What is the difference between ceramic & porcelain tiles?
Ceramic tiles have been around for over 2000 years. They typically have a white or red clay biscuit with some form of glaze on top.
Porcelain tile cost more than ordinary ceramic tile because you are getting a superior product. Porcelain tile requires the finest natural ingredients and a rigidly controlled manufacturing process that utilizes the most advanced processes and technology. Porcelain tiles are made from an extremely finely powdered clay tablet that is pressed under enormous pressure and heat – several hundred degrees hotter than ceramics. Porcelain tiles are much harder and more dense than ceramic tiles. This allows porcelain tiles to be made in very large formats that would be impossible to achieve in a ceramic tile. Porcelain tiles will also often have a colored biscuit that matches the surface glaze, or have a color and pattern that extends all the way through the tile. This avoids the common problem with ceramics where the glaze gets chipped and exposes the color of the clay underneath.
Definition of Porcelain
The traditional definition of porcelain tile indicates that it was made from a light colored clay. The whiter the clay, the better the porcelain is. The European definition does not consider the tiles durability and hardness. Traditionally, American tile manufacturers ignore the color of the clay and give the name porcelain to the premium tiles. The American National Standards Institute rating system, calls any impervious tile porcelain.
Do ceramic and porcelain tiles vary in quality?
Tile manufacturers grade their products as they come out of the factory. Defective products are clearly labeled “2nd Quality” by Italian manufacturers and are sold at a lesser price. The ASTM standard C-1027 describes test method for determining visible abrasion resistance of glazed ceramic tile. Classification for durability is based upon both the results of this test. All unglazed tile should meet Class IV+ standards when installed in either commercial or residential installations.
Tile Ratings & Classifications
Tile classifications of both ceramic and porcelain tile confuse many people, but the names mean very little. Porcelain is actually a type of ceramic tile. Many different definitions of porcelain exist in the tile installation industry, so the term, porcelain tile does not mean anything unless you know the reason for the name. Tile ratings tell more about tile than a classification of ceramic or porcelain.
The Porcelain Enamel Institute ratings show how a tile wears. Higher PEI Roman numerals mean more durable tiles; for example, III is good for any indoor use; V for outdoor. ANSI ratings test how well the tile repels water. With ANSI, smaller numbers are better. Impervious tile, .5 or less, work anywhere indoors or out, but vitreous tile, .5 to 3, is good enough for any indoor use, including showers. The Coefficient of Friction system rates a tile’s slip resistance. Higher C.O.F. numbers are less slippery, with .85 an excellent rating.
|Class 0||Generally not recommended for use on floors|
|Class I||Light traffic, for residential bathroom floors|
|Class II||Medium-Light Traffic, residential interiors with the exceptions of kitchens, stairs, landings and areas near external entries.|
|Class III||Medium-Heavy Traffic, all residential applications. Commercial applications which are similar in traffic to residential applications. Specifically excepted are areas of prevalent circulation or turning points.|
|Class IV||Heavy Traffic, all residential and most commercial applications such as the public areas of exhibition halls, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, shops and schools.|
|Class IV+||Extra Heavy Traffic, all residential and commercial applications similar to Class IV where extra durability may be required.|
Glazed and Unglazed
Both porcelain and ceramic tile may be glazed or unglazed. An unglazed tile has the same color throughout, so damage from a chip in the tile is not as obvious. On glazed tile, the glaze determines the color and texture of the tile, while the clay color underneath is hidden by the glaze. Glaze helps seal small pores in the tile to make it more impervious to water.
Perform simple tests on tile to determine durability. Lift two different equal-sized boxes of tile. The weight of the heavier box indicates denser clay in the tile, which will be harder and more durable. Do a sound test by holding a tile by the corner and flicking it with a finger. A higher, sharper ring reveals more crystallization and higher quality. Do a slip test by placing a single tile on the floor then get it wet and walk on it.
Recently, porcelain has experienced a surge in popularity due to a statement sometimes made by sales people. They tell consumers that porcelain tiles will not need replacement if chipped, based on a misperception that all porcelain tiles are the same color all the way through. This may have once been true, but new design creations have led to the addition of a design layer. Like glazed ceramic, the top surface of some porcelain tile is glazed to produce a specific colored finish. A chip in such a surface would reveal the tile’s different body color and thus warrant replacement.
Both ceramic and porcelain tiles have their positive and slightly less positive points, but they tend to offset each other. For example, since porcelain is a denser material, it is stronger than its ceramic counterpart. By the same token, porcelain’s hardness makes it a little more challenging to install. Porcelain tile requires special tools for cutting and shaping. The average do-it-yourselfer would not typically have these tools and may not be experienced enough to use them if they were rented or purchased.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t really matter which type of tile you select. Ceramic and porcelain are both exceptional floor and wall covering materials. The only problem you’ll have is deciding which size, color and texture will suit your needs.