Walk into any tile store these days and you’ll be confronted with a vast array of options, not only in designs but also in materials. Even with so many choices, two of the most popular types are porcelain tiles and ceramic tiles. Before you head for the store, it’s a good idea to understand each of the materials and the pros and cons of choosing porcelain vs ceramic tile for your home improvement project.
What ‘s the difference?
According to HomeBuild, ceramic tile use goes back centuries to when clay tiles were used as roofing materials. Although the word “ceramic” is derived from the Greek ‘keramos’, which means pottery, its origins are in the Sanskrit term that means “to burn.” This is because ceramics are fired to their hard state in a kiln.
Porcelain is also a type of ceramic, but it is much harder because it is fired to a higher temperature, which causes vitrification. This is the process by which the material develops its waterproof properties. Both types of materials can be found in historic buildings stretching back centuries.
The basic properties of porcelain vs. ceramic tile determine where you can use the materials because not all tiles are appropriate for all areas of a room. Some tiles are great for the bathroom floor, but the ones that you chose for the wall might not be safe and durable for the kitchen floor. When looking at tiles, you may notice that they have a number called a PEI rating. Most porcelain tiles have been evaluated and rated with an abrasion text from the Porcelain Enamel Institute. The PEI scale helps consumers pick the right kind of tile for the right area of the home. The scale runs from 0 to 5 – the softest to the hardest.
- 0 – These tiles should not be as flooring and are best limited to walls.
- PEI 1 – Tiles with this rating are meant for places like residential bathroom floors where people don’t usually wear shoes. They are also suitable for walls.
- PEI 2 – This group of tiles is best residential areas that don’t see high traffic. They are not good for more heavily used parts of the home such as the kitchen or entryway.
- PEI 3 – These tiles are durable enough for any part of the home, including countertops and bathroom floors.
- PEI 4 – Tiles in this group are strong enough for regular foot traffic in the home, and a variety of commercial uses.
- PEI 5 — Heavily trafficked areas that see a good deal moisture or abrasive dirt are usually done with these tiles. These are also used in swimming pools.
The Eco-Friendly Choices
Whichever of these two tiles you choose – porcelain or ceramic – you’re making an environmentally-friendly choice. Not only are these tiles eco-friendly, they’re safe and healthy for your home.
Zero VOC’s – Volatile Organic Compounds, known as VOCs, are chemicals that are present in many products that can be used to build your home, or can be found in various home products. They are released into the air we breathe and you may or may not be able to smell them. But if you can smell them, it’s not a good thing. Both ceramic or porcelain tile are a VOC-free choice for your home. According to the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), tile is fired at very high temperatures, usually over 2,000°F. “At such high temperatures, any organics that might be present in clays or binders are completely burned away.” This means that tile zero VOCs that can be emitted.
No Formaldehyde – In general, ceramic and porcelain tile contains no formaldehyde, a chemical long associated with respiratory disorders. This is of particular concern for children and the elderly, according to the US Centers for Disease Control. The TCNA says that since ceramic tile is a fired product, it is formaldehyde-free.
No PVC – The TCNA also notes that tile is free from PVC, a resin used in other types of floor coverings. PVC materials are “regularly a subject of concern and discussion among health experts.”
Technology is giving consumers an increasing number of choices and ceramic and porcelain tile are no exceptions. It used to be that most tiles were small, but now larger formats in a thinner material are available. In fact, some styles and patterns are available in very large slabs, as big as 15 by 5 feet! Larger slabs are ideal for many uses in the home, especially for contemporary or modern style rooms where a minimal number of grout lines are desirable. It also allows designers to create large scale patterns for tile, which previously would have been interrupted by numerous grout lines. And, the fewer grout lines, the easier it is to keep clean and looking like new!
That said, you need an experienced installer to put in your larger format tiles or slabs., especially if you’re looking for something like seam-free shower walls. The slabs themselves may not seem so costly, but the installation will definitely cost you more, on the order of at least $15 to $20 more per square foot.
Patterns and Prints
In addition to solid colors and different glazes, both ceramic and porcelain tiles offer an endless array of shapes as well as patterns on the tiles themselves. From large-scale murals to painted patterns, the choices are amazing. One of the more popular types of tile, especially in slab format, is a faux marble look. This often used for showers because tiles are infinitely easier to maintain and keep clean than real marble.
Sometimes called non-porcelain tiles, they are made with clay — red or white – that is fired in a kiln. Left unglazed, they are typically terra cotta. Gloss or matte glazes typically provide the pattern and color to the tile. Ceramic tiles are, in general, softer than porcelain options, usually at a PEI rating of 3 or less. This means they are more susceptible to stains and wear and are less water-resistant. It also means that they are not appropriate for some uses. Most certainly, you cannot use Ceramic tile outdoors because it because it absorbs a lot of water. Especially in colder areas with freezing temperature, the tile would soon crack as water inside contracts and expands as it freezes and thaws.
Pros of Using Ceramic Tile
Overall, ceramic tile costs less than porcelain by about 60 to 70 percent. The exception is when you get to the higher end of the ceramic price range, where there is less of a cost difference for porcelain vs ceramic tile. At the budget end of the spectrum, the price difference is far greater. The average cost for materials and installation of ceramic tiles ranges from $3 to $7 per square foot for basic styles. Prices can rise dramatically if you are looking at high-end or technologically advanced designs.
Easier to cut
Because ceramic tile is not as dense, it’s easier to cut. This can be especially important if the tile is a DIY project. Handy homeowners can use a snap tile cutter or a wet tile saw for the job without much of a problem
Glazed ceramic tiles are covered by a layer that protects the surface, making them stain- and water-resistant. They are suitable for bathrooms and kitchens where humidity can be high.
A Multitude of Designs
Modern technology has greatly expanded the styles and designs of ceramic tile that are available on the market today. Different shapes, patterns, prints and textures open the door to expressing your style as never before. Techniques that make ceramic look like stone, marble or wood are just some of the options you have.
Caring for ceramic tiles is easy, breezy: Spills and dirt can simply be mopped or wiped up. Regularly vacuuming and sweeping will help maintain tiles and preserve the finish.
Even though they are generally rated softer than porcelain, ceramic tiles are still extremely durable. They are very difficult to crack by accident. Proper installation and regular maintenance can yield many years of beauty and durability.
Because the surface of ceramic tiles is impervious, they are a great choice for minimizing allergens like pollen or dust. Without anywhere to lodge themselves, these particles are easily washed or wiped away with regular cleaning.
Cons of Using Ceramic Tile
Might need sealant
If you choose an unglazed ceramic tile it will have to be sealed to protect the surface, particularly from liquids. Grout between these tiles also has to be sealed for protection, especially as mold can also grow in this space.
Less Comfortable for Standing
The same qualities that make them durable also make them a less comfortable flooring option.
Places in the home like those in front of the kitchen or bathroom sink will need a rug to ease standing for a longer period of time. Also, as with any hard flooring, area rugs will warm up the feel of the space and absorb sound.
They are Heavy!
If you plan on using these in an upper floor bathroom or laundry room, make sure that your home’s construction can handle the weight. Your contractor should be able to determine this. If you are installing the tile yourself and the area does not currently have tile surfaces, you’ll want to have a professional check this before you get started.
While porcelain vs ceramic tile might look exactly the same, there are critical differences between the two types. Remember that porcelain is a type of ceramic that is much denser and impervious to moisture. Porcelain is usually the better choice for areas of the home that have higher traffic, such as entryway and kitchen floors. In the long run, porcelain will outperform other types of flooring both with respect to durability as well as appearance. Of course, as with any material, there are both advantages and disadvantages to using porcelain vs ceramic tile.
Pros of Using Porcelain Tile
The same process that makes porcelain denser and less porous than ceramic also makes the material far more durable than ceramic tiles. Porcelain is solid and the same throughout the entire thickness of the tile, while the finish of a ceramic tile is only on the surface of the tile. Chips in porcelain tile are not generally noticeable because the color and composition are the same throughout the material. In a ceramic tile, a chip will be more noticeable because the color inside is different. Porcelain tile actually ends up harder than granite. Hence, properly installed porcelain tiles can last decades.
Water and Stain Resistant
Because porcelain vs ceramic tile is denser, it is also more resistant to liquids. Sometimes, a melted glass glaze is applied to make the surface totally impervious to water. The ability of porcelain to keep moisture out also means that it is almost impossible for it to become stained. According to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), porcelain tile has a water absorption rate of 0.5 percent or less. This is tested by boiling the tile for five hours and then letting to sit in water for 24 hours.
Very Easy Maintenance
Porcelain tile is easy to clean because spills are simply wiped up and cleaning requires only water and a mild detergent to disinfect the surface. As durable as they are, unusual things can happen and a tile can be damaged. If so, the repair is easy because all you have to do is replace the broken tile. This is why installers typically leave the extra tile pieces for the homeowner.
Cons of Using Ceramic Tile
Just as with ceramic tile, the weight of porcelain tile is a factor you need to take into consideration if you are using it in the upper level of a home. Again, check with an expert to make sure your home’s interior construction can handle the weight if you plan to do the tiling yourself.
Harder to Install
Because of porcelain’s density, it is harder to cut and may not be the best thing or a DIYer to do. This is especially true if the installation has a lot of corners or complicated joints. While it will cost more, hiring a professional installer might be the best course of action for installing porcelain vs. ceramic tiles.
They Cost More
Porcelain vs ceramic tiles generally cost more, especially if you are looking at newer styles and those with artful or complex designs. The cost of an average porcelain type is $9.50 per square foot installed. Of course, if you venture into the custom selections, the price can go to $25 or more per square foot.
Not everything labeled “porcelain” actually is true porcelain, especially as a good percentage of the tile sold in the United States is imported. Over the years there has been disagreement among industry groups about how to certify tiles and ascertain the water absorption rate. Currently, there are no rules or regulations, but the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA) does offer a voluntary certification process and a few dozen major manufacturers participate. That said, blind tests have shown that nearly 23 percent of the tiles tested that were labeled as “porcelain” were not.
Although you can check the box of tiles for PTCA certification mark, that is not necessarily bonafide as some less-than-honest companies may add it to their packaging regardless. If you really want to know, check out the PTCA’s database of tile makers and their products.
Ultimately, when weighing the decision whether to use porcelain vs ceramic tile, make sure you look at all the factors. You want something that is appropriate for the use, durable and, most of all, expressive of your style and design sensibilities. With the wide variety of tiles available today, you should have no problem finding something you love whichever material you choose.