Porcelain vs. Ceramic Tile

white tile floor in kitchen, tulip table, bertoia chairs
credit: Sanford Creative
Both ceramic and porcelain tile are ideal for flooring in kitchens, bathrooms and high-traffic areas like entryways.

If you're thinking about changing the floor tile in your home, there are many different options from which to choose. Two of the most popular options for floor tiling in your bathroom, kitchen and other rooms are porcelain and ceramic tiles. Choosing one type of tile over another is not wrong or right but rather a matter of preference based on your needs, budget and preferred tile style.

Before deciding which floor tile you prefer, it's helpful to have some background knowledge to wisely compare and contrast ceramic and porcelain. Though porcelain and ceramic may look similar on the surface, there are qualities unique to each type that may make one a better option for you than the other.

Moisture- and Stain-Resistance

Porcelain and ceramic tiles usually come in bright colors, so you might be wondering which type of tile better stands up to liquid and stains. The stain-resistance of tile largely depends on the type of tile and its surface texture. Both ceramic and porcelain tile can be glazed or unglazed. In general, glazed tile is more stain-resistant because it has a hard glass-like top layer baked into the tile material. Glazed ceramic and porcelain tile offer similar stain-resistance.

Cleaning the tile floor.
credit: wattanaphob/iStock/GettyImages
All tile grout needs a good scrubbing to stay clean.

Tiles with surface texture may or may not be more prone to stains than smooth tile, but textured tile is generally harder to keep clean because is has tiny nooks and crannies that can hold dirt. If you choose a textured tile, expect to scrub the tile surfaces more than might be required with smoother tile.

Regardless of the tile type, the most vulnerable part of a tile floor is the grout, which has a rough, porous texture that stains easily and is hard to clean. Both ceramic and porcelain tile use the same types of grout. To add stain-resistance, standard grout should be sealed with a grout sealer shortly after the tile installation. Sealer must be reapplied every few years, depending on the product and the amount of traffic and wear the floor receives.

Two types of grout that do not need to be sealed are epoxy grout and premixed (acrylic) grout. Epoxy grout is difficult to work with and offers more strength than is necessary for most household floors. Premixed grout is more suitable than epoxy grout for DIY installation.

Absorption Abilities of Porcelain vs. Ceramic

One of the reasons people choose tiling for their bathroom and kitchen floor is because these are the rooms that tend to experience higher temperatures — or at least different temperatures from the rest of the rooms in their home. In the bathroom, for example, there is a lot of moisture, and in the kitchen, there can be a lot of humidity.

This type of climate would not work well with hardwood floors, for instance, because they cannot absorb moisture well and would get damaged easily. Tiles, on the other hand — whether porcelain or ceramic — hold up to these changes much better than most other types of flooring.

According to Fixr, porcelain tiles are classified as impervious, meaning their water absorption rate is lower than 0.5 percent. Ceramic tiles are classified at three different levels of absorption: nonvitreous is more than 7 percent, semivitreous is between 3 and 7 percent, and vitreous is 0.5 percent or lower.

The hands of the tiler are laying the ceramic tile on the floor.
credit: grejak/iStock/GettyImages
The low water absorption of porcelain tile means it won't be damaged by freezing temperatures outdoors.

The very low absorption rate of porcelain tile makes it a better choice for extremely high-humidity areas, such as steam showers, and for outdoor use. Many types of porcelain are rated for outdoor use, while most ceramic tile is not suitable for the outdoors.

Durability and Hardness of Porcelain vs. Ceramic

According to Sebring Design Build, porcelain tiles are the toughest type of flooring you can get. They stand up to high-traffic areas and because of their durability, they can be used in commercial settings like factories or office buildings. According to British Ceramic Tile, a PEI rating refers to how well the flooring can stand up to foot traffic. Most porcelain tiles have a PEI rating of five, which is the highest PEI rating.

Ceramic tiles are typically not as durable as porcelain tiles, and they usually have a PEI rating of three or four on average. Because there are porcelain tiles which have a PEI rating of less than five and ceramic tiles that have a PEI rating of more than three, it is possible to find ceramic tiles that are more durable than porcelain tiles, but in general, this isn't the case.

Which Tile Is Fireproof?

When doing any renovations on your home, it's important to use materials that will keep you and your family members as safe as possible. Porcelain tiles do not burn easily and can actually restrict the movement of flames if there were a fire in your home. The same goes for ceramic tiles, according to EBOSS.

One of the reasons that both ceramic and porcelain tiles are "fire resistant" is because they are already fired at extremely high temperatures during manufacturing. However, whether or not flooring is fire resistant is not always the biggest concern. Instead, it's whether or not the material would release toxic fumes in the form of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the event of a fire.

Neither porcelain nor ceramic tiles do not contain any sealants, waxes or other chemicals that could emit VOCs. However, if your ceramic tiles are finished in a flammable material or a material that could emit VOCs, then that would be worth investigating before installing the tile in your home. Keep in mind that even if something is fire resistant, it doesn't necessarily mean it will protect you in a fire.

Lifespan of Porcelain vs. Ceramic

If you're investing the money in new tiles, then you'll probably want to ensure the flooring will last a long time. Since porcelain is much harder and more durable than ceramic, it will likely last longer. This is especially true given the fact that porcelain is also more difficult to install and remove. Because of this reason and because of the other qualities it has — like being able to stand up to water and stains more so than ceramic tile — it can have a long life span.

However, maintaining ceramic tile is easier, which can support a long lifespan, too. According to Floor Critics, however, the life span of the two is more or less the same, with ceramic tile actually having a slightly longer life span on average. Ceramic tile can last 75 to 100+ years, while porcelain can last 60 to 100+ years.

Maintenance and Repair of Porcelain vs. Ceramic

While both ceramic and porcelain tile can be maintained by sweeping and vacuuming (with the right vacuum and setting, of course), ceramic is actually easier to keep clean despite the fact that it is not as resistant to stains as porcelain. For a deeper clean, you can usually use vinegar and water to mop some types of porcelain tile, and for ceramic, you can use a mild cleaner or detergent mixed with water to get the job done.

In terms of repairs, unglazed porcelain tiles can get chipped, but according to BuildDirect, it will hardly be noticeable. The same goes for glazed tiles in porcelain and ceramic. If there is chipping, you may see the original clay underneath, but it shouldn't be too noticeable. If you have a completely broken tile, you can remove it and replace it, though porcelain will be a bit more difficult to replace than ceramic. However, a broken tile is a lot less likely to happen with porcelain than ceramic due to its PEI rating.

traditional pattern, black and white, floor tile, bathroom
credit: Stephen Paul
Most popular tile styles are available in both porcelain and ceramic, but specialty designs are more commonly ceramic.

Other Considerations of Porcelain vs. Ceramic

Finally, there are some other considerations to take into account before deciding whether or not you want to install porcelain or ceramic in your home. In general, ceramic tiles are much more affordable than porcelain tiles — not just the tiles themselves but also installation. Porcelain can actually cost 60 to 70 percent more than ceramic tiles.

If you're going for tile, then perhaps there's a chance you'd like to have some unique designs or colors in your flooring. Ceramic tiles have a much wider range of available styles, so if you're aiming for a particular theme in your kitchen or bathroom, then ceramic may be the way to go. Porcelain is beautiful but is available in more basic or consistent color patterns without many design options.

Installation of porcelain and ceramic tile is virtually identical for both types, and both can be installed by DIYers. The only notable difference is that porcelain tile is somewhat harder to cut than most ceramic tile. While ceramic can be cut with both a wet saw or manual tile cutters, such as a score-and-snap cutters, porcelain is best cut with a wet saw fitted with a diamond blade. Wet saws are commonly available for rent and usually come with a diamond blade; if not, you can buy a diamond blade for the project.


Hana LaRock

Hana LaRock

Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico City. She has written home advice articles, gardening articles, and real estate articles for websites like Apartment Therapy, Lab Coat Agents, SFGate, and Next Stop Magazine. To learn more, visit her website at www.hanalarockwriting.com.