When it’s time to go shopping for the tile you will install in your home, you may encounter the terms floor tile and wall tile referring to various selections. You may also find that there is some ambiguity; floor tile can be installed on the walls, for example, and often has bullnose trim and other pieces to facilitate this. The different between the two tiles is often in how they are made, as well as how they will hold up over time in the two applications.
Tiles labeled for wall use cannot be used on the floor except in very rare cases as accents in low to no-traffic areas like a fireplace hearth. They may be certified for use on countertops as well, although not always.
Ceramic tiles produced for wall use are often known as monocontura. This means that they have been fired once. The tiles are usually made of wet clay that has dried and been glazed before being fired. This makes the tile hard, but brittle and unlikely to withstand the pressure that floor tiles need to handle.
Tiles that have been given a very high-gloss glaze are at risk of the finish crazing, or cracking regardless of where they are installed. These cracks in the glaze could make the tiles susceptible to stains and chips if used underfoot. These high-gloss glazes are also very slippery when wet, which is why most floor-rated tiles have a matte finish.
There are many different materials that could be used for floor tile, stone, porcelain, ceramic, or metal. Tile is often rated for its hardness and durability on a scale of 1 – 5. A tile with a rating of 2 or 3 should be used only in low-traffic, residential settings such as a bathroom floor. Tiles with a rating of 4 or 5 can be installed in high traffic or commercial settings because they are so dense and durable they will not crack, chip, or scratch even under heavy use. Any tile with a rating of 1 is reserved solely for wall use, and should not be installed on the floor.