What is the difference between Porcelain and Ceramic Tiles?

Ceramic or porcelain?

If you have not already been faced with this conundrum, you may be some time soon. So, let us take a look at the two categories and investigate where you might appropriately apply either to optimise style and practicality in your home.

The Difference between Porcelain and Ceramic Tiles

Tiles generally fall into two categories – ceramic and porcelain. The basic fabrication processes for the two are very similar – namely the preparation of a clay mix, working the clay into the shape of tile you desire, and firing of the tile at a suitably high temperature.

However, what differentiates between the two is that during this fabrication process, for porcelain tiles:

  • The clay utilised is more refined and purified.
  • Extra compounds are added to the clay mix (more refined sands such as kaolin clays, feldspars, and silica), thus creating a denser mix.
  • The tile is exposed to higher pressure when pressed into shape.
  • The tile is fired at a much higher temperature (approx. 1300 degree's Celsius), and usually for a much longer period of time.
A Range of Applications for Porcelain Tiles

This enhanced fabrication process results in an extremely dense and hard material which presents several glorious opportunities for use within your home:

The exceptional hardness and durability of porcelain makes it resistant to chipping and scratching, offering a finish that will outperform ceramic and can last a lifetime. Porcelain is so durable that it will withstand the drag and weight of heavy furnishings such as sofas, kitchen fittings, and beds. Thus you can effortlessly implement the super chic look of, for example, wood effect tiles in your home flooring without fear of damaging the surface. The elegant natural beauty that these extra-long wood-effect tiles exude destine them to become the centrepiece of any room. Traditionally used as bathroom or kitchen floor tiles, they are now breaking free into other rooms, such as in bedrooms with underfloor heating. 

In fact, the term ‘heavy domestic traffic’ takes on a completely new connotation when it comes to porcelain – it is so remarkably durable, that you could line your garage floor with porcelain tiles and park your car on them!

IDEAL FOR THE OUTDOORS

Porcelain is extremely dense and consequently considerably less porous than ceramic. Thus, porcelain tiles are far more resistant to snow and frost-provoked cracking and to other adverse weather patterns than ceramics. This makes porcelain tiles particularly suitable for outdoors, and ideal for cold climates where freeze/thaw conditions present a challenge. This ultimate outdoor tile is inspired by nature's incessant weathering of the landscape, elegantly combining ornate droplets of rock in charcoal hues. Its carefully manicured antislip surface suggests that alfresco look and evokes nostalgia for long summer days and intimate barbeques.

And you’ll not need to worry about algae, moss, lichen, rot or insects infesting the tile as the low porosity porcelain offers extremely limited opportunity for such outcomes.

The colour and design of a full body porcelain tile is not just impressed onto the surface, but runs right through the whole tile. Thus if the tile is eroded over a long period of time, both the colour and design will remain consistent, unlike ceramic tiles where the colour of the clay mix can intrude up into tired glazed surfaces. And for those of us who have the fortune of living in sunnier climes, the UV resistance of porcelain means that the colours do not fade, even after years of exposure to the sun. 

So do not fear, porcelain really is the ideal outdoor product whatever the weather conditions. Whether you want to design a patio, upgrade your backyard, jazz up your porch, embellish your walkways, or remodel your decks – the glorious finish of porcelain will last a lifetime. 

BRILLIANT IN BATHROOMS, SUPERB IN KITCHENS

When considering bathroom and kitchen tiling, many people opt for porcelain. And once again the reason is its low porosity. Quite simply, porcelain will not absorb spills that might leave permanent staining in other materials. And for similar reasons, porcelain tiles offer good resistance to mould and mildew. And just in case you thought it couldn’t get any better - maintenance is simple as porcelain does not require any sealing for water resistance, and spills and dirt can be easily wiped from the surface. 

 

So Why Bother with Ceramic Tiles?

So, if porcelain is such a wonder tile, shouldn’t we apply it everywhere in our homes and forget about ‘inferior’ ceramic tiles? 

Ceramic is not an inferior product to porcelain. It is simply a different product, and whereas it is more appropriate and practical to utilise porcelain tiles in certain contexts (outdoors, flooring with heavy traffic), it is just as appropriate and practical to use ceramic tiles in other contexts (walls, low traffic areas, and other areas where strength is not critical). In fact there are a number of disadvantages also associated with porcelain:

  • Its density and hardness mean it’s difficult to cut porcelain tiles using traditional tools. Cutting and shaping during installation makes DIY work with home based tools a more challenging project.
  • Although stone effect and marble effect porcelain tiles are considerably less expensive than their natural counterparts, ceramic tiles are usually significantly cheaper again. The extra raw material, fabrication temperatures and pressures, and weight per tile all add up to significant extra costs over ceramic tiles.
  • Its high density also means that porcelain tiles are considerably heavier than their ceramic cousins. This leads to increased transport costs and more onerous installation work. It also leads to challenges in using porcelain tiles on walls – especially if the walls on which they are being installed are not very strong. 

So where extra strength is not required – as in many domestic situations - the ceramic tile will perform just as well, and with less installation hassles, as its more expensive porcelain cousin. Indeed, your tiler will be pleased that you chose ceramics when it comes to drilling holes to hang showers, mirrors, and accessories as it is far easier to drill through ceramic than porcelain.

Take the iconic and universally loved Metro tile.

This classic and highly versatile ceramic tile has magnificently adorned the walls of bars, kitchens, bathrooms – and even metro stations – for over a hundred years. 

When tiling over a screed or smooth concrete floor at home, there is no difference between having ceramic or porcelain floor tiles. You should choose the design you prefer the most and go with it. For an upstairs bathroom floor, where it’s more likely to receive regular shoes or slippers rather than football boots, a ceramic floor tile will be fine.

DIY Installation:

If you’re considering installing tiles yourself, the less dense ceramic will be much easier to cut using a wet tile saw or snap tile cutter. In fact, cutting porcelain would only be recommended for the more experienced DIY’er. And even if a professional is installing tiles, ceramic might be the better choice if the tiles will not have to withstand heavy traffic, and the tiles have to be cut around a multitude of unusual shapes and corners during installation

Underfloor heating (wet or electric)s can be used underneath both ceramic and porcelain tiles.

 

Both ceramic and porcelain offer beautiful alternatives to your domestic interior and exterior design. It’s just a question of using the appropriate material for the appropriate space and context. And equipped with this article, you should now be ready to choose the right product for your home!