Ceramic vs. porcelain - What is the difference?

The major difference between porcelain tile and ceramic tile is how it's made. Both tiles are made from a clay mixture that's fired in a kiln, but porcelain tile is made from more refined clay and it's fired at higher temperatures. This makes it denser and more durable than ceramic tile.

Ceramic tile is usually created by mixing a base of clay with different types of minerals and water.  A stoneware clay body will be fired at around 1,800-2,000°F and have water absorption between 0.5%-3.0%, with some even as high as 20%!

Porcelain tile on the other hand is made out of a mixture of clay, sand, and feldspar.  Feldspar is a naturally occurring mineral in granite.  The sand strengthens the mixture, while the feldspar melts, fusing together all the materials making the tile denser than a standard ceramic tile, thus stronger (30% stronger than granite!) and more stain resistant.  Porcelain tile will be fired at a temperature up to 2,300°F.  The higher firing temperature will drive out more water, and with the feldspar melting to form a low-order glass, the tile will be far more impervious.  The American standards as set by the TCNA (Tile Council of North America) for a porcelain product is that it must absorb less than or equal to 0.5% of water. 

The difference is in the body.

  • Both can have a ceramic glaze, the difference is in the body. There are both un-glazed  and glazed porcelains. 
  • The PEI rating is for the hardness of the glaze or surface of the tile not whether it is porcelain or ceramic.
  • The tile industry traditionally has described porcelain tile as being a practically impervious form of ceramic tile, meaning that the tile will absorb equal to or less than 0.5% of water.

What are the benefits of porcelain body tile? 

  • Greater body strength of the tile and less likely to crack.
  • Freeze/thaw resistance - makes porcelain a great choice for outdoor use.
  • With porcelain body tile there is less expansion and contraction of the floor.