It’s common to hear the terms “cement” and “concrete” used interchangeably. But the words refer to two substances that are not the same.
This guide, created by our experienced team, gives you an understanding of these different construction materials and how to use them correctly for home improvement projects.
What Is Cement?
Cement is one ingredient in concrete, although many reputable sources confuse the two terms or use them as synonyms.
Cement is a powder that contains calcium oxide (lime), silicon dioxide (silica), aluminum oxide (alumina), iron, and gypsum. Manufacturers produce it from shells, blast furnace slag, and limestone, among other materials. They burn these ingredients in a kiln and then pulverize them, creating a powder used in concrete and mortar.
Builders never use concrete as a solo product — they always mix it with other ingredients.
Cement is a valuable ingredient because it acts as the main binding ingredient in concrete. When mixed with water, cement creates a paste that binds sand, gravel, crushed rock, and other ingredients. The mixture creates a hard “man-made rock” that gains strength as it ages. A typical concrete mix contains up to 15% cement, according to the Portland Cement Association.
Portland cement is the most common type of cement used in building materials. However, this is not a brand name. Joseph Aspdin, an English mason who named and patented Portland cement in 1824, believed that the product resembled stones found on the Isle of Portland on the English Coast.
What Is Concrete?
Concrete is a versatile, durable, and readily available building material used in construction and home improvement projects.
To make concrete, cement, an aggregate — such as sand, gravel, or crushed stone — and water mix together. Water and cement react and activate cement’s binding properties. After the mixture sets, hardens, and cures, it becomes concrete.
Among the reasons why builders like concrete:
- Concrete comes in many types, strengths, weights, and setting times. You can engineer it for specific applications and conditions.
- You can pour concrete into forms and mold it when wet to create slabs, foundations, sidewalks, planters, and walls. You can finish the pour with a broom, stamps, stains, or polishes to add practical and aesthetic appeal.
- Concrete has excellent compressive strength but lower tensile strength. This strength makes it well-suited for compression projects.
- Concrete is low-cost and budget-friendly.
You used to have to buy cement and aggregates separately. However, there are now a variety of ready-mix concrete products on the market that combine cement and aggregates. Choosing Quikrete for your home improvement projects makes it easy to find the correct concrete mix.
- For patios, slabs, or big projects, use Quikrete Concrete Mix in the yellow bag.
- For countertops, use Quikrete Countertop Mix in the blue bag. This formula reduces shrinkage.
- For small projects or projects that need a quicker turnaround time, use Quikrete Fast-Setting Concrete mix in the red bag.
You can also use Quikrete’s Concrete Calculator to determine how many bags you will need for your project.
Working With Concrete
Proper mixing and installation techniques ensure a successful concrete pour. Mixing concrete requires specific skills to achieve the best results, especially for larger projects and complicated finishes. Our experienced team recommends these tips when you are working with concrete:
- Always use clean tools and forms to avoid weakening concrete with dirt or debris.
- Always wear gloves and safety glasses.
- Mix concrete thoroughly so that it is stiff but workable. Do not add too much water because it weakens the concrete.
- Move mixed concrete before it starts setting into forms or molds. Work quickly and efficiently.
- Eliminate air pockets in poured concrete, using vibrators for large jobs.
- Level and smooth surfaces for your desired finish. Work the top layer before it dries.
- Add control joints like grooves where cracking will occur as concrete shrinks and dries.
- Cure concrete for one to two weeks by keeping it damp. This will allow the concrete to reach its maximum strength.
- Protect fresh concrete from rain, wind, heat, and freezing temperatures that damage surface quality and strength.
Concrete is a low-budget and highly accessible project that makes it ideal for custom and durable do-it-yourself projects or for professional-grade work. Do your research ahead of time and take on simpler projects first before attempting complex pours.
So, Is There a Difference Between Cement and Concrete?
Cement and concrete are terms that are often confused. Cement is the primary binding ingredient in concrete, and concrete is the finished product. Concrete owes its strength, durability, and versatility to the chemical reaction that occurs when cement, aggregate, and water mix. Finally, you can’t use cement alone as a construction material.
FAQs About Cement Vs. Concrete
What is the main difference between cement and concrete?
The main difference is cement is an ingredient in concrete, while concrete is the finished product.
What is cement made of?
You make cement from lime, silica, alumina, iron oxide, and gypsum. You can make it in various ways, including burning limestone and clay in a kiln. Then it gets pulverized into a powder.
Can you use cement instead of concrete?
No, don’t use cement alone as a concrete substitute. Cement requires mixing with sand, aggregate, and water to produce concrete with compressive strength.
What is the cement-to-concrete ratio?
A typical concrete mix contains about 7% to 15% cement plus sand, gravel, or crushed stone aggregates, and water. The higher the percentage of cement, the higher the strength, but the more difficult the concrete is to work with. Higher-strength concrete also has higher amounts of shrinkage.
Is cement cheaper than concrete?
Cement alone costs less than pre-mixed concrete containing aggregates. However, separately buying cement and aggregates involves more work and usually only makes sense for large projects.
How long does concrete last vs. cement?
Properly mixed, poured, and cured concrete has an average life of 50 to 100 years. Reinforced concrete may have a longer service life span.