Porcelain vs. Ceramic Tile

Believe it or not, porcelain vs. ceramic tile has a long and highly dramatic history. I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes right now, but it’s true! A lot of controversy, politics, and money have gone into differentiating between the two types of tile, and oftentimes, homeowners don’t know how to distinguish if a tile salesperson is telling the truth.

Porcelain vs. Ceramic Tile

(Pixabay / Simpolo_Ceramics)

The long and short of the contention is that a lot of manufacturers were claiming that their tiles were porcelain (and subsequently charging higher prices) when their tiles just…weren’t. Both porcelain and ceramic tiles are made from a clay substance, but how they’re made and what kind of clay they’re made of makes all the difference. This internal structure is what gives the tiles their respective levels of water absorption, with porcelain being almost impervious to moisture and ceramic being much more absorbent.

Manufacturers and distributors alike got so invested in making sure that they were buying and selling “true porcelain” that they created a group called the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA) to monitor and label the different kinds of tile. With the PTCA seal of approval, you know that your porcelain tile has undergone rigorous testing and is, in fact, true porcelain. It is important to note, however, that this process will drive up the price of your tile, especially since companies that are willing to undergo the testing must also pay a fee, renew their certification every few years, and agree to participate in the study. If their tiles pass the test, they can use the PTCA logo on their packaging to let consumers know that they are trustworthy.

Because it’s such a costly and time-consuming process, not very many tile companies have undergone the testing, so you’re at the mercy of the manufacturer’s integrity should you choose a tile that is not PTCA certified. In random studies, researchers have found staggering inconsistencies in the manufacturer’s claims to the quality of their tiles, so you should be aware of what tile and from whom you are buying.

Don’t let that scare you off, though! While the names “porcelain” and “ceramic” are thrown around almost like they were the same thing, there are some slight differences between the two. Use the chart below to help you determine which type of tile is best for you.

 PorcelainCeramic
CostPorcelain is typically more expensive, though you can find porcelain tile that is priced similarly to ceramic. If you’re shopping for high-end porcelain, you can expect it to run more than 60% higher than a similar ceramic tile. If it’s certified by the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA), your cost will grow exponentially. Ceramic tile is usually less expensive than porcelain, though you can find options on both the high and low ends of the spectrum. This type of tile is generally well within most homeowners’ budgets and rings in much lower than other flooring options like wood or carpet.
CompositionPorcelain is made of natural materials and has fewer imperfections than ceramic. It is fired for a longer time than ceramic tiles, and it is the same color throughout the tile (except if you have a glaze on top). Ceramic tile is also made of natural materials and clay, but the particles are often much larger. This can lead to premature cracking or wear if you’re not careful. It’s also easier to see chips or scratches because the ceramic underneath the glaze is usually a different color altogether.
AbsorptionPorcelain’s main claim to fame is that it is denser and, therefore, more resistant to water absorption. Its ability to absorb less than half-of-a-percent of its weight in water makes porcelain highly durable. Ceramic tile is naturally absorbent, so you need to keep it far away from extremely wet areas like showers and outdoor patios. If the area where you’re looking to install it is both wet and prone to temperature fluctuations, you could be in for some trouble.
Ideal AreasPorcelain can be installed both inside and outside, though you should be wary when installing outdoors. If you’re dead set on installing porcelain tile outside, look for a high-grade, certified porcelain tile that will withstand the kind of beating that Mother Nature can bring. You should never, never, never install ceramic tile outside. It is just too absorbent and fragile to be able to tolerate the elements with any kind of longevity. It is, however, a good flooring option for low to moderate traffic areas as well as the kitchen and bathroom.
MaintenancePorcelain is highly stain resistant and easy to maintain. Regularly sweeping and mopping with a vinegar water solution should be enough to keep the porcelain shining. Ceramic is also stain-resistant, but because it’s more porous, you should take care to wipe up spills quickly. Ceramic tile should be cleaned with a mild detergent and dried thoroughly after each wash.
Ease of InstallationBecause porcelain is so dense, it is more difficult to cut without chipping or cracking. If you’re going to install it yourself, you will need a special kind of blade for cutting porcelain and a wet saw so that you’ll get a clean cut. If you’re having someone else install it, you need to account for a higher cost of installation.Like mentioned before, ceramic tile is a lot softer and less dense than porcelain, which makes it easy for you to install on your own. You’ll only need a tile cutter in order to get your tiles to fit perfectly.
CustomizationThough there is glazed porcelain out there, one of the main reasons people choose porcelain over ceramic is its color-through nature. That means if there’s a chip, it’s nearly invisible because the color of the porcelain is consistent throughout the tile.Ceramic tile requires a glaze or sealant in order to stay water-resistant, which means that the possibilities are almost endless as to design. Ceramic can be cut easily into different shapes and patterns, and there is an almost infinite selection of colors.

Now you have plenty to think about before you chose between ceramic or porcelain. Weigh the factors above, and make a pros and cons list. Both choices have plenty of merit—it all comes down to your individual preferences and needs.