Making major aesthetic changes to your home can be a lot of fun, but it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed by all the decisions you’ll need to make. Flooring, in particular, can be a daunting choice. It isn’t easily replaced, after all, and there are so many factors to consider other than appearance.

You should, of course, love the way your new flooring looks, but you’ll also need to think about durability, functionality, and safety. Tile—both ceramic and natural stone—is hard to beat in terms of durability and ease of maintenance.

If you’re not quite sure of the differences between ceramic and natural stone tile, however, you’re not alone. They can be hard to tell apart visually, and they share some similar features.

Ready to learn more about what makes each type unique? Keep reading!

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Natural Stone

luxury bathroom with white marble floor

Most popular types

Slate, marble, limestone, travertine, and granite are the natural stones that are most frequently used for flooring.

  • Slate is a metamorphic rock that was transformed from a sedimentary rock through years of natural heat and compression. 
  • Marble, limestone, and travertine are sedimentary, which means they formed from the natural, long-term compression of fossil remains.
  • Granite, an igneous rock that resulted from the cooling and hardening of molten substances, is the most durable and resistant to cracks—in fact, it is one of the hardest known materials in the world.

If you’re trying to decide on the best stone flooring for your house, you’ll need to consider your budget, your aesthetic preferences, and where in the house the stone will be installed.

Slate and granite are your best bets for entryways, kitchens, and other high-traffic areas. Although you may not think it’s necessary, go ahead and have your slate or granite floor sealed. A coat of sealant will keep the stone looking new longer, and it’ll prevent any grout lines from absorbing dirt.

Softer stones, such as marble, limestone, and travertine, work well in bathrooms and other parts of the house that don’t see a lot of foot traffic. Since these softer stones are porous, they will need to be sealed to protect them from staining.

Benefits

Because natural stone is found in nature, it is highly resistant to weather and wear. It is also more valuable than ceramic tile because it cannot simply be reproduced from synthetic materials. Natural stone flooring increases your home’s market value more than ceramic tile.

Drawbacks

Natural stone is typically considered more valuable because it’s unique and more expensive than ceramic tile.

While you may find beauty in natural stone’s inconsistent texture and colors, these attributes can make the design of a room feel busy. Natural stone flooring can also be harder to maintain since its unevenness makes it tougher to apply sealant and cleaners evenly.

It is important to consider all of these facts when settling on a type of flooring. Ceramic tile and natural stone can both be beautiful options, but their beauty will be overshadowed by issues if they are installed incorrectly or in an unsuitable area. 

Ceramic Tile

home entryway with beige ceramic tile floor

Composition

Ceramic (also called porcelain) tiles are kiln-fired and usually made from red or white clay. They are typically evaluated by the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) to have a PEI rating of 1 to 5, which indicates the strength of the tile and its ability to withstand foot traffic. The higher the PEI rating, the more foot traffic the tile can handle.

  • PEI rating 1: This type of tile should not be used as flooring. The surface of the tile is typically decorative or very smooth.
  • PEI rating 2: Tiles with a rating of 2 can be used on walls, but they’re also suitable as flooring in parts of the home that don’t receive much traffic, such as a guest bathroom.
  • PEI rating 3: This type of tile can be used in virtually any residential application, including floors and countertops.
  • PEI rating 4: Tiles with this rating can withstand significant foot traffic, so they’re suitable for any area of the home as well as some commercial and industrial applications.
  • PEI rating 5: This type of tile is designed to withstand heavy traffic, and it works best in commercial and industrial settings.

Look for PEI ratings in product information sheets and brochures; if you can’t find the information you need, don’t hesitate to ask for it!

Benefits

Ceramic tile is a great option if you want your flooring to have a consistent, clear pattern. Because ceramic tiles are not hardened by natural processes, they can be made to look the same before being kiln-fired, lessening the possibility of variegation in the color or pattern of individual tiles. Ceramic tile is also generally less expensive than natural stone.

Opt for glazed tiles to make cleaning easy. Glazed tiles are treated with a waterproof, stain-resistant sealant during the manufacturing process, so you won’t need to take additional steps to protect the flooring after it’s installed.

If you choose unglazed tiles—they are gorgeous, especially in a rustic design scheme—be sure to have them sealed as soon as possible after the floor is installed. Unglazed tile stains easily, so don’t tempt fate by having a red wine tasting or spaghetti dinner at your house before the floors are sealed!

Drawbacks

Ceramic tile is less weather resistant than natural stone and is more suitable for exclusively indoor use. In cold climates, ceramic tiles should not be installed near home entryways or areas that experience extreme heat or cold because the temperature changes can cause them to crack or break.

Tile Installation

tile installer laying grout

Tile installation gets a lot of air time on popular DIY home renovation television shows, but the reality is that very few homeowners have the time, patience, or skill to complete a tile job—and be happy with the result.

When you hire a pro, be sure to get the specifics of the job in writing. Clarify who will be providing materials and supplies and how adjustments to the budget will be handled if your job ends up requiring more or less tile than projected.

When the job begins, the tile installers will spend time laying out the tiles to approximate the final design. This is called a dry layout, and it give you a chance to make sure that you’re on the same page as the installers (and that you like the design).

Once you’ve given the go-ahead, here’s what to expect:

  1. The installers will mix a mortar-like material called thinset and apply it to the floor with a trowel. They’ll work in small sections to make sure the thinset doesn’t dry out while laying the tile.
  2. The installers will lay tile in each section of thinset, using tile spacers to maintain even lines for grout.
  3. Once most of the tiles have been installed, the crew will measure and cut any small or irregular pieces, such as those that fit around door frames and cabinet bases. Most of these cuts will require the use of a wet saw.
  4. After all of the tile is installed, the crew will let the floor dry overnight (at minimum). When they return, it will be time to lay the grout. Grouting is a simpler process than laying tile, and the crew will likely finish in one day. You’ll need to wait at least 24 hours to let the entire floor set and dry before walking on it.
  5. If the floor needs to be sealed, that can be done after the floor is safe to walk on. Remember that although sealing isn’t mandatory, especially if you’ve chosen ceramic tile, sealed grout is much easier to keep clean than unsealed grout.

Ceramic vs. Stone Tile: The Bottom Line

interior of modern home with tile floor

Like many things in home improvement, there are several ways to reach the tile floor outcome you have in mind. And in the battle of natural stone vs. porcelain tile, there’s not a clear winner. Both types of tile are stunning in the right setting, and ultimately, you should choose what you love.

You can, however, keep these takeaways in mind as you make your way through the tile department of your local home improvement store:

  • Ceramic tile is budget friendly and easy to keep clean.
  • Natural stone provides a slightly higher boost to your home’s market value, and as long as it’s sealed, cleaning isn’t too difficult.
  • Don’t be swayed by DIY home improvement shows: tile installation is a job best left to the pros!

Be sure to take into account how you will be using the tile before making your final decision. Choose your tile carefully and don’t skimp on cleaning and maintenance to ensure that your flooring looks gorgeous for years to come.

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