Cement Tile Vs. Clay Tile: Choosing the Right Tile for your Home (2021 Update)

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For many, a home renovation project is a huge learning process filled with both moments of joy and its fair share of stress. We always ask if a customer prefers clay or cement tile - and we’ve noticed that there’s a lot of questions about which tile works best for the project.

 

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. To help you make the decision we’ll compare:

  • - Cement Tile vs Clay Tile Overview
  • - Where to Install
  • - Installation Process
  • - The Look
  • - Pricing

Cement Tile vs Clay Tile Overview

Cement Tile Overview

To create cement tiles, 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 include 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 patterns

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 Overview

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 - about 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.

Cement Tile vs Clay Tile: Where to Install

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. Generally, though it does not respond as well to wet areas.

Cement tile can be installed for a bright pop of color.

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. There's no limit for where you can install clay tile as long as there aren't freezing temperatures.

Cement Tile vs Clay Tile: Installation Process

Before, after, and during a cement tile installation, each and every tile needs to be sealed. The most common problems with cement tile installation are 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 them 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 installation is comparable to conventional tile installation and is not as time consuming. Please refer to our Clay tile installation road map for details and reach out to us with any questions - ensure you're not using black grout to prevent staining.

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

Cement Tile vs Clay Tile: 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 maintain that out-of-the-box look for many years. They are much more predictable and don’t exhibit the same extreme quirks and color variations that cement tile does. Any of the cement tile designs you can generally apply to clay tile as well as they’re much more customizable.

The low maintenance alternative to cement tile. Clay tile will stay fresh and clean for years to come. Design by Daiku Build.

Clay Tile vs. Cement Tile: Cost Comparison

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.

 

 

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