Porcelain is a type of ceramic tile that is characterized by being stronger, harder, and even more water-resistant than ordinary ceramics—which are already quite durable. Porcelain tile achieves this by using clays with finer particles fired at a higher temperature, which creates a harder, less porous surface than can be achieved by standard ceramic tiles. This inherent versatility gives ceramic tile the ability to provide a number of benefits as a flooring, such as durability and design flexibility. However, porcelain tiles can be somewhat more brittle than standard ceramic tiles, and they have some of the same drawbacks as ceramic tile, including their heavy weight, coldness, and hardness underfoot.
The manufacturing process used to make porcelain tiles allows this material to mimic all sorts of other building materials with remarkable effectiveness. It can be hard to tell the difference unless you examine it up close.
Many design options
Water- and stain-resistance
Heavy, brittle, and can be slippery
Grout requires sealing
Porcelain Tile Cost
At one time, porcelain tiles were notably more expensive than standard ceramic tiles, though this difference has largely evaporated as porcelain has gained in popularity. Now, the costs for porcelain floor tiles tend to be comparable to that of good-quality standard ceramic tiles. For the tile alone, you can normally expect to pay $5 to $25 or more per square foot for porcelain floor tiles, although big-box home improvement centers often have remarkable bargains on porcelain floor tiles. For professional installation, you can expect to add another $10 to $25 per square foot. However, these floors can last for decades, paying off the initial investment over time.
Maintenance and Repair
Like other forms of ceramic tile, porcelain floor tile is one of the toughest flooring options available. Hard, dense, and solid, porcelain is resistant to most heavy stresses and can even be used in commercial environments. Be aware, though, that the hardness of porcelain can make it slightly more brittle than standard tiles, which means they can be more susceptible to cracking. In general, when used on floors, this material should be classified with a PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) rating of at least 5, making it suitable for high-traffic spaces such as living rooms and heavy equipment use. Such tiles will be marketed as floor tiles; you should not use wall-grade porcelain tiles on a floor.
If damage does occur to a tile, an individual porcelain piece is not difficult to remove and replace. It is a good idea to save an extra box or two of the product during installation to make color matching easier.
The density of porcelain makes it more resistant to liquid penetration than other, more porous types of ceramic. The natural stain and water resistance of porcelain also helps to make the material very easy to maintain. Spills can be spot-cleaned with a damp rag when necessary, and regular sweeping will keep loose debris off the floor. It is easy to disinfect a porcelain tile surface.
While porcelain is nearly impervious to stains, damage, and water penetration, the grout lines in between tiles are still vulnerable. Grout is a porous material even when set, and it needs to be sealed in order to prevent damage from regular use. Even when properly cared for, grout can sometimes be corrupted by humidity and moisture, causing it to discolor with mold and mildew.
One of the principal advantages of modern porcelain tiles is that they can very convincingly mimic all sorts of traditional flooring materials, such as marble, granite, wood, or even steel, bamboo, or cork. Visually, these can be almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Porcelain makes it possible to enjoy the performance advantages of ceramic tile with looks that are much different than standard ceramic tile.
Things to Consider When Choosing Porcelain or Ceramic
Porcelain Tile Installation
The process of installing porcelain tiles is exactly the same as for ceramic tile, and it can be time-consuming and physically laborious. The material itself is very hard, making it difficult to achieve precise cuts without special saws. Hiring a contractor to do the work can save you on expensive material waste, but it will increase the price of the project substantially.
As with all hard tile flooring options, these materials tend to be quite heavy. This may restrict the use of these products in second and upper story environments, unless the building is specifically built to be able to handle the extra stress.
That said, while installation of porcelain tile is hard, time-consuming work, it is not particularly complicated, and patient DIYers with plenty of time can easily save 50 percent or more on the cost of installation by doing the work themselves.
Top Brands of Porcelain Tile
Most of the top manufacturers of standard ceramic tiles also offer porcelain tiles, but there are several manufacturers that are especially well-known for their porcelains:
- Marazzi is the first Italian-owned company to manufacture tiles in the U.S. They are known for high-quality, premium ceramic and porcelain tiles, but they also are notable for sustainable manufacturing practices.
- Interceramic is one of the largest manufacturers of traditional ceramic and porcelain tiles. They are known for their environmentally-friendly manufacturing methods.
- Daltile is another major manufacturer of ceramic tile, with an impressive selection of porcelain tiles. They offer many selections with a proprietary non-slip surface.
There are dozens of brands that market porcelain floor tiles, and most of them provide suitable products. It may be best to buy from an long-established brand, since you may want to buy more identical tiles in the future, and established companies usually will continue to stock tiles from all product lines.
Comfort and Convenience
Porcelain tile has the same comfort/convenience profile as standard ceramic tile—namely, that its durability comes at the price of a cold hardness that is less pleasing than many other flooring materials. Many users "soften" porcelain tile floors through the use of area rugs. And porcelain and ceramic tile floors are very amenable to installation of radiant floor heating systems, which can turn a normally cold floor into one that radiates a delicious subtle warmth.
Porcelain Tile vs. Standard Ceramic Tile
In terms of performance, standard ceramic tile and porcelain tile are nearly equal, though porcelains are harder and may be slightly more brittle. This can make porcelain somewhat more difficult to saw, and cheaper forms of porcelain can be more susceptible to cracking if they receive a sharp impact. Glazed porcelain can also be more slippery than standard tiles, although choosing textured, matte-surface tiles minimize this problem.
But porcelains offer some impressive design advantages, since they are available in forms that resemble marble and other natural stone, wood, bamboo, cork, and many other materials. Porcelain offers even more design flexibility than offered by standard ceramic tiles.
Is Porcelain Tile Right for You?
Porcelain floor tiles can be a great choice if you want the performance advantages of ceramic tile in a product that convincingly mimics wood, stone, and other flooring materials. While DIY installation can be hard work and time-consuming, if you already have any experience with ceramic tile, there is no reason you can't install your own porcelain tile floor. The results will be a durable, elegant floor that can last for many decades.