What's the Difference Between Pool Tile vs. Regular Tile?

What's the Difference Between Pool Tile vs. Regular Tile?
by Danielle Major

A lot of customers ask us, “What’s the difference between pool tile and regular tile?" The answer is not always simple, so because it’s a common question asked frequently, we thought we’d address the topic in one of our blogs.

Is there a difference between Pool Tile and Regular Tile?

As you have probably found in your search for information on the subject, there are many different types of tiles including porcelain tile, glass tile, pebble tile, etc. that all come in a variety of shapes, colors, and finishes and can be used in a variety of applications. But what's the difference? Which one should you choose and why?

With so many options, it can be hard to decide on what's right for you. Let's take a dive into some of the most frequently asked questions regarding pool tile and get some answers from leading experts in the industry. 

Is Pool Tile Stronger than Regular Tile?

This is by far one of the most important questions asked regarding pool tile. The short answer here is YES!

blue glass tile

Like the blue glass tile seen in the picture above, swimming pool tile is much more durable than regular tile. Unlike the tile used in a kitchen backsplash or bathroom, pool tile needs to withstand being submerged in water, blasted by UV rays, being exposed to harsh pool chemicals, and be able to hold out against huge temperature fluctuations. For these reasons, they need to meet certain standards such as water absorption, thermal shock, etc. that other "regular" kitchen or bath tiles may not need to meet. 

What are the standards for pool tile? What is a “Pool Rated” Tile?

But what are these standards and who sets them? Any qualified professional should be familiar with the Tile Council of North America, or TCNA for short.

The TCNA is a trade association recognized for advancing the development of North American and international quality standards of ceramic tile, installation materials, equipment, and other tile-related products (tcnatile.com).

The TCNA was founded to ensure that consumers and trade professionals are protected and that every installation is of the highest quality. They test tiles for the following before certifying them as pool tiles:

  • Breaking strength
  • Chemical resistance
  • Crazing resistance
  • Facial dimensions and thickness
  • Freeze & thaw
  • Slip resistance
  • Thermal shock resistance
  • Warpage
  • Water absorption

For all these reasons, pool tile can be used for all other interior applications, however, other "regular tile" you buy from another company is not necessarily good for swimming pools. At AquaBlu, pool tile is our specialty, and we have the largest selection available on the Internet.

What is waterline tile? What is the best tile to put around a pool?

waterline tile for pools

A waterline refers to the band of tile that wraps around the perimeter of most plaster or aggregate swimming pools at the water level. This band exists primarily for ease of maintenance but has become a focal point when planning the aesthetic for the pool or spa area. If there were no waterline tile installed, the area the band spans would begin to look dirty and faded over time due to scum buildup where the water level meets the shell of the pool. 

Traditionally, 6" x 6" porcelain tile has been used to cover this area to help prevent this, but glass mosaics have become increasingly popular over the last few decades due to their timeless look and potentially indefinite lifespan. 

How do I choose a pool tile? 

We recommend starting with color. Porcelain and glass are both very durable and easy to maintain. You really can't go wrong with either option, however you can get more color options with glass and they tend to provide more of a "high-end" look. If you are going for a traditional look or are purchasing on a budget, porcelain is a good option.

colors of pool tile

After choosing a color we recommend thinking about format and chip size. Do you want a unique shape for your tiles or a more traditional, rectangular tile? Do you want smaller squared tiles or larger, wider-shaped tiles? There are so many shapes and sizes available, especially in glass, so there's sure to be something for everyone! 

Browse online for the best variety of both and order some samples before a large purchase. Here at AquaBlu, we offer all customers who purchase samples a $25 coupon to apply to a larger order. They practically pay for themselves! Visit our website and browse our tile collection by design here

How much does it cost to tile a pool? Can I tile my entire pool?

The answer varies drastically by region as installation costs are very different from state to state. For material costs, you’d expect to pay between $5 - $30 per square foot on average for the material alone.

When doing just the waterline, you can expect to need between 30 to 80 square feet, depending on the size of your pool. 

*Pro Tip: If you decide to go with a 6" waterline, take the linear footage of the perimeter of the pool and divide by 2 to get the square footage of tile required. We also recommend purchasing an additional 10% of materials to account for waste and to have extras on hand if a future repair is needed. This is the average most professionals will include in their estimates.

For an all-tile pool finish, you can expect to need between 500 to 1,500 square feet on average (*calculations based on pool sizes of 10’x20’ to 20’x40', with 5.5’ average depth).

Is glass tile good for pools?

Yes, glass tile is by far the most durable and long-lasting pool finish. 

Glass tile has a longer life span, as it holds up to drastic weather conditions unlike some other tiles exposed or submerged in water. Therefore it makes for a much more low-maintenance pool finish over the years of use.

blue glass tile pool finish

It’s also the most eco-friendly option in choices for pool finishes as most tiles we carry are created with recycled materials. There are many more tile design options when using glass tile for your pool.  Find out more about all glass pool finishes in our next article!

Can I use pool tile in a bathroom or kitchen?

Yes, of course! Pool-rated tile would be a great choice for a bathroom or kitchen tile. Since it exceeds standards for interior applications, tile that is rated for pools will withstand years of use in a shower, backsplash, or floor. 

glass tile for bathrooms and kitchen

Feel free to browse our interior tile collection, many which are pool rated glass tile, for inspiration on your bathroom or kitchen remodel.

Get started building your paradise

Need some help with planning and picking the right materials? We can help! AquaBlu is staffed with educated team members who can walk you through the process of finding the right pool tile, mosaic tile, pool mosaic art, and grout to get the job done right. 

 Hear from some of our customers we helped find the right tile for the job:

"New glass tile was a much needed upgrade to our 15 year old fiberglass pool. Thanks AquaBlu for your extensive online tile selection, sample tile delivery and ease of ordering. Our pool once again looks fabulous!" - Christopher H. | Verified Buyer 
9/5/2021 - Naval Blue