Q&A: What’s the Difference Between Ceramic and Porcelain Tile?

By Sam Ferris

Truth: If you?ve ever purchased tile floors, you?ve wondered what the difference is between ceramic and porcelain tile. More truth: it?s not too complicated. Here we break down the answer piece by piece:


Like we said in our tile buying guide, the basic difference between ceramic and porcelain tile is easy to grasp. First, ceramic tile generally has a red body while porcelain tile generally has a white body. These are two rule of thumbs, but they?re not mutually exclusive. Some ceramic tile is white bodied while some porcelain tile is red bodied. How do you know a tile?s body color? Look at the side (picture below).
So, why is a ceramic tile?s body different from a porcelain tile?s body? It?s all in the composition. Ceramic tile is typically made from red clay; porcelain tile is manufactured from glass and silicon. It?s dirt versus glass and silicon.


Cost is a key difference between ceramic and porcelain. Generally speaking, which do you think is more expensive: a tile made from clay, or a tile manufactured with glass and silicon? The answer is definitely the one with glass and silicon (porcelain).

There are exceptions, of course. You can find a ceramic tile that?s more expensive than a porcelain tile. It?s also important to realize that a tile?s cost depends on several combined factors: brand, durability, glaze, how it?s made, etc. But when you look at solely how a tile is made, porcelain will usually be more expensive because of its composition. You?ll see further down this blog how those other factors influence cost.


Tiles often have glazes, which are textured and/or colored finishes on the tile. Many porcelain tiles are color body (through body), meaning the glaze?s color runs throughout the entire tile piece. The fact that porcelain is manufactured with glass and silicon makes color body allows for a color body. With ceramic tile, the glaze only exists on the surface; it can?t be color bodied because it?s made with clay (not durable enough).

It?s not hard to guess which tile is more durable. If you scratch a ceramic tile, you?ll see the red or white clay because that?s what it?s is made of. But if you scratch a color body porcelain, you?ll see the color of the glaze throughout the entire piece. Porcelain is generally more scratch resistant due to this property.

Water Absorption

True porcelain doesn?t absorb more than .005% (less than half of one percent) of water or moisture. In other words, it?s fine-tuned for showers, bathrooms and climates with higher levels of moisture. Manufacturers establish this low absorption rate via rigorous procedures when they fire porcelain tile. Ceramic tile? Not so much.
Photo courtesy of DalTile.com

In case it isn?t clear by now, porcelain tile is far more versatile than ceramic tile. A low level of water absorption plus higher level of scratch resistance makes it the better choice for outdoors. Why? Outdoor tile gets scratched more often than indoor tile, whether it?s by pets, weather elements or foot traffic. And, during winter freezes, outdoor ceramic tile will crack ? not a good investment on your part. But since porcelain tile absorbs less moisture (.005%), it?s much less susceptible to breaking during a hard winter freeze. You?ll always want to check a porcelain tile?s outdoor rating (usually on the back of the sample board or manufacturer?s website) before you install it outdoors, though.

If you?re still left with questions, feel free to ask us. Send us a tweet at @tukasacreations, or fill out our contact form on the righthand side of this page.