Should you use Porcelain tiles or Ceramic tiles?

Should you use Porcelain tiles or Ceramic tiles?
3 March 2020

When looking to choose the perfect tiles for your home, being well-informed about the benefits of different types and styles of tile can help you make a better decision.

Two of the most popular selections we are seeing at present are porcelain tiles and ceramic tiles. These tile choices are ideal for a host of spaces within the home, and exude a feeling of luxury, class and sophistication.

But there are some subtle but important differences between the two types of tile. You should be mindful of these differences when selecting your own tile choice.

In our latest blog, our team of tile experts has answered some of the questions we hear regularly. This is in order to help provide you with all the important information you need. 

So read on and get to grips with the differences between porcelain tiles and ceramic tiles. 

polished porcelain tiles in a modern style marble kitchen space

What are the differences between porcelain tiles and ceramic tiles?

We do get asked this question a lot as it can be quite confusing - especially as it’s hard to tell the difference visually. Both are made from clay mixtures that are fired in a kiln. However the main difference is that porcelain tiles are made with refined clay that is fired at a higher temperature. This makes porcelain denser and more durable than ceramic.

How are ceramic and porcelain tiles made?

In very simple terms...

Ceramic tiles tend to be made from red, brown or white clay and pressed into a tile. A layer of glaze and a design is applied, which is then fired at a high temperature. Ceramic tiles have a water absorption rate of 3-7% so are not suitable for high traffic areas of the home or for external application. They can be used in domestic bathrooms, kitchen walls and floors. However, the PEI rating does need to be referred to prior to purchasing (we’ll talk through PEI shortly).

Porcelain tiles are made with refined white clay with fine sand and feldspar mixed together. These are fired at a higher temperature than ceramic tiles, which actually makes them very hard wearing. Porcelain tiles are less porous than ceramic tiles at 0.5% or lower. The low water absorption means they can be used outdoors as they are frost resistant, and can be used in high traffic areas of the home and commercial environments, such as hotels and retail environments.

Modern faux wood tiles for the wall and floor with a host of cool home accessories

To confuse you a little more, there are also two types of porcelain tile.

Glazed porcelain tiles - These can be either matt, satin, lappato, gloss or polished finishes. With glazed porcelain, many factories colour the body of the tile to blend with the print colour. So if the glaze was to chip, this would not be very noticeable. When ceramic tiles are produced, the colour of the body of the tile cannot be changed. So if you were to chip or scratch the surface of the tile, you will see the base glaze which will look unsightly.

Full-body porcelain tiles / Through-body porcelain tiles - These tiles have no glaze applied and are the same design and colour all the way through. As the design goes all through the body, these tiles are the most hardwearing. With full-body tiles, any chips or scratches to the surface of the tile are far less noticeable as it’s the same design all the way through. You will find that the wear rating (PEI) will be higher on a full-body / through-body tile too. This type of tile will often be used in commercial applications such as leisure centres, supermarkets, airports and even outdoors. The design does tend to be simpler in nature owing to the production method involved.

stone effect porcelain floor tiles helping to accentuate a modern vibe in a home

What are the main benefits of using porcelain tiles?

Why opt for porcelain tiles? Here are some of the main reasons to do so:

You can fit porcelain tiles in high levels of moisture

As we’ve detailed, porcelain tiles absorb less water than ceramic tiles. This means they can be used in areas with high levels of moisture, such as bathrooms and wet rooms. As they are not likely to stain and take on water, they are perfect for outdoor use too.

madeira grey porcelain wall and floor tiles located in a clean and crisp bathroom setting

Porcelain tiles are more durable than ceramic
As porcelain tiles are harder than ceramic tiles, they can withstand higher footfall. This makes them great choices for hallways, entrances, utility rooms, family kitchens and open plan living areas.
As porcelain tiles are stronger than ceramic tiles, they will also withstand heavy furniture. This makes them perfect for open plan living areas.

If you use full-body or through-body porcelain tiles, you can also be assured that the tiles will resist any wear and tear in very high traffic areas, generally where you enter a building.

madeira grey porcelain wall and floor tiles located in a clean and crisp bathroom setting

Porcelain tiles can be used outdoors
As porcelain tiles have a low absorption rate, they are frost resistant so will not crack in freezing temperatures like ceramic tiles. They are also non-slip, fade resistant and will not discolour.

outdoor stone effect porcelain tiles in a patio space within a garden

What are the main benefits of using ceramic tiles? 

Ceramic tiles are easier to cut
As ceramic tiles are not as dense as porcelain tiles, they are easier to cut and shape so are very good for quick DIY projects. They are also lighter than porcelain, meaning you don’t have to consider the substrates weight bearing.

Ceramic tiles tend to be cheaper than porcelain
Ceramic tiles do tend to be cheaper owing to their production method. However, as they are not as hard-wearing, they are not recommended for walls with moisture content and high traffic areas. It is always good to check the PEI rating to ensure you are placing your tiles in the right area. 

How do you ensure you are selecting the correct tile for your project?

A great way of identifying which tile to select for your home or project is to refer to the PEI rating, an abbreviation for Porcelain Enamel Institute. This is a standard that all manufacturers have to declare and will determine how hard the glaze is. This will determine its wear when subject to foot traffic and its suitability for rooms in the home.

PEI 0 – No foot traffic (wall tiles)

PEI 1 – Very light traffic (rooms with infrequent use, e.g. bathroom)

PEI 2 – Light traffic (e.g. bathroom and bedroom)

PEI 3 – Light to moderate traffic (should be suitable for most domestic floors)

PEI 4 – Moderate to heavy traffic (fine for domestic floors and some commercial applications)

PEI 5 – Heavy traffic (all domestic/commercial uses with heavy footfall)

Most ceramic tiles will have a PEI rating of between 2 and 3, whereas porcelain tiles will usually be harder, with a PEI rating between 3 and 5.

All reputable companies will list the PEI rating on the product description so you can refer to this prior to purchasing.

We hope you have found this to be an informative and useful guide. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the Stone Tile Company team