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Can You Spot The Difference Between Porcelain & Ceramic Tile?

Porcelain and ceramic tiles are remarkably similar in appearance and function, but there are notable differences between the two. Explore the pros and cons of porcelain vs ceramic tile to decide which material is better suited to your project’s unique needs.

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Tiles offer homeowners an easy way to update the look of walls, floors, and countertops, but the sheer amount of options can be overwhelming. If you’re looking to create a classic look in a kitchen, bathroom, or entryway, you may want to consider porcelain or ceramic tiles.

Known for their clean lines and versatility, these two clay-based tiles can add classic appeal to your home, but there are pros and cons to both. If you’re comparing porcelain versus ceramic tiles, here’s what you should know.

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What’s The Difference Between Porcelain And Ceramic Tile?

Porcelain and ceramic tiles both fall under the larger umbrella of ceramics, a category that includes heat-hardened tiles created from natural clay. Although they can be similar in appearance and are both exceptionally heat-resistant, there are notable differences between porcelain and ceramic that should be considered when choosing the right material for your job.

Appearance

When they're glazed, ceramic and porcelain can be almost indistinguishable. However, ceramic tiles tend to be solid colors, whereas porcelain tiles may show greater variation. Porcelain can also mimic the look of other natural materials, such as wood and stone, for trend-conscious designs. These simulations are uncommon in basic ceramic tiles, although glazes can be customized to create different colors and patterns.

Durability

Porcelain is considered one of the most durable types of tile available. It’s harder, tougher, and denser than ceramic so it’s a practical choice for flooring in high-traffic areas of your home that get a lot of use, such as on kitchen countertops or in small bathrooms. Plus, because the color of porcelain continues throughout the tile, chips are less noticeable when they do occur.

There is a downside to porcelain’s durability. Because of its hardness and density, tiles typically need to be cut with a wet saw, which can make it difficult to get a flawless finish unless you opt for professional installation.

Ceramic tiles are kiln-fired at a lower temperature, so they’re softer and less durable than porcelain, and chips tend to be noticeable due to the difference of the color below the surface. As a result, these tiles are more practical for rooms that experience only low or moderate foot traffic.

On the plus side, the softness of ceramic makes it easier to cut with a simple tile cutter, so they’re often the material of choice for DIYers who don’t have extensive experience working with tile.

Absorption

Porcelain is less porous than ceramic, so it absorbs less moisture. In fact, even with prolonged exposure, porcelain tiles are nearly impervious to water damage, which makes them ideal for bathrooms, laundry rooms, and patios in mild climates.

Although ceramic is more porous than porcelain and thus more susceptible to water infiltration, in glazed tiles, the difference is nominal. Ceramic tiles are typically limited to indoor use, however, whether they're glazed or not.

Cost

Because it’s created from refined clay, porcelain is much more expensive than ceramic tile and may cost as much as 60% more for materials alone. In addition, porcelain almost always requires professional installation, raising the cost even higher.

Ceramic tiles are made from coarser, less-refined clay than porcelain, making them much more affordable, particularly when purchased in bulk. They’re also more user-friendly for amateurs to install, so DIYers can save on the cost of installation.

Upkeep

Porcelain and ceramic are almost equally easy to clean and maintain and have similar rules for upkeep. Both materials can be vacuumed and then cleaned with a soft, damp mop and a mild detergent. Either surface may be dried with a towel or microfiber cloth, and because ceramic isn't entirely water-impervious, drying is recommended. You should never use waxes or oil-based products on these tiles, and you should avoid products containing ammonia or bleach.

Grout lines should be resealed periodically for both types of tiles. For unglazed ceramic, the entire tile may need to be resealed occasionally. Ceramic tiles may also be painted to refresh their appearance.

Because ceramic tile is more porous than porcelain, it's also more susceptible to damage due to spills. Liquids should be cleaned up promptly so they aren’t absorbed into the tile. 

Which Is Better: Porcelain Or Ceramic Tile?

The similarities between porcelain and ceramic tile can make it difficult to choose between these two durable, attractive materials. Although there’s no clear standout, the type of tile you opt for will likely depend on weighing the pros and cons of each material against the needs of your project.

By asking a few strategic questions, you can make choosing easier.

  • Do you plan on hiring a professional or completing installation yourself? If you’re planning a DIY project, you’ll probably want to opt for softer ceramic tiles.
  • How much foot traffic will the tiles have to accommodate? For well-traveled areas, porcelain may be the way to go due to its hardness and tendency toward less-noticeable chips.
  • Is it an indoor or outdoor space? For outdoor spaces in regions with mild climates, water-resistant porcelain is the better option. In harsher climates, neither type of tile may be the right choice, and you may want to consider other materials.
  • Will the tile be exposed to moisture? Because there's little chance of water absorption, porcelain is the right choice for damp areas.
  • What style are you aiming for? The look of your space can vary considerably depending on whether you opt for porcelain or ceramic, glazed or unglazed, solid or patterned.
  • How important is keeping costs low? If including budget-friendly materials is at the top of your list, ceramic tile is probably the right choice.

If properly maintained, both porcelain and ceramic can last for a lifetime, so above all, the material you choose should be one you’re happy with. Our cost guides for tile installation, ceramic tile painting and staining, and tile countertop remodeling can help you get started on your home improvement project today. 

Article Topics

  • Tile & Stone

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