Before you choose tiles purely for their good looks, consider how easy they will be to lay and how suitable they are for the space in which they will be installed.
When all you want to do is choose a wall tile that you like the look of, it can be frustrating to be bombarded with technical detail about the difference between porcelain tiles and ceramic tiles. But if those beautiful-looking tiles are going to stand the test of time, particularly if they are floor tiles then you do need to know some of the technical stuff.
For example, most people refer to ceramic tiles and porcelain tiles inter-changeably – many people just refer to all wall tiles are ceramic. So it’s little wonder there is some confusion especially since both types are made from clay (or a clay mixture). But the way in which they are made is quite different and has an enormous effect on the end-product, particularly in terms of their strength, durability and resistance to frost.
Ceramic tiles are made by moulding a pliable mixture of clay, minerals and water into a tile shape. They are fired in a kiln and then usually have a glaze applied in a range of colours and patterns. They can be used as wall tiles and floor tiles, providing the floor is not subject to heavy traffic, so are suitable for most domestic uses.
Porcelain tiles are made from very finely milled raw materials (which can include coloured minerals) and compressed in moulds under high pressure to remove gaps between the particles. They are then fired in the kiln at very high temperatures to form a dense and very strong tile. Porcelain tiles are also highly waterproof making them frost-resistant. They can either be glazed, with the colour and pattern as part of the glaze, or “full bodied” where the colour and pattern runs through the entire thickness of the tile. The full-bodied type are the most hard-wearing but even glazed porcelain tiles are much harder-wearing than glazed ceramic tiles.
The Porcelain Enamel Institute has a rating scale that indicates the areas most suited to the use of a particular tile (but note that it is not a quality rating). The PEI scale ranges from 0 to 5 with 0 being the most fragile tile suitable as wall tiles only and 5 indicating suitability for high traffic floor tiles. So when you are thinking about the difference between porcelain tiles and ceramic tiles and their suitability for your particular installation take into account these ratings.
Suitable for wall tiles only and should not be used on floors.
Very low foot traffic, bare or stocking feet only. (eg. Master bathroom)
Slipper or soft-soled shoes. (eg. family bathroom, bedrooms)
Suitable for any residential area except hallways and kitchens where extremely heavy or abrasive traffic is anticipated.
For high foot traffic areas where abrasive or outside dirt is likely. (eg, Residential entrance, kitchen, balcony)
For residential, commercial and institutional floors subjected to heavy traffic.