Porcelain is a type of ceramic tile that is characterized by being stronger, harder, purer, and more water-resistant than ordinary ceramics—which are already quite durable. It achieves this by using clays with finer particles, fired at a higher temperature that creates a harder glazed surface than is usually achieved by standard ceramic tiles This inherent versatility gives ceramic tile the ability to provide a number of benefits in a variety of architectural surface covering applications. However, as with all flooring options, there are both advantages and disadvantages to its use.
Benefits of Porcelain Floor Tiles
On balance, porcelain tiles are an excellent flooring choice with a number of important advantages:
- Design flexibility: Modern porcelain tiles 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.
- Durability: These are some of the toughest flooring options available. Hard, dense, and solid, porcelain is resistant to most heavy impact stresses and can even be used in commercial environments. In general, this material should be classified with a PEI rating of at least 5, making it suitable for high-traffic spaces such as living rooms and heavy equipment use.
- Resistance to liquids: The density of porcelain makes it more resistant to liquid penetration than other, more porous types of ceramic. This advantage can be increased through the application of a melted glass glaze, which will make any surface it is adhered to completely impervious to water.
- Stain-resistance: Another advantage of porcelain flooring is natural stain resistance. Being able to repel liquid penetration means that staining agents can’t easily penetrate down through the material dimensionally. When glazed, this effect is even more dramatic, making it nearly impossible to discolor the surface of these tiles.
- Low maintenance: 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, helping to maintain any glazed surface protections which may be in place. Periodic damp mopping with a solution of pH-balanced dish soap and water makes it easy to disinfect the area.
- Fireproof: Porcelain does not burn under any normal conditions, and these floors can help to restrict the transference and movement of flames if a fire breaks out.
- Long lifespan: If properly installed and maintained, porcelain has the ability to last for decades of recommended use. This cuts down on the periodic cost of removal and replacement.
- Repairable: These materials tend to be resistant to cracking and breakage from physical impacts. However, 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.
Drawbacks to Porcelain Floor Tiles
Some of the limitations of porcelain floor tiles are the same as those for standard ceramic tile, but porcelain also has some unique considerations to keep in mind:
- Heavyweight: As with all hard tile flooring options, these materials tend to be quite heavy. That can make the installation process a difficult and laborious task. It also restricts the use of these products in most second and upper story environments, unless the building is specifically built to be able to handle the extra stress.
- High price: Porcelain tiles can be somewhat pricey, and these materials often outpace already expensive standard ceramic options. This is increased by the cost of installation, which can add 25 to 50 percent of the total cost, depending on the location and the specifics of the project. However, these floors can last for decades, paying off the initial investment over time.
- Lack of standard labeling: There are no clear regulations that require products labeled as porcelain to have specific characteristics. While ASTM International and the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA) do have certification processes available, these are voluntary, and retailers are free to describe their tiles in any way they like. That can make it difficult to determine what you are actually purchasing and the characteristics the material will have.
- Difficult installation: The process of installing porcelain is difficult, time-consuming, and physically laborious. The material itself is heavy and very hard, making it difficult to achieve precise cuts. Hiring a contractor to do the work can save you on expensive material waste, but it will increase the price of the project substantially.
- Grout maintenance: While porcelain is nearly impervious to stains, damage, and water penetration, the lines in between these 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, these features can sometimes be corrupted by humidity and insidious moisture, causing them to discolor with mold and mildew.