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Tiling: trends, installation and maintaining your tiles

Paul Huggett from Which? Trusted trader Contac Tiling shares his tips on how to maintain tiles, and looks at some of today’s current trends.

In this article

Tiling on walls and floors provides a sleek and glossy finish to a room. We’re used to seeing ceramic tiles in kitchens and bathrooms, but porcelain flooring tiles can be a good choice in high-use areas such as hallways and conservatories, too, providing a resilient surface.

Paul Huggett, from Which? Trusted trader Contac Tiling, told us: ‘People like the look of natural stone floors, but they’re very expensive to install and can be difficult to look after. Porcelain tiles imitate stone – you can have marbled effects, different shades, and you don’t have to seal it at all. Some porcelain tiles are so good you can barely tell the difference.’

Another popular alternative are wood-effect porcelain tiles on floors. These are popular in bathrooms, kitchens and wet rooms. They work well in combination with underfloor heating, as well as being easy to clean. ‘Not everybody wants real wood – it’s a natural product, so you have to take a look after it carefully. Porcelain tiles are really tough and easy to clean,’ Paul explained.

Tiling is not for the fainthearted. An expert can make sure you get a fantastic finish so, if you’d like some tiling done in your home, contact one of our Which? Trusted Traders-endorsed tilers.

Tiling trends for 2018

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are available in a wide range of finishes, colours and even textures. The British Ceramic Tile's 2018 lookbook showcases a range of greys and blacks, with textured finishes available (for walls) that can give an industrial feel, inspired by loft living and open spaces.

Manufacturers offer ranges inspired by everything from Moroccan souks to country cottages. Some homeware brands, such as Laura Ashley and Ted Baker, have collaborated on their own ranges, and you can even get tiles inspired by the collections in London’s Victoria and Albert museum. Patterned, plain, white, bright, metallic – your colour choices should reflect the scheme in the rest of the room, picking up accents on the walls or furniture.

Working with your tiler

Your Which? Trusted trader should be able to help you with a range of tiling needs. For example, Paul told us that he works with all types of tile – including ‘porcelain, mosaics, natural stone, and Victorian tiling’.

He leaves the colour and tile selection to his clients. ‘I would suggest a size,’ he said. ‘Larger tiles can look good in some rooms – you’ll have fewer grout lines and it can look less fussy.’  A standard size is 600x300mm for a wall tile, or 6000x6000mm on a floor, but there is a huge range including metro tiles (envelope shape), mosaics and other non-standard sizes.

Paul also advises on where customers can go to find a good range of tiles. Then, once they’ve chosen the ones they want, he works with them on the specifics of the design and arrangement. ‘Some people know exactly what they want,’ he said, ‘but I can always show customers examples of previous projects to give them ideas if they need some help.’

Check out our cost guide to bathroom fitting to find out more about what budget you might need for your tiling jobs.

Complications when tiling

Tiling on to a fresh, smooth concrete (known as screed) is pretty straightforward: it just needs priming. But not every floor or wall is perfectly flat – some floors will require correcting with a levelling compound, and walls may need plastering before you can apply tiles.

‘Most of the problems we encounter are around preparation work – uneven walls, unlevelled floors, poor screeding, or screed that is not allowed to fully cure and dry out,’ Paul explained. ‘Others include workmen undertaking work without the knowledge, skills and understanding of what is required. This normally leads to unsatisfactory work and leaves the customer in a very difficult situation.’

Your walls and floors may need to be levelled and primed; your trader should be able to advise you on the work that’s required. Sometimes poor-quality walls and floors will only come to light once a job is underway and existing tiles are removed, so it’s essential to keep talking to your tiler, so they can let you know what’s going on.

Maintaining your tiles

Watch the water

If water gets behind your tiles it can ruin your plaster, plasterboard and timber, which can be costly to repair. It's easy to prevent with some simple maintenance.

  • Ventilate your bathroom with an extractor fan or open window. This helps prevent mould, which breaks down silicone sealant and causes leaks.
  • Remove any existing mouldy or loose sealant with a Stanley knife or window scraper. ‘Take the mouldy grout off, don’t go over the top of it,’ Paul advised. Replace it with top quality, ideally mould-resistant, bath/shower sealant.
  • If you’ve got natural stone or polished porcelain tiles, reapply stone sealant or stone treatment every few years.

Keep your grout clean

Grout is the weakest area of your tiling. ‘If a tile is put down correctly, and the wall or floor was properly prepared, then it should be pretty solid,’ Paul said. ‘But even though grout has improved, it is still the weak link. All the impurities in water, particularly hard water, will get to the grout over time. The only way to look after it is to keep it clean. Wipe the tiles over with a squeegee cloth to remove any excess water on a regular basis.’

If you want to clean the grout, ensure you use the right product for your tiles. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are pretty tough and will clean up well with a general cleaning solution, but stone and granite tiles will need specialist products. You can clean grout with a toothbrush or a small scrubbing brush.

Most hardware and DIY stores will sell grout cleaner or you can make your own for use around ceramic or porcelain tiles – a combination of ¾ baking soda combined with ¼ bleach will work - don't use too much bleach as the acid can eat away at the grout. Ensure you use rubber gloves and keep the area well ventilated while you are cleaning.

  • Mix the baking soda and bleach together to form a paste – apply it to the grout.
  • Wait for 15 minutes, then scrub away with your brush.
  • Give it a good rinse, then wipe it with a clean rag or squeegee.

You can also buy grout protectors from hardware or DIY stores, but you still need to clean the grout regularly.

See our guide to spring cleaning for more tips on keeping your home sparkling.

Dealing with damaged tiles

Tiles don’t crack on their own – the problem usually comes from the substrate (what they are lying on).

You can check for damaged tiles by prodding them with your fingers. If any tiles are cracked or move even slightly, replace them immediately.

If you want to replace a damaged tile yourself, ensure you remove the grout around it first. Otherwise you risk extending the damage across to the next tile when you try to remove it.

If you don’t fancy doing it yourself, most tilers will be happy to deal with it. Paul said: ‘We do a lot of repairs. Remember it’s always useful to have a few extra spare tiles in case you need to replace them. Every tile box has a batch number associated with its colour, and the next one might not be an exact match.’ Paul suggests putting the extra tiles under your kitchen units, so you know where to find them.

If you need to find a tiler, Which? Trusted Traders has endorsed tiling businesses in your local area. All our endorsed traders have been through our assessment process to ensure they run their business according to the latest regulations and to the highest standards.

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