There are a lot of similarities between ceramic tiles, and the various natural stone materials that are available. They are both hard surface flooring options which are durable, reliable and can last for years in numerous environments. The key difference is a melted glass glaze that can be applied to ceramics in order to protect them from damage and stains. This covers the natural feel of the material’s surface, replacing it with any image the manufacturers can think of, even certain types of stone.
Natural Stone Tile Flooring Types
Mountain born stone comprises a variety of specific materials, each of which has unique properties and characteristics.
- Granite: The hardest and densest construction grade stone material, granite can be polished smooth, honed flat, or left in a naturally gauged state. While it will be resistant to stains and water penetration, it is somewhat porous and will need to be sealed after installation, to protect both the tiles and the grout lines between them.
- Slate: Almost as hard as granite, the slate is a striated material that consists of layers of flat, hard packed stone that are compressed by the weight of the earth into solid pieces. This gives the material a very strong structure, making it sound against cracks and breaks. However, it is prone to some chipping on tile edges. Naturally porous like all stones, the slate will also have to be chemically sealed after installation, with annual re-application recommended for best effect.
- Limestone: This material has a medium level of density and strength relative to other natural stones, and is also porous requiring periodic application of a chemical sealing agent. Limestone tends to weather well, taking on an aged antique look over time that somewhat mirrors the feel of classical antiquity.
- Sandstone: An extremely porous material, sandstone needs to be treated with multiple applications of a quality penetrating below surface sealer, and a chemical sealing barrier on a regular basis. Sandstone is generally not recommended in bathrooms, and other humid, moist environments.
Types Of Ceramic Floor Tile
- Unglazed: Ceramic is made from clay and sediments which are baked hard in a kiln. In its natural state, it is very porous, and will readily absorb liquids and staining agents that fall on its surface. This can be prevented to some extent by sealing the floor with a quality chemical ceramic tile sealing agent. Unglazed materials are generally chosen over more durable options because of the natural, rustic beauty of the tile in this state.
- Terra Cotta: A specific form of unglazed ceramic that is made from a type of red tinted clay found in Mexico, and parts of Europe. These materials produce tiles that have distinctive patterns and hues, that are quite attractive, especially in certain southwestern style decors. However, the material is porous and will need to be sealed periodically.
- Glazed Ceramic: The vast majority of ceramic tiles are manufactured with a glazed surface treatment. This involves taking regular kiln fired material, and then applying a melted glass glaze layer to it which serves to create an impervious seal over the surface of the piece. This layer can be printed to look like nearly anything, including a variety of natural materials. While the replication is not always perfect, improvements in ceramic flooring manufacture printing technology are creating more realistic finishes every day.
Sealing: When it comes to porosity and vulnerability to water, unglazed ceramic is going to be similar to a mid-range Travertine material. It needs to be sealed on a regular basis to protect it from stains. All natural stone materials also have to be sealed, although harder options such as granite and slate can sometimes weather fine after only an initial application. With glazed ceramic, you don’t have to worry about water penetration at all, and sealing is unnecessary, except for along grout lines.
Cleaning Ceramic Tile Versus Natural Stone
Natural stone materials exist as a chemical base. Because of this, you have to avoid the use of any acidic cleansers, as they will cause a reaction in the stone which can result in a permanent stain. Sealing the surface will help to prevent this to some extent if spills or splashes occur.
With glazed ceramic, you can use virtually any cleaning agent that you want to completely sanitize the area. With harsher chemicals, you should be careful not to degrade the grout lines too much. You also want to make sure the space being cleaned is well ventilated, and follow all manufacturers instructions in the application of any cleanser.
Durability Of Natural Stone Versus Ceramic Tile
The structural strength of a ceramic tile is based on how hot the fires were when it was baked in the kiln. Higher temperatures will result in more durable materials, such as porcelain, and a glaze can help prevent scratches. Natural stone also varies by type of material, with granite and slate being much harder than marble or limestone. However stone can have hidden faults in individual pieces, and some materials may be prone to chipping along the edges and at the corners of the square.
Decorative Flooring Considerations
Glazed ceramic is generally going to be the right choice if you want a low maintenance, stain resistant, hassle free floor. However ceramic is not a completely natural product, and while it can mimic the look of stone, it is not able to fully reproduce it. For this reason, people often opt for the less durable natural option, in order to increase the authenticity of the environment they are building.