The term waterproof is used to describe materials that remain relatively unaffected by water or resist the ingress of water under specified conditions. Most of us are aware of the advances in waterproof technology over the last 10 years, in particular with our everyday devices such as phones. But the water resistant properties of tiles is something you may not consider until it’s time to order tiles for your home or business.
Over the last 30 years there have been some advances in the waterproof properties of tiles (porcelain in particular), however the fact is, most tiles have always been inherently resistant to water by design.
To understand the water resistant properties of tiles, first we need to understand their main purpose. Tiles have been used for centuries as both aesthetic coverings, but for an even longer time, tiles have been used to create durable, long lasting surfaces that are unaffected by everyday wear and tear. It so happens that the benefits of tiles such as scratch resistance, chemical resistance, stain resistance and water resistance are inherently linked - and for different purposes, a varying range of tile types can be created that best suit the application they are intended to be used.
Let’s take a look at ceramic tiles, most commonly referred to as wall tiles.
Ceramic tiles use less raw material, water and heat to produce as they do not need to have the same high level of impact or scratch resistance as porcelain, and water never pools on a vertical surface. Therefore, the body of the tile does not need to be as dense or durable. This also aids the installation of ceramic tiles on walls, as they are much lighter than porcelain while being easier to add fixtures and fittings to.
If a ceramic tile was not glazed (as some handmade tiles are), the lower density of the tile generally results in a lower ability to resist water. This is why a glaze is commonly applied to the surface of ceramic tiles, and fired onto the surface. This glaze presents an impermeable barrier for water, similar to applying a glass coating to the surface. Once grouted, the ceramic wall tile surface is resistant to stains, chemicals and water, while being lighter weight than it’s porcelain counterpart.
- are water resistant - when installed and grouted correctly (impervious barrier)
- should be used on wall surfaces only (some ceramic tiles can be used on light foot-traffic floors such as bathrooms, however this is no longer common).
- are easier to add fixtures and fittings to
Next, let’s consider porcelain tiles, sometimes referred to as floor tiles (though ‘floor tiles’ barely scratches the surface of where these tiles can be used).
Porcelain tiles use more raw material, water and heat to produce than ceramics, however they are most commonly used to cover floors and as such require a high level of resistance to wear, scratching and impacts. They must be much denser, and resistant to all kinds of stains, chemicals and water.
During production of porcelain tiles, the particles of raw material are pressed under extreme pressures to form a more compact tile body. This tile body is then fired at much higher temperatures, resulting in all particles joining together as one homogenous form, as opposed to a matrix of particles bound together. The process of particles fusing together is known as vitrification. Once a tile is Fully Vitrified, it is classified as a porcelain tile. From this point on, porcelain tiles have an extremely high resistance to water - becoming waterproof.
- are waterproof (though not a substitute for waterproofing)
- can generally be used on both floors and walls
- are resistant to scratching, abrasion, staining, chemicals, impacts and water
- can be used in submerged applications such as pools and baths
- are frost resistant
Water Absorption is the single most important characteristic that differentiates ceramic and porcelain.
Ceramic tiles have a water absorption rating of greater than 0.5%
*Please note that glazed ceramic tiles are impervious to water, and this absorption rate reflects the rate at which the entire tile absorbs water (the glazed surface offers almost 0% absorption).
Porcelain tiles have a water absorption rating of less than (or equal to) 0.5%
Technical Porcelain tiles have a water absorption rating of less than (or equal to) 0.1%
But wait, what is technical porcelain? Technical Porcelain was developed by our major manufacturing partner Porcelanosa Group in Spain almost two decades ago. Technical Porcelain is produced with the highest quality raw materials, pressed at higher pressures and fired at higher temperatures to create a porcelain tile that is incredibly resistant to anything it will encounter in everyday use. For example, technical porcelain tiles cannot be scratched by metal due to their hardness.
Do I need to waterproof my bathroom if I select porcelain tiles? Aren’t they waterproof?
Yes, waterproofing is required in certain wet areas by the Australian Building Code and Australian Standards. Although your tiles may be waterproof, any cracked or incorrectly installed grout can lead to water entering behind the body of the tile. Once water enters behind your tiles, there is a risk of your surface failing:
- Water may swell the substrate your tiles are adhered to, leading to a failure between the substrate and adhesive
- Water can degrade adhesives, leading to failure between the adhesive and tiles
- Water may lead to efflorescence, where salts in the adhesive can migrate through to the surface of your grout
International Standards based on the manufacturing process and water resistance of tiles result in a different rating given to your tiles. This rating must be printed on the side of every box of tiles you receive.