Real truths about ceramic, porcelain and terracotta clay tiles

Truths ceramic and porcelain tiles
Metro ceramic tiles, via Turbosquid

You want to remodel your bathroom and decided to change your ceramic tiles. But your supplier has said that porcelain tiles are better for a couple of reasons; therefore you want to learn the difference between ceramic and porcelain tiles. Even, you may have heard ‘terracotta’ tiles, so you want to learn all about the truths ceramic and porcelain tiles.

In short and true answer, the porcelain and ceramic tile are essentially the same, which they both are part of the larger category of tiles we can call ceramic. There are three ‘Ceramic Group of Products; 

  1. Earthenware; aka Terracotta

  2. Stoneware; aka Ceramic tile

  3. Porcelain; aka Porcelain tile


What is Ceramic?

Ceramic is a general term that covers the ceramic products of porcelain, earthenware, stoneware and even glass. It defines how the way these products are made up of. If you fired clay in a kiln, you get a ceramic product depending on the degree of the temperature you expose the clay. 

Most of the market people use the titles interchangeably. Besides, there are lots of product titles such as ceramic, porcelain, glass, mosaic, natural stone porcelain, natural stone ceramic etc. Brand and marketing strategies make things much more complicated.

All it is simple that ceramic products are divided into three as mentioned. However, they are minor technical and aesthetic differences so that you could decide which one is best for you.

Truths ceramic and porcelain tiles
Terracotta / Red Quarry Tiles, via Warwick Reclaimation

1- Earthenware; aka Terracotta

When you expose the red clay, like red pots, to the lowest temperature, you get a terracotta tile.  Therefore, they are not reasonable to use as a load-bearing construction material. Whilst terracotta tiles are still durable; however, they have a very thick depth when compared to stoneware and porcelain so that they could provide the appropriate strength.

Salvaged Terracotta Quarry Tiles, via English Salvage

Terracotta also has the highest absorption rate of the three, this largely due to the low firing temperature relative to the others. It is non-vitreous, therefore this tile is not a good option for application near water. Besides, it is good to be used mostly inside. If you like to use it outside, prefer to use it in warmer climates and protect under a portable roof cover of a veranda or porch. 

Truths ceramic and porcelain tiles
Catania™ Blue Tile via ToopsTiles

2- Stoneware; aka Ceramic tile

The widest type of ceramic product- which usually that are not porcelain and terracotta- is the ceramic tile. So, ceramic tiles place in-between terracotta and porcelain tile. 

The mixture of clay, sand, and other natural substances goes through a process and then fired to 1,000-1,250 C degrees to form ceramic tiles. So, the process of the ceramic tile is shown in the following diagram, via Italytile;

via ‘Italytile’

These tiles will likely have a water absorption rate of 3.0-0.5% (how much water the clay absorbs relatively to weight). This kind of tile is probably what most people think of when the picture tiles. It’s often a grey clay body. But red, brown or nearly white are other colours depending on what the formulation of the clay is or whether pigment has been added.

These tiles are extremely durable, very hard and come in every shape and colour you can imagine. They have a higher density than tiles that fired to a lower temperature. They also will function better than terracotta in regions that experience freeze-thaw cycles.

Porcelain tile via Supergres

3- Porcelain; aka Porcelain tile

It is the top high-end ceramic, which it’s expensive for a reason…When you fired to a higher temperature than the others the materials required are more expensive. But with that cost, you get the hardest, densest more water-impermeable tile outside silica-glass tiles.

To understand better, the diamonds have a rate of 10. Porcelain tile is very scratch, wear-resistant and is very strong. Though you do deal with increased brittleness which can make cutting porcelain tiles a challenge for DIY people. A saw generally is recommended over a hand-cutter.

Porcelain typically has a water absorption rate of <0.5%, which is why it is so often utilized in kitchens and bathrooms. It’s the best option of them all for wet environments. Porcelain clay is typically very white, which is also good for not only white glazes but bright colours in general. 

There are two types of porcelain tiles:

A- Through bodied porcelain tiles that are naturally hard and dense, and
B- Glazed porcelain tiles, which has similar technical details as of ceramic tiles.  
Porcelain tile, via Supergres

Characteristics of Porcelain Tile

Tile suppliers often tout porcelain’s storied history, evoking its Italian etymology: ‘porcellana,’ which means cowrie shell, which is different from porcelain tile. 
It can be glazed or unglazed, through-body coloured or not, textured or not, look ugly or not, to be classified as ‘Porcelain’ in the industry, ‘a tile must be a ceramic tile.’
Excluding other trend styles, such as glass and metal, porcelain tiles have a water absorption rate of 0.5% of its weight or less. Therefore, if it’s ceramic and has an absorption that low, it’s porcelain. The more you press it harder and the more you get it hotter, the more you obtain porcelain. 
Truths ceramic and porcelain tiles
Berkeley™ Slate Blue Corner Tile, via ToppsTiles


The Real Truths of Porcelain and Ceramic Tiles

A- Water penetration/ Vitreous:

Porcelain tile is again formed of quartz, clay, and natural substances that are fired at temperatures ranging between 1200  and 1400 degrees C.

Not all porcelain is “through-body”. Some porcelain tiles are glazed and have a different colour underneath, just like many ceramics. However, the higher temperature that fired gives more resistance and resilience to water absorption. But, this resilience creates extra measures while installing the porcelain tiles, which a thin underlay is a must.

B- Exterior use:

Generally, it is more common to see porcelain tiles for outside use. However, neither all-porcelain nor all ceramic tiles are suitable for outside rules. I would recommend checking the thickness of buying porcelain tiles for exterior use. Since, standard 8-10 mm thick porcelain tiles are not recommended for external use by the industry experts, as they are not strong enough to withstand heavy furniture and harsh weather conditions.

On the other side, ceramic tiles have mostly indoor use, unless they are semi or fully protected from outside conditions. Stone and slate tiles may be better options for exterior choices.

C- Density:

Porcelain clays are less porous than ceramic clays, which means that they are harder than ceramics, being nearly glass-like. So, it tends to chip and crack less easily than ceramics counterparts. But at the same time, it is harder to cut.

Whereas ceramic is less dense than porcelain, it’s also a far easier material for DIY homeowners to cut–by hand, by wet tile saw, or snap tile cutter. In porcelain tile instalment, you’ll probably need to invest in a porcelain-rated blade.


As everybody knows that ceramic tile is cheaper than porcelain tile. As a general fact, ceramic tends to be about 62% of the cost of porcelain (When the top 15% or so of the highest priced tiles from each group roughly are matched. Going below that top 15%, prices began to dramatically diverge.)

E- PEI Rating:

PEI’s (Porcelain Enamel Institute) ratings for porcelain tile tend to be around 5 (heavy residential and commercial traffic). PEI’s ratings for ceramic tile can range anywhere from PEI 0 (no foot traffic) up to PEI 5, but with most ratings in the lower end of the scale.

For ‘British Tile Company,’ “PEI rating is a quick and easy way to see which tile is suitable in your home depending on how many times the area you are tiling is walked over.”

E- Durability/Strength:

In terms of durability and strength, the porcelain tiles seem to be ahead of ceramic tiles. However, the difference may not be as the thought of. Because the strength is given by the temperature the porcelain exposure. However, the market may not usually increase the temperature to the highest degrees such as 1250-1350 C degrees. 


The tile industry generally favours the hardness and water absorption as the selection criteria for tiles. However, you should not forget the design style you like to see and design your bathroom according to your taste. After that, you can find any ceramic, porcelain or terracotta tiles in the market, thanks to the development of technical developments. You can check our design, that we used metro tiles from here.