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Ceramic vs Porcelain Tile: Which Works Better?

Porcelain and ceramic tiles are often mistaken for the same material, and it is easy to understand why. By appearance alone, the two are indistinguishable because. But these two floor coverings have widely different properties. 

To put it plainly, ceramic and porcelain tiles are two separate materials with distinct traits. 

Now, the question is: are porcelain tiles better than ceramic tiles?

Let’s find out.

All About Ceramic and Porcelain Tile

Ceramic and porcelain tiles—although they are two different types of tiles today—used to belong to the single, large tile category “ceramics.” Porcelain tiles were later recategorized due to their distinct characteristics and specifications. 

Now, these two materials are identified via specific criteria. To understand better, here’s a brief overview of each tile type. 

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic is an inorganic and semi-crystalline tile. The tiles contain a coarser clay and a small amount of Kaolin clay—a component that is largely present in porcelain tiles. Ceramics are baked on a low-level heat too and do not go through a full vitrification process, which makes the tiles more porous (especially if not glazed) compared to porcelain. 

As a result, however, ceramic tiles have a higher water absorption rate than porcelain. They also tend to be softer and less dense. As such, ceramic tiles are easier to cut. Or, in other words, break.

Ceramic tiles also lack several additives that can be found in porcelain.

Porcelain Tile

While ceramic tile is semi-crystalline and inorganic, porcelain is made by fusing clays. Porcelain uses a large amount of a special Kaolin clay mixture that is much finer than the composition of ceramic tiles. It comes with a good amount of feldspar and quartz, too.

Porcelain tiles are completely vitrified as well and are fired under a temperature that is significantly higher than the temperature used to fire ceramics. 

Because of that, porcelain tiles have a lower rate of water absorption, making them more durable compared to ceramics. It is heavier and hard to break as well. 

All in all, due to its components and characteristics, professionals highly recommend porcelain tiles in areas with heavy traffic such as the hallway, kitchen, and living room.

A Side-by-side Comparison

Durability Comparison

Porcelain and ceramic tiles are both generally durable and long-lasting, especially if they are placed and used appropriately. However, their level of durability in certain situations varies. 

Here’s how: 

  • Water-resistant. Water and moisture are often the common cause of tile damage. Porcelain and ceramic tiles, however, are both water-resistant.

    How?

    The specialized kaolin clay mixture that porcelain is comprised of is dense and completely vitrified, which makes it less porous and less prone to high water absorption. It received a 0.5 absorption rate from the American Society for Testing and Materials. Porcelain tiles are also typically glazed, making them completely resistant to water.

    Ceramic tiles, on the other hand, tend to be more susceptible to moisture due to the type of clay it uses as well as the heating method it goes through. If glazed, however, ceramic tiles are also completely resistant to water and perfect for the kitchen or bathroom. In general, glazed ceramic tiles are much more resistant to moisture and humidity compared to those that are not. 
  • Fire-resistant. When it comes to heat (or fire), both ceramic and porcelain tiles perform well. They don’t burn easily and, depending on the circumstances, can actually restrict the movement of fire. 

    As such, both are excellent options to tile the countertop.
  • Tough and strong. While both types of tiles are guaranteed long-lasting, porcelain tiles are stronger due to their clay makeup and the heating method which they have undergone. 

    In fact, a test from ASTM confirms that porcelain tiles are much stronger than ceramic tiles, with a breaking strength of 250 psi.

    Ceramic tiles, on the other hand, are not as durable as porcelain. Although glazing them will improve their tensile strength. So, if you wish to use ceramics in place of porcelain, glazed ceramic tiles are highly recommended.  
  • Stain-resistant. Stains, particularly in liquid form, are not a big deal for both ceramic and porcelain tiles. Both tiles can repel and prevent liquid stains from seeping through the tiles, particularly if the tiles are glazed. 

Cost Comparison

While comparing prices could prevent you from choosing a tile for its properties, it is still an important factor to consider. If you are on a budget, you should opt for ceramic tiles. However, if you have the money, then porcelain tiles are worth the extra dollars, especially if you are going to place them in an area with heavy traffic.

Here’s why: 

Ceramic tiles are far cheaper than porcelain tiles. You can buy a tile for as low as 50 cents per square foot. But the tiles can also cost as much as $35 per square foot, depending on the manufacturer. 

On the other hand, porcelain tiles are about 30% to 70% higher in cost compared to ceramics. Generally, you can purchase a piece for as low as $3 or as high as $35 per square foot. 

Maintenance, Safety, and Convenience

  • Installation. Both tiles are generally easy to install. However, for DIY enthusiasts, ceramic tiles are much easier and faster to install compared to porcelain.

    As mentioned, ceramic tiles are less dense and thus not as durable as porcelain tiles. In return, this makes it easier even for beginners to cut. A snap tile cutter and a wet tile saw are good enough to cut them. 

    For porcelain, you may need an experienced installer if you wish to make the process faster and seamless. 
  • Care and cleaning. Both ceramic and porcelain tiles are easy to clean. You can simply use a mop to wipe off stains, especially in liquid form. 
  • Safety concerns. If you are health conscious or allergic to dust and pollen, ceramic tiles are a better option than porcelain. They are highly resistant todust, pollen, and other types of irritants that could trigger mild to serious allergic reactions. 

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