You won't get very far into a home renovation project before realizing that the world of tile can be a confusing place. There are many different options and styles from which to choose, and it's hard to know the difference between all the options. When working in kitchens and bathrooms, you'll first need to understand the difference between porcelain and ceramic tile. If that understanding leads you to porcelain tile, the next big decision you'll make is whether to go with glazed or unglazed. Both have their uses, but both also have areas where they won't work well.
Ceramic vs. Porcelain Tile
Let's start with the basics. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are both made from clay and other natural elements. Workers or machines shape the material and then fire it in a kiln where it hardens and gains strength. The clay used to make porcelain, however, is more refined than that used to make ceramic tiles. Porcelain tiles get exposed to higher temperatures and greater pressure in the kiln as well, making them stronger and more durable than their ceramic counterparts. Porcelain is generally favored for most projects, but weekend warriors and DIYers find ceramic to be an easier tile with which to work, as well as easier to cut.
Glazed Porcelain Tile vs. Unglazed Porcelain Tile
Once you've decided to go with porcelain tiles, you'll need to decide if you want glazed or unglazed tile. Each choice begins its life in the same manner. Refined clay gets shaped into tiles and fired. When they leave the kiln, unglazed tiles are ready for shipment. Glazed tiles, however, undergo an additional step. A liquid glaze coating is applied to the tiles, which get fired a second time to harden and solidify the glaze. This extra step makes a big difference in both the appearance and function of the tiles.
Scratch and Stain Resistance
The high-gloss finish on glazed tiles makes them highly resistant to stains. Unglazed tiles remain somewhat porous and may absorb liquid spills if they are not sealed after installation. As such, glazed tiles work much better on shower walls and kitchen backsplashes or counters than their unglazed counterparts. Glossy finishes scratch easily, however, so always use a cutting board and exercise care after installing glazed porcelain tiles on a counter or other work surface.
Tile Safety Concerns
Glazed tiles get slippery when they're wet and create a fall hazard. For safety reasons, porcelain kitchen floor tiles should always remain unglazed. Glazed tiles work well on your shower walls, but don't place them on the shower or bathroom floor. Always opt for unglazed tiles in these areas. Refrain from tiling the entryway to your home with glazed tiles as well, or you and your guests could slip and fall while entering the home during rainy or snowy weather. The same is true in laundry and mud rooms.
Color Choices and Concerns
Because unglazed tiles remain closer to their natural state, you will find your color choices limited to earth tones and natural colors. Tile glaze, however, is man made and is available in an almost limitless array of color choices. Because the glaze reaches only the surface of the tile, dents and dings in glazed tiles tend to stand out and can be quite noticeable. If that happens, you'll need to replace the damaged tile.
Sellers often refer to unglazed porcelain as through body or full body. This means that the tile is the same color all the way through, so chips and dings won't appear as obvious. Note, however, that through-body coloring is not the same as shading. Tile manufacturers label their tile sets based on how much variation you will find in the shades of color from one tile to the next. Even through-body tiles may vary in color from one tile to another despite the fact that each individual tile is the same color all the way through.