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Porcelain or Ceramic Tile -- Which Is for You?

Posted November 20, 2014

Do you think that porcelain and ceramic tile are essentially the same? Well, you may be surprised to find that they are not. Although both are manufactured of similar ingredients using similar processes, there are some important differences. Familiarize yourself with the characteristics of each of these tile types so that you can choose the kind that offers the right price, durability, and good looks for your tiling project.

What is the difference?

The difference is in the details. Ceramic tile is manufactured from red or white clay mixed with water and minerals, then baked in a type of kiln. It is nearly always finished with a glaze to reduce its natural porosity. Porcelain tile is made from light-colored clays with a fine grain (this gives it a dense body), quartz, feldspar, and a minimal amount of water, is pressed or extruded before being fired at substantially higher temperatures than regular ceramic. It is sold in both glazed and unglazed versions. The Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA) will certify tile as true porcelain if it passes their rigorous testing.

Advantages of Porcelain Tile

+ Beauty
+ Long life
+ Crack and stain resistance
+ Durability -- perfect for any use, from decorative wall tiles to rugged heavy-traffic flooring
+ High Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) ratings for hardness and durability
+ Low water absorption (less than 0.5 percent)
+ Usability for outdoor features
+ Frost resistance
+ Superior strength that allows it to be formed into a huge range of sizes
+ Ability to be rectified -- that is, cut precisely to size so that all tiles are uniform and grout lines are minimized

Disadvantages of Porcelain Tile

- Cost of porcelain tile
- Necessity for professional installation due to its brittleness, which requires special tools and cutting methods to work with
- Heavy weight, making it more difficult to transport
- Sealing required for polished porcelain tile

Advantages of Ceramic Tile

+ Cost of ceramic tile, which is considerably less expensive than porcelain tile
+ Easy cutting and installation
+ Light weight

Disadvantages of Ceramic Tile

- More limited number of styles

- Higher porosity, making it more moisture-permeable
- Susceptibility to cracking and staining
- Unsuitability for use outdoors in high-frost regions or as flooring in heavy foot traffic areas
- Lower PEI ratings

Suitability of Porcelain or Ceramic Tile for Common Uses

USE

PORCELAIN TILE

CERAMIC TILE

Bathtub exterior

Yes (moisture resistant)

Not recommended

Ceiling

Yes

Yes

Fireplace surround

Yes

Yes, if the tile was high fired

Floor (indoor)

Yes, for all traffic levels

May be unsuited for high traffic

Floor (indoor, radiant heated)

Yes

Yes

Floor (outdoor, unheated garage)

Yes (durable, frost resistant)

Not recommended

Garden path

Yes (durable, frost resistant)

Not recommended

Home spa

Yes (moisture resistant)

Not recommended

Kitchen or bathroom counter

Yes (high gloss will scratch easily)

Yes (high gloss will scratch easily)

Patio, balcony, or deck

Yes (durable, frost resistant)

Not recommended

Pool surround

Yes (durable, frost resistant)

Not recommended

Shower stall

Yes (moisture resistant)

Not recommended

Sink backsplash

Yes

Yes

Vanity

Yes (moisture resistant)

Not recommended

Wall (living room, bedroom, entry)

Yes

Yes

Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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