We frequently field questions on the differences between ceramic and porcelain flooring. This is a good question as there is a lot of false information on the internet and in the flooring industry about these types of floor coverings. Here’s the definitive truth about ceramic vs. porcelain:
What’s in a Name
Many people throw around the two names interchangeably.
On the contrary, salespeople at many flooring stores rattle off a vast world of differences between the two to justify lofty prices for porcelain. They can go into a diatribe on the history of porcelain and fine china, originating from the Italian porcellana, the name for the cowrie shell due to its similar, translucent appearance.
Just the Facts
For starters, we can think of ceramic and porcelain as close cousins. They are both members of a larger group of tiles that we can call ceramic. Here are the primary differences:
Water Absorption Rates:
Water absorption is measured with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Method C373. For a tile to qualify as porcelain, it has to have a water absorption rate of less than 0.5% as determined by the test.
Porcelain is Certified:
The Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA) will certify porcelain as being authentic. Manufacturers pay a fee and send in 5 tile samples that are tested according to the ASTM method mentioned above. After certification, the manufacturer may label the tile as “Certified Porcelain Tile.”
Other Physical Differences:
Porcelain is often extruded and rectified. Extrusion is the process by which tile is formed by pressing wet clay into its form before it’s fired. Rectified tiles are precisely ground to create near-perfect edges and dimensions. Porcelain has fewer impurities.
Durability and Other Considerations
Porcelain is less porous and denser than Ceramic, making it more durable. It may be a better choice in high traffic areas.
Ceramic is often glazed, so if you chip the tile, you will see a different color beneath the top glaze.
Ceramic tile is also easier to cut, an advantage to do-it-yourself home projects. Often you can cut it with a wet tile saw or by hand.
Porcelain is more brittle, and, therefore, cutting it may be better left to an experienced tile setter. It is relatively difficult to install.
You definitely want to steer clear of installing ceramic outside as it absorbs too much water. If you go with porcelain, make sure it is labeled for exterior use.
What About Cost?
You can expect to pay slightly more for porcelain vs. ceramic. A good price range is $4 to $8 per square foot for porcelain. The price for custom tile shoots up to as much as $25 per square foot.
The installation cost will generally vary based on the complexity of the project, but as a general rule of thumb expect to pay between $4 and $8 per square foot.