Using porcelain tile and natural stone can be a difficult decision. As the industry has seen, building materials are quickly becoming an ambiguous term in regards to things such as quality or performance. To ensure the installation meets your specific needs, let’s break down what each of these products have in common versus how they differ from one another.

Stone tile

Natural stone, also called granite, slate and marble, has been a natural flooring choice for centuries. It comes in many colors and textures that can be engineered to meet your design needs.

Today, many stone tile installations come in a wide variety of colors, patterns, sizes and textures. And they can be installed almost anywhere on floors, walls and ceilings.

Stone can be difficult to work with because it often has flaws, such as tiny fissures, holes, chips and weak spots. Its surface is porous and susceptible to staining. Stone tile is fairly expensive.

In response to these potential shortcomings, manufacturers developed porcelain tiles that resemble natural stone.

Porcelain tile

Porcelain tiles are more durable and harder than natural stone because they’re made from clay and other types of minerals fired at high temperatures. They can be cut in any shape or size.

Proven ready for immediate installation, Porcelain tiles are produced to exacting standards in controlled manufacturing plants, ensuring quality and consistency. And unlike many types of stone, porcelain tiles can be installed indoors or out.

Porcelain tiles come in every imaginable color, pattern and texture, including many that are nearly identical to the natural stone they imitate.

By far the most popular faux-stone porcelain tiles are ones that mimic marble, which makes sense because marble is the most popular natural stone. However, unlike marble, which can be slippery when wet, porcelain tile look-alikes are made with various finishes and textures, including some with slip-resistance.

Stone and porcelain tile are vastly different materials, which means they require installation in very different ways.

Both are installed using standard tile tools and materials. Both can be installed over any recommended substrate, including concrete slabs, cement backerboard, plywood and crack-isolation membranes.

And both are adhered with thin-set mortar. However, when installing porcelain tile, you can use a standard gray Thinset, while natural stone may require a specially formulated Thinset.

For example, white and light-colored marble tiles must be set in white mortar. Standard gray mortar will telegraph through and darken the surface of white marble. Green marble tiles should never be set with mortar that contains high amounts of lime because it can cause the marble to cup and warp.

Instructions on the bag of mortar will help you determine the appropriate mortar for the tile you are installing and you’ll also find recommendations for which type and size notched trowel to use, mixing directions, and square-footage coverage rates per bag.

The Differences Between Stone & Porcelain

If you’re planning on installing stone or porcelain tile, the installation process will vary depending on the material. Porcelain tiles can be installed with a manual cutter where natural stones require a wet saw for most cuts. One thing to note is that notches, slots and large holes in porcelain tile all need to be cut with a wet saw; however, this isn’t true of natural stone.

Wet saws are necessary for most cuts in natural stone tile, which means installing this type of tile typically takes longer than setting porcelain tiles. Also it means that you need to consider the distinction of the cost.

Because a porcelain tile has four factory edges, when you cut a tile, you trim off the factory edge, and the cut edge is placed against a wall or other surface where it is concealed by baseboard or other trim. You can’t use a cut glazed-porcelain tile in the middle of a field pattern because the cut edge would be exposed.

Porcelain tiles, on the other hand, are made of a thin layer of hardened clay or enamel over a base material with a glazing topcoat. That means, you can cut natural stone and then dress the edge of a smaller tile until it is smooth using a diamond-grit rubbing stone. In the manual score-and-snap method, tile can be installed in any position including in the middle of a pattern. This means you waste less tile and can also buy fewer tiles because of the flexibility afforded by a manual cutter.

Pressure imparted during installation of porcelain tiles is what gives the tiles their glossy finish and therefore makes them non-porous meaning they don’t need to be sealed. Grout joints between both porcelain and stone tiles should always be sealed to help prevent staining. The exception is epoxy grout, which doesn’t require sealing.

Porcelain tiles don’t require sealing because the glazed surface is impervious to staining. Grout joints between both porcelain and stone tiles should always be sealed to help prevent staining. The exception is epoxy grout, which doesn’t require sealing.

A hard or sharp object dropped on a glazed tile, can chip the glazing, exposing the porcelain core. If a stone tile is damaged, the chip is less noticeable because the tile is solid. To protect natural stone, which is porous and prone to stains, you should use a penetrating sealer. Once your stone tiles are all sealed, it will be much easier to clean up.

Mortar and Grout

Porcelain tiles are impervious to staining and require no sealing. If you use grout, we recommend using epoxy grout as it does not need to be sealed.

Though natural stone is generally more expensive than porcelain tile, it costs 10-20% more. But with the widespread popularity and increased production of stone-look porcelain tile, you can find affordable porcelain tiles that cost a lot less than many stone products, as well as plenty of high-end porcelain tiles that are costlier than budget-priced stone tiles.

Which should you choose? To install, porcelain tile may be quicker and easier than other types of tiles. It’s also harder and more durable, and requires less maintenance. And on average, porcelain tiles cost less to buy and install. That’s why contractors install stone-look porcelain more than any other tile.