Ceramic vs Porcelain Tiles for Shower: Which are Better?

When choosing between ceramic or porcelain tiles for your shower wall or floors, there are many aspects to consider. These include the durability, cost and ease of cleaning. While they’re both made from clay and fired in the kiln, porcelain is harder and more durable than ceramic. 

Porcelain bathroom tiles have a higher resistance to water than ceramic tiles. They are also more durable and weigh more than ceramic tiles. You can thus use them in areas with high foot traffic and moisture such as bathroom floors. Porcelain tiles, however, cost more and need special tool to cut.

For the shower, ceramic tiles are better suited to the walls while porcelain tiles are better off on the floor as they’re more durable and water resistant. 

Ceramic vs Porcelain Tiles for Shower

Differences between ceramic and porcelain tiles for shower

Ceramic TilesPorcelain Tiles
Cost $0.50 – $35 per square foot. Cost $3 – $35 per square foot. 
Made with red, white or brown coarse clay at high temperatures. Made of fine kaolin clay sand and feldspar at very high temperatures. 
Absorbs more than 0.5% water. Absorbs less than 0.5% water. 
Softer than porcelain tiles. Denser than ceramic tiles. 
Used on shower walls and floors but best for shower walls. Used on shower walls and floors but best for shower floors. 
Moderately durable. Very durable.
Last for 75 to 100 years.Last for 60 years to a lifetime.
Easy to cut up with a normal tile cutter. Requires special tools to cut into shape  
The color is only on the surface. The color is throughout the tile. 

Since it’s hard to differentiate between ceramic and porcelain tiles by simply looking at them, the main differences between porcelain and ceramic tiles for the shower are as follows:

Cost

Given that the manufacturing process for porcelain requires costlier ingredients and uses more heat than in making ceramic tiles, porcelain tiles are more expensive compared to ceramic tiles. Ceramic tiles cost about $0.5 – $35 per square foot while porcelain tiles cost about $3 – $35 per square meter.

Manufacturing process

Ceramic tiles are manufactured by mixing red, white, or brown clay together and porcelain tiles are made by combining white clay, sand, and feldspar at a higher temperature than ceramic tiles. 

Durability

Porcelain tiles are denser, more water resistant and thus more durable than ceramic tiles. Porcelain tiles can thus be used in areas with heavy foot traffic and they will perform better than ceramic tiles. 

Usage

Being tougher and more durable, porcelain tiles can be used in areas with more abuse such as wet areas and those with high foot traffic like bathroom floors and patios. 

Ceramic tiles, on the other hand, are less durable and water resistant hence suited to areas such as bathroom walls and those with less foot traffic such as bedrooms. 

Ease of cutting and installation

Cutting ceramic tiles is easy since they’re softer than porcelain tiles. Porcelain tiles, on the other hand, are tougher and may require special tools and skills to cut into shape. 

In terms of installation, both types of tiles are easy to install and can even be used on the same surfaces without problems. 

Appearance

A porcelain tile’s color is uniform throughout the product. A damaged or chipped piece of unglazed porcelain will have a consistent color across its thickness. Ceramic tiles are frequently glazed and chips may exhibit a contrasting color underneath them.

Weight

Ceramic tiles are lighter than porcelain tiles because they aren’t as dense. The clays for porcelain manufacture have a greater density and are fired at a higher temperature for a longer time than ceramic.

Finishes

Porcelain has a smoother finish than ceramic. When you turn over a loose tile to view the unglazed side, ceramic tile’s rough unglazed surface will feel coarse. Porcelain will be smooth to the touch due to a finer grain. 

PEI ratings

The PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) rating is a scale to determine how suitable tiles are depending on the foot traffic in an area. The scale is from 0 to 5 depending on the tile hardness as follows:

  • PEI 0: no foot traffic (e.g., wall tiles)
  • PEI 1: very light foot traffic (e.g., bathrooms)
  • PEI 2: light foot traffic (e.g., bedrooms and bathrooms)
  • PEI 3: light to moderate foot traffic (e.g., most domestic floors)
  • PEI 4: moderate to heavy foot traffic (e.g., domestic and some commercial floors)
  • PEI 5: heavy foot traffic (e.g., all domestic and commercial floors)

Ceramic tiles often have a PEI rating from 3 to 4 while porcelain tiles often have a PEI rating from 3 to 5.

The package of your tiles or the website of the manufacturer can also tell you what type and quality of tiles you have on your hands. 

Similarities between ceramic and porcelain tiles for shower

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are similar in the following ways:

Similar cleaning and maintenance procedures

The cleaning and maintenance of these tile types are very similar. Both can be cleaned with standard household cleaners and a soft cloth or sponge, according to the manufacturer’s instructions for use on the tiles. For regular cleaning, it is recommended that you rinse your shower after every session.

There is a misconception that porcelain tiles absorb less stains than ceramic tiles. However, this all depends on the finish and glaze of the tiles since some finishes make bath tiles waterproof. 

Avoid using abrasive scrubbers, waxes, oil-based products and cleaners with ammonia and bleach as they can damage the surface of the tiles. You can always clean your ceramic or porcelain tiles each time you clean your shower stall.

Same installation procedure

Ceramic and porcelain tiles for shower installation are both done using mortar or glue. The installation procedure is the same for ceramic and porcelain tiles, but it’s best to read about each type of tile individually before choosing one over another. Prepare the surface prior to tiling as it’s important with both types of tiles.

Ensure there is no moisture after drying the process has been completed as this may cause mold formation. Mold could weaken the bond between the adhesive and the surface due to trapped water under layers causing splitting in time.

Installation can be done using a mortar adhesive, but it’s best to follow instructions of the manufacturer for maximum results. While both porcelain and ceramic tiles require regrouting to keep the floors or walls of the shower in good shape, you will do more regrouting for ceramic than porcelain tiles. 

Same uses

Ceramic and porcelain tiles for shower are made of the same materials and can be used for similar purposes. However, there is a difference between ceramic vs porcelain tiles in terms of durability. Ceramic tile usually has an average lifespan of 75 to 100 years while most porcelain tiles last up to 60 years to a lifetime.

Both types of tiles work well for floors because they offer non-slip surfaces but it would be best to use low VOC glazes if you want to create a healthier living environment inside your home. If ventilation issues arise due to the humidity, you can always turn to porcelain tiles for their durability.

Both ceramic and porcelain tiles are usable for in-floor heating which makes floors warm during the cold weather. 

Some ingredients are similar

Ceramic and porcelain tiles also share some ingredients. Some of the same material used to create porcelain tiles is also used in ceramic. These include the sands and some finishes for the tiles. 

However, it should be noted that not all the ingredients included in one or another type of tile will always match up perfectly. 

Sealing isn’t a must

Although a water-resistant finish is not required, sealing porcelain or ceramic tiles in the shower is not necessary. However, there are certain times when sealing your tiles might be beneficial. For example, some individuals choose to seal unglazed tiles.

Same safety levels

There are several slip-resistant materials on the market including glazed ceramic tiles. Although some glazed ceramic tiles might be slippery when wet, there are other options available. Whatever you do, avoid ceramic tiles marked “high gloss” since they pose the greatest safety risks when wet. Always make sure your glazed tiles have a “slip-resistant” seal of approval instead of a “high gloss” seal.

Ceramic tiles  

Ceramic tiles are made by mixing red, white or brown clay and heating at a high temperature (not more than 1,650°F) though less than the heat in making porcelain tiles. After that, a glaze and pattern are added to the tiles.

Ceramic tiles are quite popular given their versatility and have the pros and cons discussed below. 

Ceramic tiles pros  

The advantages of using ceramic tiles for shower walls or other parts of the shower include the following:

Cost less than porcelain tiles

Given that ceramic tiles require less and cheaper ingredients to make and cost less to prepare than porcelain tiles, they’re also less expensive. 

More variety

Ceramic tiles offer more variety in shape and color. This makes the tiles more likely to match a more unique design of your shower at no extra cost. 

Easier to cut

Ceramic tiles are easier to cut than porcelain tiles. This is because ceramic materials are softer and easily break with a saw or grinder, but they also wear down more quickly so you need to be careful about how hard you grind them.

Porcelain tiles require different tools such as diamond tipped blades for power tools. Even then these types of blades dull easily.

Easier installation process

Ceramic tiles are easier to install than porcelain tiles because they can be easily cut into shape unlike porcelain tiles. It’s also easier to fix holes in a shower wall when the wall is made of ceramic or fiberglass material.

Easier to maintain and clean

Ceramic tiles are easier to clean because they can be wiped down with a damp cloth or sponge whereas porcelain requires more attention such as using an acidic cleaner that won’t scratch the surface of your tile. However, porcelain tiles are just as equally easy to clean

Can be textured for a unique look

A textured surface can be added to porcelain tiles some of which have a rough or marbled finish. Tiles with ripples, waves, or raised forms are frequently available.

Ceramic tiles cons 

The disadvantages of ceramic tiles for the shower include the following:

Absorbs water

Ceramic tiles are porous and will thus absorb more water than porcelain when exposed for a long time. As such, the best tile for shower walls between ceramic or porcelain is porcelain. However, given that shower walls are exposed to water compared to the floor, ceramic tiles can be used for shower walls especially when painted. This is one of the advantages of painting your tiles.

Less durable

Ceramic tile is not as hardy as porcelain. It’s best to avoid using it in high-traffic areas.

Porcelain tiles 

Porcelain tiles are simply a special type of ceramic tiles given that they only differ in some ingredients and part of the manufacturing process. Porcelain tiles are made by mixing white clay, sand and feldspar then heating the mixture at a higher temperature than that of making ceramic tiles. They’re the most durable type of tile on the market. 

If you’re considering porcelain tiles for the bathroom, some porcelain tiles pros and cons are as follows:

Porcelain tiles pros 

The advantages of porcelain tiles for your shower include the following:

Very durable

Porcelain tiles are very dense and hence highly durable. This makes them really good for areas that are high-traffic such as the living room or even your bathroom flooring. The porcelain tiles used in these rooms will take a very long time to show signs of wear and tear which is why you can expect it to remain looking just like new for years on end.

Damage may not be noticeable

Small chips are less apparent in unglazed porcelain tile because the color of the material is consistent throughout the tile. As such, you can forego repairs if the damage is minimal since it won’t be an eyesore. 

Highly water-resistant

Porcelain is almost waterproof with the water absorption rate at just 0.5% according to the (American Society for Testing and Materials) ASTM C373 standards. This makes porcelain tiles suited to wet areas such as bathroom floors. 

The fired tile is first weighed before being boiled for five hours and left to sit in water for 24 hours. After that, it is again weighed. If the tile’s weight is less than half of one percent greater as a result of water absorption into its surface, it is assumed to be porcelain.

Porcelain tiles cons 

The disadvantages of porcelain tiles for your shower include the following:

Difficult to cut into desired shapes

Given how strong porcelain is, it can be difficult to cut into the desired shapes. They require special skills and tools to cut into shape. This makes them hard to install and repair for casual constructors at home. 

More expensive than ceramic tile

Porcelain tiles cost much more money per square foot compared with ceramic tiles. If you’re working with a tight budget, you might not be able to afford the tiles for your shower project. 

More difficult to install than ceramic or porcelain tile

Porcelain is more expensive and harder to work with when installing it in wet areas like showers. 

Fewer styles and options

Porcelain tiles have fewer color and style options to choose from than other types of tiles such as ceramic. This limits your choice if you want to match tiles with the rest of the house. 

Which one is the better tile? 

When comparing porcelain versus ceramic tile for the shower, you should consider the cost, water resistance and durability among other aspects. While porcelain tiles are costlier, they last longer and are more resistant to wear and tear compared to ceramic tiles. 

You can balance the two types of tiles in terms of cost and functionality by using porcelain tiles on the floor of the shower and ceramic tiles on the shower walls.

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