“Porcelain vs ceramic…which do you recommend?” This is probably the number one tile flooring question we get asked here at Home Flooring Pros. Should you pay the higher cost of porcelain tile for your home remodeling project, or will standard ceramic tile work just as well? Can you even know whether the tile you’re considering is genuine porcelain vs a cheaper material called porcelain for marketing purposes?
There is a whole lot of confusion regarding the difference between porcelain and ceramic tile and where each type cab be suitably installed. So let’s clear up the issue using definitions and certifications used in the porcelain vs ceramic tile debate.
This article will explain the difference between porcelain and ceramic tile and will help you select the right tile for your project.
Porcelain Tile is a Type of Ceramic Tile
Before we look at some of the differences between ceramic and porcelain tile it’s probably a good idea to compare some of their similarities too. The term “ceramic” is a translation of the ancient Greek “keramos” which means “fired clay.” Both ceramic and porcelain tile are produced from clay, often blended with minerals like bentonite, quartz and feldspar for strength. Water is added to create material that can be formed into tile.
The clay used for tile is called kaolin or kaolin clay because it is rich in the mineral kaolinite. Pure kaolinite is very white and very rare. Most often, the kaolin contains iron oxide, quartz, silica, alumina, mica or other minerals that tint the clay.
Defining Ceramic Tile & Porcelain Tile
Looking at the evolution of the definition of porcelain will be helpful in understanding what it means today when you shop for porcelain tile.
The traditional definitions of porcelain: The term “porcelain” dates back to the 13th C.
Europeans called imported Asian pottery “porcellana” because its gleam was reminiscent of the translucent white shell of the porcellana cowrie snail.
The term porcelain was adopted by European tile makers to describe ceramic tile made from white or very light kaolin clay without reference to the tile’s quality.
When American tile makers in the early 20th century started making cheap, better and best grades of tile, they borrowed the word porcelain as a way to market their premium tile.
- Traditional European porcelain: Light in color regardless of quality
- Traditional American porcelain: Best quality regardless of color
With both European and American porcelain tile on the market, confusion was inevitable.
Certified Porcelain vs Uncertified Porcelain Tiles
These archaic definitions are still used today by some manufacturers, and they still cause confusion.
What is uncertified porcelain tile?
Porcelain that has not been certified can be any type of ceramic tile labeled as porcelain purely for marketing purposes. The term is not descriptive of quality or composition of the tile.
Keep this in mind. Tile manufacturers do not have to submit their products for the types of testing described below. Unless you see a certification label on a box of tile labeled as porcelain, it might not be tile that passes the test of genuine porcelain.
What is certified porcelain tile?
To clear up the misunderstanding, the tile industry adopted a testing process in order to produce tile certified to meet specific standards.
- Certified porcelain tile has a low rate of water absorption
ASTM International is the most prestigious materials testing agency in the world. It developed a test for water absorption known as ASTM C373. Ceramic tile is weighed first, then boiled for five hours before being left in water for the remainder of 24 hours.
The tile is weighed again, and if it has gained less than 0.5% weight, it passes the test and can be called porcelain. It is considered waterproof and suitable for use in wet areas.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Organization for Standards (ISO) recognize the ASTM test. We mention this because you might see either agency’s certification on genuine porcelain tile.
ANSI takes water absorption ratings a step further to give you exact recommendations for where tile can be used:
- Non-vitreous tile absorbs more than 7.0% water by volume and is suitable for fireplaces, walls and hobbies.
- Semi-vitreous tile absorbs 3-7% water by volume and can be used in dry areas or those that aren’t subject to standing water. They can be used for backsplashes.
- Vitreous tile absorbs 0.5-3% water by volume and is considered suitable for shower walls and floors and outdoor areas that do not freeze
- Impervious tile absorbs 0.5% or less by volume and can be used anywhere including wet and outdoor locations.
Having a basic grasp of these categories can help you select the right tile for each application. For example, putting non-vitreous tile in a shower would lead to quick failure of the tile. On the other hand, there’s no reason to pay more for impervious tile that will be used as a backsplash or in an area that stays dry.
- Certified porcelain tile has the seal of the PTCA
The Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA) was formed to distinguish ASTM C373 certified porcelain tile from uncertified material whether called porcelain or ceramic tile.
Currently, only about 30 tile manufacturers create certified porcelain tile.
Where to Use Certified Porcelain Tile
The waterproof nature of certified porcelain tile makes it the best choice for wet areas:
- Shower stalls
- Terraces or balconies
- Other outdoor locations, but even then, only if specified for outdoor use
Many homeowners use porcelain tile in areas where water is present at least some of the time:
- Bathroom floors
- Kitchen floors and countertops
- Laundry floors
- Utility room floors
Porcelain tile can also be used anywhere that standard ceramic tile can be installed.
Porcelain vs Ceramic Characteristics
This comparison of porcelain vs ceramic tile will help you decide which type will perform best for each home remodeling project.
Water resistance: We’ve already seen that porcelain is the only choice for wet areas. Ceramic tile does not pass the ASTM C373 water absorption test.
Hardness: Porcelain clay tends to be denser than ceramic clay because it is made from clay with finer, more tightly packed grains. This contributes to its water resistance too. The first downside of density is that denser materials are harder to cut. If you’re installing porcelain tile, you’ll need a diamond-tipped blade to prevent wear and make the job easier. Secondly, porcelain tiles weigh more than standard ceramic tiles.
Durability: Because ceramic tile isn’t as dense and hard, it isn’t as durable as porcelain. In addition to the type of clay used for porcelain, the tile is fired (baked) at a higher temperature and for a longer period of time than ceramic tile. The result is that more of the silica in the clay liquefies. When it cools, it is extremely hard and impervious.
Resistance to Wear: The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) developed the PEI Rating to test how well tile wears. The Rating is widely accepted throughout the industry as a means of determining where types of tile should and should not be installed. Here are the classes and the permissible applications, starting with the softest ceramic tile and progressing to the hardest porcelain tile:
Group 1: Wall installation and countertops
Group 2: Low-traffic residential locations without through traffic
Group 3: All residential, so suited to entryways, kitchens, baths, laundry and halls; light commercial use
Group 4: Heavy commercial; interior and exterior
Group 5: Extra heavy commercial; high traffic
The PEI rating is found in the literature for most tile products.
Price: Looking at ceramic tile vs porcelain tile prices, you’ll find that porcelain tile costs 20 percent to 50 percent more than ceramic tile when comparing tile of similar size and appearance.
- Ceramic tile price: $1.50-$3.50/sq. ft.
- Porcelain tile price: $4.00-$7.50/sq. ft.
While the cost of porcelain tile is higher, its durability and resistance to wear is much better. In high-traffic areas and wet locations, these characteristics will pay off in a floor that lasts longer and looks better in the years ahead.
Reading Tile Box Labels
When comparing porcelain vs ceramic, and whether or not a specific tile product is right for your application, a lot can be determined by the information on the box, often in the form of icons. These include:
Tile grade: Grade 1 is the best grade, with no visual imperfections in shape, color or texture from 3 feet away. Grade 2 shows no imperfections from 10 feet away. Grade 3 shows significant imperfections. These grades have nothing to do with the durability or water resistance of the tile.
Wear Resistance: The Porcelain Enamel Institute Rating is shown as PEI I, PEI II, PEI III and so forth. The vast majority of porcelain is has a PEI III rating or higher; Most ceramic tile is PEI I or PEI II.
Water Absorption: Usually listed as a percentage. Remember that to be certified porcelain, the rate must be 0.5% or less whether or not the product is called porcelain.
Slip Resistance: Called the coefficient of friction (C.O.F.) rating, tile used in wet areas such as the shower or bathroom floor should have a C.O.F. rating of 0.6, and 0.7 and higher is even more slip resistant.
Stain Resistance: The tile should be rated from 1 to 5. The higher the number is, the more resistant to staining it is.
Freeze Resistance: Porcelain often has a freeze resistance icon, usually a Frost/Snowflake icon, to show it can be used outdoors in climates with freezing weather.
Summary of Results
So in the following table is a summary of the main differences between ceramic tile and porcelain tile when comparing their chief characteristics:
|Characteristic||Ceramic Tile||Porcelain Tile|
|Hardness||Soft/ moderate||Moderate/ hard|
|Wear||Low/ moderate||Moderate/ high|
|Water resistance||Low/ moderate||High|
|Stain resistance||Low/ moderate||Moderate/ high|
|Price||Low/ moderate||Moderate/ high|
Porcelain Tile vs Ceramic Tile: Costs
And finally let’s take a look at the difference in price between porcelain and ceramic tile.
Porcelain tile installation costs more than standard ceramic tile installation. This is because porcelain tile is slightly harder than ceramic, so the cutting requires more labor and/or more expensive equipment.
|Cost of Tile Per Square Foot||Ceramic Tile||Porcelain Tile|
|Cost of Materials||$1.00-$3.50/sq. ft.||$3.00-$7.50/sq. ft|
|Cost of Installation||$8-$14/sq.ft||$12-$18/sq. ft|
|Total Cost||$9 – 17.50/sq.ft||$15 – $25.50/sq.ft|
If you have any more questions about the difference between ceramic and porcelain tiles then just ask them in the comments section below.
About the Author:
Jamie Sandford is the Owner and Chief Editor of Home Flooring Pros (find out more). After 12 years’ experience in screen and stage set construction followed by a further 15 years working in the home renovation/remodeling business he now writes and curates online home improvement advice.
“Buying and installing home flooring should be a fairly straightforward process, but often it isn’t. After more than 15 years’ experience in home flooring and remodeling, I started Home Flooring Pros in 2013 to help homeowners navigate the often-over complicated process of choosing, buying and installing a home floor. The aim is to save you time and money by helping you to make better floor buying decisions.”