The pandemic has thrown the spotlight on issues of hygiene as never before; The Tile Association explains tiled surfaces’ wide applications for helping achieve clean, healthy environments.
Tiles are a durable and aesthetic solution for walls and floors in domestic homes, and current trends are increasing the appeal even further. Large format tiles, metro tiles, industrial look and wood-effect are increasingly popular, and, more importantly, there are practical health and safety benefits as well.
Current concerns about health and hygiene, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, are likely to remain with us long after the current health crisis has passed. Housebuilders and developers are sure to be looking hard at the hygiene benefits of tiled surfaces long into the future.
The current generation of wood-effect tiles are one interesting example of the benefits tiled surfaces can bring, since they give the aesthetic impression of real wood flooring, but bring hygienic properties to the home, which wood flooring could never hope to achieve.
This is not unique to wood-effect tiles, of course. All tiled surfaces are inherently hygienic.
There are sometimes concerns about the grouted area, but grout areas in a tiled surface will in fact normally only amount to about 3 per cent of the total area, and if epoxy grouts are used, the surface will be totally impervious and will not harbour bacteria or viruses, provided an appropriate cleaning regime is employed.
It is also worth noting that tiled surfaces can safely be cleaned at temperatures in excess of 60°C, since they are fired to temperatures far above that during the manufacturing process. This means that tiles are a good solution in an environment where boiling liquids might accidentally get spilt on them.
Glazed tiles and certain types of unglazed tiles, such as increasingly popular porcelain tiles, are to all intents and purposes impervious. When used with epoxy grouts, this enhances the level of protection still further, since these are also impervious.
The relevant British Standard is BS EN 14411:2012, which covers the specification of ceramic wall and floor tiles, including their resistance to abrasion and chemicals. BS 5385-4:2015 includes a code of practice for the design and installation of ceramic and mosaic tiling in specific conditions. This gives recommendations on design considerations and on the installation of ceramic wall and floor tiling and mosaics in situations where there are specific environmental or functional requirements.
BS 5385-4:2015 also covers grouts and states that: “Epoxide-resin based materials are superior to cementitious mixtures by virtue of their impermeability and smooth surface texture whereby the degree of contamination is reduced and cleaning facilitated”. Grouts used should conform to BS 13888, which covers the specification, conformity and evaluation of all types of tile grout.
Research has been carried out in the past by the Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association, published in the Journal of Applied Bacteriology, which concludes that “the grouted joints and texture did not compromise the cleanabilities of tiled surfaces.” The research also states that the cleanability of tiled surfaces with grouted joints is not compromised over that of tiles alone.
Tiled surfaces can even have a beneficial effect on the air we breathe in the home. All building materials can have an impact on air quality. The manufacture of ceramic tiles results in a final product which is inorganic and fully inert. This means that tiled surfaces do not emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Air quality & allergens
Tiles are also hypoallergenic, since the hard surfaces on ceramic tiles don’t give allergens a place to hide. Ease of cleaning also means that dust mites, pet hairs, pollen and other chemical allergens common to other floorings have nowhere to hide on a tiled surface. Tiles are also resistant to the growth of mould and mildew spores.
There are also no chemicals in tiles which can potentially cause an allergic reaction, such as formaldehyde or halogenated flame retardants, as can be found in vinyl, wood or carpet.
From a fire safety perspective, ceramic tiles are neutral in terms of fire risk, being non-combustible. Since they don’t burn, they don’t cause smoke and will not emit toxins in a fire as many other floorings do.
A further consideration for housebuilders is in the construction of tiling substrates. Waterproofing for tiled surfaces is installed behind the tiles as a tanking system. In other types of installation however, such as a vinyl flooring system, the vinyl may provide the tanking itself. Therefore any failure or damage to the covering or poor sealing techniques at the drain interface could have serious consequences for water sensitive backgrounds and subsequent bacteria colonisation. Whereas if a tile is damaged then the background, when tanked, remains fully protected and the waterproofing element is maintained.
An area that TTA has been working on is that of slip resistance of tiled surfaces, and TTA has a technical document on Slip Resistance of Hard Flooring. Ceramic tiles are not inherently slippery when clean and dry, but the slip resistance of any type of floor covering can significantly reduce if it becomes contaminated by any form of lubricant, such as water or dust, depending upon the floor’s surface texture and footwear used. Anti-slip tiles for use in bathrooms and wetrooms are available from many manufacturers, and can also feature special step tread patterns.
All work should be carried out to British Standard BS5385. In its latest revision (2018), tiling directly to plywood is no longer recommended for wall tiling. A bespoke tiling backer board should be used – as described previously, the integrity of the tiling substrate can itself have important hygiene implications.
The latest British Standard also states that tiling works should be carried out by a skilled operative, who has been trained to a level of competence, certified by a recognised authoritative body, such as the TTA.
The Tile Association is an independent trade association representing the UK tiling industry