What’s under your feet (or however you get around) is as important as anything when it comes to home. That’s why this fall, we collaborated with The Home Depot on an A to Z guide that’ll give you the confidence to make flooring choices you’ll love. Check out the A to Z handbook here.
Beauty and durability can sometimes be at odds when it comes to interiors. Heirloom wool armchairs with hand-embroidered peacocks? Beautiful, but easily damaged. Rubber workout tiles in your basement home gym? They get the job done, but not exactly what you’d put in the living room. Finding that rara avis of product design that combines pretty with practical is thrilling, and porcelain tile is both.
Made from a finer, denser clay, and fired at a higher temperature, porcelain is naturally harder and less porous than other kinds of ceramic tiles. This makes it ideal for sinks and other bathroom fixtures, as well as flooring — and The Home Depot stocks hundreds of styles, from simple white penny tiles and subtle squares to exciting patterns and elegant marble impersonators. But style isn’t its only special quality — here are four reasons why it sits in a category of its own.
A wet environment is no problem
Fine-grained and ultra-smooth, porcelain is far more impervious to water than other types of ceramic tile. While the bulk of ceramic tile receives a glaze that works to repel water, porcelain is the only type that must have a water absorption rate of 0.5 or lower as defined by the American Society for Testing and Materials. This means it’s a clear choice for bathrooms, mud rooms, or any space where a more porous surface might be harmed by repeat exposure to water droplets, splashes, or wet towels left on the floor. (Hey, it happens.) Porcelain is also the strongest option for any outdoor tiling situation — if you’re in an outdoor-tile-friendly climate zone, that is. (For more on outdoor flooring, see letter O!)
It’s hardier than other tile
Since porcelain is one of the hardest types of tile, it’s a go-to for high-traffic areas. Its superpower is withstanding whatever life throws its way without showing signs of wear, whether that’s attempted scuffings, stain-making incidents, and dings from dropped dishes. If a chip does pop out, porcelain has a steadfast color throughout the tile, minimizing the visibility of the damage. Most other ceramic tiles, on the other hand, have a different color beneath the visible glaze. (Encaustic tile is an exception to this, and to learn more about it, visit letter E.)
Of course, being the toughest tile on the block does come with some downsides. It’s particularly heavy and somewhat more difficult to cut than regular ceramic tile, so it can be tricky to install (but easier than natural stone if that’s the look you want). And while it follows all the same grouting and tile-laying protocol we’ve outlined in letter G, it’s important to guarantee that the underlayment can support the weight of the tile itself (particularly if you’re working on an upper-level of a building or in an older home).
There are so many patterned options
If you’ve decided to use porcelain tile, but also want a geometric pattern for added interest, Jessica Pleasants, project manager at Godwin Residential Construction in New York City, cautions against getting too wild with your Escher-like creation. “It’s important to consider how the design is going to look in four or five years,” she advises, noting that patterns can look dated in a short amount of time. “If you want to use a geometric pattern, go with something a little bit more subtle that has that geometric look but isn’t overly bold.”
It’s a chameleon-like material
Porcelain is also much-beloved because it can mirror practically any type of natural stone, or even a wood grain, while providing durability and longevity.
“I think porcelain tile is a good alternative to marble because it’s less porous and easier to maintain,” says interior designer Laura Umansky, who loves how easy it is to care for porcelain with simple mopping and soap-and-water spot treatment.
General contractor Joe Truini used porcelain tile that looks like tumbled granite in one of his bathrooms. He says the difference between natural stone materials and porcelain copycats comes down to simplicity of installation, uniform tile cuts, and durability. “The downside of natural stone is Mother Earth made it a billion years ago, and someone carved it out of the earth: there are defects in it,” he says. And yet, he points out, natural stone is often far more expensive than porcelain. “The [porcelain version] is uniform in strength, thickness, and size. It makes it easier to lay.”