Is Ceramic Tile Toxic? Choosing Safe Bathroom Flooring for Project One-Eleven

Written by:

John Goss

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Project One-Eleven is our non-toxic home renovation project. We’re taking an old row house that’s been serving as an office and converting it back into a residence where you’ll be able to come test mattresses and other Good Stuff. Because we’re all about the Good Stuff, we’re using non- toxic and sustainable products, materials, and processes as much as possible. We’re blogging about the process to share the joys and challenges of taking a non-toxic approach to home renovation.

Once we had finished redoing the wood floors and installing kitchen cabinets, we began considering how deep of a reno we wanted to do in the two bathrooms. Actually, the third-floor bathroom was a kitchenette when we bought the place, so we knew that it would be a big project to turn this into a master bath/laundry room.

The second-floor bathroom, on the other hand, already had a tub/shower combo, complete with tiled walls. While this room wasn’t particularly pretty (basic white 4X4 wall tile), we decided to keep much of it intact because it is fundamentally very sound and didn’t present any toxins, with one major exception: vinyl floors!

The floors in both bathrooms were this hideous vinyl.

Toxic Vinyl Flooring: How Long Does it Off-Gas?

Unfortunately, the floors in both of the would-be bathrooms were vinyl, as is not unusual in many modern homes. Vinyl flooring is not only toxic, but does not age particularly well. After only a few years it can often look faded, worn, curled, and generally hideous. The ones in One-Eleven were quite “vintage”…meaning they had expired long ago. Both floors had to be replaced.

Vinyl (PVC) can off-gas for as many as twenty years, so it’s something we feel is always worth replacing. The vinyl in One-Eleven was so old (I would guess more than 30 years) that it actually had probably finished the off-gassing. Therefore, in order to get an aesthetic we liked, we only had to go over these floors with another material, rather than removing the vinyl entirely.

Non-Toxic Bathrood Floor Options

Of course, another coat of vinyl was out of the question for our project. Non-toxic flooring options include:

  • Wood (learn about safe finishes here)
  • Cork
  • Linoleum
  • Bamboo
  • Stone tile
  • Ceramic tile

In an area likely to experience significant exposure to water, it is easy to decide against wood. Cork is relatively water resistant, but still not the best for bathrooms. Ditto for linoleum, which, by the way, is NOT the same as vinyl flooring, although they are often confused. (True linoleum is made from natural components like linseed oil and limestone.) Bamboo might have worked for our bathroom projects, but it too can be damaged by repeated dousings.

This left us with stone tile and ceramic tile. Ceramic and stone tile are some of the least toxic materials found in modern construction. They are also attractive, durable, highly water resistant and generally timeless. If you’re doing a bathroom renovation, either one will work beautifully.

Considering the look and feel we wanted in the house, we decided on white (Carrera) hexagonal marble tile. We chose one larger, and one smaller so the bathrooms would look different.

Choosing Non-Toxic Grout and Mortar

When it came to mortar and grout, we made sure to use only unmodified products. Modified mortar and grout contain latex additives that outgas for a short while after installation; because Daylon and I were doing the installation ourselves, we definitely wanted all materials to be toxin-free.

Installing Our Non-Toxic Tile

The second-floor bathroom installation was done with a product called Ditra-mat, which is a thin, inert, non-toxic plastic grid that covers existing floors and makes an excellent subfloor for tile installations.

The 3rd floor bathroom also had this refrigerator to contend with; we opted to lower it out the window!

The3rd-floorr bathroom also had this refrigerator to contend with; we opted to lower it out the window!

Upon closer inspection, we found the structural integrity of the third-floor bathroom floor to be lacking. We decided to beef it up while providing a suitable surface for tile. We used a gypsum backer board and screwed it down with a grid pattern that resulted in a screw about every four inches. That floor is going to stay put!

We also decided to install the same tile in a 3×6 subway pattern on the walls surrounding the tub on the third floor.

In the end, we got a very durable, water resistant, non-toxic installation with a look that we loved. Here are the “after” photos of each bathroom:

We’d love to hear your thoughts, as well as your own experiences working with tile.

Stay sane!

John, Certified Holistic Health Coach

Note: This article contains affiliate links or sponsored content, which means that if you make a purchase, we may earn a commission. We only recommend products that meet our strict standards for non-toxicity and that we use (or want to use!) ourselves. Thank you so much for supporting the brands that make Good Stuff! 

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Leave a Reply

  1. Lynn Z Avatar

    Hey there! Gorgeous renovation! I have severe chemical sensitivities so I’m concerned about the quality of the tiles (potentially lead or other issues), where do you guys get yours from? They are gorgeous!

  2. ALEJANDRA NEIRA Avatar
    ALEJANDRA NEIRA

    Did you consider epoxy resin or microcement? If not, can you tell me why?

  3. Shermie Garcia Avatar

    Thanks, JOHN GOSS for such type of natural product implementation. Here you explain Non-Toxic tile. But I want to know that how much stronger than artificial titles.

  4. Nina Avatar
    Nina

    Hi, can you recommend a nontoxic mortar or adhesive for putting ceramic tile on a new floor? And also a grout? Reading this blog though, now I’m wondering if the tiles I got (pretty sure they’re ceramic and not porcelain) have lead. How do I test them? Is there something I can buy? Thx.

  5. Gerard Avatar
    Gerard

    Can I do a polished concrete floor? If so, do you know of any non-toxic products to get it done?

  6. Heather Avatar
    Heather

    Have you found a good shower door and tub? I see you have a bath? Are the old plastic ones ok or should we only go with ceramic? Also, what about shower doors? Is an EVA curtain Better than tempered glass with coating?

  7. Dan Avatar
    Dan

    I have read that ceramic, porcelain tiles can be somewhat high in radon? How does one test? Love your work!

    1. WS Avatar
      WS

      Hey Dan! Did you ever find an answer to your question? I’m curious as well.