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Which direction should rectangular tile be placed in bathroom?

When installing rectangular tile in a bathroom, one of the first decisions to make is which direction to lay the tiles. Should they run horizontally or vertically? This choice affects the look and feel of the space, so it’s an important consideration. There are pros and cons to both orientations, and the right direction depends on the layout and dimensions of the bathroom, personal preferences, and other factors. With some planning and forethought, you can choose the ideal tile direction to achieve the look you want.

Consider the Dimensions of the Bathroom

One of the most important factors when choosing tile direction is the proportions of the bathroom. In a small bathroom, vertical tiles can create the illusion of height and make the space feel larger. Horizontal tiles emphasize the width of a room. In a narrow bathroom, vertical tiles are a better choice, while horizontal works better in a wide room.

In a square bathroom, either direction can work well. But pay attention to the location of fixtures and features like the tub, shower, vanity, and windows. You’ll want the tile lines to complement the shape and layout of the bathroom. Vertical tiles draw the eye up and down, while horizontal lines create a wide, expansive feeling.

Match the Tile Layout to Fixtures and Features

Aligning the tile with plumbing fixtures and other features creates a cohesive look. For example, laying tile vertically can accentuate the height of a narrow shower stall. Using horizontal tiles in a bathroom with a soaker tub can emphasize the length of the tub.

Consider the placement of the vanity, toilet, and any windows or decorative niches as well. You’ll usually want the tile lines to frame and highlight these elements. Pay attention to the shape and placement of the mirror above the vanity too.

Consider the Tile Size and Pattern

The dimensions of the individual tiles should factor into your direction decision. Large tiles like 12″ by 24″ planks often look best laid horizontally. The long side of the plank complements the width of the room. Smaller tiles like 2″ by 2″ mosaics can be laid in either direction.

The tile pattern makes a difference too. Running bond patterns with offset rows are more forgiving and can work with either orientation. Patterns like stacked bond may dictate running the tile vertically so the stacked lines are parallel. Herringbone patterns point the tiles in one direction.

Think About the Doorway View

Take a look at the view into the bathroom from the doorway. In most cases, you’ll want to lay an even grid of tiles so the room looks balanced. If the first view in is a short end wall, vertical tiles can be anchored there. For a longer side wall, horizontal may be a better match.

The floor tiles in the adjoining room are another consideration if you want continuous flow. Matching the direction can make the rooms feel more connected.

Consider the Ceiling Height

The ceiling height can impact the ideal tile direction. A bathroom with a very high ceiling can handle strong vertically oriented tiles. This draws the eye up and makes the space feel grand.

Low ceilings need horizontal tiles to create a feeling of width. Vertical tiles in a room with a low ceiling can feel imposing and make the space seem cramped.

Factor in Lighting and Windows

Pay attention to natural and artificial lighting elements and how they interact with tile direction. Vertical tiles complement tall narrow windows that bring in light. Wide windows favor horizontal tile.

For artificial lighting, horizontal tiles work well with long linear light fixtures running across the ceiling. Vertical tiles pair better with pendant lights hanging down. Make sure the tile orientation complements the lighting layout.

Consider Maintenance and Moisture

The practicalities of keeping tiles clean and dealing with moisture should factor into placement direction as well. Horizontal floors are easier to mop and sweep. Vertical tiles on walls allow moisture to drip down into the tub or shower pan more easily.

Small grout lines between vertical tiles mean less accumulation of soap scum and mildew. Horizontal grout lines are easier to scrub. Balance the tile direction with the cleaning needs of the space.

Personalize the Look and Feel

Bathroom tile direction ultimately comes down to personal preference as well. An evenly laid grid can feel clean and orderly. Or you can break the rules and get creative.

Running vertical tiles on the walls but horizontal on the floor is a striking accent. Large-scale diagonal patterns make a statement. Contrasting directions in different zones can define functions.

Decide whether you want to follow conventions or get innovative with how the tile directs the eye through the room. This choice impacts the character of the space.

Tips for Laying Out Tile Direction

Once you’ve weighed all the factors, follow these tips to plot out the tile direction:

  • Map out the tile plan on paper first. Sketch reference points like the vanity and shower outlines.
  • Indicate the directional arrows to keep tiles aligned. Mark both floor and wall tiles.
  • Start tiling in the center of the room if possible. Work outward from a focal point.
  • Dry lay tiles and make adjustments before setting them permanently.
  • Use leveling systems and spacers to keep tiles even and straight.
  • Double check the alignment and pattern periodically to avoid getting off track.

With some forethought about the look you want to achieve, you can choose the ideal tile direction for your bathroom layout and style. Consider all the factors that impact the visual flow and perspective. The orientation of the tile grid defines the character of the room. Take care to lay out the direction thoughtfully for a cohesive aesthetic that suits your needs.

The Pros and Cons of Horizontal and Vertical Tile Layouts

Here is an overview of the relative advantages and disadvantages of horizontal and vertical tile orientations:

Horizontal Tile Layout


  • Emphasizes the width and makes space feel wider
  • Works well with long tub and sink orientations
  • Easier to clean floors with horizontal sweeping
  • Matches continuous floor tile in other rooms


  • Can make high ceilings feel even higher
  • Not ideal for narrow bathroom spaces
  • Horizontal grout lines on walls can collect more grime
  • May compete with vertical windows and fixtures

Vertical Tile Layout


  • Draws the eye up to emphasize height
  • Complements tall narrow elements like niches and windows
  • Minimizes wall grout lines for easier cleaning
  • Feels more dynamic and modern


  • Can make wide open rooms feel crowded
  • Not aligned with horizontal tub and sink shapes
  • Floor mopping requires sideways motions
  • Competes with continuous horizontal floor tile

Tips for Choosing Bathroom Tile Direction

Here are some top tips to guide your bathroom tile direction decision:

  • Go vertical in a narrow room and horizontal in a wide room
  • Align tiles with angles of fixtures like tub and shower
  • Match any continuous floor tile direction
  • Lay out a full grid to balance the space
  • Use vertical tiles to draw the eye up to high ceilings
  • Emphasize horizontal with lower ceiling heights
  • Consider ease of cleaning with wall versus floor tiles
  • Pick a direction that complements lighting fixtures
  • Start tiling from a focal point and work outward
  • Use spacers and levels to maintain alignment


Determining the best direction for laying rectangular bathroom tile requires considering many aspects of the room. Start by evaluating the physical proportions and layout. Look at how the tiles can align with plumbing and decor. Take into account tile sizes, patterns, entrance views and ceiling height as well.

Factor in lighting, maintenance and personal style preferences too. Weigh how horizontal or vertical orientation impacts the look, functionality and perspective of the room. With a thoughtful approach, you can create the ideal tile layout for your bathroom design.

Example Tile Direction Layouts

Here are some example bathroom layouts with tile direction noted:

Small Narrow Bathroom

Layout: 8 ft x 5 ft with tub along back wall
Tile recommendation: Vertical on walls, horizontal on floor
Why: Vertical emphasises height in narrow room. Horizontal floor makes space feel wider.

Wide Bathroom with Offset Vanity

Layout: 12 ft x 8 ft with vanity on side wall
Tile recommendation: Horizontal on walls and floor
Why: Horizontal makes wide room feel expanded. Aligns with vanity length.

Square Bathroom with Large Shower Stall

Layout: 9 ft x 9 ft with walk-in shower
Tile recommendation: Vertical in shower, horizontal on other walls and floor
Why: Vertical tiles draw eye up in tall shower. Horizontal elongates square room.

Carefully considering your individual bathroom space will allow you to determine the ideal tile direction layout to achieve the look, perspective and functionality you desire.