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Quarry tile is a type of unglazed tile which is known for being inexpensive, very durable, and natural. This type of tile is often used in industrial settings, but it is also appropriate for homes as well. This tile comes in a range of shades which can pair well with a wide variety of design schemes; many flooring suppliers carry quarry tile and they are happy to provide interested customers with samples of the products they stock.
The manufacturing process for quarry tile involves blending clays with other materials like shale to create a coarse mixture which is run through an extruder to create very dense tiles. After the tiles are cut, they are fired at high temperatures, changing the chemical composition of the clay and creating a heavy, hard tile which is extremely strong. Common shades for the tiles are reds and oranges, although grays and sometimes greens are also available.
Typically, the bottom side of a quarry tile is ridged to encourage adhesion to grout. The top of the tile has a coarse surface because it is not glazed; this surface encourages traction, which can be very useful in environments like pathways and kitchens. When the tile is laid, it is applied over a layer of grouting and then grout is run between the tiles to encourage them to bind together.
The primary disadvantage to this kind of tile is that because it has not been glazed, it is somewhat porous. This makes the tile susceptible to water damage, as water can seep through the tile and provide a hospitable environment for molds and fungus. For this reason, many people seal quarry tile and its grout after it is installed, and some installers also apply a layer of wax to the tile to ensure that the sealer remains in place.
As quarry tile ages, it acquires a natural patina, and it can also pick up stains. Since the color of the tile is naturally varied, the stains are sometimes hard to detect, and this can be advantageous in a kitchen, where dropped food can cause stains. The durability of the tile makes it less prone to chips and scratches which can be caused by hard wear.
I work for a quarry tile manufacturer. The quarry tile we make -- and I believe most true quarry tile – is not somewhat porous. You mentioned it is very dense and fired at high temperatures. This process makes our tile very low absorption - vitreous and freeze-thaw resisting – not porous. Our tile does not need sealing, and if sealed (usually to protect the grout), only a water based penetrating sealer should be used. Never apply wax or surface sealers to quarry tile, as this will compromise the surface and its slip resisting characteristics. These characteristics are what make it perfect for commercial kitchens. Do you really think quarry tile would be used in commercial kitchens if it where porous?
This misconception and wrong information about quarry tile I believe comes from the close visual appearance it has in comparison to low quality, high absorption, unglazed, pressed tiles.