All About Tile: Ceramic vs. Porcelain

All About Tile: Ceramic vs. PorcelainToday starts a new series here on the blog… All About Tile.  I mentioned this series way back on one of my blogaversary posts.  This series will explore as the title suggests “All About Tile”.  Tile, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a manufactured piece of hard-wearing material such as ceramic, stone, metal, or even glass.”

Tile is used in all sorts of applications in residential design.  Scroll through your Pinterest feed and you may see tile used on the floor, walls, counters, back splash, shower, and possibly outside.  Installed correctly tile looks amazing and will hold up for years (possibly centuries) but how do you know what type of tile to use for each application?  Great question!  Today we are going to take a look at two common types of tile used in residential settings, ceramic and porcelain, and break down the differences between the two.

My plan is to keep this as simple and straight forward as possible.  I want you to “get it”.  To understand the difference between the two and in the end have the knowledge to know wether ceramic or porcelain would be best for your next project.


All About Tile: Porcelain vs. Ceramicsource

  • 5% or less water absorption rate (prevents staining) – Even if porcelain doesn’t have a glaze it’s still excellent at not absorbing a lot of moisture. Which makes it an ideal choice for bathroom flooring and shower walls.
  • Certified by Porcelain Tile Certification Agency – This certification is important because it prevents just any Tom, Dick, or Harry company from calling their product a porcelain tile.
  • Some can be used outside – It is extremely important to refer to the specifications of each specific tile to understand the tile’s recommended applications.  Obviously, not all tile is intended to be used the same.  Check with your tile supplier or local tile representative to see if a certain tile can be used in an exterior application.
  • Denser, less porous, and harder than ceramic –  Ok. Let’s break this down nice and simple. Porcelain is hard… extremely hard and it doesn’t absorb much water.
  • More durable – This one seems pretty self-explanatory.  Porcelain is fired at a higher temp than ceramic. With a higher firing temp plus the three properties in the bullet point above… porcelain is more durable than ceramic.
  • Color body – This is one of my favorite properties of porcelain!  Porcelain tile is colored all the way through.  Meaning if the tile becomes chipped there won’t be a big white spot glaring up at you from the floor.  A tile rep once explained it this way to me.  Porcelain tile is like a tomato.  The exterior is red… and if you slice it the interior is red also.  The same is true for porcelain tile.
  • More expensive – Don’t let this fact about porcelain tile deter you from using it.  Yes it is more expensive but there all different price points for porcelain tile.  Price points vary depending on the printing process used, texture if any, and colors used in the tile.  Shop around until you find a tile that fits in your budget.
  • Special tools needed to cut the tile – The same tools used to cut ceramic more than likely can’t be used to cut porcelain because of how hard it is.  Again check with your tile supplier or tile representative to see what tools will be best for your project if you are planning on doing the installation yourself.
  • Can be polished like stone –  This is a cool feature because porcelain tile can be designed to mimic pricier stones.  Meaning you can really bring the cost of a project down by choosing porcelain over a natural stone.


All About Tile: Ceramic vs. Porcelainsource

  • Not for exterior use – Ceramic is not recommended for exterior use.  Some installers will install it outside but check quadruple check to make sure this does not go against the manufacturers recommendations and warranty of the product.  Check the Tile Council of North America’s guidelines for tile installation recommendations. (See link below.)
  • If chipped the tile is a different color under top glaze – Unlike porcelain if a ceramic is chipped the color will not be the same.  Another food example for you… ceramic tile is like a radish.  Red on the outside but if you cut it the interior is white.  That’s what it looks like when you chip a ceramic tile.
  • Easier to cut… especially for a DIY project – Because it is a softer tile and less dense material it is easier to cut.
  • Cheaper – This is why we chose to use ceramic tile for the back splash in our kitchen.  In instant wow factor without breaking the budget.
  • Higher the glaze the more brittle and scratchable the tile is. – Keep this in mind when selecting your application.  Your probably wouldn’t want a ceramic tile on your kitchen counters where you will be moving and placing heavy pots and dishes.
  • Do not use glossy, smooth tile where there is a consistant presence of water, oil, or grease. – Your tile will become a slipping hazard if you do! Case in point our bathroom floors.  It used to be standard design practice to install smooth, glazed ceramic tiles on bathroom floors.  Step out of the shower too quickly and see what happens… you fall and hurt yourself.  Not the best place to install a glossy, smooth ceramic tile.

Like Smokey the bear enlists you to help prevent forest fires you can help prevent falls.  When selecting a tile surface to walk on pay attention to the COF rating.  COF stands for coefficient of friction and refers to the smoothness of tile.  COF is measured on a scale of 0 to 1.  Rating of .6 and higher are considered non- slip surfaces.  This is especially important when designing for the disabled and/or elderly but also for any of us because lets face it none of us want to end up with a broken hip from falling on our beautiful new but poorly selected floor tile.  Ceramic and porcelain tiles are available that meet these ratings.  Just check before you buy.

Update: According to the Tile Council of North America it looks like the recommended COF rating will be changing in 2014 to <.42 which will be determined by new and better testing methods.  

I know that’s a lot for one day and if it’s too overwhelming visit your local tile supplier and/ or representative for any additional help you may need when selecting a tile for your next application.  That’s what they are there for… to inform you the buyer about their product.

I’ve also listed a few helpful links below that go into way more detail than I did about the differences between ceramic and porcelain tile.

Tile Council of North America

Daltile: Selecting the Right Tile

Home Depot’s Tile Buying Guide

P.S.  Don’t miss out on the fabulous giveaway going on here at Color Transformed Family. Friday is the last day to enter for your chance to win $55 worth of jewelry!

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4 thoughts on “All About Tile: Ceramic vs. Porcelain

  1. Samuel

    One of the benefits is easy in cutting ceramic, porcelain and marble different, resulting in the installation of tiles is also easier to include in the corner of the room

  2. Krystal Herrera

    Thank you for sharing this. We have a lot of planning to do some home improvements for next month, a lot of changes to do but hopefully I can choose the right tiles for my home.


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