Ceramic or porcelain tiles – which are better for a bathroom?

If you have the debate between ceramic and porcelain stoneware, it can be complicated to understand – after all, aren’t they essentially the same thing? Due to the way they are made, there are differences between the two, and when it comes to comparing them in different situations, they each have their advantages over the other.

For the most part, porcelain tiles are ceramics that have been dry pressed in molds under high pressure and fired at extremely high temperatures. This makes them denser and stronger. Both are great for bathrooms, however, it is the type of bathroom and its use that matters when it comes to choosing tiles.

When it comes to bathroom tile ideas, we have done a close comparison between ceramic and porcelain. Take a look at these six scenarios to find out which of the two would work best.

6 scenarios for comparing ceramic and porcelain tiles

Ceramic or porcelain is not always your first choice when choosing tiles. “The great thing about bathroom design is the limitless choice of tiles these days,” says interior designer Ann Marie Cousins, founder of AMC Design. (opens in a new tab). ‘From block patterns and colors to different textures, the world is your oyster.’

But while color, pattern and style are essential, certain functional elements are also important for a practical and modern bathroom. (opens in a new tab). “The thing to remember for bathrooms is that the tiles should be non-slip, suitable for high foot traffic and able to survive in a humid space,” adds Ann Marie.

But which type of tile is ranked highest for these key criteria?

1. Which tiles are best for renovating a bathroom on a budget?

A bathroom with colorful tiles

(Image credit: MKCA. Photo credit Max Burkhalter)

When it comes to a renovation, not everyone is looking to splurge. A beautiful modern bathroom can be transformed with eye-catching tiles. Usually, although porcelain tiles are not very expensive, they are generally more expensive than ceramics. If your budget is tight, ceramic will do.

“You could even opt for a combination of porcelain and ceramic tiles,” say Rudraksh Charan and Priyanka Khanna, founders and architects of 42MM Architecture. (opens in a new tab). “Porcelain slabs are superior to ceramic slabs in terms of durability, while ceramic tiles offer a greater variety of designs at a lower cost. For a bathroom on a budget, the durability and water resistant nature of the tile is highly recommended in the floor and shower area.

“However, a patterned and colored backsplash for walls in dry areas can help deliver good design at minimal cost,” the architects add. “When designing a space on a budget, it’s extremely important to understand the overall sustainability of the product and to visualize the budget not just at the time of creation, but throughout the life of the space. .”

Another important factor to consider when designing on a budget is tile size to know how much it will cost to tile a bathroom.

“Often smaller tiles are expensive because you will need more. Plus, they’re likely to be more labor-intensive to install,” says Ann Marie. “If you want to decorate on a budget, go for larger tiles on the floor and on the walls. This can be cheaper, but also for installation, as the tiles are easier and faster to lay than many small individual tiles.

“With tiling, preparation and quality of workmanship are key, and once you’ve chosen a great product, ask for recommendations and be prepared to wait for good trades,” advises Ann Marie.

2. Which of the two is more water resistant?

A bathroom with colored tiles on the floor

(Image credit: Heju)

According to the Tile Council-North America Inc, porcelain tiles absorb less than 0.5% moisture. This is because it is naturally dense which means it is harder to penetrate, ideal for bathroom floors, and especially walk-in showers, as it makes these tiles virtually waterproof.

“Although porcelain tiles and ceramic tiles share many similarities, both are clay-based and kiln-fired, but there are few differences in ingredients and production methods,” explains the architect Aparna Kaushik. (opens in a new tab). “The main difference between porcelain and ceramic tiles is their water absorption rate. Porcelain tiles are less porous than ceramic tiles, making them more suitable for bathrooms and wet areas.’

3. Which tile is best in a high traffic area?

A small white bathroom with colored tiles

(Image credit: Wrightson Stewart and Barbara Bailey. Photo credit Kylie Hood)

The good news is that ceramic and porcelain are good for high traffic areas, especially as a flooring option for small bathrooms. However, porcelain is denser and provides long-term scratch resistance, making it a slightly better option. Through-body porcelain, where the color on top of the tile extends across the entire body of the tile, is particularly scratch resistant. Households with children and pets fare especially better with the durability of porcelain.

“Porcelain tiles are tough and easy to maintain when it comes to designing a heavily trafficked bathroom,” says Aparna. “Just wash them to keep them looking good. Porcelain tiles will stay the same with regular cleaning and won’t harbor bacteria like some other porous materials, making them easy to maintain over time.

“If you like the look of both tiles, then in a high traffic area, choose porcelain for the floor and ceramic for the bathroom wall tiles,” adds Ann Marie.

4. To renovate an old and traditional house, which tiling should you choose?

A vibrant bathroom design with blue tiles

(Image credit: Heidi Marfitt)

If you own a vintage home and are considering buying new tiles, it’s worth considering whether you want to create a similar look or give the home a modern twist. When it comes to style, there are a few practical and technical points to consider apart from safety and light issues.

For bathroom tiles, ask yourself if you want them to reflect that vintage style or just acknowledge it in a subtle way? You can also choose bathroom floor tiles that they can be laid over an existing floor, especially useful if you live in an apartment, and they are inherently non-slip due to all the grout.

An important consideration in choosing tiles when restoring the home is their longevity – in period homes it is difficult to update the property every year, so you want to choose something that will last for another generation.

“A tile’s lifespan depends on how you take care of it and how it’s laid,” says Ann Marie. ‘It’s worth researching before buying tiles to find out how to care for and care for them properly. It is however true that thicker, denser tiles tend to be stronger as they can withstand movement better than narrower tiles, but it is best to assess the room first and go from there.

5. When designing a luxurious spa-like bathroom, which tile is the best choice?

A bathroom with double basin and vanity unit, and printed tiling

(Image credit: Essajees Atelier)

For spa bathroom ideas, favor tiles. After all, you want to set the right mood from the moment you enter the space. Before choosing tile, decide what type of spa ambiance you are looking for. Do you want a Zen atmosphere or rather a Tuscan space? Only your tiles can help you achieve this.

‘For a luxury spa, porcelain could be a winner. Larger tile sizes can give that feeling of zen calm with fewer grout lines,” says Jennifer.

6. Which tile is best for a walk-in shower?

Yellow patterned tiles clashing in the shower

(Image credit: Nick Smith)

“We recommend using porcelain tile for your bathroom floor for a durable, water-resistant room foundation,” says CTD’s Amanda Telford. “However, selected glazed porcelain tiles can be used on accent walls.”

“Textured porcelain tiles with non-slip properties are ideal for wet room floors as well as underfloor heating,” adds Amanda. “You may also consider matte mosaics with additional grout lines to provide additional non-slip properties.”

“If you want to use ceramic tiles in a wet area, proper and good quality grouting must be ensured,” adds architect Aparna Kaushik.

What are the cheapest porcelain or ceramic tiles?

Whether you are planning a small or large bathroom, do some research before settling on the tiles you want. Usually, it’s hard to find quality porcelain tile for less than $3 per square foot. The higher end ones easily top $5 per square foot. Ceramic, on the other hand, rarely costs more than $4 per square foot and can offer affordable styles under $2 per square foot.

However, note that not all porcelain tiles are expensive, but generally, if your budget is tight, ceramic will do.

“Compared to machine-made ceramic tiles, the cost of ceramic and porcelain can be closer,” says Molly Torres, Founder of DATE Interiors (opens in a new tab). “Be aware that if you need to cut porcelain in the field, it may increase the price of your labor because it is harder to cut.”

Valerie J. Wallis