by Bambi Turner
Tile is a building material known for its durability, moisture resistance and low maintenance requirements. Tile is often used in kitchens and bathrooms but is fairly versatile and can be used in a wide variety of applications, such as countertops, backsplashes and decorative wall coverings. The most common types of tile are porcelain and ceramic. Each offers distinct benefits and drawbacks that should be considered before making a purchase decision.
Manufacturing. Ceramic tile is made from natural clay, sand and water. These materials are molded to form square or rectangular tiles and then baked in a kiln to remove most of the moisture. Porcelain tile is also made from clay but tends to be made using denser types of clay than ceramic. Porcelain tiles are baked at very high temperatures for long periods of time so that almost all the water is removed. This longer drying time makes porcelain tile much harder and denser than ceramic.
Features. Ceramic and porcelain tend to have different overall colorings and appearances. Ceramic tile is known for its natural red terra-cotta finish, while porcelain is usually white or grey. Although ceramic may be glazed to create different surface colors or designs, porcelain is usually left unglazed. White chips in the glaze can be highly visible on ceramic tiles, whereas chips in porcelain are not as noticeable because these tiles are the same color throughout.
Uses. Both porcelain and ceramic can be used to cover walls, ceilings, countertops, showers and backsplashes. Ceramic is designed only for indoor use, while porcelain can safely be used indoors or out. This designation is due to the higher moisture content of ceramic tile, which makes it more susceptible to freezing- and thawing-related cracks. Porcelain has a lower moisture content and is less likely to crack due to freezing.
Cost. Porcelain generally costs more than ceramic tile. At the same time, porcelain is more durable and longer lasting, so it may be the cheaper of the two over the life of the installation. Porcelain is also less porous, making it easier to clean and less likely to stain. Stained ceramic may require replacement due to the difficulty of removing stains from porous tiles.
Durability. Porcelain can be expected to last longer than ceramic in almost any application. It can withstand high levels of traffic and increased levels of wear and tear. Ceramic is likely to chip or crack if objects are dropped on it, and the tiles are not expected to hold up for as long as porcelain units. Ceramic should not be used in most commercial applications, while porcelain can be used in light- or medium-duty commercial projects in addition to residential.
Installation. Porcelain is very hard and durable, which can be a problem during installation. Its dense nature makes it difficult to cut, especially when special shapes or rounded edges are needed. For do-it-yourself installers, ceramic is often the better choice because it requires fewer special tools. It is also better to use ceramic when working in an oddly shaped area that requires a large number of special cuts.