Ceramic or porcelain? If you‘ve not already been faced with this conundrum, you may be some time soon. So let’s 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 utililsed is more refined and purified
- Extra compounds are added to the clay mix, 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, 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 a number of glorious opportunities for use within your home:
A Beautiful Backdrop in Heavy Traffic Areas
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, our Woodland Natural 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’re 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’s so remarkably durable, that you could line you 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, such as our stunning Istria porcelain tile, 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 pearl and charcoal hues. Its carefully manicured miniature pebble effect 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.
“Ah yes, but those gorgeous tones and hues won’t last for long in our weather conditions,” I hear you say. Well the fact is they will! 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.
But it isn’t just for practical or hygienic reasons that porcelain is so popular in UK bathrooms and kitchens – porcelain tiles are also statement makers! Take our Kensington floor tiles from South East Asia. These tiles, with their light pearl tints and delicate crushed shell patterns, are the epitome of the uber-cool, sleek, state-of-the-art look.
Our Kensington tile has undergone nanotechnology treatment which further increases its stain resistance. It truly is the king of tiles for the kitchen.
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?
Straight away I have to underline that 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.
So I repeat – ceramic is not inferior. 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.
You may also wish to read our more detailed article on the subject, which defines the technical difference between ceramic and technical tiles.
By The Tile Monk.
About The Author
The Tile Monk lives a simple life devoted completely to tile worship. He meditates on tiles, about tiles. He no longer lays tiles; that’s for his younger apprentices. You cannot follow him on Twitter or Facebook, as his time on this earth is dedicated solely to the contemplation of tiles, and occasional blogposts.