Choosing bathroom tile can be stressful because tile plays a starring role in your bathroom. It can create a mood or express your personality—or both.
As a designer, I know people get overwhelmed when it comes to picking bathroom tiles. After all, there are so many things to consider: color, pattern, finish, size, shape, material, running bond, stacked, basket weave. Grout?!
Be sure to download The Bathtubber’s Official Bathroom Tile Calculator. Once you download it, enter your tile ideas as you walk through the steps below, and I promise it will make your bathroom tile project so much easier! Simply fill out this form and we’ll send it to you for free:
Ready to get started? I’ll walk you through the process step-by-step, so you don’t need to worry.
1. Calculate Your Bathroom Tile Budget
When choosing bathroom tile, you should always start with your budget or at least a range. This will help keep your fantasies in check as you go through the rest of the process. After all, you could fork over a fortune on just one piece of exquisite subway tile if you’re not careful!
Setting a budget helps you set parameters for the overall project. Now if you stray, you’ll have a flashing red warning light in your head. And if you choose to ignore that warning light, well…you may have an even more beautiful bathroom. But at what cost?
Once you’ve decided how much you can spend, your next step is to find out the total square footage you want to cover with tile.
2. Determine How Much Tile You Need
To assess how much tile you’ll need, first decide how much of the floor and wall surface you want to cover with tile. Start with your floor, and then consider the shower or tub walls.
Tile for the Floor
Tile is a must on your floor. (Please, promise me you won’t put carpet on your bathroom floor. That’s just gross.) Find the total square footage of the footprint of your bathroom floor and know that you must have at least this much tile.
Next, think about the shower and tub surround. You’ll definitely want tile in the shower. Decide how far up the wall you want the tile to go. It should definitely go 12 inches or more above the top of the showerhead.
Tile for the Shower
There are lots of bathroom shower tile ideas. Extending the tile all the way to the ceiling is your best bet, and can make your shower alcove feel taller, but it’s not required. Tile should surround the shower alcove entirely (up to your chosen height) – anywhere there is not a shower door or curtain.
After you’ve covered these surfaces, the rest is gravy.
Tile for the Tub Surround
If you have a bathtub that’s separate from your shower, this is the next place to consider adding tile. If you have a freestanding tub, the height of the surround depends somewhat on the height of your tub. At least 48” from your floor is a good place to start. If your tub sits next to the wall, the tile functions as a backsplash and should extend at least 12” up the wall from the edge of the tub.
Another thing to consider when determining your square footage is a tiled backsplash for your vanity. I love using an accent tile here.
How about a wainscot? Not solely decorative because it provides a water-resistant, easily-cleanable surface around tub, sink, and toilet.
You could even get a little crazy and tile all the way up the wall! Floor to ceiling tile in a bathroom lends a very spa-like vibe that I love.
If you’re not sure whether to tile around a freestanding tub, read this post to get all of your questions answered.
3. Choose a Bathroom Tile Material
Next choose the bathroom tile material you would like to use. Each type has pros and cons. Remember that you can choose to use more than one style of tile. If you select multiple colors and shapes, they do not all have to be the same material.
When choosing tile, consider these popular materials:
Ceramic is your least expensive bathroom tile option and can look fantastic when installation is done well. If you’re working with a limited budget and want a bathroom with a “Wow!” factor, try a simple neutral or white ceramic square tile. Use it to cover your vast spaces, then pick a beautiful accent tile for a vanity backsplash.
I love glass tile in the bathroom! Artists and tile designers have done amazing things with glass tile. Glass is generally my go-to for accent tiles, because its so beautiful and a great vehicle for clients to express their personality.
Go shopping for glass tile! It’s so much fun! Online works but if you go to see it in person, you’ll get a much more accurate understanding of the nuance, subtlety, and shine. You’ll likely be using your glass tile in a shower niche or on a vanity wall, maybe for an accent stripe or shape.
As much as you’re gonna love it, its best not to overdo it—too much of a good thing and all. Keep in mind that glass is generally too slippery and not durable enough for a floor covering.
Porcelain is more expensive than glass or ceramic. Despite the expense, porcelain is a popular choice because of its durability and dense composition. Also, the color is not just glazed on the top. Instead, it extends through the entire tile.
For these reasons if porcelain tile gets chipped it’s no big deal—the color of the material is the same all the way through, and it will continue to be moisture-resistant. If you never want to retile your bathroom, again you don’t have to because porcelain lasts forever!
I always love bringing nature inside a bathroom. Stone is beautiful and, like a plant or a fountain, instantly makes your space feel soothing. Natural stone, though, is at the expensive end of the bathroom tile options. It costs more than some tile, but there’s nothing like it.
Keep in mind that natural stone, which includes marble, is a little more high-maintenance than other choices. It has to be sealed, will show scratches and stains, and is more likely to crack.
Quartz Countertop Material
Quartz is a manufactured product that is often used for countertops. While it can be expensive, quartz is a great alternative to tile. It’s non-porous, moisture-resistant, easy-to-clean, and it’s installed without grout lines. Quartz comes in many colors and textures and can enhance a bathroom style that seeks clean lines.
In my recent bathroom renovation, I used Silestone on part of my shower. I adore it! I used the same color and style on my shower and my vanity, which helps to visually pull the room together.
Quartz is also a good choice for a backsplash but not an appropriate choice for a bathroom floor covering. (For much more about why quartz is such a great bathroom material, read this post.)
4. Fall in Love with an Accent Tile
If your budget allows for an accent tile, I suggest you find a tile that you fall hopelessly in love with, and design your bathroom around, that tile.
If you don’t think your budget allows for accent tile, take another look. Even though accent tiles can be expensive, they don’t have to cover a lot of your bathroom surface. A stripe of glass tile adds so much personality. A shower cove of marble tile can quickly elevate an otherwise thrifty wall. Even a ceramic tile in an unexpected color can add interest.
If you don’t find an accent tile that fits your budget, take a little more time. There are definitely swoon-worthy accent tiles that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
This is your first step in your tile shopping process, to guide you I offer you this sound advice from Savana Schroeder, President of Schroeder in Austin, Texas:
“Try to select tiles that aren’t super trendy. If they are too trendy, the bathroom will become dated quickly. Also, do not select tile with resale in mind. Select for yourself and your design dreams.”
5. Home in on a Color Scheme
Tile comes in every possible color. That’s why choosing a bathroom tile color can be paralyzing.
I say start with your accent tile. Find the accent tile you love, then build your color design from there.
The tiles that make up the body of your bathroom, the wall and floor coverings, are best in white or neutrals. This is especially true when you want your accent tile to be the star of the bathroom show.
If whites or neutrals sounds boring to you consider that there are lots of really pretty textures available in those whites and neutrals. I’ve grown to like the textures that evoke subtle wood, grain or aged concrete.
Also, keep in mind that dark tile on your floor will often look like it needs a mop. If you’ve already got a tiny bathroom, you’ll probably want to avoid dark colors. That’s because dark colors on the walls will be dreary and make your bathroom look even smaller. (Of course if “dreary” reads “mysterious” to you—or you feel like your bathroom feels too cavernous to feel cozy—darker tile can work to your advantage).
6. Select Bathroom Tile for Your Floor
Now that you’ve chosen a color and material, it should be easier to hone in on a particular tile for the floor. I suggest using a larger tile on your main floor. This will minimize grout lines, which are harder to keep clean than the tiles themselves.
You can pick a tile that’s not necessarily designed for the floor, but make sure to do a slip test: wet it down and move your bare foot across the surface. Would you fall?
In the shower, you’ll likely require a smaller format or mosaic tile to facilitate proper drainage. There are lots of large format floor tiles that come in smaller format sizes. This is helpful if you want the color of your floor to continue into your shower area.
You can also use an entirely different color in your shower area.
Or play with shape, too.
Maybe even switch up the material. I love penny tile on a shower floor.
7. Choose the Main Tile for Your Walls
Truly, a bazillion options to choose from for bathroom tile on the walls. But fortunately you have already picked an accent tile you love. You’ve also got a color scheme and material selected. You may ask at this point, “Should bathroom floor and wall tiles match?” They can, but they certainly don’t have to.
This is a good place to pause and look carefully at your budget, since you’ll likely cover a lot of square footage.
With your accent tile and your budget in hand, search for a neutral backdrop for your accent tile, bathtub, fixtures, and cabinets.
“Neutral” bathroom tiles on the walls does not have to mean boring or uninteresting. In fact, it should not mean that. This is the tile that will cover most of your bathroom. Make sure it speaks to you.
If “neutral backdrop” rings hollow to you, don’t despair. If you want to use a statement tile to cover your bathroom walls, it can totally work. Know that it will visually create a lot of energy. Make sure you want that kind of energy in your bathroom—it’s not likely to be soothing. And be clear that you know you want it for the long haul, because tile is a bit more permanent than paint.
8. Select Tile Shape and Size to Determine the Overall Look
The shape and size of the tile you choose are important. Even if you choose a traditional shape—a square or rectangle—you have many options in proportion and dimension.
The look you get using a large rectangular bathroom wall tile is very different from the look you get using a small rectangular bathroom wall tile.
When choosing bathroom tile shapes, keep in mind what tile consultant Savana Schroeder suggests. She says:
“Try to avoid being a little too conservative. I see a lot of 3×6 white subway tile and while it is a classic there are so many other interpretations of it that are more up to date – 4x12s, 4x8s, etc.”
And if you don’t necessarily want a rectilinear tile, your options are astounding.
Be aware that often when you use a non-traditional shape, the shape itself determines the layout.
Here are some other tile shapes to consider:
9. Find Your Favorite Layout
If you’ve picked a traditional tile shape—squares or rectangles—you have lots of options for layout pattern. Here are some options:
Like a brick pattern, Running Bond is a tried and true pattern. It looks especially great with a rectangular shape, such as subway tile or large format 12” X 24” tile.
And don’t think you have to run your rectangular tile parallel to the floor. Perpendicular running bond is an unexpected choice that can make your walls look taller. Running Bond is an appropriate pattern for both walls and floors.
This is another option to consider when choosing bathroom tile and is exactly what you would expect: tiles are stacked on top of each other in perpendicular lines. It’s a very distinct look!
Generally, the Stacked look will feel less busy than Running Bond because the grout lines are uninterrupted, straight lines. But, as if by sleight of hand, it can look busier, too! It depends on the size and shape of tile, along with the thickness and color of grout. Keep this in mind when you make your choices.
Installing tile at a diagonal is not a decision to make lightly. It is true that installing otherwise dull tile at a diagonal will add visual interest. However, exercise caution if you’re considering using a tile that already provides visual interest. Installed at a diagonal, it may be too much.
You may hear that installing tile at a diagonal can make a small bathroom look bigger. This is one of those “yes, but” bits of conventional wisdom. It may indeed make your bathroom look bigger, but be careful. Diagonal tile screams “look at me.” Used incorrectly like this, it can feel overwhelming and backfire.
Also called herringbone, Basket Weave is a beautiful option for a layout. Like a Diagonal installation, it’s best used in conjunction with a tile of subtle color and texture.
When I choose this pattern, I also generally pick a grout color that is similar to the tile color. A good rule of thumb is this: if you’ve chosen a complicated layout pattern, use restraint when picking tile and grout.
When considering bathroom tile layouts, don’t be afraid to play with different proportions and layouts. The project below uses the classic rectangular shape but uses different proportions and layouts. This strategy, along with thoughtful color selection, yields beautiful results.
10. Pick the Bathroom Tile Grout
While I’ve left grout selection for the end of this post, you really shouldn’t make choosing your grout an afterthought. It changes the whole look of your design.
An important first step is to decide whether you want your grout lines to take a back seat to the tile. Most people chose this role for grout, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you want your grout to be mere backdrop, choose thin lines. Also, select a color of grout that is similar to the color of your tile.
Do you want your grout to be feature? If yes, you have so many options. I’m always amazed by how many color options and widths there are for grout. Note that when the grout becomes a feature, your chosen layout pattern becomes a feature, too.
Keep in mind that if you choose a dark grout, it may show efflorescence (whitish or grayish spots from salts) over time.
And a word on white grout: it will show dirt more—it really will. So if you absolutely must have white grout, use thin lines and make sure to use a grout sealer.
Choosing Bathroom Tile: 10 Tips for Success
There’s no doubt about it: Picking bathroom tile is a daunting task. But you can do it! Just follow these 10 suggestions, and you’ll end up with a beautiful bathroom that inspires you and is within your budget.
Can install bathroom tile myself?
It’s harder than it looks, but if you’re up for the challenge, go for it! Just do so with your eyes open.
If you choose to do it yourself, consider using a simple square ceramic tile, a stacked layout, and thinset mortar. And do some research, if you wing it you’ll be sorry. But not to worry, there are lots of great tile installation videos like this one:
But what if you’ve got your heart set on a tile layout (basketweave, diagonal, etc.)? Or you want to use a material that is not ceramic (especially porcelain or stone)?
I recommend handing off tile installation to a pro. You won’t save a whole lot of money doing it yourself anyway. Tile installation requires specialized tools, and you may end up redoing your work a few times wasting time and materials unnecessarily.
How do I choose lighting that best shows off my bathroom?
Now that you’ve put so much work into designing a gorgeous bathroom, it’s important to pick the most flattering lighting for your space. The Secrets to Achieve the Best Bathroom Lighting involve layering your lights, picking the right fixtures for your space, using smart lighting where possible, and choosing bulbs that match your design goals. (Read about some of my favorite bathroom light fixtures, including recessed lighing, vanity sconces and statement chandeliers.)
The Bathtubber’s Official Bathroom Tile Calculator
Be sure to get the free bathroom tile calculator. It will make any bathroom tile project so much easier! Whether you’re simply tiling a backsplash or from floor-to-ceiling, this tool can help you stay organized and on budget. Fill out the form just below and we’ll send it to you for free.