The similarities and differences between cement, concrete, and mortar are often difficult for a layperson to understand. After all, they are all binding agents and useful in the construction industry. But although they share many common characteristics and ingredients, cement, concrete, and mortar are unique in their exact composition, strength levels, applications, consistencies, and aggregate content. Understanding both the similarities and differences is vital in selecting the right material for your project.
Similarities and Differences Between Cement, Concrete, and Mortar
Understandably, many people confuse cement, concrete, and mortar because while they are similar in the way they look and behave, it is their differences that make them uniquely crafted for particular building tasks.
Cement, concrete, and mortar are all building materials that are vital in the construction industry. These products have a similar appearance as they are gray powdery substances. All three of these materials have cement as their main ingredient, which creates the binding property in each material.
Cement, concrete, and mortar vary in essential ways including in their exact composition, strength, and exact applications.
- Cement is a fine powder that is made from limestone, clay, and other additives like shale, blast furnace slag, and silica sand.
- Concrete is made from cement, sand, gravel or crushed stone, and water.
- Mortar contains cement, sand, and water, but it has a higher proportion of sand compared to concrete.
- Cement is not used on its own in any application. Instead, it is the primary ingredient in both concrete and mortar to create their binding property.
- Builders use concrete for structural applications, such as foundations, slabs, columns, and beams.
- Masons and builders use mortar to bind small building units like bricks and stones together. They also use mortar for adhering tiles to a subfloor.
- Concrete is the strongest of these three materials. It often contains heavy aggregates like crushed stone that are bonded by cement which provides additional strength.
- Mortar is strong, but not as strong as concrete. It contains light aggregates like sand, but it offers more flexibility than concrete.
- Cement is not strong on its own, but it does create strength by binding other materials together.
- Cement is a fine, dry, powdery mixture that builders mix with other materials to form concrete and mortar.
- Dry premixed mortar bags contain measures of cement and sand. When builders mix mortar with water, it forms a paste-like consistency.
- Dry mix concrete contains cement powder, sand, and other aggregates like gravel or crushed stone. When you mix concrete with water it has a fluid to semi-fluid consistency, which allows builders to shape and form it.
- Cement comes in a variety of types. The most common type of cement is ordinary Portland cement, but there are other specialized types like white cement, sulfate resistant cement, and rapid hardening cement.
- Concrete also comes in many varieties. These are primarily determined by the type of cement that manufacturers add to the mix. The most popular type of concrete is ordinary concrete which contains ordinary Portland cement as the primary ingredient, but there are many other types of concrete including high-strength concrete, air-entrained concrete, prestressed concrete, and lightweight concrete.
- Mortar also has many types. The most common mortar type is cement mortar, which also contains ordinary Portland cement. You can find cement mortar in types designated M, S, N, O, and K. These have different strength levels. Another common type is thin-set mortar that builders use for adhering tiles to the subfloor.
- Cement is available for purchase in bags or sacks containing dry powder. They come in a range of weights from 40 to 94 lb bags.
- Concrete comes in a wide variety of forms. You can buy ready-mixed concrete that manufacturers deliver to the job site in a transit mixer. This concrete is already mixed with water and ready to be poured. You can also purchase dry bags of concrete that you will need to mix manually with water. Concrete is also available in precast forms. These are dry and cured and ready for builders to use as structural elements in construction projects.
- Mortar is available in premixed and pre-proportioned bags and as individual components. The premixed bags are convenient and require strict quality control to produce the expected results. Buying the individual components of mortar, including cement and sand, give the user more control over the mortar quality and strength level.