Cement tiles are a striking flooring option that can be used to add a pop of color or a bold pattern to your living space, kitchen, bathroom, foyer or more. Made by hand, they are reminiscent of old world style and can be a great choice for those looking for something more unique than the run-of-the-mill ceramic tile. While cement tile is beautiful, it’s important to know how to properly care for them so that they last a long time and stay looking their best.
Cement (or encaustic) tiles are concrete tiles that have been colored by adding mineral pigments to the mix during production. This makes them different than traditional ceramic tiles, which are fired in a kiln and typically have a glossy finish that can be glazed for added durability. Despite their name, encaustic tiles are not actually made from wax, but rather from a mixture of Portland cement, marble powder, fine sand and natural mineral color pigments. Because they are handmade, each one of these tiles has slight imperfections that give it character and depth.
The earliest appearance of these concrete floor tiles was around 711 in Moorish Spain, where they were utilized to decorate palaces and other lavish buildings. Cement tiles became more popular in Southern France at the turn of the 20th century and had a strong influence on Art Nouveau style. Today, these durable, versatile and eye-catching design elements are gaining in popularity once again, particularly amongst designers seeking an authentic look that’s less taxing on the environment than industrially produced ceramic or porcelain tile.
Because these artisanal tiles are handmade, there is a wide variation in their quality, from the clarity of the patterns to the consistency of the color and the overall wear resistance. Typically, the first layer is a mixture of white cement, powdered marble and natural mineral color pigments. This layer can be glazed for additional wear resistance, and also for a more vibrant or shiny aesthetic. The second layer is a mortar, usually comprised of standard portland gray cement and fine sand. These two layers are pressed together, and the resulting tile has a surface that can be glazed for additional protection, as well as for color and texture variety.
The main advantage of these tiles over ceramic or porcelain is that they are frost-proof and can be used in any outdoor applications. They can withstand cold temperatures and are often found on patios, pool decks, porches and other places where the sun is beating down. However, like concrete in general, they are not recommended for areas that will experience frequent freeze/thaw cycles, such as driveways and other exterior hardscape surfaces. However, a few of our pre-cast concrete tile options, like the Arabesque and Rustic Cement Tile, are designed to resist these cycles and can be used in any outdoor environments.