Ceramic tiles have graced our homes for centuries, bringing elegance and durability to our floors, walls, and other surfaces.
They’ve been used in creating stunning and functional spaces.
But when it comes to the question, “is ceramic tile waterproof?”, the answer is not as simple as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Let me take you into the fascinating world of ceramic tiles and uncover the truth.
When you are done reading this article, you will be able to decide which type of ceramic tile is the ideal choice for your project.
This post is about Is ceramic tile waterproof?
Understanding Ceramic Tiles
Ceramic tiles are born from the Earth.
In the manufacturing process they start their journey as a humble blend of natural elements like clay and sand.
These materials are finely ground and mixed with water to create a wet slurry material.
The clay is shaped into tiles, dried to remove excess moisture, and then baked in a kiln.
During the firing process due to higher temperatures, the clay becomes hardened and vitrified, turning into a solid, durable tile.
The kiln’s extreme heat makes sure that each tile is hardened and somewhat resistant to water.
Here are the different Types of Ceramic Tiles and Their Properties
Glazed Ceramic Tiles: These tiles have a layer of glaze on the surface that can be colored or designed in a variety of ways.
They are water and stain-resistant.
Unglazed Ceramic Tiles (Quarry Tile): These tiles are not coated with glaze, leaving the natural color and texture of the clay.
They are less stain-resistant but have better traction.
Made from a specific type of clay, terracotta tiles have a distinctive reddish-brown color.
They are less durable but have a unique, rustic aesthetic.
Porcelain Tiles: As a type of ceramic tile, porcelain tiles are denser and more durable than traditional ceramic tiles.
They are fired at high temperatures and subjected to higher pressures.
They can be either glazed or unglazed. They are the most water resistant.
Is Ceramic Tile Waterproof?
While ceramic tiles offer a degree of water resistance due to the kiln firing process, they are not entirely waterproof.
This is primarily due to their porous nature, which I will dive into in the next section.
Waterproof or Water-Resistant: The Key Differences
When we use the term ‘waterproof’, we’re referring to a material’s ability to completely resist water penetration.
In the world of tiling, this term is often used interchangeably with ‘water-resistant’.
But, it’s important to know this important difference.
Water resistant tiles resist water to some degree, but they’re not 100% resistant.
On the other hand, waterproof tiles can handle a high amount of moisture without getting damaged.
For a tile to be truly waterproof, it should be able to be submerged in water indefinitely without any change in its properties.
Now, is ceramic tile waterproof in this sense?
Not quite. While ceramic tiles do offer a high degree of water resistance, their porous nature means they can absorb water over time.
Ceramic Tile Porosity and Waterproof Quality
Ceramic tiles are porous due to their clay construction.
What does this mean?
If you were to take a close look at a ceramic tile under a microscope, you’d see lots of tiny holes.
These holes, or pores, are the result of air and water that are trapped within the clay during the tile’s creation.
When the tile is fired in the kiln, these tiny pockets of air and water are burned away, leaving behind the pores.
These pores can absorb water, which can lead to damage over time if the tile is exposed to a lot of moisture or is not properly sealed.
Therefore, while ceramic tiles can handle occasional splashes and even moderate moisture levels, they’re not entirely waterproof.
Water Absorption Rate in different types of Tiles
Water absorption is a critical factor for tiles, particularly if they are to be used in wet environments like bathrooms, kitchens, or outdoors.
The absorption rate is a measure of the amount of water a tile can absorb and is expressed as a percentage of the tile’s weight.
Let’s talk about different types of tiles.
Non-vitreous Tiles: These tiles absorb 7% or more of their weight in water.
They’re not suitable for high-moisture environments.
Semi-vitreous Tiles: These absorb between 3% and 7% of their weight in water.
Vitreous Tiles: These tiles absorb between 0.5% and 3% of their weight in water.
These tiles, which include most porcelain tiles, absorb less than 0.5% of their weight in water.
They’re the most waterproof tiles available for wet areas like bathroom floors or shower walls.
Density plays a significant role in a tile’s ability to resist water.
The more the density of the tile is, the less porous it is, and therefore, the less water it can absorb.
This is why porcelain tiles, which are pressed under high pressure during manufacturing are much denser.
Therefore porcelain tile flooring is more water-resistant than standard ceramic tiles.
The installation process also impacts the tile’s waterproofness.
Even if the ceramic tile itself is highly water-resistant,
if proper installation is not done or there is a lack of a proper sealant,
this can result in water seeping through the cracks or edges, leading to potential water damage or moisture issues.
While ceramic tiles are not 100% waterproof, they offer a high degree of water resistance that can be enhanced with the right type of tile, proper glazing, and correct installation.
Ceramic Tiles in Different Spaces
You can use ceramic tiles for both wet and dry areas.
For shower surrounds and shower floors, you should choose vitreous or impervious (highly resistant) tiles.
The perfect choice would be glazed ceramic tiles or porcelain tiles.
They have a low water absorption rate, which means they’re less likely to allow water to seep through and cause damage.
For shower floors and other surfaces where slipping might be a concern, consider ceramic tiles with a textured or matte finish to provide extra grip.
Small mosaic tiles are also a popular choice for shower floors because the additional grout lines offer more slip resistance.
High Temperatures and Exterior Walls
For exterior walls, porcelain tiles are often recommended due to their low water absorption rate and superior durability.
They are more resistant to frost and extreme temperatures than standard ceramic tiles.
Water-Resistant Features in Ceramic Tiles
How Ceramic Tiles Offer Resistance to Water and Water Vapor
Ceramic tiles are made of clay, which is naturally water-resistant.
However, the degree of water resistance in ceramic tiles is much more enhanced by the glazing process.
In the glazing process, a layer of liquid glass is applied to the surface of the tile before it’s fired in a kiln.
This glaze provides an impervious (or resistant) barrier against water and water vapor, preventing them from penetrating the tile’s surface.
Role of Waterproof Grout and Thin-Set Mortar in Making Tiles Water-Resistant
While ceramic floor tiles themselves are resistant to water, the materials used to install them also play an important role in the overall water resistance of the tiled surface.
- Waterproof Grout: Grout fills the gaps between tiles, so it’s essential for it to be waterproof to prevent water from seeping underneath the tiles. If water seeps in, it can lead to mold growth and structural damage. Epoxy grout is a popular waterproof option.
- Thin-Set Mortar: This adhesive bonds the tiles to the floor or wall. Waterproof or moisture-resistant thin-set helps make sure that the area beneath the tiles doesn’t become a place where moisture can get trapped to cause mold.
The Truth About Ceramic Tiles and Capillary Action
Capillary action is the ability of a liquid to flow in narrow spaces without the assistance of, or even in opposition to, external forces like gravity.
This can happen in porous materials, such as unglazed ceramic tiles.
While glazed ceramic tiles are water-resistant, unglazed tiles can absorb water through capillary action due to their porosity.
This is why unglazed ceramic tiles are not recommended for areas exposed to a lot of moisture.
They can absorb water, leading to possible discoloration, staining, or even structural damage over time.
Waterproofing Ceramic Tiles: How and Why
Even though ceramic tiles aren’t naturally waterproof, there are methods to increase their resistance to water.
This section will guide you through the process and explain why it’s crucial to waterproof your ceramic tiles.
How to Make Ceramic Tiles More Waterproof
First and foremost, if you want your ceramic tiles to be more waterproof, consider opting for glazed tiles or porcelain tiles, as discussed above.
Besides selecting the right type of tile, there are options to make the tiles more water resistant.
Sheet membranes and backer boards are often used as part of the tile installation process to further enhance the waterproofing of ceramic tiles.
Sheet Membranes: The sheet membrane is thin layer of waterproof material that can be installed directly onto the surface that’s to be tiled (such as a floor or a wall).
They provide a fully waterproof barrier that protects underlying structures from water damage, particularly in wet areas like showers and bathrooms.
Backer Board: Backer boards, often made from cement, are used as a stable and water-resistant underlayment for tiles.
Using Liquid-Applied Membrane and Waterproof Materials
Liquid-applied membranes are another effective option for waterproofing ceramic tiles.
They’re rolled or sprayed onto the surface, creating a continuous, seamless waterproof surfaces once dry.
This waterproof membrane is highly flexible and can cover corners and around fixtures to create a comprehensive waterproof barrier.
Additionally, using waterproof materials such as waterproof adhesives, grouts, and sealants is a great choice.
They can increase the water resistance of the tile installation.
For example, silicone sealant can be applied around the edges of tiled areas or around fixtures to prevent water seeping in.
They resist moisture and don’t expand or contract, providing a sturdy base for tile installation and contributing to the overall water resistance of the installation.
shower pan liner: A shower pan liner, also known as a shower tray or base, is a waterproof barrier installed beneath the shower floor to catch and direct water that seeps through the tile and grout.
It guides the water towards the drain.
Its primary role is to prevent water from leaking into the underlying structure and causing damage, such as rot or mold growth.
Seal the Tiles: Using a penetrating sealer is a great way to enhance the waterproof qualities of your tiles.
This sealer seeps into the pores of the tiles, making them more water resistant.
Seal the Grout: Grout is a porous material and can absorb water if left unsealed, leading to potential water damage and mold growth. in moisture-prone areas.
A grout sealer can prevent water absorption and enhance the overall waterproofing of your tiled surface.
Make sure the tiles are installed correctly, with no gaps or cracks where water could seep in.
An experienced professional can ensure a proper installation.
They’ll also ensure that grout lines are properly sealed and that tiles are installed with minimal gaps to prevent water penetration.
Ceramic Tiles in 2023 – New Innovations and Standards
Over the years, technological advancements and increased sustainability focus have influenced the manufacturing and installation processes of ceramic tiles.
In 2023, manufacturing has become more environmentally friendly with the use of recycled materials and energy-efficient methods.
New Standards for Tile Ratings, Introduced by Institutions like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
The Significance of PEI Ratings in 2023
The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) rating remains an important guide for consumers in 2023, indicating the durability of a tile and its suitability for various uses. It’s a scale is from I to V, where:
- PEI I is suitable for light traffic, such as bathrooms or bedrooms.
- PEI II is suitable for moderate traffic, like living rooms or dining rooms.
- PEI III is suitable for moderate to heavy traffic, including kitchens and entryways.
- PEI IV can handle heavy traffic and is suitable for commercial applications.
- PEI V is suitable for heavy to extra heavy traffic, such as commercial space or subway stations.
The PEI rating helps customers choose the right tile for their specific application, ensuring that the tile can withstand the expected amount of foot traffic and wear.
Are all ceramic tiles water-resistant?
Not all ceramic tiles are equally water-resistant. The water resistance varies based on the quality of the tiles and the glaze applied.
Can I use ceramic tiles in my bathroom?
Yes, you can use ceramic tiles in bathrooms. They are quite resistant to water, making them suitable for areas prone to moisture.
Do I need to seal ceramic tiles?
The ceramic tiles themselves do not typically need to be sealed, but the grout lines between the tiles do.
What happens if water gets under ceramic tiles?
If water seeps beneath the tiles, it can cause damage to the adhesive, potentially loosening the tiles or fostering mildew growth.
Are porcelain or ceramic tiles more water-resistant?
Porcelain tiles are more water resistant, due to their lower porosity, are generally more water-resistant than regular ceramic tiles.
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