There are two main types of floor tile, ceramic and porcelain. While both are durable and appropriate to use, they have noticeable differences. Despite their differences, they once belonged 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 tiles are composed of fired clay with a glaze coating. While usually less expensive than porcelain tile, they’re not as durable. Ceramic consists of inorganic and semi-crystalline tiles that 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 don’t go through a full vitrification process, making the tiles more porous (especially if not glazed) than 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 tiles are made of sand fired at high temperatures and pressure. They’re harder than ceramic and not porous, making them more water resistant. On the downside, porcelain tiles are more difficult to cut than ceramic. 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 also completely vitrified and fired under a temperature significantly higher than the temperature used to fire ceramics. Because of that, porcelain tiles have a lower water absorption rate, making them more durable than ceramics. It is heavier and hard to break as well.
Due to its components and characteristics, professionals highly recommend porcelain tiles in areas with heavy traffic, such as hallways, kitchens, and living rooms.
Side-by-side Comparison of Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles
Porcelain and ceramic tiles are generally durable and long-lasting, especially if placed and used appropriately. However, their level of durability in certain situations varies.
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 contains 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.
On the other hand, ceramic tiles tend to be more susceptible to moisture due to the type of clay it uses and the heating method it goes through. If glazed, however, ceramic tiles are also completely water-resistant and perfect for the kitchen or bathroom. Glazed ceramic tiles are much more resistant to moisture and humidity than those that are not.
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 for tile countertops.
Durability and Strength
While both tiles are guaranteed long-lasting, porcelain tiles are stronger due to their clay makeup and the heating method they undergo. 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 instead of porcelain, glazed ceramic tiles are highly recommended.
Stains, particularly liquid, are not a big deal for ceramic and porcelain tiles. Both tiles can repel and prevent liquid stains from seeping through the tiles, particularly if the tiles are glazed.
While comparing prices could prevent you from choosing a tile for its properties, it is still important 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 place them in an area with heavy traffic.
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
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 to make the process faster and seamless.
Care and Cleaning
Both ceramic and porcelain tiles are easy to clean. You can use a mop to wipe off stains, especially those in liquid form.
If you are health conscious or allergic to dust and pollen, ceramic tiles are better than porcelain. They are highly resistant to dust, pollen, and other irritants that could trigger mild to serious allergic reactions.
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