When it comes to tile flooring you have three main options:
2) Porcelain (glazed and full-body) and...
3) Ceramic (glazed and unglazed).
They all have pros and cons that you should consider. Durability is one of them and is closely related to hardness, but also to factors as wear and water-resistance..
Here, in this page, we are going to compare porcelain and ceramic tile flooring. For more information on stone flooring basics, see: Granite & Stone flooring advantages and disadvantages.
Stone-looking flooring can be more durable than most stone flooring:
Stone-looking ceramic tiles are now common. The imitation is not always exceptional, but can be very convincing. And the advantages are obvious: excellent durability and lower costs, lower maintenance.
Porcelain tile Flooring: the most durable tile flooring
Porcelain tile is a special type of ceramic, harder, stronger and more durable than other ceramics.
Porcelain is extremely resistant to water and frost, and also to scratches, cracks or stains; it provides long lasting durability. Porcelain can be unglazed (full-body) or glazed, that is, with a top vitreous layer that determines its color, pattern and texture.
These features – and the fact that glazed porcelain can imitate stone or even wood tile - are making it increasingly popular and an excellent alternative to stone and ceramic flooring in situations where strength, hardness and durability are critical.
Technically, porcelain tile belongs to the ceramic flooring family, and like most ceramic products porcelain tile is a kiln-fired product. The difference it that porcelain tile is denser, stronger and more impervious and stain-resistant due to the extremely high temperatures used in its manufacturing.Porcelain tile flooring can be an excellent choice for kitchens, bathrooms, basements, entryways and areas where the presence of water or the risk of staining and scratches is very high.
Durability of Glazed and unglazed porcelain Tile
Like other ceramic tile, porcelain is available unglazed (full body) and glazed.
Glazed porcelain tiles have a liquid glass coating baked onto its surface, which allows multiple colors, patterns and textures, impossible in unglazed tiles. Porcelain tile flooring residential uses
Porcelain tile flooring is mainly used in kitchens, bathrooms and in rooms prone to water, stains, scratches... Porcelain is also a good choice for outdoor areas prone to frost. Porcelain has a very low water absorption rate that makes it frost-proof, contrary to many types of ceramic tile.
The unglazed (full-body) porcelain is pretty much the same as glazed porcelain, just without the coating. That makes it look more "natural", and less likely to showing signs of wear (their color and pattern extends throughout the tile).
Anyway, glazed porcelain tile is a lot more popular because of its colors and extra-resistance to stains and water.
For extra-durability, choose PEI Class 5 porcelain (see box).
Ceramic floor tiling durability: The Basics
Ceramic tile is by far the most popular type of tile flooring. It includes 1) traditional unglazed tile – terracotta, quarry tile… - and also 2) ceramic glazed tile, which comes in a wide set of colors and patterns, sometimes to look like stone (or wood). The PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) rating is an indicator of the hardness and durability of the several types of tile. But it doesn't say much, besides that...
- PEI Class 1 - Tiles for walls; no foot traffic.
- PEI Class 2 - Tiles for light and very light traffic;
- PEI Class 3 - Tiles for light to moderate traffic;
- PEI Class 4 - Tiles for moderate to heavy foot traffic;
- PEI Class 5 - Heavy to extra heavy foot traffic (porcelain tiles).
Durability, low prices, easy cleaning and low maintenance requirements, coupled with many patterns, colors and textures make glazed ceramic tile an excellent alternative to porcelain or stone flooring.
There are several non-glazed ceramic tile flooring products, including... Terracotta and similar red color tiles (Mexican Terracotta or Saltillo...), quarry tiles (mass-produce unglazed tiles), clay brick tiles and pavers.
These products vary a lot in their colors, patterns, thickness, shape, porosity, hardness and uses…
The differences are a direct result of different manufacturing formulas, different clays or different firing temperatures…
Pay special attention to the thickness of the tile; it's an important criterion for durability.
Porcelain vs. ceramic tile
Though it is often classified in a different group, porcelain is in fact a ceramic product, basically made from clays. The difference between ceramic and porcelain is that porcelain is harder, non-porous and stronger, due to the high temperatures and pressures used in its manufacturing.
Most ceramic tile products are kiln-fired at relatively low temperatures.
terracota and other unglazed Ceramic tile can be soft, Damageable and Non-durable
Unglazed terracotta and quarry tile products - without the glazing layer of other ceramic tiles - have a rustic charm.
They are largely used in hot and moderate climates, often in outdoor settings, but also in kitchens, entryways and dining rooms.
They do not look as "cold" and aren't as hard as stone or glazed ceramic tile. Their manufacturing requires little energy as compared to other tiles, which makes them more environmentally-friendly.
Terracotta isn't a durable tile choice
Pay attention when choosing terracotta. Some types of terracotta (including Saltillo or Mexican Terracotta) are sun-dried , which makes them soft and easily damageable Terracotta, quarry and other similar unglazed ceramic tiles are prone to wear, stains and water absorption.
They can be "soft" and damageable. Some of them are semi-industrial and handmade products, which explains their prices: often more expensive than expected. They aren't maintenance-free.
Glazed ceramic Tile is water and stain resistant
Glazed ceramic tile has a top vitreous coating, to provide water and stain-resistance.
Sealers: a way of increasing ceramic tile durability
Common liquid waxes and linseed oil provide water- and stain-protection to unglazed ceramic tile. But some products may require proprietary sealers, namely some terracotta tiles. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
New manufacturing processes have created new patterns, textures and colors... And this, and its competitive price and easy installation, are important advantages.
Glazed tile hasn't the strength and the durability of porcelain, but can be very wear-resistant and largely maintenance-free.
On the other hand, glazed ceramic hasn't the warmth of hardwood and some other flooring materials. Ceramic is often too "cold" for bedrooms and living areas, in cold climates. Besides, glazed tile is not as natural in its appearance and feel as other flooring materials, including unglazed ceramic tiles...
Frost-resistant ceramic tile can be important for durability
If you live in a cold climate with freezing temperatures, choose a frost-resistant ceramic tile for outdoor applications.Is glazed ceramic better than porcelain?
Glazed ceramic is cheaper and easier to install than porcelain tile; and also very strong and stain- and water-resistant. But porcelain tile can be a better choice for high-traffic rooms.
Ceramic tile used to be a lot cheaper than porcelain tile, which is not the case anymore. It varies with dealers and the types of porcelain and ceramic tile… You can find porcelain tile at very low prices.
Prices can be as low as $1 per square feet for ceramic tile, and $1,5 for porcelain, for large online orders. But be cautious. Low prices can lead to low quality (and less durable products).
Here is a small list of suppliers and companies with porcelain and ceramic tile products (some manufacturers do not sell their products directly to the public; you have to look for their dealers, at their sites): FloorMall, Daltile, BullNoseTile, Winco, Ames, AmericaOlean, Shawfloors, StonePeakCeramics.
What Is More durable and what to choose: porcelain or ceramic tile?
Porcelain tile is more durable and denser than ceramic tile flooring, which makes it more resistant to scratches, staining, moisture and frost, and very easy to clean and virtually maintenance-free.
Porcelain tile has experienced a huge improvement in its technological processes and is now highly competitive with other types of flooring, namely stone flooring. As mentioned, its colors and patterns are now more varied.
Anyway, porcelain is more difficult to install (it is harder) and on average more expensive and without the natural appearance and rustic charm of some unglazed ceramic tile.
If you don’t need the hardness and strength of porcelain, ceramic glazed tile is a good and less expensive choice.