Porcelain vs Ceramic Tiles: Is there a clear winner?

Most people can’t tell the difference between porcelain and ceramic tiles. Who can blame them? The tiles are similar in appearance and feel, result from similar processes, and serve almost the same uses. So, confusing one for the other feels natural if you aren't a professional bathroom designer. But there are some key differences between these tiles that you cannot overlook in your quest for the perfect tiles. Which are they?

What are Porcelain Tiles?

Porcelain tiles fall under the larger ceramic classification with one key characteristic- a water absorption rate of 0.5% or lower. Porcelain must be fired then weighed to ensure that a tile meets this criterion. Then boiled for five hours and left in water for 24 hours. More weighing follows, and if the tile weighs less than 0.5% more, it is porcelain. Easy! So, if you’re looking for a tile with a low water absorption rate, this is a good match.

How About Ceramic Tiles?

These tiles feature a much coarser structure than porcelain tiles. The result? – a higher water absorption rate that averages 0.5% or more. But if a manufacturer adds in some glazing, the water infiltration should be low.

What Differentiates Porcelain and Ceramic Tiles?

What do manufacturers use to set these two types of tiles apart? It comes down to the tile construction. Porcelain tiles feature a special kaolin clay mixture, finer and purer than what you see in ceramic tiles. That explains the low water absorption rate. Added to the clay are some feldspar and quartz. Fire this combo at a temperature of 2,200 to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and you have yourself a fine-grained, smooth tile with a high density. It’s much more impervious to water than plain ceramic tiles. Ceramics feature a coarse clay combo with firing at about 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit. The construction influences the features of the tiles and their applications as detailed below:

Porcelain Tiles

What Are the Benefits of Porcelain Tiles?

So, what does a low water absorption rate signify?

  • Higher Fluid Resistance: Their fine clay makeup makes it hard for water to get through the tile. So, anyone looking for a tile that can serve in an area exposed to moisture can try a porcelain tile.
  • Stain Resistance: Water is not the only thing that can barely get past the surface on these tiles. Stains also have a hard time adhering to the fine clay. Why? They can’t find a way through the tile, so they have nowhere to set. So, you can wipe off spills in your time without worrying that the damage will be irreversible.
  • Strength: Is the foot traffic in your home high? Then porcelain might be the right material. The compact packaging in these dense tiles enables them to withstand heavy use over time. The tiles can even support machinery and furniture.
  • Longevity: Once you have built or renovated your home, you will probably not want to think about investing more money in it. That’s what makes porcelain such a good choice. Its tough interior and exterior make it highly resistant to scratching and chipping. You can walk on the tiles, host a party, watch your kids and pets run on it, all while knowing it won’t crack.
  • Ease of Maintenance: Do you want to install tiles that do not require you to break your back to clean and maintain them? With porcelain tiles, you can have your wish granted. The tiles are easy to clean, and if they happen to chip, the color remains uniform to the core.

Are There Any Downsides to Using Porcelain Tiles?

Let’s start with the fact that porcelain is tough. So, if you’re looking for an easy DIY job you can complete by yourself, these are not the best options. Oh, and contractors charge more to install these tiles because they know it takes a bit more work to get them in place. Then there’s the issue with their weight- their density plays a big part in this. So, before installing the tiles, ensure that the wall or floor can handle the weight. Things can go down south fast if not (literally). Then there’s the usual hurdle of grout and sealer, but you pretty much get that with almost every tile.

Where Can You Use Porcelain Tiles?

  • On wet areas: Examples include bathrooms, kitchens, basements, mudrooms, and other rooms exposed to moisture. The tiles can protect the floors and walls by holding up to the moisture.
  • In homes with pets: Pets are known to leave messes almost everywhere, and cleaning up after them can be challenging. Porcelain tiles have impervious surfaces ideal for accommodating these frequent messes. Whether it’s an accident or muddy prints all over the house, porcelain can take it!
  • In commercial properties: Hotels, offices, retail centers, restaurants, and the likes require tiles that can withstand heavy foot traffic. Thanks to their dense makeup, porcelain tiles can serve this role.
  • Floors and high foot traffic areas: Porcelain rarely chips or cracks and is the best flooring option in areas where such damage is likely. Compared to other flooring options, these tiles last a considerably long while.
  • Outside: Seeing as these tiles are highly resistant to wear, you can trust them to hold up even when facing the elements. Ceramics can crack under cold weather, but porcelain will not.
  • Walls: Be sure to check the load-bearing capacity of the wall, though.

Ceramic Tiles

The Case for Ceramic Tiles

When should you consider the more water-absorbent tiles rather than the dense porcelain tiles? Let’s find out:

  • Natural beauty: Manufacturers often glaze ceramic tiles to make them more water-resistant. But you could always opt for the unglazed options. Why? For the added natural feel. These tiles add a raw aspect to a space. They are still durable, though they are not ideal for moisture-exposed areas.
  • Adequate water resistance: Did you know that ceramic tile can still hold up to water? It might not have the most effective barrier, but it provides enough protection. That’s why it’s common to come across these tiles in bathrooms and other wet areas. What’s the catch here? – You must ensure that the tiles are well installed and that the grout is top-notch. Any slip in any of these factors and you might be in trouble. But hack these, and you can use the tiles in pretty much any wet space.
  • Variety: Do you ever get tired of the same old boring tiles? Then ceramics can fix that monotony. Rather than have one template to serve all households, manufacturers introduce one ceramic design after the other. So, whatever color or pattern you can dream of probably exists. Don’t limit yourself when it comes to these beauties.
  • Hygiene: If you have pets in your home, then allergens are always lurking behind each door in your home. So, how about tossing the carpet out and introducing ceramic tiles instead? They will not harbor any allergens as all you need to do is keep them clean.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Sometimes, you cannot choose the tiles you want because the cost seems to be a hindrance. But with ceramic tiles, you come to realize that the installation and maintenance costs are on the lower end. No wonder many people install these tiles! You can then direct the extra money to accessorize your home.

What Disadvantages Will You Encounter?

Ceramic tiles are not easy to clean. There’s a lot of sealing and scrubbing that goes into maintaining their picture-perfect aesthetic. So, you need to prepare yourself for the maintenance work that lies ahead in this journey. Also, like porcelain tiles, ceramic tiles are heavy. You must check if the wall or floor you want to install them in can handle the extra load.

Applications of Ceramic Tiles

  • Walls and floors: These tiles add natural beauty to any space. They can also hold up in wet areas, making them suitable for bathrooms and other damp rooms in the home.
  • Home interiors: Thanks to the variety in design options, you can find an option that meshes your interior for that perfect aesthetic. Most other flooring options cannot afford you this luxury.
  • Commercial Interiors: Once again, this ties to their beauty and variety. It’s an easy way to give your interior décor a boost.
  • Floors with low foot traffic: Ceramics don’t boast the longevity and durability of porcelain tiles. You need to position them in places where they are least likely to get damaged.

So, what is the better choice?

It’s not an easy decision. Say, for example, that cost is the leading factor. Then you would choose ceramic tiles whose costs average 60-70% that of porcelain tiles. But what if your concern was heat and water resistance? Then you would lean towards porcelain tiles which can work both indoors and outdoors. That’s why we cannot declare any of these tiles as the clear winner. Instead, we advise you to relate each tile’s strong points to your pain points. We would love to hear what you are thinking for your next project. It allows us to step in and advise you on the best choice based on your project needs. Contact us today and let one of our designers walk you through your options whether you're looking to remodel your bathroom or not.

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