Slate in a Shower - Experiences?

Rob2013April 22, 2013

I'm remodeling a small 4x8 bathroom and am considering using 8"x24" Copper Rust Slate tiles all around the walls, including in the 4x3 shower. There are a lot of internet sites that say slate isn't the best choice on a shower, mainly due to upkeep.

I'd love to hear pros/cons from anyone about using slate, but would especially love to hear from people who have used it in the shower, and what their experience had been, such as: daily cleaning; yearly sealing; any discoloration over time; how the slate is holding up after 2, 5, 10 yrs; if it always has that wet stone smell after showering; would they use slate again; etc.

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Slate can be an outstanding choice for a shower. The problem is the grade of slate that is being sold these days, and the consumers that the lesser grades of stone are being marketed to. Generally, the DIY crowd who doesn't know any better and the contractor crowd that doesn't care to know anything other than "did my check clear?".

You can still find a nice tight-grained slate that will perform wonderfully in a wet environment. Any honed slate will usually be a safe choice because the lesser grades of stone simply can't survive the honing process. They crumble and disintegrate.

Where you have to be careful is when you start shopping at the bottom of the price range, around the $1.50-$2 a sqft "slates". They will be natural cleft. The tiles will usually have a wider range of thickness within each box of stone, even from one corner of a single tile to the other corner. When you open a box, you'll often find "slate dust" in the box. Much of the lower end stuff is very grainy. While probably not geologically correct, I refer to is more as shale than slate.

When using boxes of the lower end slate, a simple test I do is to balance a slate tile on my fingertips and I rap the edge of the tile with a metal trowel. If it "rings", the grain is fairly tight and the tile probably has enough structure to survive. If it "thuds", it has a loose grain structure and it's no good in a wet environment.

Water will get into the grain of the stone. The stone will shed layers over time. Between the layers can be a film of slate "dust". It can just be dirty.

Now not all natural cleft slate is a horror show. You just have to know what you're getting before you buy and build.

Slate is one of may favorite stones. The proper slate (even a natural cleft slate) in a shower can be stunning. And durable. And clean.

I do recommend sealing a slate shower. Seal as often as it needs to be sealed. How water reacts on the tile will be your indicator as to how often you need to reseal.

Heck, as an indicator of "true slate" versus water? I have slate tiles on the waterline of my swimming pool. They are partially submerged 8 months out of the year, and over winter subject to freeze/thaw. So it's not "slate" that is the problem. It's the grade of slate, and often times the fact that stone that really doesn't geologically qualify as slate being marketed as slate.

If you're loving the look but wary of the downside, take a peek at the porcelain faux-slates that are out there. There are some pretty good look-a-likes.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 10:05AM
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We have a slate tile shower in a vacation home. It has only been used about 20-30 times, so quite new. It looks very nice--sort of updated rustic.

It smells like dirt every time someone uses the shower. It is a STRONG odor. This is my kids' bathroom, or I think I would have to re-do it if it were the master. They're teenage boys and don't mind the odor, so it stays.

I would never, ever choose to put this material in a shower again.

There might be something we could seal it with to help with the odor. (?) Mongoct clearly knows a lot about it--seems that the bottom line is quality of the slate. Ours is probably really crappy, as it was a "pretty-it-up-to-sell" remodel.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 3:42PM
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Look at Mannington Serengeti Slate. All of the variety of natural stone, but with none of the problems.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 7:54PM
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Thank you all for the feedback. I agree that the look is stunning, which is what drew me to it in the first place. However, from what the contractors / other tile store employees have mentioned, as well as feedback here and online, I will probably go the safe route and stick with a ceramic tile - it just seems like a less time intensive route.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 8:42PM
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How does the CleftStone Brazilian slate rank in regards to quality?

Here is a link that might be useful: CleftStone

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 9:07AM
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Fori is not pleased

On this topic, since we're revisiting, is slate (good slate!) okay for the FLOOR of a shower?

We were planning a curbless shower and wanted the floor to be continuous and since the floor is going to be slate...the shower would be.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2014 at 12:19PM
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The tile shop I visited (Rockland, ME) recommended the (Cleftstone) slate for shower floor, smaller pieces in order to get the sloping needed toward drain, unless linear drain was being used. I bet that would look fantastic.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 7:56AM
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Slate is made of layers, and if water gets between the layers you either get mildew and mold in that protected crevice OR the layer delaminates and flakes off.

If you like the look, get a look-alike porcelain tile rated for wet use, with a good anti-slip rating.

Dark colors can show waterspotting ... lots of water spotting.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 8:04AM
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I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Here is a link that might be useful: Slate Shower

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 8:35AM
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The pictures @trebruchet do not seem to be public.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 8:49AM
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Hmmmâ¦the link works when I click on it. Sorry.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 10:19AM
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A good quality slate can be used in a shower. Typically you won't find good quality slate for $1.87 a sqft.

The problem is that most of the slate now sold at the box stores is absolute garbage. It's very layered, and it will absorb water and literally disintegrates over time. That crappy slate is sold as "natural cleft" because the material would disintegrate into dust if they tried to hone it.

FWIW, I have slate tiles as the waterline tile in my swimming pool. It's a good quality slate, it does not absorb water, and it's survived a decade of freeze/thaw cycles with no damage or shedding whatsoever.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 1:21PM
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Fori is not pleased

Link works for me too. I think I'm scared off of the slate, because even if it went in perfectly and held up, someone would still have to clean it.

Mongo, can you recommend a good floor slate? I'm planning on installing a large amount of it (not all bathroom) and apparently it's not popular for indoor use these days. Most I can find on display is the chippy flakey stuff. I did find some from Bedrosian that seems like a nice smoothness and is quite solid. Any torture tests you can recommend? It passes the kitchen counter tests but I've never tested a floor for durability. I like that if a chunk is knocked off, it'll still look right.

With that I've gone solidly off topic. I guess I should subject my sample to urine and see if it holda smell. It's at least going into a powder room, if not a full bath...


    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 6:14PM
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If it's offered in a honed version and a natural cleft version, it's a good sign that it'll be okay.

If you go through a true tile & stone store, they should be able to direct you to a good product.

No real "torture test", but if you can get a a few pieces, balance them on your fingertips and rap the edge of the tile with a trowel. If it gives a nice metallic "ring" it's a reasonable sign of tight grain. If it gives a dull "thud" put it back.

If you soak it in water, it should just get wet on the surface. The layered flaky junk sold at some of the box stores will dirty the water and the tile will actually absorb some water. I've soaked tile in water overnight, placed the tile on the ground, then stepped on it. Water actually squeezed out the side edges of the tile!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 8:13PM
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I had what looked like excellent samples of slate from a couple of quarries in the northeast. I didn't go with them, due to cost of shipping which would have made the tile come out at around $6/sf. Now if I was to do it again, with what I now know, I would seriously consider the US quarries. I went with a $2/sf Montauk Black from Home Depot, special order. It was very well cut and honed. But I don't think I'd like it in a shower. I used it on my floor and am very happy with it. It is rated for indoor use only.

I don't think the Montauk Black went through the metamorphic process as intensely as the slate that can be used on roofs, and can withstand the freeze/thaw action. I don't think the montauk black is as strong as what Mongo is referring to as good slate. But I think the northeast quarry slates might be. Maybe someone knows the answer to that.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 11:52PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks, Mongo!

Enduring, your floor is a really nice one. I did try to find the HD Montauk Black--it's distributed (or is now anyway) by MSI and since HD didn't have it locally, I dragged the clan to an MSI showroom. Really nice stuff, and it seemed suitable for a floor (although I don't know about a shower). We do want a fairly uniform color and it is perfect. But we decided it's too dark for as much of the house we're planning, especially since our dog is yellow. :)

I'm probably kidding myself thinking fur and dust on a slightly lighter shade will be less visible...

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 11:16AM
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"Slate is made of layers, and if water gets between the layers you either get mildew and mold in that protected crevice OR the layer delaminates and flakes off.
If you like the look, get a look-alike porcelain tile rated for wet use, with a good anti-slip rating." - This is a very true statement. The walls arent as critical but the pan is very critical. Replaced one about 6 years ago and the pan was only about 3 years old. The slate just flaked right off! If you are looking for standard or custom shower pans (low profile about 2" tall overall) that go well with slate walls I would suggest Onyx Collection. They even have a slate tile shower panel (NO GROUT)!!!!

Here is a link that might be useful: Low profile shower bases/slate shower panels

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:04AM
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