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Kitchen Tiles: Tiles for your kitchen wall, floor and backsplash

Updated on May 30, 2013

Kitchen tile ideas to inspire you

An overview of how to use ceramic, glass and stone tiles in the kitchen: on the walls, on the floor, and especially as backsplashes.

Tile can be a great wall surface in the kitchen - or an ongoing annoyance, depending on the choices made in planning and installing.

Two important questions to ask in the planning stage are: where do I want to install tile on my kitchen walls, and why?

Intro photo by kevinw1.

Striped kitchen wall tile - photo kevinw1
Striped kitchen wall tile - photo kevinw1

Kitchen Wall Tiles

The most common place to install wall tile in the kitchen is on the backsplash, especially behind the sink and the cooktop. The reasons are to protect the wall from water, food splashes and grease, and to make the wall easier to clean. Some kitchens use tile on the walls more extensively, perhaps as a wainscot (floor to chair-rail level) or even all the way up the wall.

Almost any tile will do a decent job of protecting the wall if it's installed correctly. A kitchen wall is not like a bathroom shower surround where water is being sprayed on it continuously and frequently. The easy cleaning rationale is another story, though.

What makes tile easy to clean? Mainly, it's the smooth, non-porous surface which water, grease and food splashes can't soak in to, stick to or stain. To get the full benefit of easy cleaning it's important to use tile which really is smooth and non-porous. Unfortunately fashions in tile often lead us astray from this ideal:

  • tiny mosaic tile with acres of grout lines to catch dirt and need resealing regularly.
  • textured tile with raised designs to catch dirt and take longer to clean.
  • tumbled stone tile with rough surfaces and edges, and wide grout lines, to - you guessed it - catch dirt and be almost impossible to clean.

It's your call whether in your own kitchen you want to trade less ease in cleaning for more beauty or fashion - but it's important to make an informed choice. Try to talk to someone who has the tile you plan to install, in a similar location to where you plan to install it, who cooks about the same amount as you do, and ask them how easy they find it to live with before you invest the time and money.

This is critically important if you plan to install a tiled feature wall behind the cooktop as, especially with gas burners, food and grease will get deposited there no matter how careful you are and it will need to be cleaned regularly.

A tile wainscot has rather different wear and cleaning requirements from a backsplash. You are less likely to run into problems with grease and food splatters, but much more likely to have to deal with dings and bangs. For this reason, tile here needs to be stronger and to be really solidly installed. Where on a backsplash you can get away with installing tile directly on drywall, if your tile wainscot is going to be banged by chairs or flying toddlers on tricycles, you'll need a stronger, more rigid backing such as cement backerboard or plywood. Even 2 layers of regular drywall will give a stronger, more solid backing.

Read on for more talk about kitchen floor tiles, below...

Kitchen Floor Tiles

A tiled kitchen floor is a thing of beauty or a pain in the feet, depending on your point of view.

First of all, there are certain requirements which need to be met in order to successfully tile a floor.

  1. The floor structure itself must be suitable. That means strong, level, dry, and non-flexing. If it bounces when you walk on it, your tile will crack. If it's damp, the tile will lift up or not stick at all. Make sure those items are checked off before you even think about installing tile.
  2. The tile you choose must be suitable for floors. Much tile available is manufactured for use on walls and is not strong or wear-resistant enough for floor use.

Given those two factors, tile floors have their pros and cons:

* Water-resistant (if installed properly)

* Easy to clean (except that the grout lines catch dirt)

* Cool to the touch (great if you're in a warm climate)

* Excellent for in-floor radiant heating systems (great if you're in a cold climate!)

* Hard, so dropped glasses and dishes will break

* Feet and legs will get tired and sore (my partner's niece has a lovely stone tile floor, but working in their kitchen is a penance, it's so hard on the feet!)

Tile is one of the most flexible materials you can use from a design point of view. You can do anything from a field of plain squares to a multi-colored, multi-shaped, multi-bordered extravaganza. Design choices can make an area seem larger or smaller, direct the eye to a focal point, mark off areas for different uses, soothe you or wake you up.

Shiny brown tile backsplash from sxc.hu
Shiny brown tile backsplash from sxc.hu

Kitchen Backsplashes - Tile Ideas

A kitchen tile backsplash has been a classic from Victorian days. I've talked about practicality in the section above on kitchen wall tile, so let's just say here that the smoother your tile and the fewer grout lines you have, the easier it will be to clean.

Tile from the 1970s showing just how well it can wear. This installation has probably been re-grouted at some point, and the tile design is dated, but it's still in fine shape and if you enjoy the color would still be worth keeping.

Another older installation showing some discoloration in the grout - but it hardly shows against the pattern and color of the tiles.

An all-white mosaic tile backsplash. If I was going to maintain a mosaic, myself I would want one with more color and pattern to make it worthwhile. If it's going to be plain white, I'd go for bigger tiles.

Kitchen Tile style books

For ideas and inspiration

The best book ever on laying tile

Setting Tile: Revised and Updated (Fine Homebuilding)
Setting Tile: Revised and Updated (Fine Homebuilding)

Of the many I have read in the process of researching my own tile projects, this is THE best book on actually laying tile.

There are no pretty pictures to give you ideas, but there is page after page of detailed, specific information on exactly how to go about a tiling project, whether wall or floor, wet or dry, heavy or light use - it's all here from the all-important substrate the tile is attached to, to the final grout and sealer.

If you plan to do your own tiling, it's a must-have: if you don't, then you need this book so you know whether your tile guy is doing a high quality job or one that will fail long before it should.

 

Tile How-to books

The nitty-gritty of how to install tile

If you've got questions about kitchen tiles, ask them here and I'll do my best to find the answer for you.

Questions about Kitchen Tiles

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    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      My countertop is 1/4 inch out of level from one end to another and I am unsure about how to start? I will have a Grout line from 3/8 to 1/8 from one end to another.between the first course and the countertop.Would this look okay or should I start differently?

    • Kevin Wilson 2 profile image
      Author

      Kevin Wilson 2 7 years ago

      [in reply to joe] I can think of three ways of dealing with this, but there may be more.

      1. Shim up the counter so it is level. If the counter is screwed to the cabinets from underneath, you may be able to loosen the screws and insert wedges to level the countertop.

      2. Do what the books say - make the bottom row of tiles not a full tile high, so all the tiles in the row are cut, and the slight diagonal caused by the out-of-level counter is much less noticeable.

      3. Accept the variable gap. It will be less obvious if you have a long counter than if you have a short one, and if you're using grout color that blends with the tiles rather than contrasting. You could try taping up a row of tiles in position, and seeing how much the gap bothers you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Can you use the same tile on your kitchen wall as on your kitchen floor?

    • Kevin Wilson 2 profile image
      Author

      Kevin Wilson 2 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Yes you can, though if the floor tile is especially thick, you may have to be especially careful about holding it up on the wall while it dries.

      The other way round doesn't work, though - you can't use wall tile on the floor, it won't hold up under the wear.

    • profile image

      rmstouffer 6 years ago

      It's important that you have the tile installed before you go ahead and install kitchen cabinets. This will make the cabinet installation much easier and there won't be a chance of grout cracking out from around the base of the cabinets.

    • profile image

      DSVentures 5 years ago

      I agree with @rmstouffer tile the floors before cabinets go in! I am also partial to a natural stone for back-splashes

    • ceramictiles profile image

      ceramictiles 5 years ago

      Tiled backsplashes are a great feature to have around the sink if you have wallpaper so as not to damage the wallpaper. Some nice designs featured in this lens.

    • profile image

      inhousefinancing 5 years ago

      My brother is currently using natural stone backsplash behind the stove, marble counter area and sink. It is work but the finished product is second to none. Great lens.

    • profile image

      mytilebacksplash 5 years ago

      I think it is just amazing the selection of tiles available!

    • johnncrick profile image

      johnncrick 5 years ago

      Nice tiles.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Nice lens. Thanks.

    • profile image

      BestLaminateInc1 5 years ago

      I love the mosaics. It's nice to see more design in the kitchen.

    • Katie McGraw profile image

      Katie McGraw 5 years ago

      Very cool Lens! I haven't ever seen a lot of kitchen wall tiles, but they sure do add a little pizzazz to the kitchen area.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I want to do a tile backsplash behind my kitchen sink. Do I have to tile the countertop to so it will be flush?

    • Kevin Wilson 2 profile image
      Author

      Kevin Wilson 2 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi Teresa, may people have a tiled backsplash with a counter of a different material, so they certainly don't have to match. I'm not sure what you mean by them being flush, though.

    • profile image

      umbrella-bagger 3 years ago

      Very nice. I especially like the picture of the red tiles on the wall behind the kitchen sink. Very classy.

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