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Understanding the Difference between Porcelain Tile and Ceramic Tile

While some people think that ceramic tile and porcelain tile are the same, the fact is that they are very different. 

It is common for homeowners to confuse porcelain tile and ceramic tile. In fact, to most people not involved in the tile industry, the two are one and the same. This, however, could not be further from the truth, as there are distinct differences between the two.

Much of the confusion over the definition of “porcelain” comes from the fact that it was originally a marketing term and not an industry definition. However, as more manufacturers started to use the term “porcelain” to describe their densest ceramic tiles, the Tile Council of North America decided that it was time to create a standard. In short, the current industry definition of porcelain tile is “a ceramic tile that has water absorption of less than .5%”.

What this means, essentially, is that if you were to weigh a porcelain tile, and then let it stand in a bucket of water for 24 hours, and then weigh it again, it would weigh just .5% more. Standard ceramics would absorb more water and therefore add more than .5%. 

Because of its low water absorption, most porcelains tiles are not susceptible to breakage as a result of rapid freezing and thawing. As a result, porcelain tiles can be readily used outside, even in cold weather regions of the United States.

Ceramic and Non-Porcelain Tiles

The Tile Council of North America defines ceramic tiles as “non-porcelain,” made predominantly of a white clay body. Ceramic tiles have a water absorption that is greater than 0.5%. Ordinarily, non-porcelain tiles are unable to be used outdoors due to their water absorption. However, there are a wide range of ceramic style and ceramic look tiles that are manufactured with similar properties to those of porcelain tiles and can, therefore, be used outside. It is important to check with your tile dealer or tile retailer to determine what type of tiles is right from your next home remodeling project.

The general rule of thumb, however, is that non-porcelain tiles are perfect for use on walls and light- use countertops, while porcelain can be used pretty much everywhere in residential applications, as well as in commercial tile applications, but there are always exceptions. When purchasing new tile for a home remodeling project, it is a good idea to check the manufacturer’s specifications and to ask for a tear sheet for application information.