Terra Cotta vs. Porcelain Tile

While both terra cotta and porcelain tiles are ceramic, they vary greatly in durability, finish and versatility.

Terra Cotta Tile

Terra cotta tile roofs add architectural interest and color to the home.Terra cotta tile roofs add architectural interest and color to the home.
Both types of tile are made of shaped clay that is dried and baked, or fired in kilns. Terra cotta tiles are more brittle than porcelain, but the earthy, reddish-brown color is uniform throughout. Porcelain tile color is only on the surface, imparted by glazes and dyes, but the hard finish resists scratches better than terra cotta.

Like other ceramic tiles, terra cotta tile is made from clay. Terra cotta tiles have been around for thousands of years, and are normally unglazed. The color of the tile depends on the color of the clay and any additional material added before the tiles are baked and finished. Terra cotta tiles may be painted, glazed or left natural. Clear sealers may also be used to reduce the tile's water absorption and help prevent stains.

Porcelain tile

Porcelain tiles are fired more than once and at higher temperatures than other types of ceramic tiles. The surface is harder than any other type of ceramic tile, resisting scratches, stains, and damage from extremes of temperature or weather. Some porcelain tile carries a label mark stating it is certified by the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency. Porcelain tile manufacturers wishing to sell certified porcelain tile submit their product for testing by the agency, which tests the tile. Certification guarantees that the tile resists water absorption, making it frost-roof and suitable for outdoor use. Porcelain tile can be made in almost any shape and color. The tiles have a brilliant luster on the top side. Porcelain tiles are often more expensive than terra cotta.

Uses

Terra cotta is versatile enough to use indoors and out. Planters, pavers, floor tiles and wall tiles are commonly made with terra cotta. Red terra cotta tile roofs are a common sight in the Southwest and in Florida, where they often top stuccoed buildings. Porcelain can also be used outdoors. Highly glazed porcelain tiles are durable and virtually waterproof, suitable for damp areas of the home such as bathrooms and kitchen countertops. Small porcelain tiles may be used for mosaics, as well. Choose a porcelain tile with a high coefficient of friction, which measures how slippery the tile becomes when wet.

Traffic Class

Often used as pavers, terra cotta tiles have a high COF, meaning the tiles won't become too slippery when they get wet. Terra cotta tiles are more prone to breakage than porcelain tiles. Unglazed terra cotta tiles do absorb water, while porcelain tiles do not. Flooring tiles are classed according to the amount of foot traffic they can endure. Class 1 means the tiles should not be used for flooring, while class 5 means the tiles present no slipping danger.

About the Author

Audrey Lynn has been a journalist and writer since 1974. She edited a weekly home-and-garden tabloid for her hometown newspaper and has regularly contributed to weekly and daily newspapers, as well as "Law and Order" magazine. A Hambidge Fellow, Lynn studied English at Columbus State University.