Are Tiles Waterproof?

Perhaps you’re remodeling your bathroom and you’re installing a new shower surround and floor, or maybe you’re renovating your kitchen with a new backsplash. Whatever the case may be, if you’re embarking on a home improvement project and you intend on using tile in some type of application – the floors, walls, countertops, backsplash, etc. – you not only want to make sure that the finished product is visually appealing, but that it is durable and long lasting. After all, you’re going to be investing a lot of time, money, and effort into the project, and you want to ensure that it will be able to withstand wear and tear and that it will remain aesthetically pleasing.

In order to ensure that you’re selecting the right tiles for your project and to make sure that you’re employing proper maintenance, you’re going to want to ask some key questions. Of all the questions you may have, without a doubt, one of the most important is: Are tiles waterproof?

So, are they? Let’s take a look.

Are Tiles Waterproof?

Waterproof vs Water Resistant

In order to determine if tiles are waterproof, you need to understand the difference between waterproof and water resistant. A lot of people use the two terms interchangeably, when in fact, they mean different things, and that can lead to confusion and improper care. Spending a big chunk of change and devoting a lot of your precious time (yes, even if you’re hiring a professional to do the job for you) on your new tile, only to find that it ends up being damaged a lot sooner than it should have been due to improper care as a result of improper knowledge is the last thing you want.

So, what’s the difference between waterproof and water resistant? The main difference between the two is that while water resistant materials are able to block moisture penetration to some degree, waterproof means that the materials are completely impervious to moisture.

To illustrate, picture this: When something is water resistant, moisture will not penetrate the material, but only to a certain extent; however, if a water resistant item is completely exposed to moisture, especially if that exposure is over a prolonged period of time, water will eventually seep through, and it will end up getting damaged. If you were to submerge a water resistant watch in water, it would get wet. On the other hand, if a material is waterproof, it can completely resist water; it can be completely submerged in water for a prolonged period of time, and the water won’t penetrate the product. To use the example of a watch again, if it were waterproof and submerged in water, it would not be damaged.

To summarize, water resistant products provide some degree of protection from moisture penetration, but only when the moisture comes into contact with the surface, and only for a short period of time. If a water resistant product is completely submerged in water, or if the surface of the product is exposed to water for a long period of time, the moisture will penetrate through the material, and thus, it will end up getting damaged. Waterproof products are designed in such a way that they are completely impervious to moisture penetration; that is, liquid cannot get through the product, even if the product is completely submerged, or if it is exposed to moisture for a long period of time.

Are Tiles Waterproof?

So, Are Tiles Waterproof?

Now that you know the difference between waterproof and water-resistant, let’s examine tiles ability to withstand water. It’s a common misconception that tile, as well as the grout that fills the gaps between the tiles and reinforced them into the structures they are applied to, are waterproof; for instance, most people think that a tiled shower surround is impervious to water and that it will last forever, but in reality, that isn’t the case.

Contrary to popular belief, tile isn’t waterproof; rather, depending on the material the tile is made of, it is either water-resistant or it does not offer any protection against moisture penetration. For example, porcelain tiles are water-resistant. That is, the surface of the materials can block water from seeping into the interior layers, but only for a little while. After a while, moisture will penetrate through tile, and the materials will actually start retaining that moisture. Travertine tile, on the other hand, doesn’t have any moisture resistance; instead, it actually absorbs water. The reason? Travertine is extremely porous, and like anything else that is porous (like a sponge), it soaks up the moisture that comes into contact with it.

The grout that fills the gaps between tiles and secures it in place isn’t waterproof, either; nor are they water resistant. Instead, grout is like travertine tile, as it is highly porous, and thus, it soaks up moisture almost as soon as the moisture makes contact with it. That’s why mold and mildew develop on the grout lines of a tiled shower surround, floor, backsplash, or countertop.

Tile Selection Tips

Since no tile is completely waterproof, but rather some types of tile are able to resist water to some extent, while others offer no protection from moisture absorption, how can you tell the difference? You should be aware of the different designations of tile. Tiles are classified into four different categories, and those categories are determined by weighing a tile while it is dry, submerging it into water for a prolonged period of time, and then weighing it again. The difference between the weight of the tile when it was dry versus when it was wet indicates the density or the absorption of the tile; how much water the tile holds. Based on that information, the tile is placed into one of the following categories:

  • Non-vitreous. Absorbs 7 percent or more of its body weight. They should only be used indoors, and are best on vertical surfaces, such as a backsplash.
  • Semi-vitreous. Absorbs between 3 and 7 percent of its weight, and should also be used for indoor applications only.
  • Vitreous. Absorbs between .5 and 3 percent of its weight, and can be used on interior and exterior surfaces.
  • Impervious. Absorbs between .001 and 0.5 percent of its weight in water, making these tiles the densest of all. They can be used in all applications. Porcelain tile is an example of impervious tile.