a new a seamless concept floor tile designed for the terrace and throughout your home. It can also be used on walls. It’s an ultra-durable large-format line—complete with lawn pavers—with a European limestone look. It’s ideal for softening the lines between your interior and exterior spaces. 

msi-soreno-taupe-porcelain-tile-patio-flooring-minSoreno Taupe Porcelain Tile

Question:  Any other floor and wall trends that our readers might find interesting?

Answer: Our design team just released their 2017 Top Five Trends Lookbook. From stacked stone feature walls and backsplashes to tiles that look like reclaimed barn wood, brick, and cement, walls and floors have never looked more stunning. The lookbook is packed with great design tips as well.

We hope this Q&A has been informative and inspirational! Have any questions that you’d like to ask our design team or product experts? Ask away, we’d love to hear from you.

Explore all we offer in tile by chatting with us online, visiting one of our many MSI showrooms nationwide, or contacting an authorized MSI retailer near you.

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