Ceramic vs. Porcelain tile is a comparison that comes up a lot when people are looking for tile options. In the tile business, the language can be a bit fuzzy, in that, most tiles that are made from a clay mixture, and are kiln-cured are all grouped under the broader umbrella of Ceramic Tiles. Now, this group is often times then broken up into two sub-groups, Ceramic (non-porcelain tiles) and Porcelain.
So now you can see the root of consumer confusion in this comparison. Hopefully we can help to clear up some of the ceramic vs. porcelain mystery.
Ceramic vs. Porcelain Tiles: Ceramic (Non-Porcelain)
We will start with Non-Porcelain tiles, or, for the sake of this article Ceramic tiles. Ceramic tiles are typically created from a white or red clay and cured in a kiln, which you may remember from your grade school art class. I made a heck of a bowl, let me tell you. Ceramic tiles are almost always finished with a decorative and purpose based glaze which accounts for the various patterns and colors that you as the consumer see. Builders will use these tiles on both walls and floors. These types of tile however are best suited for lighter traffic areas due to the fact that they are not as dense as Porcelain tiles. Ceramic tiles with a PEI rating under 3 are usually best suited for more decorative jobs, as they are more porous than higher rated ceramic or porcelain tiles and will crack and split much easier after heavy use. Ceramic tiles generally have a PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) rating of 0-3 out of 5 (5 being the highest durability rating). Any rating of 3 or higher is generally ok for interior flooring applications.
Ceramic vs. Porcelain Tiles: Porcelain
Porcelain tiles are stronger. That’s not the end of the story, but it’s probably the most important part. These tiles are far more dense than ceramic tiles. Porcelain, unlike ceramic tile is made almost exclusively of white clay. When talking about ceramic vs. porcelain, you will have to apply logic in terms of what your plans are for the tiles themselves. Porcelain tiles are denser than their ceramic counterparts. They are significantly less likely to chip, but certainly still can. Porcelain tiles are so dense in fact that they can be used for exterior applications in just about any climate. They come with a PEI rating of 5 for the most part, save for some darker colors which come in at a 4 to 4+ PEI rating. Do remember though that not all porcelain tile is glazed. Glazed tiles are much easier to maintain and are usually recommended for vertical applications (walls) and
So let’s recap. What are the differences between porcelain tile and ceramic tile? Porcelain is generally more durable, more dense, and absorbs less moisture as a result. Porcelain tile comes in glazed and non-glazed and is usually a PEI rating of 4 or 5. Ceramic tile (non-porcelain tile) is less dense, less durable and has a higher absorption rate than its porcelain counterpart.
If you're a do it yourselfer, Black and Decker has a nice series out that I highly recommend, Black & Decker The Complete Guide to Ceramic Tile. It teaches everything from tile placement to grouting and cutting techniques. Very comprehensive and easy to follow, even for the beginner.