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Ceramic vs. Porcelain Tile: Which Is Better? (2024 Guide)

Typical Cost Range: $3 – $8 per square foot

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Author Icon By Angela Bunt Updated 01/13/2024

While “porcelain” and “ceramic” are often used interchangeably, each term refers to a different material when describing wall, floor, bathroom, and kitchen tiles. Porcelain is made of finer clay, absorbs less water, and is usually more expensive than ceramic. 

That doesn’t mean porcelain is the better choice for every home improvement application, though. In this guide, we’ll break down the differences between ceramic and porcelain tiles to help you determine which material is best for your project.

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Major Differences

Porcelain and ceramic tiles are made of similar materials and are usually glazed for water resistance, so they look and feel similar. However, there are key differences in how they are manufactured and how they perform once installed. Porcelain tiles must meet particular standards to classify as porcelain.

Ceramics, in general, are materials made from clay that have been heated to high temperatures in a kiln until they become rigid. Non-porcelain ceramic tile is made from semi-coarse clay and kiln-fired at a temperature between 1,800 and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. When hardened, it absorbs more water than porcelain does, but it’s usually glazed to be water- and stain-resistant. Nevertheless, ceramic tiles aren’t suitable for outdoor use because they won’t stand up to weather and changing temperatures.
Compared to regular ceramic tiles, porcelain tiles are made from a finer clay, called kaolin or kaolinite, plus some additives, such as quartz and feldspar. The tiles are then fired at higher temperatures than ceramic ones, usually between 2,200 and 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. To be marketed as porcelain, these tiles must undergo testing by the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA) that proves they absorb less than 0.5% of their own weight when immersed in water.
Porcelain is harder than ceramic, but it’s also more brittle. Its hardness makes it more difficult for a DIYer to work with, as they’ll need a specialized tile cutter to cut porcelain to shape. This means porcelain tile installation is typically a job left to professionals.

The table below compares key characteristics of ceramic and porcelain tiles.

CharacteristicCeramic TilePorcelain Tile

Materials

Coarse clay

Fine kaolin clay

Water absorption rate

0.5% or more

Less than 0.5%

Firing temperature

1,800–2,000 F

2,200–2,500 F

Hardness

Softer

Harder

Application

Indoors only

Indoors and outdoors

Installation

DIY-friendly

Professional installation recommended

Cost*

$3–$4 per square foot

$4–$8 per square foot

*Cost data sourced from HomeAdvisor.


Durability

While both ceramic and porcelain tiles are noticeably heat- and water-resistant, porcelain performs better in these areas. We compare each tile type’s durability below.

Ceramic Tile

The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) grades the most commercially available ceramic tiles based on their surface’s hardness and durability. The PEI then rates the tiles from 1 (softest) to 5 (hardest). Ceramic tile with a 1 PEI rating is best used in walls where it won’t need to stand up to foot traffic. Clay-based tiles with a PEI rating of 3 or 4, on the other hand, can withstand heavy traffic and are thus appropriate for floors. Non-porcelain ceramic tiles with a 5 PEI rating are typically only used in commercial settings.

Note that PEI rating only applies to the ceramic tile’s glazed surface and its resistance to abrasion. Often, the tiles’ sides and backs are unglazed, meaning they must be lined with grout to remain water-resistant. In general, ceramic tiles’ lower density and higher porousness makes them less durable than porcelain ones. However, ceramic is highly heat-resistant, making it a good choice for kitchen countertops.

Porcelain Tile

All porcelain must have a PEI rating of 5 to meet PTCA standards. That means even unglazed porcelain will absorb very little water, making it the standard choice for bathroom floors, shower walls, laundry rooms, and other high-humidity areas. Porcelain floor tile is hard and dense enough that it can even be used outdoors, though it’s mostly recommended for mild climates. Porcelain is even more heat-resistant than other types of ceramic, and it’s also less likely to chip or crack over time.


Installation Process

Both porcelain and ceramic floor tiles are installed similarly. The installer must apply a layer of mortar to the underlayment, press the tiles into the mortar, and allow the mortar to set before adding grout between the tiles. The difference lies in how difficult it is to cut the tiles to fit into a corner or otherwise form a joint. Regular ceramic tiles—even those with a 3 or 4 PEI rating—can typically be cut with an inexpensive, manual tile cutter, making them more DIY-friendly.

Because porcelain is so dense, cutting it requires a wet saw, which uses a water-cooled, diamond-tipped blade. While you can rent or buy one, they’re messy and difficult to use. Thus, porcelain tile is usually installed by a professional with the experience and knowledge to cut and install the tile evenly.


Maintenance and Cleaning

Most porcelain and ceramic tiles require the same level of cleaning and maintenance. Tile floors can be mop-cleaned, and from time to time, the grout will require scrubbing and extra sealer. If you have unglazed ceramic tile (which is more slip-resistant than glazed tile), you’ll need to clean any spills up quickly, since the material can absorb stains. However, since most ceramic tiles are glazed, this isn’t usually a problem.


Longevity

Both ceramic and porcelain tiles are durable flooring options, but porcelain has a slight edge.

When properly sealed and maintained, ceramic tiles can last for decades. Although they are slightly softer than porcelain tiles, they’re still highly resistant to cracking and breaking, especially those with high PEI ratings.
One aesthetic issue with ceramic tiles is that they’re usually a different color than the glaze that’s applied to them. Glaze comes in various colors and glossy or matte finishes, but the tiles will remain the color of the original clay. If the glaze chips or cracks, you’ll be able to see the tile color underneath. Thus, chips or cracks are more obvious in ceramic tiles.
Porcelain is denser and harder than ceramic, so it’s more resistant to chipping. However, its increased brittleness means that it may be more likely to crack upon heavy impact. Despite this, it is a bit more durable than regular ceramic and can last 75 to 100 years with proper maintenance.
Additionally, most porcelain has through-body color, which means the coloring is mixed in with the clay. Porcelain isn’t always glazed, but when it is, the glaze tends to match the color of the clay. Both of these factors mean that chips and cracks are less visible in porcelain.

Appearance

Ceramic and porcelain tiles appear similar, but ceramic typically comes in a greater variety of colors, textures, and finishes. However, porcelain can better mimic the appearance of other materials, such as wood and natural stone. Despite their many colors and textures, ceramic tiles mostly just look like ceramic tiles.


Ceramic vs. Porcelain Tile: Pros and Cons

When comparing porcelain to ceramic tiles, the better option will depend on what you need out of your tile and where in your home you plan to install it.

Pros and Cons of Ceramic Tile

Greater variety of colors, textures, and finishes
Easier to install on your own
Less expensive
Slightly less durable and water-resistant
Unsuitable for outdoor use

Pros and Cons of Porcelain Tile

Durable enough for high-traffic areas
Less likely to show chips and cracks
Highly resistant to stains and water absorption
More expensive
Usually requires professional installation

Ceramic vs. Porcelain Tile: Which Should I Use?

Because both ceramic and porcelain have strengths and weaknesses, they each have home improvement projects for which they are better suited.

Bathrooms

Due to the amount of water and humidity bathrooms handle, they should always contain porcelain tile. Floors, tub and shower surrounds, and countertops will all have to keep water out, so homeowners should use porcelain tile throughout their bathrooms.

Kitchens

Kitchen floors and countertops are good places for porcelain since they’re subject to frequent use and spills. If you don’t have the budget for porcelain, you can get away with glazed ceramic tiles with a 3 or 4 PEI rating. These tiles will be nearly as hard as porcelain, and as long as they’re properly sealed and grouted, they should be water-resistant.

QUICK Tip
You can opt for softer ceramic tiles for a kitchen backsplash as it will be easier to find the color and design you want. You should, however, opt for glazed ceramic tile to protect the backsplash from water and stains.

Walls

Aside from bathroom walls, it’s fine to use softer and even unglazed ceramic on walls. This will give you more options in terms of color, pattern, finish, and texture. Look online or check out a local showroom to see what’s available. While you can install porcelain tiles on walls outside the bathroom, it isn’t typically necessary.

Patios

If you want tile in your outdoor patio, it will need to be porcelain. Regular ceramic isn’t made to handle extreme weather conditions. Since regular ceramic tiles will absorb some moisture, they’ll also expand and contract during temperature changes, which will eventually cause them to crack and break. If you live in a mild enough climate to use tile on your patio, choose porcelain.


Our Conclusion

Both porcelain and ceramic tiles are better suited to some applications than others. For DIY projects, decorative applications, and lower-traffic areas of the home, consider using ceramic tiles. 

For home areas that must stand up to heavy foot traffic and lots of water, porcelain is the better way to go. With porcelain, you’ll likely need to opt for professional installation, but you’ll end up with a more durable, water-resistant surface.

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FAQ About Ceramic vs. Porcelain Tile

Which is better: porcelain or ceramic tile?

Porcelain is denser and more water-resistant than ceramic, making it ideal for bathrooms and kitchens. However, ceramic is less expensive, easier to work with, and available in more colors, so it may be better for other household projects.

What are the disadvantages of porcelain tiles?

Porcelain is a bit more expensive than other types of ceramic, and because it’s denser and heavier, it is harder to cut and install. Additionally, while it’s resistant to chipping, it can still chip and crack over time. Finally, compared to other flooring options, such as hardwood and carpet, it’s colder and harder on bare feet.

Are porcelain or ceramic tiles more durable?

In general, porcelain is more durable than ceramic because it’s made of a denser clay and fired at a higher heat. However, this also makes it more brittle. Ceramic tiles with a PEI rating of 4 or 5 will be nearly as durable as porcelain.

Is porcelain or ceramic tile better for a bathroom?

Porcelain tile is better for bathroom floors and walls because, by definition, it’s more resistant to water absorption than ceramic tile. It’s also more durable and resistant to staining.

Which tile is better for kitchen floors: ceramic or porcelain?

Because kitchens are high-traffic areas that are prone to liquid spills, porcelain is a better choice for kitchen floors and countertops. Ceramic tile is a good choice for backsplashes, though, since it’s available in more colors and textures.

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