Porcelain or natural stone – which is best? When you are picking tiles out for your next project, whether you’re planning a patio or tiling for your kitchen, making the right choice can feel overwhelming.
Understanding the difference between porcelain tiles and natural stone tiles is important to make sure you’re picking flooring that’s durable and appropriate for where it’s going. There are plenty of reasons to recommend either option, but there are cases where one type of tile can be superior.
That’s why in this guide, we’re weighing up both options, comparing the pros and cons of the different materials in different scenarios, and looking at the best ways to use tiles in your next DIY project.
When you’re choosing a tiling option for a major project like a patio, or to put the final touches on your kitchen renovation, you want to make sure that it will last.
Natural stone is hard-wearing and durable – it takes thousands of years to form in the first place, so it’s definitely one of the hardest-working tiling options available. It’s a great option for indoor use and most thicker natural stone tiles, such as limestone and sandstone, will also hold up well in all weather conditions if you’re tiling outdoors.
Just be aware of potential issues with natural stone being more porous. In order to make your natural stone flooring as durable as possible, you’ll need to invest in sealant to protect the stone. Otherwise, your stone tiles can absorb water – and with the British weather being what it is, cycles of wet rain and then freezing cold conditions can cause issues with lower-density stone.
Though the word might make you think of delicate porcelain cups and saucers, porcelain tiles, when installed correctly, can handle hundreds of pounds of pressure. And unlike natural stone, the majority of porcelain tiles don’t need to be sealed as the surface isn’t porous.
Porcelain is man-made, which means it can be created with different properties that help to make it even more durable and reliable. Porcelain tiles are made from a mixture of sand, clay, and minerals, which is then baked at a high temperature, which results in a finish that’s non-porous and very hard-wearing.
While there used to be more of a cost discrepancy between porcelain versus stone floor tiles, that gap has narrowed over time. Now, cost is largely decided by the style, finish, and size of the tiles you want.
Natural stone can be affordable; however, it is important to note that the ongoing maintenance requirements for the stone to be sealed can increase the cost slightly over time. Although this is only a minor cost increase.
Here at Stone Superstore, we directly source our natural stone globally, bringing you luxury limestone and marble tiles at the cheapest prices.
As porcelain tiles have become more common, the cost has decreased over the years. Naturally, the cost of porcelain tiles rests on what kind of tiles you’re buying, depending on the size, finish and design. Our own porcelain tiles can range from around £20 up to the £60 mark, yet as porcelain tiles don’t need to be sealed or maintained as much over the years, they can also be cheaper in the long run.
Making sure that your tiles are safe underfoot is important, especially if you’re debating natural stone vs porcelain tiles for a patio or other outside space that will be exposed to the elements.
Tiles made from materials like sandstone or riven limestone have a level of relative slip resistance naturally, due to the rougher stone surface, which will help you to maintain your grip as long as the stone is well-maintained. One of the drawbacks of stone tiling, if they aren’t maintained correctly, is that it can absorb moisture over time, which in extreme cases could lead to cracks and potential trip hazards, unless spotted and fixed.
One benefit of porcelain tiles is that as they’re made using high heat and can withstand higher temperatures, so they can be a good pick for south-facing garden patios that get a lot of sun. Porcelain is also relatively slip-resistant, which is ideal if you’re planning on using it in bathrooms or kitchen installations.
Natural stone tiles with a riven surface, such as our Autumn Umber Sandstone (above) is naturally anti-slip
Installing tiles can always be tricky if you don’t have confidence in the skill, whether you’re thinking of using porcelain or stone tilling.
Natural stone tiles with a rougher, riven surface can very slightly vary, so getting an even edge can be a bit trickier. But the good news is that most stone tiles are finished to a standard width for ease of installation. Natural stone can also be easier when it comes to neatness as they more forgiving of rough edges and corners, unlike porcelain which often needs a perfectly straight cut to keep the uniform appearance.
Porcelain tiles are usually perfectly uniform, which can make it easier to get a flawless finish. But you might benefit from a practised hand to install porcelain paving. While porcelain tiles are very durable once they’re in place, they’re also denser and more lightweight than stone tiles. That means that during installation, care will need to be taken to make sure that the tiles don’t break. An expert hand is also often required to get the seamless smooth-all-the-way-across finish that you might want from your porcelain tiles.
Once you’ve installed your tiling, how well will it hold up? Here’s the difference between porcelain tiles vs natural stone when it comes to maintenance.
Natural stone needs more maintenance and upkeep to keep it in top condition, depending on the type of stone you’re using. Caring for natural stone paving normally includes sealing the tiles, to help keep the stone free of stains and to protect against fading, and to try to discourage moss or algae growing on the surface.
Natural stone tends to be needed to be sealed twice: once before grouting and once after. Stone will generally need to be resealed every few years, so stone tiling can be considered more high maintenance compared to the porcelain alternative.
Because the majority of porcelain is made to be non-porous, it needs a lot less maintenance than natural stone. Being non-porous means that moisture can’t get into the tile, so there’s less need for sealing to keep rain out or stop stains and fading. Largely, stains also aren’t as much of a concern, as the tiles can just be wiped clean if you do spill something.
However, do be aware that there are some exceptions – due to the buffing process, polished porcelain tiles have very fine micropores and do require sealing during installation and after grouting, to protect the shiny surface and keep them looking pristine.
Unlike matte porcelain, polished porcelain tiles such as our Calacatta Gold (above) require sealing during installation
Why choose natural stone?
Durable, practical, and proven to stand the test of time – it’s understandable that natural stone tiles are one of the most popular options for tiling both indoors and outdoors.
- Naturally beautiful: One major part of natural stone’s appeal is the authenticity and organic variation in the stone itself. No two natural stone tiles are identical, and the variety of textures and styles means that you can easily create an impactful look in your home.
- Timeless appeal: Natural stone ages beautifully, and though porcelain tiles may be a bit easier to maintain, natural stone tiles are still a practical and long-lasting option that exceed trends.
- Totally unique: Real stone has subtle veining and colour variations, and every single piece of stone will be subtly different from the next. Though porcelain tiles are now incredibly similar to the real thing, if you want to create a space that’s completely unique to your home, then real stone is the ideal choice.
- Added value: While porcelain tiles are as durable and long-lasting, natural stone is always appealing. Homebuyers can often see natural stone as the most luxurious option, which could help to add value to your home in the long run.
Why choose porcelain?
- Stain-proof: Porcelain is practically stain-proof, which is ideal if you’re installing tiles in a kitchen or wet room where spills can easily happen.
- Plenty of variety: While natural stone is the best choice if you want a truly unique finish, porcelain tiles now come in more finishes than ever. Whether you want marble-effect porcelain tiles or to emulate a more industrial style like concrete, it’s easy to get the look you want within porcelain.
- Eco-friendly: Porcelain is generally eco-friendly, especially when tiles are produced with recycled byproducts. Because there’s very little waste created in the process of making porcelain, they’re a generally sustainable product to choose.
Learning more about the differences between porcelain and stone floor tiles has hopefully helped you decide on the best option for you. Whether you choose the unique and timeless look of natural stone or opt for the practicality and versatility of porcelain, your next project is sure to look stylish either way.