Plastic bathroom tile: 20 pages of images from 3 catalogs

Plastic tiles seem to have been very popular in the 1950s and, my mom tells me, into the 1960s. In estate sale houses, I see them in both bathrooms and kitchens.  I attribute their popularity to the fact that homeowners could install them themselves — and we were a very DIY nation at the time. Also, these tiles could be easily installed over existing plaster walls — meaning that they were good for renovating the “imperfect” plaster walls in old farmhouses, Victorians and bungalows and to get that  “modern” look.

In fact, the benefits of plastic were highly touted during the entire postwar period. I kind of have a feeling folks thought plastic and ceramic were equal in attractiveness? We were fascinated with the lure of the man-made and technology — this is a critical part of the American identity, even still. Also, I am pretty sure it’s a good guess that plastic tiles were significantly cheaper than ceramic tiles, and that must have been part of the allure as well. In my very recent travels I have picked up three vintage brochures — from Church, Pittsburgh and Coronet Tile Companies — and have scanned the prettiness, and info, for all to share.

Check out the complete slide show…. Click on first thumbnail to launch it, then move forward via the arrows below each image:

Mind you:

  • I am not necessarily the world’s biggest fan of plastic tile. All three of my bathrooms were outfitted with the stuff. The bathrooms had seen some hard livin’, I think, and the stuff was…. nasty. The plastic tiles in my tub/shower surrounds had all rotted through. So much so that previous owners had then pasted marbleized vinyl panels on top of it. The seams were grucky and moldy and oh, I shudder at the memories…. I had that plastic ripped out with joy in my heart and replaced it with ceramic tile all around. Bottom line: I fear that if plastic tile has not been installed well, and if the bathrooms or kitchens have been used heavily, it may not be worth salvaging. I am all for function, folks, and in a bathroom especially, there is nothing that beats waterproof ceramic tile, in my mind.
  • All that said, I did buy a bundle of vintage plastic tile for my kitchen backsplash. Two (gulp) years later, it’s still in a box waiting to be installed. (I’m nerve wracked about how it will look, and yes, simply procrastinating regarding launching yet another house project, one of a gazillion always in the works, or at least, rattling around in my head.) So, you can see, I am not “anti” plastic tile, either.
  • And importantly : Precautionary Pam here: If you do decide to rip your plastic tile out, Lord knows what’s in the old adhesive… smart to have it tested.

Finally, hey, remember this post? Kurt’s kitchen with the large 8″ tiles all around. Wow!
!

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Comments

  1. Coco says

    So now I’m re-thinking taking out the grey plastic tiles in the bathroom….if I can lighten the adhesive that shows between the tiles that has turned yellowish brown. Any suggestions? Thanks – I loved this posting!

  2. says

    We are in the process of renovating our 1920s bungalow’s kitchen. We’re taking most of the walls down to the studs and leaving the 1940s or 50s cabinets. While taking down some of the walls this weekend, we found that there were Cermac plastic tiles on the walls. There were remnants of a few of the tiles, a real pretty aqua blue with marble effect. I wish they were still on the walls instead of the 80s wallpaper! Anyways, as usual, the first place I came to find this brand was here! (Plus Google keeps telling me that I meant “ceramic” not Cermac) Thank you for having this information out there!

  3. dlaw4552 says

    My upstairs bath has black plastic, marble look tile on the walls surrounding the tub…only I’m missing 1 tile…directly under the faucet. if anyone knows where i can find one matching tile to place in there, I would be forever greatful.

      • dlaw4552 says

        1 1/2 years ago…before I owned my older home…(I call it “early depression”), a friend of mine demo-ed one with black and maroon plastic tile. If I would have only known!! I thought of ebay…buy never thought of my local restores!

        Thanks!

  4. Heather Staas says

    Oh gosh.. the home I’m buying has plastic tile in the bathroom… in the dark maroon/burgundy with white streaks.. I was surprised to find out they were from the same period as the rest of the house! Most of it has now fallen off and is just laying around the bathroom. The bathroom is the only room that is really in rough shape, but that just means I get to be more creative in there!

  5. Jules says

    We have 1948 mint ice plastic tiles with black trim in our bathroom. The tiles themselves look fantastic, especially with out all original pink toliet, duel sinks and bath-tub.

    The bummer is the “grout” or whatever the hell is in the joints does not look good. It’s discolored. But I don’t think I can do a simple re-grout because alot of it seems to be on the tile itself, like it somehow made its way out of the joints and onto the edges of tiles if that makes sense. In joints, it’s very cracked. I’m not sure how to clean the edges without ruining the tiles. Any suggestions?

  6. Kathy says

    We recently purchased an old home with green plastic tiles on kitchen wall.
    We want to remove them from wall because the glue underneath makes the whole kitchen stink. I would like to put up wainscot over the area. Removing all the glue is just too time consuming. Is there anything you can put on the glue to cover up the smell?

  7. Barbara Manning says

    I have purchased my parents home which was built in 1950. I want to salvage the grey plastic tiles in the kitchen and bath which are in great shape, that is if I can get them off the wall without breaking them, most are falling off the glue is so dry. QUESTION, what do I use this day in age to glue them back on?
    Thanks!

    • pam kueber says

      Barbara, this is not specifically a DIY site. I recommend you talk to local experts. Also please know: You never know what is in those old adhesives — best to get the stuff tested for vintage nastiness (such as lead and asbestos) before doing demo. Consult with a licensed professional. Good luck.

  8. ahammond says

    I bought a home that’s been in my family since the sixties. The kitchen has the marbled turquoise tiles with rectangular black tiles at the top. At some point, someone had wallpapered over them around the sink and cabinets; they put masking tape over the grout lines to hide the indentations. I used a steaming tea kettle, then a hand steamer to melt that off – took FOREVER…but it was something to do while I talked on the phone. The tiles are 99% in good shape, and I love them. Only problem is today there is nothing in existence that matches that color…so I pretend things match. The bathroom was still while plastic tile…pretty yucky. When the bathroom was redone, I noticed something in the trash…under the white tile was the marbled periwinkle/soft blue tiles! They were beautiful…but the workers had thrown them away before I noticed them. I saved five of them.

    • pam kueber says

      Hi ahammond, I love your story and that you are bringing this house back to life. My favorite line: “The tiles are 99% in good shape, and I love them. Only problem is today there is nothing in existence that matches that color…so I pretend things match.”

  9. ervin Beck says

    I desperately need to know which solvent will remove the original paste-like cement that remains on the bathroom wall after I tore off plastic tiles. If possible, give me a brand name.

    • pam kueber says

      ervin: Whenever you uncover new layers, I recommend you consult with a properly licensed professional to make informed decisions about what to do next. You need to know what is in those layers. Vintage nastiness like lead and asbestos can be found in vintage materials — including adhesives. Renovate safe.

  10. Ted says

    There’s 2 boxes of the blue marbled (50 sq ft per box) at the thrift store. It opens in an hour and you’ve inspired me to buy them. AT $6 a box. I’m not sure what I’m doing with them yet and wish I had another color for accent.

  11. Jules says

    I’m in the same boat as Ervin, but the “experts” I’ve consulted so far don’t seem to know what the adhesive is either. In fact, most initially argue with me when I tell them the tile is plastic. Fortunately, there are some spare pieces that I can show them to prove it.

    If anyone knows of any cracked ice mint plastic tile out there, please let me know. Unfortunately, the spare pieces are not sizes I could actually use.

  12. Joe Felice says

    Once plastic polymers were discovered and able to mass produced, our fascination went wild. All of a sudden, we could have the luxurious look of earlier times at a fraction of the cost. And nothing was spared – floors, countertops, furniture, tile, you name it. When they got to exterior siding, that’s when they went too far! And then, in the ’60s, the process of extrusion was perfected, and we really went wild. Back then, Americans were busy discovering and inventing things so fast, and we were really taken with what we were able to do, which was seemingly everything! The sky was the limit.

  13. Joe Felice says

    Ah, yes–the ’50s! Imitation everything, and what better way to imitate natural products than with plastic? We had a fascination with plastic once uses in the home were discovered. I must say, we were very inventive with it, too! Plastic tiles were popular, but lost their luster (literally) because people didn’t know how to clean them, and cleaning products were more caustic back then. Comet and Brillo pads ruined them, and even the uber-popular Jubilee left them dull after time. Anything with gasoline/naptha will dull plastic, except for laminates.

    Speaking of cleaning, I wish they hadn’t taken the lye out of dishwashing detergent. Dishwashers have never been the same, no matter how elaborate the products have become. Is it possible to purchase dishwashing detergent with lye anywhere these days? Maybe commercial suppliers? Remember when we were able truly sanitize our dishes & glasses? Plus, it helped keep the drain lines flowing.

  14. Adam Kohl says

    I just bought my grandparents’ 1957 ranch with aquamarine marbled plastic tile in the bath. We plan to rent the house out, and for a while I thought there was no way anyone could convince me to remove those awesome tiles that reminded me so much of my childhood. But alas, I think I agree with Pam that these are not suited for tub surrounds (even though my grandmother managed to keep them in AMAZING shape for 56 years!). I think a renter wouldn’t know or care how to take care of them and I’d be getting calls about falling tiles and mildew in no time. So thankful for getting the different perspectives in this thread. I think I’ll replace with equally vintage but more durable 4×4 ceramic. Thanks again!

  15. Cassie says

    My husband and I are trying to remodel our bathroom. we bought our home (built in 1953) from the original owners, well their children anyway. how do we get the adhesive off?? The tiles pop right off but the adhesive is not going without taking the drywall with it.

    • pam kueber says

      I don’t know but, Cassie, please know that vintage materials can contain vintage nastiness like lead and asbestos. Be sure to consult with a properly licensed professional to know what you are working with and to make informed decisions.

      • Joe Felice says

        You are absolutely correct, Pam. In fact, federal law requires [edited; Pam notes: Readers, consult with your own properly licensed professionals regarding applicable laws and guidelines, etc.]

  16. Adam says

    Cassie – I just had the exact same issue last week remodeling my grandmother’s 1957 ranch with plastic tiles in the bathroom. Tiles popped right off but the adhesive didn’t. We ended up tearing out the walls and re-drywalling. :-(

  17. Mary Elizabeth says

    Here is some new-in-box Homart plastic tile on sale on eBay. (Noboby I know, so I’m just pointing you to it.) If you are thinking of using plastic in your mid-century bathroom, keep in mind that this tile, properly installed, has lasted in my bathroom over 50 years. The plastic tile adhesive is not sold by Sears any longer, but you can get it in other brands.

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=310735271709&ssPageName=ADME:B:SS:US:3160

    • Mike B says

      Mary Elizabeth – thank you! I bought those tiles! I have a property I am trying to do a conscientious repair/remodel to which has a large bathroom (first floor laundry in the bath) completely done in those tiles. They covered the walls about 4-1/2 ft high all the way around a 12 ft by 6-1/2 ft room – (except the tub/shower).

      The vast majority of the room is in beautiful shape, including the 1/2″ black border along the top. But a couple of square feet of water damage near the head of the tub put me in a difficult position: remove all the tile in the whole room or do what?

      No easy answers to that dilemna – until you provided it!

      I was the only bidder :-) Thanks again!

  18. Mike B says

    I spent 18 years as a remodeling contractor and still remodel in my spare time (no, I never did a new install of plastic tiles – I’m not THAT old).
    The adhesive looks to me like an early latex, very similar to what is still used on vinyl base molding. It gets extremely brittle, which can help in removing it – IF you’re only doing a small area, and want to replace tiles. Patience, a hammer and a sharp chisel (the wider the better) can be used to carefully peel it off the wall. If the drywall is in good condition you should only just peel half of the paper face off. If the whole paper face comes off leaving bare gysum, there was moisture attacking the drywall and it should be replaced anyway.

    If you are doing away with your plastic tiles, first check for an architectural salvage store (including a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store) in your area. If you have one, please try to save a number of tiles to donate! The most sustainable remodeling methods are those that consume the least new material. You’ll be giving someone like me a chance to avoid tearing out a whole room of tile for lack of a handful. Thanks in advance!

    • michelle says

      mike b. i don’t see your comment. there’s one from you one september 9, 2013. is that the one or is there a current one. i desperately want to put this in, i have the tile i just can’t find any information on what type of adhesive to use, and what the grouting situation is as the tiles are to butt up against each other. it just going to be a backsplash for my kitchen counters. i just haver painted wall there now and it doesn’t see much action as far as wet, or dirt. just a quick wipe down each week. any information would be awesome. thank you.

      • Mike B says

        Michelle I left a rather long post (at the same time I left you that message to check it) but soon noticed that it was awaiting approval by the moderator. Probably due to length. I see it’s still not here so I’m emailing Pam to see if she plans to give it a thumbs up or down.

        • Mike B says

          Michelle my missing comment was held due to the site policy against giving safety or environmental advice. Pam suggested I resubmit minus that advice. Much of that advice was surrounding removal of old adhesive, and I can’t in good conscience instruct on that subject WITHOUT the safety/enviro advice. Since your question is strictly on new install I’ll ditch the old post and start over.

          Any modern LATEX ceramic tile adhesive will work well for your plastic tile (IE: water cleanup). Use a 3/16″ v-notch trowel held at near 90 degrees from the wall for the final pass to scratch the adhesive down to proper depth.

          Look for an all plastic trowel that is (typically) 4-1/8″ square and has one flat edge and 3 other notch sizes. They are inexpensive and no other trowel works as well for small jobs. You must achieve a minimum of 65% contact with the back of the tile, so check by peeling your first tile back off as soon as you’ve applied it. Also don’t press the center of tiles hard to achieve bond, you want that minimum 65% with normal pressure (the tile will flex slightly as you press it to wall).

          Use a new, sharp cornered sponge to clean up adhesive, using a long corner to clean down into the cracks, and rinse it very often. The latex adhesive leaves no trace as long as you get it soon and thoroughly.

          Grout: I have never seen a line of plastic tile that was intended for grouting. Plastic expands and contracts with temperature much more than ceramic tiles (or many other materials), so real portland cement based grout would never last – it would pop out over time. I have never seen an installation that was “grouted”, and I’m guessing that any such installation used the adhesive as “grout”. This is a bad idea because it will yellow with age and would be MUCH harder to get a clean intial installation.

          For your backsplash I would suggest you use a thin 1/16″ to 1/8″ temporary spacer between the counter top and the tiles and then caulk the joint. This will help guard against material movement possibly popping tiles later, and also allow the possibility of being able to remove the countertop at some future point without taking the tiles with it (esp. if you use the 1/8″ spacer).

          Good luck!

          • pam kueber says

            Thank you for resubmitting, Mike B. Yes, Michelle: Before you go REMOVING old layers of anything in your old house, consider that the layers may contain such nasties as lead, asbestos, etc. Get with your own properly licensed professional to determine what you are working with so that you can make informed decisions. As Mike B. said, I do not want readers giving advice that involves environment/safety issues — the advice here is: Get with your own properly licensed professional etc. as above.

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