If you are renovating or building a new house, one question that will probably always nag you is whether to use ceramic or porcelain tiles for your bathroom. Everybody will agree that the bath is one of the busiest rooms in any house, and a really costly one to make. To err a little in the construction means expensive modifications so you would want a bathroom that will last your lifetime. At least.
Because it is the wettest area of the house, the first consideration is to make it as waterproof as possible to avoid quick deterioration of the materials behind or below the tiles. Thus the tile to use will need to have two distinct characteristics to serve the purpose: load-bearing to handle the traffic, and highly non-porous to prevent water seepage into the underlay or substrate. All other characteristics —abrasion resistance, aesthetics, cost, durability— are also of, though less, importance.
There are only two top choices that answer this need: ceramic and porcelain tiles. With modern manufacturing techniques, the prices of both are now within the reach of ordinary homeowners, though the porcelain tiles will be somewhat higher than the ceramic ones. This is, however, balanced by the porcelain tile’s greater density and impermeability, which translates to better performance in the long run.
To compare the two:
Ceramic tiles, on the one hand, are easier to cut, which might be important if you are a DIYer by preference or necessity. They are cheaper, resist staining, scratch-proof, are cleaned easily, and more easily available. On the other hand, ceramic tiles are less sturdy, are generally not ‘through-color’, meaning the color within may not be the same as that on its surface, more permeable and thus less moisture resistant.
Porcelain tiles on one hand are harder and tougher (30% stronger than granite), denser, generally of one color throughout its thickness (unglazed tiles only), more weatherproof (like frost-resistance), more rectifiable as in cutting to lower size tolerances enabling thinner grouting spaces between tiles, and aesthetically more long-lasting. They can be polished to a high sheen and have PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) ratings higher than ceramic.
On the other hand, porcelain tiles need special tools to cut, which obviates work for an ordinary handyman. They also require latex acrylic mortar as adhesive, and larger tile sizes need a truly flat substrate to avoid breaking when used as load bearing surfacing material such as bathroom floor tiles. In short they are less wieldy than ceramic tiles.
Furthermore, some porcelain tiles are actually porcelain tiles glazed over with ceramic, so the surface color may not be that of the body, that if the tile gets chipped, the body color will show, requiring replacement of the tile.
Be that as it may, many homeowners now prefer porcelain tiles over ceramic ones. They may be higher in price, but these homeowners are more confident the tiles will last virtually forever, which guarantees less expense in the future. So if you are wondering which to use, ceramic or porcelain tiles for your bathroom, go the way of most homeowners: if you can afford the cost, use porcelain. You are less likely to err with it.