Cement Tile Vs. Clay Tile: What You Need to Know

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Cement Tile Vs. Clay Tile: What You Need to Know

A Cement tile vs. Clay tile overview in collaboration with Lauren Jones

For many, a home renovation project is a huge learning process filled with both moments of joy and its fair share of stress. From working with the contractor to deciding on the fixtures, finishes and more, there’s a lot to take in. But, here at Clay Imports, we want to make sure that when it comes to choosing tile, say for a kitchen backsplash, bathroom floor or outdoor patio, it’s quick and easy every time. 

While there are many options, the first decision is whether you want cement or clay tile. They both look similar right out of the box, but in reality, there are many differences to consider before making your purchase. Let’s get down to the basics. 

Cement Tile 101

Cement tiles are made of cement as one would assume. These tiles are not fired. Cement is compressed, water-cured and left to dry much like a sidewalk would be. So, adding a sealer before, during and after installation is key to minimize staining. Made by hand since the 19th century, cement tiles manufacturing includes the use mineral pigments, cement, a metal mold, and an hydraulic press. The pigment composition is a mixture of high quality white Portland cement, marble powder, fine sand, and natural mineral color pigments. Cement tiles are about 5/8″ thick which can complicate flooring transitions.

Cement tile metal molds creating beautiful pattern

Standard cement tiles have a slight semi-gloss sheen finish that can be enhanced through a penetrating sealer. Since cement tile patterns are confined to the intricacy of a metal mold, there are size and pattern limitations. Cement tiles age like your favorite pair of jeans and develop a patina over time. Some people love this, and others don’t, it really depends on the look you are trying to achieve. 

Clay Tile 101

Unlike cement tiles, clay tiles are made with a clay body and a decorative glaze on top that is fired on. Because of this, clay tiles are non-porous and don’t require a sealer during installation. They are much more resistant to moisture over time. Clay tiles are also much thinner a 1/2″ thick. This makes them compatible with many other flooring options, like hardwood flooring.

Our clay tiles are screen printed which allows for intricate patterns.

Our Encaustic Pattern Clay Tiles have a satin finish, semi-gloss sheen. Artisans screen print each piece. Clay tiles are 1/2″ thick making them compatible with many other flooring options, like hardwood flooring. We have glazed and fired this product, which makes it non-porous. Therefore, clay tiles do not require sealing and require low maintenance. The most popular sizes are 8”x8” square and 8” hexagon. However, we can create a variety of shapes, sizes, and finishes.

Installation

Just as the materials differ, so do the installation processes. 

Before, after, and during a cement tile installation, each and every tile needs to be sealed. This will protect the tiles from absorbing moisture and gives it a nice sheen. The most common problems associated to cement tile
installation are insufficient or inadequate sealing, and grout pigment staining. Read our sealing guidelines here. Cement tile installation is more time-consuming than a typical clay or ceramic tile install. Please read our encaustic pattern cement installation guidelines carefully and provide to your contractor/installer

Installing handmade cement tile involves heavy sealing. Install by The Tile Press.

With Clay tile, there is no sealing required! Clay Imports recommends installing Clay tile with a joint spacing of ⅛ of an inch. In order to maintain the flow of the pattern, we recommend using a grout color that matches that background color of your tile. But please stay away from black grout as it can stain the tile, use dark gray instead. Keep in mind that tile layout, grout joint spacing and grout color will influence the finished look of your project. Clay installation is comparable to conventional tile installation. Please refer to our Clay tile installation road map for details and reach out to us with any questions.

No sealing required for these handmade clay tiles. Install by The Tile Press.

The Look

Cement tile consists of a decorative layer on a cement body. These tiles are great for those wanting a unique look. If you choose cement tile, make sure you are OK with tile that shows hairline fractures and ages over time. Because each tile absorbs a differing amount of sealer, they darken differently. Cement tile will never look the same as they first did out of the box. If appreciated, it can be very beautiful.

The cement tile floor at historic Hotel Amparo in San Miguel de Allende developed beautiful patina over the years.

Clay tile is much more livable. It will look incredibly similar  out of the box as it does in one’s home for years to come. They are much more predictable and don’t exhibit the same extreme quirks and color variations that cement tile does. Our clay tiles are designed to look like cement tile does on the day of installation. Clay tile is a recent development. We have applied more than 200 of the most popular cement tile designs to our clay options. They can offer high-contrast, bold colors. 

Glazed Thin Brick Forest - Kitchen Backsplash
The low maintenance alternative to cement tile. Clay tile will stay fresh and clean for years to come. Design by Daiku Build.

Where to Use It

Say you’re outfitting a restaurant bar or an indoor/outdoor dining room. Cement tile has just the right amount of distress that it provides a distinguishable and often beloved character. Cement tile makes sense in both indoor and outdoor spaces. It adds much character to any room, even showers, if sealed correctly.

Cement tiles and their inherent patina, add much personality to any space. Design by McCrayCo.

You can install clay tiles on a kitchen backsplash, shower walls and floors, fireplace surrounds, coffee bars, and many other areas, including certain outdoor installations! It’s a look that can be replicated. And one that is sometimes easier for interior designers and architects to relay to their clients. 

Due to its non-porosity, clay tiles are a great option for those who prefer a fresh and clean look.

Pricing

When it comes down to the cost for the tile and the cost for the installation, cement and clay tiles are incredibly comparable. On their own, clay tiles do cost approximately 20 percent more due to the firing costs but are less expensive to install because they don’t need to be sealed. In the end, it all comes down to the space you are designing, the look you want and the maintenance level you are willing to put in.

How to order?

Glad to hear that you are considering ordering these beautiful patterns! First things first, we recommend reviewing samples prior to purchase. You can check out up to five samples at no shipping cost online.

Ready to order the full amount? Double-check your measurements. Clay Imports 8” x 8″ Encaustic Pattern Clay converts to 2.25 pieces per square foot. Our 8″ Hexagon converts to 2.55 pieces per square foot. Please add at least 15% extra for cuts and waste. You can purchase online or email your sales and design consultant. You may also reach out on our general inquiries line at contact@clayimports.com. Do you need trim pieces? We can take care of this as well. Please be in touch. 


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