Ceramic tile has been used on floors and walls for centuries. More recently, as innovations in the tile manufacturing set the stage, Porcelain Tile became the standard for flooring. With the introduction of large format slabs, similar in size to granite, it is now a great option for your countertops.
Porcelain vs. Ceramic
Before I move into all the features that make porcelain a perfect fit in your kitchen, I’d like to review the differences of porcelain vs. ceramic. Many people think these two materials are the same, but they are not. Porcelain is a subset of the ceramic family…a much stronger family member. Porcelain is a more specific composition of materials, and must have a very low absorption rate, <0.5%, to qualify. Due to the composition, and the temperatures it is fired at, porcelain is a more dense and heavier material than ceramic. This is why it has been a popular material for flooring, and now a great choice for countertops.
Top Reasons for Choosing Porcelain Countertops
Porcelain technology has come a long way, allowing our suppliers to create beautiful, very real looking slabs. It has a depth to the material, something not all man-made materials are able to achieve. Additionally, all of our suppliers are increasing the vast array of looks and colors available due to customer demand, as well as technological advances.
And the beauty isn’t just skin deep. Our suppliers offer porcelain countertops where the color is carried through-out the slab in the higher quality material, as well as vein-through coloring in select 2cm slabs from Atlas Concorde – reproducing the color of the vein – into the full thickness of the slab. This is important with undermount sinks, as the countertop still looks very real on the edges.
Durability and Scratch Resistance
Porcelain is as hard as granite and quartz, and in some instances, even a little harder. It will be fairly difficult to scratch, chip or crack – and why it is so popular for flooring. However, just like granite or quartz, any material can chip under the right circumstances. As porcelain has full-body or through-body coloring, meaning the color isn’t just on top of the tile, but goes all the way through, the chips won’t be very noticeable. Chips can be pretty easily fixed by a trained fabricator. Also, with the increased interest in porcelain, new tools have been created to make these chips even easier to fix. Be careful with ceramic knives as they can sometimes scratch porcelain.
“The best characteristic of porcelain is the water absorption rate is ≤ .1%, therefore nothing will go inside the body of the material…easy to clean and frost resistant,” per one of our suppliers, Bruno Rizzo of TransCeramica. “Therefore, it’s the only material that is maintenance free that can be installed outside in Alaska and Arizona!! No sealers are required.”
Due to the non-porous nature, and very low moisture absorption rate of porcelain, it is difficult to stain. Whether you have a group of little, or big, kids making mess – rest assured your countertops will survive the event with flying colors.
Resistant to Chemicals and Acids
Porcelain will resist the most aggressive chemical agents. It also resists the acids found in foods, like tomatoes and lemon juice. It won’t etch or get dull spots.
Porcelain is fired between 2200-2600⁰ F so it is extremely heat resistant. You won’t need to worry about damaging the surface if you put a hot pan directly on top of it. Additionally, you can turn it into a cooktop utilizing gas burners or induction heat (installed underneath the countertop).
Thinking about an outdoor cooking area? Porcelain is perfect. Where other materials will heat up, porcelain won’t, keeping you and your family from burning your fingers on the surface. While I don’t have a porcelain outdoor grill yet, I do have porcelain pavers for my front porch, and the attributes are the same. I can walk barefoot in the summer on my south-facing porcelain pavers without burning my feet.
Not only can porcelain handle the rigors of heat and cold (below freezing temperatures) due to its moisture resistance, it is also UV-resistant. It will not fade or lose its color, even where it receives direct sunlight. The pavers on my front porch receive strong southern sun. They have been in for two years and the tiles are still the same color as when they were installed. Additionally, there isn’t any color variance between those that receive full sun vs those in partial shade.
- Porcelain is considered a “green” product as it is made from natural, raw and clay-based materials, including quartz and feldspar for strength and hardness.
- Free of VOCs, PVCs, formaldehyde, allergens – Porcelain countertops won’t emit anything that will make you or your family sick.
Prevents Bacterial Growth
Atlas Concorde, a large international tile manufacturer, states, “porcelain tiles are completely hygienic and inhospitable for bacteria, mites, molds, and fungi.” Great news for indoor or outdoor use.
SapienStone offers the ACTIVE finish. 10 years in the making, it utilizes the light and humidity to naturally eliminate 99% of the bacteria and viruses on the surface, and eliminates odors. It is ISO certified, as well as having two European patents.
This might be the one area to be considered a con. As it is a thinner material than quartz, granite and marble, the edges will typically be various versions of a straight edge, as shown.
For many people the beauty of material is more important, but this is still good to know.
Comparison Between Quartz & Granite
- Porcelain is heat-resistant, so it stays cool to the touch – important when placing a hot pan on the counter, or for keeping hands and tools from heating up outdoors. You don’t need to worry about thermal shock.
- Granite can handle heat well. You easily put pans from the oven…except for cast iron. Cast iron pans will absorb and retain the heat from the cooktop or oven. As granite will stay naturally cool, you can cause thermal shock if you place a cast iron pan. Thermal shock can crack your countertop due to hot and cold combining without a protective barrier. Additionally, when used as an outdoor surface granite will absorb the heat. The surface can get very hot…think hot rock massage.
- Quartz can be by heat, but should not have anything hot set directly on top of it. Since it is made with quartz crystals and resin, a hot pad should always be used when taking a pan from the cooktop or oven to ensure the heat does not interact with the resin.
Book Matched Material
Suppliers for all three materials – porcelain, granite and quartz – provide some select colors with book matched options. When you are looking for material, be sure to specify if this is a look you desire so your fabricator or wholesale showroom can guide you to the options available.
- Porcelain is resistant to UV fading, so perfect for direct sunlight, either indoors or outdoors.
- Granite takes many years for the sun and the elements to fade it, unless the stone is color-enhanced. If using granite outside, you should stay away from light/white colored granites. Many of them contain iron, when exposed to the outdoor elements can cause the iron to oxidize, creating orange “rust” spots on the granite. This may not be the look you want long term.
- Quartz will handle the sunlight indoors but should not be used outdoors. Quartz is made with a resin that will interact with the UV rays outside.
- Porcelain slabs are currently available in 6mm (mostly used for walls), 12mm and 20mm thickness. Depending on where you live, kitchen countertops are typically 2cm or 3cm. A mitered edge might be used to appear like the thicker material.
- Granite and Quartz: Many options available in both 2cm and 3cm thickness.
- Quartz does not require a sealer as it is naturally resistant to staining but is recommended, especially on lighter colors.
- Granite will be sealed during installation as they are more porous. Re-sealing may be required after a period of time to keep the pores sealed. This timeframe will vary by material, and can be delayed by using a 3-in-1 cleaner/polisher/sealer product.
- Marble and Quartzites require special sealers. If you are considering either product please talk to your supplier and/or fabricator for more information.
- Porcelain requires no sealing.
Cleaning Your Countertops
Porcelain does not require any special maintenance. A simple damp microfiber cloth is great for daily use. Additionally, a neutral detergent or cream cleanser should remove most things that are staying on the surface, including grease, resins and permanent marker.
Porcelain Slabs Work Great on Walls and Fireplace Surrounds
Porcelain, while very durable, is a lighter product than granite and quartz, with the additional option of 6mm in many colors. This makes it an excellent product to use on your walls for a very dramatic effect without the weight load to your structure. Also a reason landscapers love porcelain pavers (look for that discussion coming soon)!