Cement Tile Vs. Clay Tile: Choosing the Right Tile for your Home

By Clay Imports

 

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

CEMENT TILE - Made by hand since the 19th century, cement tiles manufacturing include the use mineral pigments, cement, a metal mold, and an hydraulic press. To create cement tiles, cement is compressed, water-cured and left to dry much like a sidewalk would be. The pigment composition is a mixture of high quality white Portland cement, marble powder, fine sand, and natural mineral color pigments.

Standard cement tiles have a mostly matte, but semi-gloss sheen 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 are about 5/8" thick which can complicate flooring transitions. Adding a sealer before, during and after installation is absolutely necessary to minimize staining.

Cement tiles age like your favorite pair of jeans and develop a patina over time with general wear and tear. Some people love this, and others don’t, it really depends on the look you are trying to achieve.

 

CLAY TILE  - 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, however a final sealer coat is highly recommended. Clay tiles are much more resistant to moisture over time.

Our Patterned Clay Tiles have a matte finish. Artisans screen print each piece by hand, which happens to allow for more intricate patterns. The most popular sizes are 8”x8” Square and 8” Hexagon, however, we can produce patterns in 6"x6" Squares and 6" Hexagons.

Clay tiles are much thinner at about 3/8" thick, which makes them compatible with many other flooring options, like hardwood flooring.

We glaze and fire clay tiles, which makes them non-porous and low maintenance. They will generally look the same out of the box in your space for many years to come. 

 

CEMENT TILE VS. CLAY TILE: WHERE TO INSTALL 

Cement tile has just the right amount of distressing that provides a distinguishable and often beloved amount of character. Cement tile makes sense in both indoor and outdoor spaces. It adds age and character to any room, even showers, if sealed properly. Generally, though it does not respond as well in wet areas.

Clay tiles can be installed on a kitchen backsplashes, shower walls and floors, fireplace surrounds, coffee bars, and many other areas, including certain outdoor installations.
Clay tiles can be installed indoor and outdoor, however, they are not freeze-proof, so please keep climate in mind. They are a great option for high-traffic, busy areas and can be installed in almost any application without worry! There's no limit for where you can install clay tile as long as you install properly. If you are unsure if Clay tiles can be installed in your specific space, feel free to reach out to us, as we are happy to help! 

 

CEMENT TILE VS. CLAY TILE: THE LOOK

Cement tile consists of a decorative layer on top of a cement body. These tiles are great for those wanting a unique, "washed" look. If you choose cement tile, make sure you are comfortable with a 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 Breathe Design | Photo by Chase Daniel

CEMENT TILE VS. CLAY TILE: INSTALLATION

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, just recommended! 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 - ensure you're not using black grout to prevent staining. Reach out to us with any questions!

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

CEMENT TILE VS. CLAY TILE: COST 

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.

  

Disclaimer: This guide is meant to serve as a general resource. Because each project is unique, consult your tile installer before installing your tile. The installation of tile greatly determines the integrity of the project and the tile itself, therefore Clay imports does not warranty this product and is not responsible for dissatisfaction of material following installation. Please inspect all tile upon receipt and notify us immediately if you have any quality concerns. 

 

 

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