First things first: the word “ceramic” is an umbrella term for any “earthen-ware” product that is fired (baked) in a kiln. Porcelain tile is a type of ceramic. “Red Body” glazed floor tile is a type of ceramic. Terracotta flower pots are a type of ceramic. China dishes are a type of ceramic. With this understanding, let’s review the most important differences between Porcelain Ceramic Tile and Non-Porcelain Ceramic Tile.
Porcelain Floor Tile is vitreous; this means it has very low water absorption, less than .5% – almost “glass-like” in its molecular structure. It is fundamentally non-absorbent. Porcelain tile is composed of 3 basic ingredients; kaolin (high quality clay) acts as the binding agent, feldspar (mineral) provides vitreosity and quartz (sand) reduces shrinkage in the firing process. Porcelain tile is more dense, durable and harder than non-porcelain floor tile. It is ideal for heavy traffic areas of the home – for example; kitchens, entries and walking patterns. And, it is the best choice for all commercial applications. It is frost resistant and can be used in exterior applications. Because of its density and hardness, it has higher impact resistance than most non-porcelain tiles. Commercial and institutional settings are best suited to porcelain tile floors because of its strength and stability.
Non-Porcelain Ceramic Floor Tile is composed of clay, sand and water. This type of ceramic tile does not include the added minerals that are in porcelain tile. Often the raw clay is not highly refined. Organic content in this type of clay burns off during the firing process and leaves vacancies in the body of the tile making it sponge-like in its structure. Due to this characteristic, the water absorption rate of non-porcelain tiles is greater the 0.5%, in other words, this type of tile is often highly absorbent. A quick way to determine if tile is porcelain or non-porcelain: pour a little water on the back of the tile. If water soaks into the back of the tile, it’s not porcelain. This type of floor tile is not as dense and durable and is more prone to chipping in high traffic areas. While many of the most beautiful hand-made floor tiles are not porcelain, they can be used successfully on floors when installed properly and in appropriate settings. They are better suited for light duty floors like bedrooms, bathrooms and other floors that are not exposed to heavy use and foot traffic. Use common sense and follow manufacturers guidelines.