What is the Difference Between Porcelain and Ceramic Tiles

As you begin to look for a flooring tile, you will run across Porcelain and Ceramic tiles. You will immediately notice a price difference between the two choices. As there is some confusion between these two types of tile, even flooring sales personnel many times will use these two terms interchangeably. However, there are some differences.

Porcelain and ceramic are both made from clay. They BOTH are in the same family (called ceramic), in that they are fired at high temperatures to create a glass-like product. They are NOT in the same category as your kitchen china-ware would be. Instead, manufacturers must go through a legal process ((by American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) C373)) to determine whether the product will be branded as porcelain or ceramic. ASTM needs for tile manufacturers to:

  1. Send in five samples for testing
  2. Pay a fee
  3. submit a participation agreement
  4. renew certification every three years
Porcelain is less porous than ceramic, and will not absorb liquids as much as ceramic will. The originating fired clay is weighed to begin with, and then weighed again after it has been boiled for five hours. The difference will determine if the finished clay product will be assigned as a porcelain or ceramic product. The reason for this would be determined by how much liquid that clay had absorbed. If this absorption rate is 0.5% or less, then it would be qualified to be labeled as porcelain.

It is not recommended to lay porcelain or ceramic outside. The ceramic will absorb too much water, and the both would crack if they were frozen. If you bought porcelain that was labeled for outside use, they might be slightly more durable than the traditional products. You would still probably be wiser to use stone rather than any glass products.

Porcelain tiles are:

  • clays are denser and so absorbs less moisture, and makes it more durable
  • perfect for high-usage areas
  • if chipped, would still reveal the same material underneath (not true with ceramic)
  • fired at a higher temperature and longer duration
  • PEI ratings (usage recommendations) are much higher than ceramic tile
  • are stain- and frost-resistant
  • require special cutting machines, and take longer to bond with the flooring

Ceramic Tiles are:
  • is easier to cut, including hand, by wet tile saw, or snap tile cutter. Porcelain is more brittle, and may still be cut, but better suited to an experienced tile cutter.
  • cheaper than porcelain tile, at around 40% less than porcelain tile
  • many have pictures on the top of the tile then fired to set the picture in (if chipped, will reveal the original clay product)
  • easily bond with the floor during installation