are cement tiles right for me?

the 6 things you need to know.

by clé tile | published: Feb 10, 2023

Scattered square cement tiles in multiple colors.

since clé first launched cement tiles almost a decade ago, they’ve gained huge momentum. but these tiles—notable for the way they can take on incredible color and detailed patterns in nearly any shape—still elicit a lot of questions.

yes, they’re as durable as they are attractive, which is why our clients use them in everything from hotels and restaurants to kitchens and hallways. but are they low maintenance? are they always uniform? and most importantly, are they for you? if you’re curious about adding cement tiles to your project, read on as we dispel the most common untruths we hear about them.

what are the biggest misconceptions about cement tiles?

misconception no. 6: you can place multiple orders for the same tile design and they’ll all be the same.

A bathroom with a wall mural of a jungle and blue rectangular clé tiles.

2x8 rectangle in federal blue. design: laney la / photo: joe fletcher

A shower wall with black rectangular tiles and a blue, white and black watercolor wallpaper wall.

2x8 rectangle in black. design/photo: indigo interiors

welcome to what are called “add-on orders.” we get it—miscalculations happen, minds change, or damage occurs and you want to get your hands on more of the same tile.

but here’s the thing: they’ll invariably be from a different batch than your previous order, and matching batches is near impossible. that’s the beauty (or curse, depending on your POV) of handmade, small-batch artisan tile—each batch will vary in color, texture, thickness, and so on. save yourself the headache and order a minimum of 15% overage to cover tile cuts, breakage, future repairs, or 20-30% more if you’re working with zellige (particularly if you’re looking for less variation).

misconception no. 5: cement tiles are easy to install.

anyone can do it, right? 100% false. installing artisan tile is a specialized skill that not even the most seasoned installer can handle unless they’ve worked with it before (and many times, at that).

the ideal installer has experience with the specific tile you want to use as well as the nuances of the material, variation, and the art of staging and blending (in other words, if you’ve seen them install tiles straight from the box, run!). so take your time, read our guidelines, and be involved. because in the end, your tile is only as good as your installer.

misconception no. 4: cement tiles aren’t durable.

A bathroom with white subway tiles and light teal tiles in a chevron pattern.

(floor) 2x8 rectangle in basil. design: jr corleto / photo: virtually here studios

rubbish. there’s a reason why they’re used in both commercial and residential spaces for everything from walls and backsplashes to flooring in high-traffic areas—clé cement tile fulfills the need for a sturdy, hardworking tile that’s handmade by artisans and designer-approved. they’re tough and enduring, as long as they’re cared for properly. which brings us to…

misconception no. 3: cement tiles are low maintenance.

if only. if you’re averse to taking care of your tile at all, explore our subway options, instead.

but the good news is that with the right TLC, they can last for generations.

alhambra 8x8 square in federal blue + white. design: ruthi daugherty / photo: sterling reed.

custom checkerboard with 8x8 squares in barn and 8x8 squares in metal

when sealed, clé cement tiles are fairly easy to maintain—they can be cleaned with your everyday pH-neutral cleaner and a soft cloth or mop. cement tiles will develop a natural patina over time which will help protect the tile from general wear, but you should still use caution when cleaning your tiles to avoid scratches or chemical stains.

but remember what they say: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. clean up materials like acids, oil and soap immediately–never leave them to soak.

for the full lowdown on how to clean and care for cement tile, check out our detailed post here.

in short: if your cement tile installation is sealed and refinished by a professional on an annual basis, your cement tiles will last a lifetime even in spaces that experience high traffic or constant exposure to water.

misconception 2: cement tiles should be entirely uniform in color.

we mentioned the impossibility of matching different batches in add-on orders above, but even within the same batch, there’s still going to be differences in tone and saturation.

like most other handcrafted tile, cement is not immune to variation in color or shape, meaning no two cement tiles will be identical—some corners may not line up perfectly, some patterns won’t look cookie-cutter. (note: at clé we rate cement tiles v3 for color variation, and t1 for texture variation–less than materials such as zellige or terracotta, but still noteworthy. more information is outlined in our tile variation reference guide). but a little “wiggle,” as we call it, enhances the character of the installation and makes it more interesting.

Square cement tiles in bright blue around a bathtub in a tropical home.

8x8 square in federal blue. design: imkm architecture / photo: anita calero arboleda

Rectangular tiles in a light basil green, installed vertically on a bathroom wall.

2x8 rectangle in basil. Design: oslo design / photo: Kate Longley

misconception no. 1: cement tiles are perfect (and will remain so forever).

in case myths 2-6 didn’t make it clear, the answer is that they definitely are not—and that’s why we love them.

as we note in the “read this before you buy this tile” sections of our product pages, cement tiles will change over time. they’re not UV resistant, so installations exposed to the sun will gradually fade a bit, which is why we recommend neutral colors for outdoor use.

Square tiles with an arc design create a sweeping pattern on a patio floor.

arc 8x8 square in federal blue. design: abbie naber / photo: jennifer siegwart

it’s also important to note that cement tiles will patina. the porous nature of cement, even when sealed, means it will take on the “umami” of any well-loved surface as it gets enriched with age (think: wood floors). curious to learn more about patina? head here.

so while it’s easy to fall for the good looks that cement tile offers, be honest with how much variation you can handle, as well as how much attention you want to pay for its upkeep.

if perfection is what you seek, cement tiles probably aren’t for you. instead, you might prefer a ceramic tile or glazed thin brick tile—just as special as cement, with a little less of the variation and maintenance.

Blue, green and white cement tiles on a kitchen floor.

criss cross 8x8 square in federal blue + kelly. design: hendley + co. / photo: bone design nyc

Square cement tiles in medium blue and white behind a toilet and bidet.

cinema collection: mythology, flanders neutral duo in mallard + paste (2pc bundle)

still have questions? check out our cement resources or feel free to reach out.