Porcelain vs. ceramic tile

Compare options for your next renovation

Author pictureAuthor picture
Author picture
Written by
Author picture
Edited by

Get matched with a Flooring partner near you.

    installing ceramic tile

    Flooring is an important part of your space’s aesthetic — with the right material and pattern, your floors can help accentuate the style of your home. Two popular flooring options for homeowners are porcelain tiles and ceramic tiles. While these are similar, each has its own qualities and benefits to consider.

    Key insights

    • Average costs per square foot of porcelain tile tend to be a bit higher than those for ceramic tiles.
    • Porcelain is better for installations near a water source; ceramic is less water-resistant.
    • Both ceramic and porcelain tiles can last for decades, but ceramic is more likely to show stains and wear over time.

    Differences between porcelain and ceramic tile

    Porcelain and ceramic tiles are a lot alike. The two are often used for the same kinds of projects due to their similarities in appearance and method of installation.

    Though you may hear these terms used interchangeably, porcelain and ceramic tile do have distinguishing characteristics in terms of water absorption and durability. While both are made from clay, the types of clay used can lead to a difference in the colors — and ultimately the value — of your tile.

    Porcelain tile

    an assortment of porcelain tiles

    Porcelain tile has a reputation for strength and durability — it tends to be harder and more water-resistant than ceramic. It comes in a huge range of color and design options.

    The strength of porcelain tile comes from the clay it’s made with, which has finer particles and is fired at a higher temperature, creating a less porous, harder surface.

    While porcelain tiles are especially popular in rooms with a higher risk of water touching the floor, like the bathroom or kitchen, it’s also a great option for high-traffic areas in general. If you have radiant in-floor heat, porcelain is an especially good way to go.


    • Greater durability
    • Color through entire tile
    • More water-resistant


    • More expensive
    • Brittle
    • More difficult installation

    When you’re considering porcelain tiles, there are two main types to be aware of: through-bodied porcelain tile and glazed porcelain tile.

    Through-bodied vs. glazed porcelain tile

    The main thing that distinguishes a through-bodied porcelain tile from a glazed porcelain tile is the presence of color and texture. In through-bodied tiles, the color and texture run completely through, creating a safety net against chips and scratches. Through-bodied porcelain is also known as unglazed porcelain tile, which means there are no layers that can wear off.

    Through-bodied porcelain tiles are a good option for anything you want to tile. Whether you’re tiling the floor, a backsplash or a countertop, through-bodied porcelain tiles are a solid choice for durability and have the protection of embedded coloring.

    While through-bodied porcelain tiles hold color and texture throughout the entire piece, glazed porcelain tiles are covered with a hard finish called a “wear layer.” This glaze is most often colored.

    The benefits of glazed porcelain tiles come down to two factors: strength and versatility. As a denser option, these glazed tiles tend to be stronger. And since the color or pattern is applied in a glaze, they offer a much wider range of options for color and design.


    In terms of durability, porcelain tiles often beat ceramic tiles. The process by which porcelain tile is made contributes to this difference, though this process can also make individual tiles a bit more brittle than traditional ceramic tiles. This is an important factor when you’re deciding between professional and do-it-yourself installation.

    The strength of porcelain makes it a great option for areas with heavy foot traffic, and its resistance to water makes it a perfect fit for mudrooms, bathrooms, entryways and kitchens. These tiles have proven to be strong even against chemical and fire damage.

    Still, abrasive tools (e.g., steel wool, scouring pads) can scratch up even porcelain tiles. If you’re an aggressive cleaner, you may want to opt for a more traditional glazed ceramic tile.

    Color and style

    One of the distinguishing features of porcelain tiles is the versatility of their design, particularly in terms of texture. Porcelain tiles can be made to look like a variety of other materials, including:

    • Marble
    • Granite
    • Wood
    • Steel
    • Bamboo
    • Cork

    Because porcelain can mimic other building materials, you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice style for durability — you can achieve the aesthetic you want as well as flooring that withstands the test of time.

    Porcelain tiles are also made in an array of colors and patterns. If you want a particular geometric pattern, porcelain tiles (this is true for ceramic tiles, too) can be cut into customized shapes.

    Cleaning and maintenance

    If a flooring option is hard to maintain, chances are you’ll end up regretting it. This is where porcelain really shines: It’s a low-maintenance, easy-to-clean option. Simple daily tasks like sweeping and vacuuming are the bulk of the maintenance work, along with the occasional mopping or wiping with a damp rag.

    Abrasive surfaces can damage your porcelain tiles, though. Instead, choose a softer cloth when you’re cleaning your porcelain tiles.

    Even though porcelain tiles are pretty tough, be careful not to use scratchy, abrasive tools like steel wool on them.

    While porcelain tiles are known for their durability, there may come a time when you find a chip or a scratch in one of yours. A good practice is to save a couple of boxes of the tile from your original installation — then, if you need to replace one, you’ll have a perfect match.

    Also, though porcelain tile is stain-resistant and harder to damage, the grout between the tiles will likely need to be redone at some point. Over time the grout will stain, no matter how many times you bring out the mop and cleaner.


    The installation of porcelain tile is best left to professionals. While it can be done as a DIY project, it requires a fair amount of time and will likely test your patience. It’s also important to know what type of adhesive to use (due to the low porosity of porcelain tiles, traditional ceramic tile adhesive won’t work).

    Another important aspect of porcelain tile installation is the underlayment. You’ll need a smooth, sturdy, flat surface to install your porcelain tiles. This could be a concrete slab, a cement-based backer board, an underlayment-grade plywood or an existing tile.


    Most porcelain tiles range from $2 to $12 per square foot. From there, you’ll need to factor in the installation cost — you might expect to pay $10 to $25 per square foot for installation.

    If you’re concerned about the cost of porcelain tile flooring, consider how long it will last. If you can afford it, it should last for decades with low maintenance. The initial investment is likely to pay off in the end.

    » MORE: What home improvements are tax deductible?

    Get matched with a Flooring partner near you.

      Ceramic tile

      worker carefully placing ceramic floor tiles on adhesive surface

      Ceramic is one of the most versatile, low-maintenance and cost-effective flooring options. A great choice for walls and flooring, ceramic tiles are typically coated with a glaze. Glazed ceramic tile creates options for colors and patterns that are virtually limitless. It also works well for both residential buildings and commercial locations and can be used for walls.

      These highly durable tiles are solid and won’t hold dirt, making them perfect for high-traffic areas. Chances are you’ve seen this tile flooring in Southwestern- or Mediterranean-style homes, although it’s increasingly used in other styles of homes due to its versatility.

      Pieter Runchman, CEO of Floortheory, a website with tips on flooring selections, told us: “I recommend using ceramic tiles for kitchen projects due to their durability and moisture resistance. They can withstand high traffic and are easy to clean. For bathroom projects, ceramic tiles are the top choice due to their moisture resistance and durability.” He also noted these tiles are ideal for outdoor spaces like patios.


      • Less expensive
      • Highly durable
      • More options for patterns


      • More likely to show chips
      • More likely to stain
      • Will crack under certain circumstances


      Only slightly less durable than porcelain tiles, ceramic tiles are meant to last. These tiles are rated on a hardness scale from 0 to 5. For wall work, tiles in the 0 to 2 hardness range are ideal. A level 3 hardness rating for flooring is good for most residences, while a level 4 or 5 hardness rating is a better choice for commercial buildings.

      Color and style

      Ceramic tiles can also be printed and embossed. While they’re more limited in their ability to copy the look of other building materials than porcelain tiles, there are options that look identical to natural stone or hardwood.

      Because there are ceramic tiles that look like hardwood (though they’re much more durable), many homeowners choose this ceramic option. With the wood patterns you can enjoy the warm look of hardwood without the maintenance and with greater longevity.

      » OTHER OPTIONS: Wood vs. vinyl vs. laminate flooring

      Like porcelain tiles, ceramic tiles can be cut into any shape you’d like. These options, paired with myriad color choices, give you the freedom to create a custom pattern for your home while staying on a budget.

      Cleaning and maintenance

      Ceramic tiles are one of the easiest flooring options in terms of maintenance. Because they don’t hold dirt like carpet or laminate, sweeping and mopping is a quick chore. And because they’re stain-resistant, you won’t have to worry if you spill something. Stains might occur with particular substances over time, but you can use stain removers on ceramic tile without risking damage.

      One reason ceramic tiles are so easy to clean and maintain: the sealing process. Each tile is covered in a sealant to protect it from absorbing liquids and stains. As with some porcelain tiles, this grout between tiles could be damaged or stained with enough time and use. When choosing flooring, keep in mind that using ceramic tile means you’ll probably have to replace your grout at some point.

      The grout between tiles can start to look dingy after some time, but replacing it down the line isn’t a huge undertaking.

      Homeowners — especially those with pets or kids — tend to appreciate how difficult it is to crack ceramic tiles. Should one of your tiles somehow fracture, it’s easy to replace, especially if you’ve kept a couple of boxes of tile from your original installation.


      If you’re looking for an easy DIY project, ceramic tiles may not be the best choice, especially when compared with laminate or vinyl flooring. But it can be done — the most important factor is to lay down a sturdy backer for gluing the tiles. Once the tiles are in place, fill the lines between the tiles with grout.

      If you fall in love with a specialty ceramic tile, you should turn to an expert for your installation. Specialty ceramic tiles include:

      • Rectified tile
      • Polished stone tile
      • Natural clay tile
      • Saltillo tile

      You should also be aware that ceramic tile can be heavy and requires a well-built, strong floor framing beneath it. This means it may not be the right choice for you if you’re replacing flooring on an upper level.


      Many homeowners love ceramic tile for the cost; it’s one of the more affordable flooring options, averaging $1 to $10 per square foot and scaling up significantly based on the style, size and hardness of the tiles.

      For installation, expect a range of $15 to $60 per square foot, on average (a reviewer from Georgia on our site said they were quoted around $7,000 for about 177 square feet of ceramic tile, plus removal of the old tile). To get a better idea of the prices in your area, get estimates from a few different flooring specialists near you. Have the tile you want in mind when you’re requesting an estimate; the type could impact the cost of installation.

      Bottom line: Should I get porcelain or ceramic tile?

      For flooring, you want a material that’s long-lasting, low-maintenance and good-looking. Both porcelain and ceramic tiles are great flooring options if you’re building or renovating; while ceramic tiles are the more affordable option, you can’t beat the durability of porcelain.

      Did you find this article helpful? |
      Share this article