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Porcelain vs. Ceramic Tile: What’s the Difference?

Porcelain vs. Ceramic TilesChoosing the right flooring for your home can be a challenging task. There are so many different elements to think about—what color wave looks best, what style you prefer, which material is most durable, what fits best into your budget—and the list could go on. If you’re faced with these common concerns, don’t stress. The majority of homeowners face similar challenges when renovating or developing their space.

Plus, we’re here to help. At Imperial Wholesale, we’ve been in the business of flooring for 40 years and have the experience to answer even the most obscure flooring questions. From determining which flooring would look best in your kitchen to finally distinguishing the difference between porcelain and ceramic tile, we’re here for you. So, when in doubt, turn to us and let us wipe away any of your concerns.

Porcelain vs. Ceramic tile


Some of the most common questions we receive about flooring is about two different materials, porcelain and ceramic tile. What is the difference? Which do I need? Is one better than the other? Etc.

This is a common dilemma in the flooring industry because porcelain and ceramic tiles look very similar. But, just because they look the same, doesn’t mean they’re similar in other aspects. In fact, there are many different elements that make these two tiles unique.

It’s time to clear the air on this common flooring concern. Follow along as we confirm the true difference between porcelain and ceramic tile.

Porcelain tile

The main difference between porcelain and ceramic tile is their makeup. Porcelain tile is formulated with pressure and heat and composed of sand-like materials. It’s then pressed and fired at a high temperature, allowing the majority of its water content to be released. These components make the finalized product denser and less porous, or less prone to absorb water and moisture.

This also means that porcelain tile is stronger, more durable, and much more hard-wearing than ceramic tile. So, when selecting which tile works best for you, think of the amount of foot traffic the room is going to get. If your room is one that’ll receive a lot of wear and tear, such as your kitchen, hallways, or exterior patios, the sturdiness of a porcelain tile is most likely the best choice for your situation.

However, keep in mind, due to the durability of porcelain, this tile is typically more expensive than ceramic.

Ceramic tile

Ceramic tile, on the other hand, differs from porcelain tile because of its formulation process. Ceramic tile is commonly made with clay, water, and other various minerals. To finish the product, it’s typically fired and then glazed. The glaze on the product is where the beautiful, natural color of ceramic comes from.

However, because ceramic tiles are glazed and made from clay and water, they tend to be more porous than porcelain tile, allowing moisture and water to reside within it. This also makes ceramic tile less durable than porcelain tile, and is why common applications include interior walls and floors that don’t necessarily need a durable, sturdy material.

In addition, when selecting tiles for your room, it’s also important to think about the amount of moisture in the air. For example, a bathroom isn’t an ideal location for ceramic tiles due to the steam the shower may produce. Outdoor areas also may not be appropriate for ceramic if you receive rain or snow. In sunny Arizona, this may not be a problem, but is an important factor to think about when considering new flooring for vacation or rental homes.

PEI ratings


Another great way to distinguish porcelain from ceramic tile is by using the Porcelain Enamel Institute, or PEI, ratings. PEI ratings is a standardized rating system that rates tiles on a 0-5 scale. This system is commonly used by flooring experts to classify various tiles. But, in some scenarios, it can also be helpful for homeowners to use when determining the application of various tiles in their home.

The PEI rating system includes the following:
  • PEI 0: Tiles that are unsuitable for floors. This generally includes wall tiles.
  • PEI 1: Tiles that are appropriate for very light foot traffic. This includes areas where soft footwear is used, such as a residential bathroom.
  • PEI 2: Tiles that are ideal for light traffic areas. This typically includes areas that receive small amounts of scratching and dirt.
  • PEI 3: Tiles that are made for most domestic floors. This can include all areas that receive light to moderate traffic.
  • PEI 4: Tiles that are suitable for areas with regular traffic. This includes hallways, entrances, kitchens, and exterior patios.
  • PEI 5: Tiles that can withstand heavy traffic, dirt, and moisture. This includes entryways, commercial buildings, swimming pools, etc.
To put things into perspective, most porcelain tiles range from a PEI 3 to a PEI 5. Whereas, common ceramic tiles carry a rating ranging from a PEI 3 to a PEI 4. Use these standards as a rule of thumb when deciding between porcelain and ceramic in your space.

The bottom line


Porcelain or ceramic—which is right for you?

When comparing these two materials, it’s important to keep practical elements in mind. For example, think of the traffic of your desired location, think of the moisture your space gets, and think of your budget. Remember, porcelain is more durable, porcelain retains less moisture, and porcelain is typically more expensive.

After thinking about these practical issues, remember to also think about aesthetics. Although it’s important to think logically, it’s also just as important to feel confident in the look and feel of your new space. So, when evaluating both porcelain and ceramic, factor in style, fashion, and colors. These aesthetic elements can sometimes be just as impactful as the practical elements.

For more information on porcelain and ceramic tiles, the PEI rating system, or flooring options in general, give us a call or visit us at our Phoenix or Mesa locations. Our flooring representatives will work hard to help you select a material you’ll be fond of for many years to come.