Can Subway Tiles Go On Floor?

Can Subway Tiles Go On Floor?

Subway tiles, those rectangular darlings that have graced the walls of underground transportation systems for over a century, have transcended their utilitarian origins to become a beloved design element in modern homes. Their clean lines, timeless aesthetic, and versatility have propelled them from subway stations to kitchens, bathrooms, and even living spaces. But can these iconic tiles hold up to the constant movement of people around your home? This comprehensive guide explores the suitability of subway tiles for floors, delving into factors like material properties, potential drawbacks, and the importance of proper selection. We'll equip you with the knowledge to determine if subway tiles are the perfect fit for your next flooring project, or if a different material might be better suited for busy areas.



Understanding Subway Tiles 

Subway tiles, named for their widespread use in the New York City subway system built in the early 1900s, are typically rectangular ceramic tiles with a simple, clean design. Traditionally, they come in a 3" x 6" size, though variations exist.

Material Properties 

The suitability of subway tiles for floors depends heavily on the material they're made from. Here's a breakdown of common materials and their properties relevant to floor use:


The most common material for subway tiles, ceramic offers affordability and a wide range of colors and finishes. However, it can vary in durability. Look for a higher fired ceramic, which boasts lower water absorption and increased strength. Standard ceramic subway tiles are susceptible to chipping and cracking on floors, especially under heavy use.


A denser and more durable cousin of ceramic, porcelain subway tiles are a better choice for floors. They have a lower water absorption rate, making them more resistant to moisture and staining. Porcelain tiles are also generally harder and less prone to chipping or cracking compared to standard ceramic.

Versatility Beyond Walls 

Subway tiles have transcended their original function and become a popular design choice for various applications beyond just walls. Their timeless appeal and versatility contribute to their widespread use. Here are some popular applications:


Subway tiles are a classic choice for kitchen and bathroom backsplashes. Their smooth, easy-to-clean surface makes them ideal for areas prone to splashes and grease. The variety of colors and finishes allows for customization to complement different design styles.


The water-resistant nature of porcelain subway tiles makes them suitable for shower walls. Their clean lines can create a sleek and modern look in shower enclosures. However, for shower floors, a slip-resistant material is crucial.


Subway tiles can be used creatively to create unique and stylish countertops. They are often used in combination with other materials like wood or soapstone for a layered effect. While durable, sealing the grout is essential for countertops to prevent staining.

The design possibilities with subway tiles are vast. They can be arranged in classic brick bond patterns or in more modern herringbone or basket weave styles. Subway tiles can also be mixed and matched with other tile shapes or colors to create geometric patterns or borders.



Suitability of Subway Tiles for Floors 

Adorned with timeless elegance, subway tiles grace the walls of countless kitchens and bathrooms. But their captivating charm begs the question: can these rectangular beauties translate to the floor and endure the constant pitter-patter of daily use? We’ll weigh the advantages and considerations to help you decide if this design element aligns with your vision. 


Subway tiles offer a timeless aesthetic that can elevate the look of any floor. Their clean lines and simple design create a sense of order and sophistication.

Classic Appeal

The classic white subway tile remains a popular choice, evoking a sense of cleanliness and openness. It brings a sense of tradition and complements various design styles, from farmhouse chic to modern minimalist. White subway tiles can visually expand a space, making it feel brighter and more airy.

Color Options

But subway tiles are far from limited to white. They come in a vast array of colors, from bold blues and dramatic blacks to playful pastels and earthy tones. This allows for customization to suit any design style. You can create a vibrant and energetic space with pops of color or embrace a more calming atmosphere with neutral tones.

Impact of Grout Color

The choice of grout color also plays a significant role in the overall aesthetic. A contrasting grout color can create a bold, graphic statement, ideal for modern or industrial spaces. For example, dark grout with white subway tiles creates a striking checkerboard pattern. Conversely, a color that matches the tile can create a more seamless, unified look. This approach offers a clean and sophisticated aesthetic, particularly popular in Scandinavian or minimalist design.

Ultimately, the combination of subway tile color and grout color allows you to personalize your floor and create a unique visual statement that reflects your style.

Easy Maintenance 

Standard ceramic or porcelain subway tiles offer a welcome respite from high-maintenance flooring options. Their inherent properties contribute to a cleaning routine that's both effective and effortless.

Smooth, Non-porous Surface

A key advantage lies in the smooth, non-porous surface of porcelain and glazed ceramic subway tiles. This characteristic repels dirt and grime, preventing them from becoming deeply ingrained. Unlike some natural stone tiles, subway tiles won't harbor hidden dirt or require harsh cleaning chemicals to maintain their luster.

Simple Cleaning Routine

Regular sweeping or mopping with a mild cleaning solution is typically sufficient to keep your typical subway tile floor looking its best. The smooth surface allows dirt and debris to be easily removed without excessive scrubbing or scouring. This streamlined cleaning routine makes subway tiles a practical choice for busy households where time is a valuable commodity. Remember to always double-check with your manufacturer's recommendations to avoid any unforeseen issues.

Spot Cleaning Spills

Spills are inevitable, but with ceramic or porcelain subway tiles, cleanup is a breeze. The non-absorbent surface allows you to quickly address spills before they set in. Simply blot up any liquids with a damp cloth, followed by a quick mop with your cleaning solution if necessary. This swift action helps prevent staining and ensures your floor maintains its pristine appearance.

Long-Term Upkeep

The low-maintenance nature of subway tiles extends beyond daily cleaning. Unlike some flooring materials that require regular waxing or polishing, subway tiles retain their beauty with minimal effort. An occasional deep cleaning with a grout cleaner (addressed in a later section) might be necessary, but overall, subway tiles offer a long-term ease of upkeep that simplifies floor care. For deep cleaning, be sure to consult the recommendations from your grout manufacturer as well.

Pattern Play 

Subway tiles transcend their rectangular simplicity to offer surprising versatility when used on floors. While the classic "brick bond" pattern remains a timeless favorite, a world of design possibilities awaits for those seeking a more dynamic look.

Classic Brick Bond

The ever-popular "brick bond" pattern involves laying tiles in a simple stacked row formation, creating a clean and timeless look. This straightforward approach complements various design styles and allows the beauty of the individual tiles to shine.

Dynamic Herringbone

For a touch of movement and visual interest, consider the herringbone pattern. Here, tiles are arranged in a zig-zag formation, creating a sense of flow and adding a touch of dynamism to the floor. This pattern is well-suited for modern or contemporary spaces.

Intricate Basketweave

The basket weave pattern offers a more intricate and playful look. Tiles are arranged in a square grid formation with alternating offsets, resembling a woven basket. This pattern can add depth and visual interest to a floor, particularly when using contrasting grout colors.

Beyond the Rectangle 

Subway tiles can also be creatively combined with other tile shapes to create unique designs:

Penny Rounds & Hexagons

Introduce playful accents by incorporating penny rounds or hexagons alongside rectangular subway tiles. These contrasting shapes can be used to create borders, define specific areas within the floor, or even form geometric patterns.


For a truly unique statement, consider pre-fabricated subway tile mosaics. These mosaics incorporate various tile shapes and colors into a single unit, simplifying installation and creating a stunning focal point on your floor.

Color Creativity 

The ability to mix and match colors further expands the design possibilities:

Defined Zones

Create a sense of definition by using a darker shade for the perimeter of the floor and a lighter shade for the center. This approach visually breaks up the space and can make a room feel larger.

Pops of Personality

Incorporate accent tiles in contrasting colors to add a touch of personality to your floor. This can be a great way to tie in elements from your décor or create a specific mood.

With a little planning and creativity, subway tiles can be transformed from a simple material into a design element that elevates the aesthetics and functionality of your floor.


Choosing Subway Tiles for Floors

The timeless charm of subway tiles extends beyond walls, gracing the floors of modern and traditional homes alike. But before you commit to these rectangular beauties underfoot, consider both their design appeal and practical aspects. We'll navigate you through selecting the right material and finish to ensure durability and safety, and provide some installation tips.

Floor-Rated Subway Tiles 

Not all subway tiles are created equal. While the visual charm may be similar, opting for tiles specifically rated for floor use is crucial for long-lasting beauty and functionality. Here's a deeper dive into what sets floor-rated subway tiles apart:

Enhanced Strength and Resilience

Floor-rated subway tiles are typically thicker and denser than their wall counterparts. This increased thickness translates to greater strength and resilience, allowing them to withstand the daily wear and tear of regular walking. They are less susceptible to cracking under pressure or impact from dropped objects or furniture compared to thinner wall tiles.

Superior Moisture Resistance

Denser materials used in floor-rated subway tiles boast lower water absorption rates. This is a critical quality for a floor tile, as it minimizes the risk of moisture damage and staining. Wall tiles, with their higher porosity, can absorb water over time, leading to potential cracking, warping, or even mold growth.

Material Matters 

The success of subway tiles on floors hinges on choosing the right material. Standard wall tiles might not be up to the daily wear and tear a floor endures. Here's where to focus your selection:


When it comes to floor-rated subway tiles, porcelain reigns supreme. Denser and more durable than standard ceramic, porcelain offers superior resistance to chipping, scratching, and cracking. This makes it a practical choice for busy areas like kitchens, bathrooms, or entryways.

Rectified Edges

Some manufacturers offer porcelain subway tiles with rectified edges. These edges are precisely squared, allowing for a seamless installation with minimal grout lines. This not only enhances the overall aesthetic but also reduces areas prone to dirt and grime accumulation.

Texture Matters 

The undeniable charm of classic smooth subway tiles comes with a trade-off – reduced slip resistance when wet. This can be a safety concern, particularly in areas prone to moisture like bathrooms, laundry rooms, or mudrooms. For floor applications, prioritizing slip resistance is crucial. Here's where the texture of your subway tiles comes into play:

Beyond Smooth Aesthetics

While a high-gloss finish offers a sleek and reflective look, it can become slippery when wet. For floor tiles, consider venturing beyond smooth aesthetics and prioritize textures that enhance safety.

Matte porcelain provides a beautiful solution. This type of porcelain tile undergoes a finishing process that creates a slightly textured surface. While maintaining a certain level of sophistication, the matte finish offers improved traction compared to a high-gloss tile, making it a practical choice for floor applications.

Strategic Placement

Incorporating textured tiles in key areas can significantly improve safety without compromising aesthetics. Shower exits, the area directly outside a shower stall, is a prime location for textured tiles. Stepping out of a wet shower onto a slippery surface can be dangerous. Using textured tiles in this transition zone minimizes the risk of slips and falls.

Mudrooms are also often exposed to moisture from wet shoes and boots. A strategically placed textured tile area near the entrance can help prevent slips, especially during the rainy or snowy seasons.

While textured tiles are particularly important in shower areas and entryways, considering them for the entire bathroom floor can provide a safer and more secure surface, especially for children or elderly individuals.

Balancing Safety and Style

The good news is that prioritizing slip resistance doesn't mean sacrificing style. Textured subway tiles come in a variety of colors and finishes, allowing you to find options that complement your design aesthetic. By carefully considering texture and strategic placement, you can create a beautiful and safe floor that meets both your functional and visual needs.

Grout Considerations 

Grout, the unsung hero of tiled floors, plays a significant role in both the aesthetics and functionality of your subway tile floor. Here's a breakdown of key considerations when selecting grout for your project:

Aesthetics and Design Impact

The color of your grout can significantly impact the overall look and feel of your floor. For a seamless and unified look, choose a grout color that complements the shade of your subway tiles. This approach creates a cohesive flow and emphasizes the beauty of the individual tiles. Lighter grout tones with white or light-colored subway tiles can make a space feel open and airy, while similar-colored grout with darker tiles creates a more sophisticated and monochromatic look.

If you desire a bolder statement, opt for a grout color that contrasts with your subway tiles. Dark grout with white subway tiles creates a striking graphic effect, popular in modern or industrial design styles. This approach can also help define the individual tiles and add visual interest to the floor.

Functionality and Maintenance

Beyond aesthetics, consider the practical aspects of grout.

Standard cement-based grout can be susceptible to staining over time, especially in busy areas or rooms prone to moisture. For improved stain resistance and easier maintenance, consider epoxy grout. Denser and less porous than traditional grout, epoxy grout offers superior resistance to water, spills, and everyday wear and tear. This translates to a floor that requires less frequent cleaning and maintains its pristine appearance for longer. 

While epoxy grout is often recommended for improved stain resistance and easier maintenance, it's important to consult the specific recommendations from both your tile and grout manufacturers.

Weighing the Options

Although epoxy grout offers advantages in stain resistance and maintenance, it also comes with some drawbacks. Epoxy grout can be trickier to work with compared to traditional cement-based grout. It requires a more meticulous application process and a faster working time due to its quicker curing properties. For this reason, it might be best suited for professional installation.

Moreover, while epoxy grout is stain resistant, it requires a different cleaning approach compared to traditional grout. Harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners can damage the epoxy's surface. Opt for specially formulated cleaners designed for epoxy grout to maintain its shine and prevent dulling.

Remember, the ideal grout type for your project depends on various factors. Consider consulting a professional for personalized recommendations based on your specific needs and preferences. If you prioritize a clean and low-maintenance floor and are comfortable with professional installation, epoxy grout might be a worthwhile investment. However, if a DIY approach is preferred and a more forgiving grout is desired, traditional cement-based grout in a complementary color can still achieve a beautiful and functional floor.

Installation Tips 

Proper installation is crucial for the longevity and beauty of your subway tile floor. Here are some key tips:

Subfloor Preparation

The foundation of any successful tile installation is a properly prepared subfloor. The subfloor should be level, flat, and structurally sound. Unevenness can lead to cracked tiles and grout failure over time. Depending on the existing subfloor material, this might involve leveling compounds, plywood underlayment, or repairs to address any existing damage.

Professional Installation

While experienced DIYers can tackle subway tile installation, for larger areas or intricate patterns, consider hiring a professional tile setter. Professionals possess the expertise and experience to ensure proper subfloor preparation, tile layout, grouting techniques, and overall quality of the installation. This can save time, frustration, and potentially costly repairs down the line.

Sealing Grout

Even after cleaning excess grout, microscopic pores can remain, potentially leading to staining and making cleaning more difficult. To address this, sealing the grout is highly recommended for easier maintenance and improved stain resistance. However, it's important to consult the recommendations from your grout manufacturer to determine if sealing is necessary for the specific type of grout used on your floor.



Alternatives to Subway Tiles for Floors

Subway tiles offer a certain charm, but they might not be the ideal choice for every floor. If durability, slip resistance, or a wider range of design options are priorities, then considering alternative floor tiles might be the better route. Here are some popular options that can achieve a similar aesthetic or address the limitations of subway tiles:

Natural Stone Tiles 

Natural stone tiles like slate, granite, or limestone can create a luxurious and timeless look for floors. However, stone tiles require more care and maintenance compared to porcelain due to their inherent porosity. Regular sealing is essential to prevent staining. The natural variations in color and texture of stone tiles add a unique character but might not be ideal for those seeking a uniform look.

Engineered Wood 

Engineered wood flooring planks can provide a warmer and more natural aesthetic compared to subway tiles. While not waterproof, engineered wood offers good moisture resistance and can be a suitable option for areas with moderate moisture exposure. Modern engineered wood comes in various plank widths and finishes, including some that mimic the clean lines of subway tiles.

The best alternative for your project depends on your budget, desired aesthetics, lifestyle needs, and comfort preferences. Consider factors like durability, slip resistance, water resistance, maintenance requirements, and ease of installation when making your final decision.


Maintenance and Care for Subway Tile Floors 

Maintaining the beauty and longevity of your subway tile floor requires a consistent cleaning routine. Here's a breakdown of essential maintenance practices, but it's important to always follow the specific recommendations of the manufacturers of your tiles and grout.

Regular Cleaning 

The smooth, non-porous surface (for porcelain and glazed ceramic tiles) of subway tiles makes them relatively easy to clean. However, using the right cleaning products is crucial to avoid damaging the surface. For everyday cleaning, sweep or dust mop the floor regularly to remove loose dirt and debris. Weekly or bi-weekly mopping with a solution of warm water and a mild, pH-neutral floor cleaner is typically sufficient. While the cleaning method outlined here is a general recommendation, it's important to always follow the specific care instructions provided by the manufacturers of your tiles. Avoid harsh chemicals, abrasive cleaners, or scouring pads, as they can scratch the tile surface or dull the finish. Always follow the cleaning product manufacturer's instructions for dilution and application. After mopping, ensure the floor dries completely to prevent water spots or the growth of mildew.

Grout Maintenance 

Grout lines are more prone to accumulating dirt, grime, and soap scum compared to the tiles themselves. Regular cleaning of the grout is essential to prevent staining and the growth of mold or mildew, which can be unsightly and pose health risks. For routine cleaning, a solution of warm water and white vinegar can be effective. Mix equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle and apply it directly to the grout lines. Let the solution sit for a few minutes to loosen grime, then scrub gently with a soft-bristled brush and rinse thoroughly with clean water. For tougher stains, consider using a commercially available grout cleaner specifically formulated for ceramic or porcelain tiles. Always test any cleaning solution on an inconspicuous area first to ensure it doesn't discolor the grout. In extreme cases, diluted bleach can be used as a last resort, but with extreme caution. Bleach can weaken the grout over time, so use sparingly and rinse thoroughly. Consult the recommendations from your grout manufacturer for specific cleaning instructions.

Resealing Grout 

Over time, exposure to moisture, cleaning products, and the movement of people around your home can degrade the sealant on grout lines, making them more susceptible to staining. Resealing the grout periodically, especially in busy areas like bathrooms or kitchens, helps maintain its water resistance and makes cleaning easier. The frequency of resealing depends on several factors, including the type of grout used, sealant quality, and level of activity in the area. Generally, reapplication every 1-3 years is recommended for busy areas, while less frequently used areas might require resealing every 5-10 years. Choose a penetrating sealer specifically designed for the type of grout used on your floor. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for application and ensure proper ventilation during the process.


Subway tiles, with their undeniable charm, can be a captivating choice for flooring. However, their suitability hinges on a thoughtful evaluation. Prioritize floor-rated materials and textured finishes for enhanced durability and slip resistance. Embrace the ease of cleaning but acknowledge the increased attention grout lines require. Remember, alternative options like porcelain floor tiles or LVT offer similar aesthetics with potentially better performance. Ultimately, the decision rests on your desired look, lifestyle needs, and budget. By carefully considering all aspects, you can transform your space with a floor that reflects your style and endures the test of time.

Ready to see how subway tiles would look in your own space? Try our interactive AR tool! With this handy feature, you can visualize different subway tile options within your home's setting, allowing you to make a more confident decision for your flooring project.

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