As a tile professional and owner of an online tile store, the difference between ceramic tile and porcelain tile has become a common question that comes up on a daily basis. I often hear a consumer say, “I need porcelain tile because if it chips nobody will notice because the color goes all the way through.”  Well, this is only true in through body porcelain tiles, and they are not the most common porcelain tiles. The most common form of tile is glazed porcelain tile.  It is the most affordable but the color does not go all the way through.

When I hear a customer say something along these lines it is time to ask myself a question. Should I explain or educate? In this article I will attempt to do both.

First off porcelain is a much denser tile than ceramic and less likely to chip. Also it’s absorption rate is less, which makes it frost resistant and suitable for both indoor and outdoor installations.*  But if a glazed porcelain tile chips, you will see the porcelain. In many cases buying a porcelain tile for a residential product is overdoing it and a ceramic tile will do just fine for your project.

Every tile, ceramic or porcelain, has a PEI rating.  The PEI rating should be the determining factor in making your final decision, not whether the tile is ceramic or porcelain. The PEI rating will tell us how resistant a tile is to chipping or scratching. Below are the PEI ratings and the recommended use for each rating.

Rating Usage

PEI 1 Suitable for indoor walls only. Will chip and scratch easily.
PEI 2 Suitable for light traffic floors and walls.
PEI 3 Suitable for all residential applications.
PEI 4 Suitable for light commercial and residential applications.
PEI 5 Suitable for heavy commercial applications.

Almost all 12×12 ceramic tiles are rated PEI 3 or better making them suitable for all residential applications including kitchens. So don’t say no to a ceramic tile that would look great in your home because of it’s composition. Ask about the PEI rating and let that influence your final decision.

EDITORIAL: If your kitchen is anything like mine it falls into the light commercial category so I like to recommend my tile store customers use a PEI 4 ceramic or porcelain tile for those applications. We all know a glass or a plate is going to drop eventually, and who wants to spend their Sunday repairing a tile or worse yet hiring someone else to fix a tile. In all the other rooms in the home I would choose the tile that looks the best and fits into my budget. (PEI 3 or better of course.)

* Some glazed porcelain tile and through body porcelain tile are only rated for enclosed outdoor applications and you consult the manufacturer specifications before installing. This is especially true in locations where winters are harsh.

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