Are Subway Tiles Good For Bathrooms?

Are Subway Tiles Good For Bathrooms?

Subway tiles, with their clean lines and timeless appeal, have graced bathroom walls for over a century. Their enduring popularity stems from a combination of functionality and aesthetics. This guide dives deep into the world of subway tiles for bathrooms, exploring their advantages, considerations for incorporating them into your design, and ultimately helping you decide if they're the perfect fit for your dream bathroom.



Understanding Subway Tiles 

Subway tiles, with their iconic rectangular shape and beveled edges, are a design element that transcends mere bathroom aesthetics. Inspired by the tiles used in the New York City subway system in the early 20th century, they've become synonymous with timeless elegance and practicality. But understanding subway tiles goes beyond their historical reference. Let's delve into the world of these versatile tiles, exploring their material variations and size options.


Material Variations 

The humble subway tile reigns supreme in bathroom design, but its magic lies in its adaptability. It can be crafted from various materials, each offering unique advantages and aesthetic possibilities. Let's explore some popular materials for subway tiles, helping you find the perfect match for your dream bathroom.


The undisputed champion of subway tiles, ceramic offers a perfect balance of affordability, durability, and ease of maintenance. Its glazed surface makes it highly resistant to moisture, stains, and scratches, ideal for the wear and tear of a bathroom environment. Additionally, ceramic tiles come in a vast array of colors and finishes, allowing you to tailor them to your desired aesthetic.


Porcelain tiles are another popular choice for subway tiles, offering a compelling alternative that combines the best of both worlds: the strength and beauty of natural stone with the ease of maintenance of ceramic. Fired at even higher temperatures than ceramic tiles, porcelain boasts exceptional durability, making it resistant to chips, cracks, and scratches. This ensures your beautiful bathroom walls will look pristine for years to come.

Natural Stone

Natural stone subway tiles, crafted from materials like marble or granite, elevate your bathroom space with a luxurious and organic feel. Each tile possesses unique veining patterns, creating a one-of-a-kind visual experience. Keep in mind that natural stone requires specific cleaning and maintenance practices to preserve its beauty, and it might be more susceptible to staining compared to ceramic or porcelain.

Size Options 

Subway tiles come in a delightful array of standard sizes, allowing you to tailor their impact to your specific bathroom design. Here's a breakdown of some popular options and the unique aesthetics they create:

The Classics (3"x6", 4"x8", 4"x12")

Offering a balanced look that complements various design styles, the 3"x6" tile is the most versatile size. It excels in both spacious and smaller bathrooms, while the 4"x8" and 4"x12" tiles create a more contemporary feel while retaining a timeless appeal, ideal for modern or transitional bathrooms.

Large Format Options (6"x12" and above)

Large format subway tiles (6"x12" and up) introduce a modern aesthetic with their clean lines and minimal grout. Their expansive surface area creates a sense of spaciousness, especially beneficial for larger bathrooms. They can also be a great choice for smaller bathrooms with a minimalist design approach, as the fewer grout lines visually recede, creating the illusion of more space.

Smaller Scale Options (2"x4" and below)

For a touch of vintage charm, explore smaller subway tiles. The 2"x4" format, for example, channels a nostalgic subway station aesthetic. Mosaic tiles, even smaller, can be used for patterns or borders, adding a vintage touch. Consider increased cleaning with more grout lines.

The Power of Customization

Don't be limited by standard sizes! Some manufacturers offer custom subway tiles, allowing for even greater design personalization. Imagine a custom backsplash with a unique layout or a shower niche with tiles perfectly sized to fit. While custom options might cost more, they create a truly one-of-a-kind bathroom.



Advantages of Subway Tiles in Bathrooms 

Subway tiles offer a winning combination of functionality and style, making them a popular choice for bathrooms. Let's delve deeper into the specific advantages that elevate them beyond mere aesthetics.

Built to Last in a Humid Environment 

Subway tiles have earned their enduring popularity in bathrooms for a reason: durability. We’ll look into the specific qualities that make subway tiles a resilient choice for your bathroom, ensuring they withstand the test of time and moisture.

Moisture Resistance

The hero of any bathroom tile is its ability to withstand moisture. Subway tiles, typically crafted from ceramic or porcelain, boast a glazed surface that acts as a shield against water. This glazed layer prevents moisture from seeping into the tile itself, protecting the wall underneath and minimizing the risk of mold growth – a crucial factor in a space constantly exposed to steam and humidity.

Easy Maintenance

Maintaining a clean and hygienic bathroom is paramount. Standard ceramic or porcelain subway tiles shine in this regard. Their smooth, non-porous surface allows for effortless cleaning with just soap and water. Forget harsh chemicals or laborious scrubbing – a quick wipe-down is all it takes to keep your subway tile walls sparkling clean. This ease of maintenance translates to significant time savings and reduced cleaning product costs over the long run.

Stain Resistance

Bathrooms are prone to accidental spills and splashes. Aforementioned subway tiles, with their non-porous glazed surface, offer excellent resistance to stains. From toothpaste splatters to makeup mishaps, most spills can be easily wiped away without leaving a trace. This resistance to stains helps maintain the pristine look of your bathroom walls for years to come.

Scratch Resistance (to a degree)

While generally durable, it's important to acknowledge that scratch resistance can vary depending on the material of your subway tiles. Ceramic and porcelain tiles offer good scratch resistance, ideal for everyday wear and tear. However, glass subway tiles, while beautiful, are more susceptible to scratches and require a more delicate cleaning approach.

Heat Resistance

Bathrooms often house hot showers and steaming baths. Subway tiles made of ceramic or porcelain can handle moderate heat without any issues. This makes them a safe and reliable choice for shower walls and areas surrounding vanities.

Affordability and Value 

The financial aspect of any bathroom renovation is a significant consideration. Subway tiles shine again by offering a budget-friendly option compared to other tile materials. Their competitive price point makes them an attractive choice for homeowners seeking to create a stylish bathroom without breaking the bank.


Ceramic and porcelain subway tiles are generally less expensive than other popular bathroom tile options like natural stone or intricate mosaic patterns. This affordability allows you to allocate your budget towards other design elements, such as high-quality fixtures or statement lighting, to personalize your bathroom.

Easy Installation

While professional installation is always recommended for a flawless finish, subway tiles are generally simpler to install compared to more complex tile patterns. Their straightforward rectangular shape allows for a relatively quick and efficient installation process, potentially reducing labor costs associated with more intricate tilework.

Long-lasting Investment

Classic subway tiles are a wise investment for your bathroom. Their durability ensures they will withstand everyday wear and tear for years to come. Additionally, their timeless design minimizes the risk of them becoming outdated, ensuring your bathroom maintains its aesthetic appeal over time. This combination of durability and enduring style translates to excellent value for money.



Design Considerations 

While subway tiles excel in functionality for bathrooms, their design potential shouldn't be underestimated. This section explores the various design aspects of subway tiles, empowering you to create a bathroom that reflects your unique style and complements your overall vision.

Color Variations 

Subway tiles offer a vast color spectrum to create your ideal bathroom ambiance. Classic white and neutral tones open up the space and provide a clean canvas for bolder fixtures or flooring. Embrace sophistication with dark colors like black or navy for a dramatic touch. Feeling adventurous? Explore vibrant greens or blues for a spa-like or coastal vibe. Remember, consider your bathroom size - lighter colors create an illusion of more space. With thoughtful color selection, subway tiles can become the foundation for a bathroom that reflects your unique style.

Grout Color 

The unassuming grout lines play a surprisingly significant role in the overall aesthetic of your subway tile installation. Selecting the right grout color can elevate your design or create an unexpected focal point. Here's how to make the most of this design element:

Unified Aesthetic

Opt for grout that closely matches the color of your subway tiles for a timeless and unified look. This creates a clean and seamless appearance, allowing the beauty of the tiles themselves to take center stage. This approach works particularly well with white or neutral-colored subway tiles.

Bold Statement

Don't be afraid to experiment with contrasting grout colors! A darker grout color against lighter tiles creates a bold, graphic statement and can visually define the individual tiles. This can be a great way to add visual interest and complement other design elements in your bathroom. Just remember, with bolder grout choices, consider the overall size of your bathroom – darker grout lines might visually shrink a smaller space.

Laying Patterns 

The beauty of subway tiles extends beyond their color and material – the laying pattern you choose can significantly impact the entire feel of your bathroom. Let's explore some popular patterns and the design aesthetics they evoke:

Classic Running Bond

This timeless pattern, where each tile rests halfway on the one below it in a staggered formation, offers a clean and traditional look. It complements various design styles and creates a balanced visual flow that works well in bathrooms of all sizes.

Stacked Bond

Embrace a modern and minimalist aesthetic with the stacked bond pattern. Subway tiles are laid horizontally or vertically, one directly on top of the other, creating a clean and streamlined look. This approach works particularly well with larger format subway tiles and allows other design elements, like bold fixtures or patterned floors, to take center stage.


For a touch of dynamism, explore the herringbone pattern. Tiles are arranged in a V-shape, creating a classic and elegant aesthetic with a touch of movement. This pattern can add visual interest to larger bathroom walls or create a stunning focal point in a shower niche.

Beyond the Basics

These are just a few of the most popular laying patterns. For a truly unique touch, consider exploring more intricate options like basketweave or pinwheel patterns. Remember, the chosen pattern should complement the overall design style of your bathroom and the size of the space. With a variety of laying patterns at your disposal, you can personalize your subway tile installation and create a bathroom that reflects your unique vision.

Different Kitchen Styles 

Beyond functionality, subway tiles offer unmatched versatility when it comes to aesthetics. Their timeless design effortlessly complements a wide range of bathroom styles, allowing you to create a space that reflects your personal taste.


Channel timeless elegance with white subway tiles in a classic brick bond pattern. Darker grout adds definition and complements chrome fixtures and traditional vanities with ornate details. Think clawfoot tubs, pedestal sinks, and polished nickel hardware for a truly sophisticated aesthetic.


Embrace clean lines and a minimalist vibe with white subway tiles in a stacked pattern. Minimize grout lines for a seamless look, allowing statement fixtures and pops of color to take center stage. Geometric tiles or a unique herringbone pattern on an accent wall can add a touch of modern flair without overwhelming the clean aesthetic.


For a touch of rustic charm, explore the magic of subway tiles in a light grey or beige hue. A herringbone pattern adds a touch of visual interest, while pairing them with natural elements like wood vanities with exposed grain and matte black hardware reinforces the farmhouse theme. Woven baskets, vintage lighting fixtures, and natural stone countertops further enhance the cozy and inviting atmosphere.

Industrial Chic

Subway tiles can surprisingly lend themselves to the industrial-chic aesthetic. Dark grey or black subway tiles in a brick bond pattern create a bold backdrop. Dark grout complements the industrial vibe, while exposed brick walls, metal fixtures with a distressed finish, and concrete countertops complete the look. Don't be afraid to incorporate reclaimed wood elements or unique lighting fixtures for an extra touch of industrial personality.



Applications of Subway Tiles in Bathrooms 

The beauty of subway tiles lies in their versatility. While they might be most commonly associated with bathroom walls, their functionality extends far beyond that, allowing you to create a cohesive and visually appealing bathroom design. With our cutting-edge AR technology, you can virtually place your favorite subway tiles directly onto selected areas in your bathroom. Experiment while delving into the various ways subway tiles can elevate your bathroom space:


This is the classic application, and for good reason. Subway tiles on walls, in a timeless brick bond pattern or a more modern stacked layout, provide a clean and easy-to-maintain surface. They can be used throughout the bathroom or combined with other materials like paint or wallpaper for a unique touch, perhaps incorporating a geometric pattern or a botanical motif to complement your overall design scheme.

Shower Niche 

Shower niches offer a functional storage solution for your shampoos and toiletries. Clad in subway tiles, they become a design element, seamlessly integrating with the overall aesthetic of your shower enclosure. This creates a polished and put-together look.

Shower Walls 

Ceramic or porcelain subway tiles are a perfect choice for shower walls due to their water resistance and ease of cleaning. The smooth surface allows water to run off easily, minimizing the risk of mold and mildew growth. Additionally, the grout lines, while requiring some maintenance, are generally less noticeable on shower walls compared to floors due to less foot traffic.

Shower Floors 

While less common, subway tiles can also be used on shower floors. However, it's important to choose tiles with a material that can withstand significant wear and tear, and a textured or matte finish to ensure slip resistance. Smaller mosaic tiles can also be a good option for shower floors, as they create more grout lines which can further enhance traction. Remember, extra care needs to be taken when cleaning shower floors with subway tiles to prevent soap scum buildup.



Making An Informed Choice 

While subway tiles offer a multitude of advantages, it's important to acknowledge their potential drawbacks to make an informed decision for your bathroom renovation. Here, we explore some of the considerations that might influence your choice.

The Grout Factor 

One of the key challenges associated with subway tiles lies in the grout lines themselves. These thin lines, while necessary for a secure installation, can be susceptible to water spots and grime buildup, especially when using lighter-colored grouts.

Water Spot Visibility

Light-colored grout, often chosen to create a unified look with white subway tiles, can become a breeding ground for water spot visibility. Hard water minerals can leave behind noticeable white residue on the grout, detracting from the overall clean aesthetic. Regular cleaning with a vinegar solution or a manufacturer-recommended cleaner can help mitigate this issue, but constant vigilance might be required to maintain a pristine look.

Mold and Mildew Growth

Moisture-prone environments like bathrooms create the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew growth, particularly in areas with poor ventilation. Grout, with its slightly porous nature, can trap moisture and create a hospitable environment for these unwelcome guests. Choosing a stain-resistant grout and implementing a regular cleaning routine with a mold-killing solution are crucial for preventing unsightly discoloration.

Maintenance Considerations 

Subway tiles themselves are relatively easy to maintain due to their non-porous surfaces. However, grout lines require a bit more attention to keep your bathroom looking its best. It's important to note that recommended cleaning and maintenance methods may vary depending on the specific type of subway tile and grout you choose. Always refer to the manufacturer's recommendations for the most accurate care instructions. Here are some general considerations to keep in mind:

Regular Cleaning

Grout lines are susceptible to grime buildup and potential mold or mildew growth. To prevent this, regular cleaning is essential. This might involve using a toothbrush and a grout-specific cleaner, following the manufacturer's instructions, to reach into the crevices and remove any dirt or soap scum. Weekly cleaning is generally recommended, with more frequent cleaning necessary in high-moisture areas like the shower enclosure.

Sealing Grout (Optional)

For added protection against stains and moisture, sealing the grout after installation can be beneficial. Grout sealers create a protective barrier that repels water and makes cleaning easier in the long run. However,  the  type of sealer and the amount of wear and tear in your bathroom will influence how often these need to be reapplied.  Be sure to consult the  recommendations from your grout and sealer manufacturers to determine the best course of action for your specific products.

Installation Expertise Matters 

While subway tiles themselves are relatively straightforward shapes, achieving a professional-looking installation with impeccable grout lines requires a skilled tiler, especially for more intricate laying patterns.

Uneven Grout Lines

A common pitfall with inexperienced installers is uneven grout lines. This can significantly detract from the overall aesthetic and create a sloppy, amateurish look. Opting for a professional with a proven track record ensures a flawless installation with consistent grout lines.

Improper Tile Leveling

Incorrect leveling of the tiles during installation can lead to an uneven surface. This not only compromises the visual appeal but can also create issues with water drainage, particularly in shower areas. Choosing a skilled tiler minimizes the risk of such problems and ensures a long-lasting and functional bathroom design.



Alternatives to Subway Tiles for Bathrooms 

While subway tiles reign supreme in the world of bathroom design, they aren't the only option. A variety of alternative materials and styles can elevate your bathroom space, each offering unique advantages and considerations. Here, we delve into some popular alternatives to subway tiles, allowing you to explore the design possibilities and find the perfect match for your vision.

Large Format Tiles 

Large format tiles, typically ranging from 12"x12" and beyond, offer a sleek and modern aesthetic for your bathroom. Their expansive size creates a sense of spaciousness, particularly well-suited for smaller bathrooms. Here's what makes them stand out:

Minimalist Appeal

Large format tiles minimize grout lines, creating a seamless and contemporary look. This approach beautifully complements minimalist design styles and allows other bathroom elements, like fixtures and vanities, to take center stage.

Clean Lines, Grand Impact

The expansive surface area of large format tiles creates clean lines and a sense of grandeur in your bathroom. This can be particularly effective for creating a spa-like atmosphere or highlighting a luxurious shower enclosure.

Reminder: Large format tiles, while stunning, come with considerations. Their size necessitates a perfectly flat surface for installation, potentially increasing project cost. Additionally, their beauty often outweighs the limitation of using intricate design patterns.

Mosaic Tiles 

Mosaic tiles, small square or geometric pieces typically made from ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone, offer a world of artistic possibilities for your bathroom design. Here's how they can transform your space:

Unleash Your Creativity

Mosaic tiles allow you to create stunning patterns and intricate designs on your bathroom walls or floors. From geometric mosaics to floral arrangements, the possibilities are endless. This level of customization allows you to personalize your bathroom and create a truly unique focal point.

Versatility Across Styles

Mosaic tiles needn't be confined to a single aesthetic. They can complement various styles, from the whimsical charm of a Mediterranean bathroom to the bold geometric patterns of an art deco design.

Reminder: While mosaic tiles offer stunning design possibilities, their intricate nature translates to a higher installation cost due to the time-intensive process. Additionally, the numerous grout lines require more frequent cleaning to prevent mold and mildew growth. Opting for stain-resistant grout can help minimize this maintenance burden.

Textured Tiles 

For those seeking a bathroom design with added visual interest, textured tiles offer a captivating option. These tiles come in a variety of textures, from subtle ripples to bold geometric patterns, creating a unique tactile experience.

Visual Intrigue

Textured tiles add depth and dimension to your bathroom walls, creating a visually engaging space. They can be used to create a focal point or add a touch of personality to specific areas like the shower enclosure or backsplash.

Material Options

Textured tiles are available in various materials, including ceramic, porcelain, and even natural stone. This allows you to choose a texture that complements your desired aesthetic and budget.

Reminder: Textured tiles add visual interest but can trap dirt and grime. Opt for a balanced use, like an accent wall, to avoid overwhelming cleaning and create a cohesive look with smooth tiles.

Natural Stone Tiles 

For those seeking an opulent and timeless bathroom design, natural stone tiles like marble, granite, or slate offer unparalleled beauty and sophistication. Here's what they bring to the table:

Luxurious Appeal

Natural stone tiles boast unique veining patterns and variations in color that create a truly one-of-a-kind look. This inherent elegance can elevate your bathroom into a spa-like retreat, adding a touch of sophistication unmatched by other materials.

Durable with a Caveat

While natural stone can be durable, it's not invincible. Compared to porcelain or ceramic tiles, natural stone can be more susceptible to scratches, chips, and etching from acidic substances.  Proper care and sealing are crucial to maintaining their beauty and longevity.

Reminder: Natural stone comes at a premium price point compared to ceramic or porcelain tiles. They also require more maintenance due to their porosity. As mentioned, they need regular sealing to prevent staining and water damage, and specific cleaning products are necessary to avoid harming the stone. 


Subway tiles are an excellent choice for bathrooms, offering a multitude of advantages. Their durability, water resistance, and ease of maintenance make them well-suited for the often-humid bathroom environment. The wide variety of colors, patterns, and finishes allows you to create a unique and personalized design that reflects your style. While some considerations exist, like potential maintenance for grout and choosing slip-resistant options for floors, these can be easily managed with proper planning and selection. Overall, subway tiles remain a versatile and timeless option for creating beautiful and functional bathrooms.

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