Porcelain vs Ceramic Floor Tile Room By Room

Porcelain vs ceramic floor tile and selecting the right tile for your room is easy once you know the facts. Ceramic and porcelain floor tiles are both good choices for living rooms, kitchens,bathrooms, laundry rooms and basements. Both can be used in wet or moisture prone areas. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are made with very similar materials and processes. They are often thought to be the same tile, but there are slight differences between the two. However, putting the wrong flooring tile in a room will lead to stained, cracked and chipped tiles.

You will need to determine the best ceramic or porcelain flooring tile for the room and its use to provide you with the best floor. We will go room by room to help you determine the best tile for your flooring project.

Porcelain vs Ceramic Tile-What’s The Difference?

Both porcelain and ceramic floor tile are considered types of “ceramic tile” made from clay. Ceramic tiles are further divided into two groups: non-porcelain tiles or “ceramic” and porcelain tiles. In general porcelain tiles are higher quality and more resistant to damage. They are fired in a kiln at higher temperatures which increases hardness and durability.

When the clay is fired it reduces the water content. Ceramic floor tile is usually heated to 2,000 degrees while porcelain floor tile is heated up to 2,500 degrees. This heat reduces the rate of water the tiles can absorb and provides the water absorption rate. Since porcelain tile is fired at a higher temperature it creates a more dense, finer-grained, smoother tile with a very low absorption rate that is also more impervious to water than ceramic tile.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Rating System

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has developed a rating system for the moisture absorption rate of tile. These ratings are based on a test for the tiles permeability to water.

  • Non-vitreous (Low density) – Tile with water absorption rate of more than 7.0 percent. Can be used for fireplaces and walls.
  • Semi-vitreous (Medium density) – Tile with water absorption rate of more than 3.0 percent, but not more than 7.0 percent. Most ceramic tile is semi-vitreous and can be used in dry areas or where there is usually no standing water.
  • Vitreous (High Density) – Tile with water absorption rate of more than 0.5 percent, but not more than 3.0 percent. Suitable for showers and floors and outdoor areas that do not freeze.
  • Impervious (Extremely dense) – Tile with water absorption rate of 0.5 percent or less. Most porcelain tile is impervious and can be used anywhere including wet and outdoor locations.

The water absorption rate of porcelain tile is .05% while ceramic tile can be as high as 7%. In general, the more resistant a flooring tile is to water, the more it will cost.

Now on to our room by room porcelain vs ceramic flooring guide.

What Is Porcelain Floor Tile?

Porcelain floor tiles have a refined luster, a smooth texture, and an attractive traditional appearance. Cultures across the world have valued porcelain for ages. But today, porcelain is used for much more than just beautiful dinnerware, dolls, and embellishments. It’s become one of the top choices for flooring.

Homeowners have chosen porcelain floor tile for rooms like kitchens, washrooms, or foyers. It is one of the most popular flooring materials in homes today. Porcelain tile can be opaque which means you can’t see through it or translucent which means you can see light but not shapes when looking through it.

We’ll go over detailed information on porcelain floor tile room by room, along with the many types of porcelain tiles and how they are manufactured. You will find out what to look for when buying porcelain tile as well as which rooms in your home should have porcelain floor tiles.

What Is Ceramic Floor Tile?

Ceramic tile has been around for thousands of years. Once we discovered that clay could be formed by mixing with water and then firing, an industry was born. The Romans first introduced tile making in Western Europe. However, it was almost forgotten for centuries until floor tiles once again started to appear in cathedral and church floors. Ceramic tiles began to flourish in Europe in the mid-19th century and eventually made it to America.

Ceramic floor tile usually has a glazed finish which can be glossy, matte or textured. Virtually all ceramic tiles have a glaze fired over the body and if chipped, the white, tan, or red clay base is exposed.

Ceramic tile is opaque, which means you can’t see through it. It also has a slightly duller and less delicate finish than porcelain. Ceramic tile has been a popular flooring choice in the United States since the early 1930’s.

We’ll go over detailed information on ceramic floor tile room by room, along with the many types of ceramic tiles available and how they are manufactured. You will find out what to look for when buying ceramic tile as well as which rooms in your home work well with ceramic floor tiles.

Now lets start with our tile flooring room to room guide.

PEI Rating Of Floor Tile

The first step in choosing either porcelain or ceramic floor tile is to find the PEI rating. You won’t know which type of tile is best for the room until the PEI rating is known. “PEI” is the abbreviation for Porcelain Enamel Institute. The PEI rating is given to a tile based the hardness and durability of enamel coated or glazed porcelain or ceramic tile. The ratings should be on the suppliers website or on the tile box and range from 0-5 or Roman numerals I-V. If you can’t find the PEI rating you will not be able to determine if the tile is appropriate for the room and its intended use.

However, the P.E.I. rating alone does not necessarily determine the quality or price, only the tile hardness and durability. Some of the most expensive tiles in the world have a PEI rating of 1or 2. It could be a very good tile, but ratings of 1 or 2 are only for porcelain or ceramic wall tile application and would not be suitable for floors.

Tile hardness ratings determine if the tile is suitable for the room where you plan to install it. For example, entryways need a hard, abrasion-resistant, moisture-proof tile. Bathrooms and showers require a moisture-proof and nonslip or slip-resistant floor tile for safety. Some tile is rated for any room including indoor or outdoor use while other tiles can be used only in specific room applications.

PEI Ratings

Below are the PEI ratings using regular numbers with a 0-5 rating and Roman numerals using I-V.

The Porcelain Enamel Institute or PEI hardness ratings using numbers are:

  • 0 Rating. Light-duty only on walls. Not to be used for flooring.
  • 1 Rating. Shower surrounds, bathroom walls and as a kitchen back splash tile.
  • 2 Rating. Walls and light traffic floors. Often used in bathrooms and laundry areas.
  • 3 Rating. Can be installed in any room in your home. Residential and light commercial areas, interior walls, countertops and floors.
  • 4 Rating. Can be installed in any room in your home. Moderate foot traffic. Residential areas and commercial areas including kitchens and restaurants.
  • 5 Rating. Heavy traffic. Commercial foot traffic in stores, offices and hotels.

The Porcelain Enamel Institute or PEI hardness ratings using Roman numerals:

  • Class I: No foot traffic. For wall only applications.
  • Class II: Light traffic. Interior residential wall applications and floors where little abrasion will occur such as bathrooms and kitchen backsplashes.
  • Class III: Light to moderate traffic. Residential floors with normal foot traffic. Also ideal for countertops and walls.
  • Class IV: Moderate to heavy traffic. Acceptable for all rooms in the home and for light and medium commercial use.
  • Class V: Heavy to extra-heavy traffic. Acceptable for all rooms in the home but generally used in commercial buildings like stores and restaurant floors.

How To Check Porcelain or Ceramic Floor Tile If There Is No PEI Rating Available

You may find a perfect porcelain or ceramic floor tile only to discover there is no PEI rating. You may not even be able to tell if it is a porcelain or ceramic tile.

Suppose the supplier can not verify the PEI rating and there is no rating on the tile box. Instead of just taking your chances that the tile will work in the room, there is a simple test you can perform.

First, you should visually inspect the tile surface by running your fingers over the top. Porcelain tiles will have a fine grain finish that is smoother than the finish on a ceramic tile. If the finish is slightly bumpy or feels coarse, you’re probably looking at a non-porcelain (ceramic) tile.

Look for color chips in the glaze to help identify ceramic tile. If you do see color chips look for the tiles white, red or tan base on the edges of the tile. This will usually indicate a ceramic tile.

Porcelain tiles are usually, but not always, glazed. Most porcelain tiles will have a consistent color that goes through the body of the tile. Ceramic floor tiles will have a white, tan, or red color on the side of the tile with a colored glaze on top.

The Flooring Tile Key Test

Secondly, you can perform the “key” test. This simple and easy test will give you a good idea of the possible PEI rating. You can use any sharp edged object such as a car key or a nail will work also.

To make your testing of the tile useful, get a tile sample that has a known PEI rating of 3 and scratch the surface of the tile several times. Perform the same test on the tile in question. Look for scratches and gouges in the tile and how deep they are and compare the results. If the tiles look the same after the floor tile key test then you can assume the tile you want will have a similar PEI rating.

You can also find general information on tile from the Tile Council of North America (TCNA). The TCNA has developed and patented many innovative installation materials and has members in Canada, Mexico and the United States. Your best source of information is always going to be from the tile manufacturer. When that is not available, the key test is the next best thing.

What Room Is Getting New Floor Tile?

To find the right porcelain or ceramic floor tile for the room, you will need the correct PEI rating. Remember the PEI rating is based on the durability required for the room where you’ll be placing it. A tile with a low PEI rating of 0 or 1 will break and chip if you use it in a hallway. Also a tile with a PEI rating of 5 will be too heavy to put on a wall or used on a kitchen countertop.

Ceramic tiles limitation is the water absorption rate of 3%-7%. Porcelain tile is commonly used for floors and walls and with a water absorption rate of less than 0.5 percent can be used in any room and outdoor applications. Porcelain can be also used in both wet and dry areas such as basements, bathrooms, showers, and kitchens.

PEI Ratings For Each Room In The House:

  • Walls and Backsplashes: The tile for walls and backsplashes have a PEI rating of 1 or 2. These tiles have the lowest resistance to wear and are not to be used for flooring projects.
  • Bathroom and Shower: The flooring in your bathroom and shower should also be somewhat moisture and slip resistant. Porcelain or ceramic tile with a high PEI rating of 2 or 3 will withstand liquid and food stains, scuffs and scratches that are common in this room with moisture concerns.
  • Hallways: The tile you choose to install in the hall should be able to withstand debris that people could track into the house. Porcelain or ceramic flooring materials with a PEI rating of 3 will provide the durability needed for this area with moderate foot traffic.
  • Entryway: Even if your guests take off their shoes when they come into the house, they’ll leave them by the front door entryway, so the flooring tile material should be solid. Thicker tiles with a PEI rating of 3 or 4 will be easy to clean as they won’t be sensitive to dirt and abrasive materials.
  • Living room: You need a flooring material for the living room that’s resistant to debris buildup, especially if this room connects to an exterior part of the house. Ceramic or porcelain tile with a PEI rating of 3 or 4 will withstand moderate to heavy foot traffic, even if everyone decide to leave their shoes on. You don’t need to buy a thick, heavy tile for the living room, but one with a 3 or 4 rating should do nicely.
  • Kitchen: In the kitchen and dining areas, install a flooring tile that can withstand food and beverage spills, along with the dirt and debris that gets brought in from the outside. Since you’ll have more activity in the kitchen than in the bathroom, you will need a tile with a PEI rating of 3-4 to withstand heavy foot traffic.
  • Any room where a wood or stone look is wanted: Porcelain tiles can create an exceptionally accurate look of wood or stone that are ideal for wall and floor applications. Look for a 1 or 2 PEI rating for walls, above the fireplace and kitchen and bath back splashes. 3 or 4 ratings for flooring applications.
  • Outdoor Flooring Tiles: Ceramic tile would not be a good choice for exterior application and you would want a porcelain tile which has a moisture absorption rating of less than 0.5 %. Porcelain floor tile’s high level of water resistance means it also can be used outdoors and exposed to the weather. It can be used on walkways, patios and decks.
  • Outdoor Wall Applications: Porcelain is the tile to use on exterior walls. Porcelain tile has a very low water absorption rate, and where snow, freezing and thawing cycles occur, a low water absorption rated tile is needed.

Porcelain vs. Ceramic Tile: Major Differences For Rooms

porcelain vs ceramic floor tile

Ceramic and porcelain tile is made by heating clay to temperatures between 2,000 degrees (ceramic) to 2,400 degrees (porcelain). When researching porcelain vs ceramic floor tile remember the higher temperature used for porcelain tile, makes porcelain stronger than ceramic.

Room Appearance

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are frequently produced with a matte to glossy surface finish and can be used in living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms. They might not be identifiable until you look closely. White and gray are the most popular tile colors. Kitchens, bathrooms and showers are the most popular rooms where floor tile is used.

Porcelain flooring tiles now are created to look like many materials such as stone, marble and wood like patterns. Translucent blue, green, and grey tiles along with classic black and white tiles are popular.

Ceramic and porcelain each have excellent heat tolerance and are both used for countertops. Porcelain tile is far more solid, heavier and water-resistant and a terrific option for countertop surfaces and backsplashes because of its high thermal resistance.

Glazed or Unglazed Tile

Glazed tiles have an additional layer that is between 5-7 microns thick added to the surface of the tile. Usually people think of a glossy finish as glazed. However with tiles, glazed does not describe the finish but refers to a material that is coated on the tiles. It is a liquid glass or enamel that is coated on the tile surface to make it glazed. It is then sent to the kiln where it will be heated again to bake the glaze onto the tile surface.

If you’re looking to put tiles in places like the bathroom or the shower, you’ll want to look at slip resistant tile for safety. So for wet areas, unglazed tiles are the better option. Unglazed tiles also are great for exterior or high-traffic areas, and are a little less expensive compared to glazed tiles. 

However, although both glazed and unglazed tiles are durable, they may not give you the look and finish you want in your room. Unglazed tiles are also less resistant to staining so the finish won’t stand up to wear and tear quite as well. Glazed tiles also require very minimal maintenance. Their finish will shine through dusty floors and a quick once over with a damp mop will return them to their glossy glory. They are slightly pricier than unglazed tiles, but preferred by many homeowners.

Tile Colors To Choose From-Even Tile That Looks Like Wood

Ceramic flooring tile often has a single color and design. They are opaque tiles that often use brilliant colors, smooth gloss finish and many variations in hues and tones.

There are dozens of colors to choose from in porcelain or ceramic tiles. Popular flooring tile colors include white, grey, black, beige, blue and ivory. White tile is still the best seller and typically sells twice the amount of the second leading color, grey.

In situations where you want the appearance of wood without the liability that wood flooring has to water damage, porcelain flooring tile is a great option. When it comes to visual appeal, porcelain tile is a slightly better option as it comes in a wider array of shades, designs, and surface treatments, along with tiles that simulate wood and real stone.

Factors To Consider When Choosing Floor Tiles For Each Room

Liquid Resistance

Porcelain tiles are less permeable and stronger than ceramic because of the kiln temperature when they are made. They are an excellent tile that can be used in bathrooms, basements, or other moist areas because of their strong water resistance rate. 

Ceramic tile is a very good choice for living rooms and bedrooms where water damage is not a concern. Ceramic is one of the easiest floors to clean and maintain over its lifespan.

Highly Stain Resistant

Flooring tile stains are hard to remove because they soak into the surface and become permanently embedded. Think about how a wood floor can stain so easily. The same properties of porcelain and ceramic tile that make them highly waterproof also render them extremely stain resistant. 

As porcelain tiles are so solid, stains can’t penetrate them and get completely embedded. Porcelain tile has a moisture absorption rating of less than 0.5 % compared to ceramic tile at 3%-7%. Due to the ease with which spilled juice, espresso, or other materials can be cleaned up, porcelain tile has a slight advantage for kitchen and bath flooring over ceramic.

Durability

Both types of tiles resist breaking and cracking. Porcelain floor tile is made stronger than ceramic floor tile and is less likely to break or have other problems after installation. 

Porcelain tile is probably a better choice if you want to utilize the tile in a busy business area or other high-traffic areas. This extremely solid material is harder to break and will hold up well to intense use over time. Even heavy furniture can be supported by porcelain floor tile more effectively than it can with ceramic tile. Porcelain tile just seems to hold up better over time in terms of durability.

Lifespan

Both porcelain and ceramic tile have lifespans of 30-50 years. It is not uncommon to see ceramic floors that are 100 years old in homes today. This is one of the few flooring solutions that endure very well over time. This is attributable to the fact that tile is extremely durable and hard to break, making it resistant to scratches or chips. 

Porcelain tile is indeed a terrific and reliable choice but will not significantly add more years to your floors lifespan. Both porcelain and ceramic tile will likely have the longest lifetime overall among the other flooring alternatives such as carpet and hardwood floors.

Low Maintenance

Porcelain and ceramic tiles are both easy to maintain due to their incredibly durable and hard surfaces. To keep them in good condition for years, just wipe them off frequently and clean the grout in between. They keep a consistent hue with low maintenance, so they will look good even after several decades of use.

Porcelain VS Ceramic-More Factors To Consider

Cost to Install

In comparison to ceramic tiles, porcelain tile is more costly and takes longer to install since it can be somewhat difficult to deal with. Expect to pay $15-$25 per square foot for tile installation on porcelain and $10-$20 per square foot on ceramic. As porcelain tile installation is more challenging than ceramic tile types, some contractors are less interested in doing it. 

Installing tile is not an easy DIY project. If you want to install these tiles, you should prepare to pay for special tools like diamond cutting blades, saws, and grout or mortar tools.

Weight

The tremendous density and strength of tile, which is among their main benefits, can be a drawback if weight is a concern. This is due to the tile’s dense weight, which is significantly more heavier than alternatives like wood flooring, vinyl or carpet. Most PEI rated tile of 4-5 should only be installed on ground level rooms because of the added weight on floor joists.

Grout

Even though porcelain tile and ceramic tile requires very little maintenance on its own, one still needs to consider the additional care that grout requires. For a suitable water-resistant tile installation, grout must be utilized as a filler substance in between the tiles. 

You must also take precautions to maintain the grout between your tiles after installation to keep them looking nice. This means re-grouting as needed and cleaning off all the grime that has accumulated over time on the grout. And remember that even the finest looking tile can be ruined by a poor grout job.

Now You Know The Difference Between Porcelain vs Ceramic Floor Tile

It is important to note that all porcelain tile is ceramic but not all ceramic tile is porcelain. Specifically, porcelain is ceramic that has lower water absorption due to a denser body therefore it is ideally suited for all room installs and outdoor installations. 

Ceramic flooring tile has been used for decades. It is a slightly less expensive choice per room compared to porcelain floor tile.

We covered a lot and I hope you learned from this guide. But we didn’t even have time to touch on glass tile, cement or Encaustic tiles, marble tiles or natural stone tiles! I will cover those tiles in a later article.

Start With Those PEI Ratings For Floor Tiles

Your room by room guide should always start with the PEI rating for your tile. This will help you choose the right tile for the right room. When comparing porcelain vs ceramic floor tile and whether or not it will work in a specific room and is right for your application, a lot can be determined by the information on the box, often in the form of PEI ratings.

While the cost of porcelain floor tile is higher, its durability and resistance to wear is much better. In high-traffic areas and wet rooms like a kitchen or bathroom, it will provide you with a floor that lasts longer and looks better for years. Porcelain floor tile has one advantage in that it also is available in styles that look like wood or natural stone.

While ceramic and porcelain tiles can be almost any color and porcelain can even made to look like wood or natural stone, porcelain tile is more likely to withstand any damage. The tile design goes throughout the entire tile and generally does not use a top glaze coating like ceramic. Not only is porcelain tile denser than ceramic tile, but due to its solid composition, it is considered more durable and better suited for heavy usage rooms than ceramic tile.

While both porcelain and ceramic are fired, porcelain is fired at higher temperatures for a longer time than ceramic. Porcelain tiles are denser and thus less porous than ceramic tiles. This makes porcelain tile harder and more impervious to moisture than ceramic tile.

Flooring Tile Choices For Every Room

With so much to consider from color, size, shape and material to PEI ratings, choosing the right flooring tile for your room goes beyond finding the lowest price, discount tile, best deal or quality tile brand. To help determine the quality of floor tiles, keep in mind their intended use and the room to be installed. Once you’ve found the tile with the ratings that are right for the room, you can begin to explore colors and patterns.

Porcelain vs Ceramic tile options has also seen a trend with homeowners who are switching from ceramic to porcelain. Consumers are now more aware than ever that they can use either porcelain or ceramic tile for almost every room in their home. Both porcelain and ceramic tiles each have rooms where one works better than the other. And ceramic tile tends to be the most popular choice especially when price is the main concern.

While most of us think of tile in the kitchen or bathroom, floor tile in the bedroom is also gaining in popularity. Choosing porcelain flooring tiles for the bedroom means you can now replace carpet or hardwood with wood-look porcelain tiles.

As always research your project and read the specifications. Go online or go into the flooring store showroom and don’t just shop for tile at Lowe’s and Home Depot. There are many knowledgeable flooring stores near you that can provide information and great looking flooring tiles. Ask questions and read the label carefully to find the flooring tile that will be perfect for your room.