Ceramic vs Porcelain Tile Backsplash – Which One Is Better?

Installing a backsplash in your kitchen can completely transform the look and feel of the space. Not only does a backsplash provide an extra layer of protection from water damage behind sinks and stoves, but it also serves as a stylish focal point. When it comes to backsplash materials, two of the most popular options are ceramic and porcelain tile. But what’s the difference between ceramic and porcelain tile? And how do you choose which material is right for your backsplash?

An Overview of Ceramic and Porcelain Tile

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are both man-made materials that are fired in a kiln at high temperatures. The main difference lies in their density and water absorption rate.

  • Ceramic tile is less dense than porcelain, making it more prone to absorbing water. The water absorption rate for ceramic tile is around 3-10%.
  • Porcelain tile has a water absorption rate of less than 0.5%, making it an almost non-porous surface. This extremely low porosity makes porcelain tile more stain resistant and ideal for kitchen backsplashes.

When it comes to durability, porcelain tile has the advantage. The higher density and hardness make porcelain more resistant to scratches, chips and cracks compared to ceramic. Porcelain tiles are graded by the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) rating system, which measures abrasion resistance. Porcelain tile typically has a PEI rating of 5 or higher.

In terms of cost, glazed ceramic tiles tend to be the most affordable option for backsplashes. Porcelain tiles range from budget-friendly to high-end designer styles, with stone-look porcelains occupying the premium end of the scale.

Ceramic Tile Backsplashes

Ceramic tile has been used as a backsplash material for decades thanks to its versatility, variety of styles and affordable price point. Here’s a closer look at the benefits of ceramic tile backsplashes:

Wide Range of Colors and Patterns

One of the best aspects of ceramic tile is the vast array of colors, textures and patterns available. You can find ceramic tiles resembling natural stone, marble, travertine and granite. Bright solid colors, hand-painted designs, bold patterns – the options are virtually endless for personalizing your backsplash décor.

Easy Maintenance

While ceramic tile is prone to staining if left unsealed, a properly sealed tile backsplash will resist stains and is easy to clean with mild soap and water. Re-sealing may be needed periodically, but is a simple do-it-yourself project.


Basic ceramic tiles can cost as little as $1 per square foot. While hand-crafted or mosaic tiles may cost more, ceramic remains one of the most budget-friendly backsplash materials.

Light Reflection

The glossy surface of ceramic glaze has a refractive quality, bouncing light around the kitchen. This can make a small kitchen feel brighter and more open.

Easy Installation

Ceramic tile backsplashes can be installed directly over existing wall surfaces like drywall. Combined with the lightweight nature of ceramic tile, installation is a relatively easy DIY project for many homeowners.

Porcelain Tile Backsplashes

Porcelain tile offers some advantages over ceramic thanks to its near zero water absorption and density. Here are some of the top reasons homeowners choose porcelain for their backsplash:

Extremely Durable

The dense composition of porcelain tile makes it highly resistant to scratches, staining, cracking and heat. Porcelain can withstand use and abuse in busy kitchens for many years. It does not require sealing like more porous ceramic.

Low Maintenance

Porcelain’s non-porous structure makes it easy to keep clean. Porcelain tile resists food staining, is unaffected by moisture and does not need periodic resealing. Simply wipe down with soap and water to keep your porcelain backsplash looking like new.

High Fire Resistance

Porcelain tile can withstand direct heat exposure better than ceramic. The dense composition is resistant to thermal shock, so you needn’t worry about cracks or chips if pots and pans are placed directly from the stove or oven onto a porcelain backsplash.

Impervious to Moisture

The ultra-low porosity of porcelain makes it an ideal backsplash choice for areas surrounding sinks and dishwashers. Water and steam have little effect on porcelain, preventing issues like mildew growth in kitchen backsplashes.

Natural Looks Available

Porcelain tile manufacturers have mastered the ability to mimic the look of natural stone, wood, cement and other finishes. Wood-look porcelain planks are especially popular for achieving a modern backsplash design.

Ceramic vs. Porcelain: How to Choose for Your Backsplash

When deciding between ceramic and porcelain tile for your backsplash, there are a few factors to take into consideration:

Moisture and Heat Exposure

Since porcelain is denser and less porous, it stands up better to moisture and heat. Porcelain is the best choice for backsplashes surrounding stoves, ovens, sinks and dishwashers that will be exposed to steam, grease splatter and high temperatures.

Pattern and Color Options

Glazed ceramic tiles come in a limitless array of colors, prints and mosaics. If creating a bold, customized look is your priority, ceramic offers the most options. Porcelain tiles are now available in many color variations, but ceramics still have the edge.

Durability and Longevity

Porcelain is harder, denser and more scratch resistant than ceramic tile. For this reason, porcelain rates higher in durability and longevity. Porcelain’s superior hardness also allows it to be used in higher traffic areas.


If sustainability is important to you, porcelain may be the greener choice. Porcelain’s durability results in a longer lifespan and less material waste over time. Porcelain is also easier to clean without harsh chemical cleaners.

DIY Installation

Installing ceramic tile is a relatively easy DIY project for many homeowners. Porcelain tile is heavier, making installation a bit more difficult. For DIYers, ceramic may be the simpler backsplash material to work with.


Good quality ceramic tile is widely available at the lowest price points. While porcelain can be just as affordable, prices range higher for premium porcelain styles. If cost is a concern, ceramic tile provides the best value.

Design Styles

Ceramic tile comes in endless design possibilities. Porcelain tile offers a more limited selection, but excellent realistic stone and wood looks. Consider the style you want – bold patterns and colors or natural, organic appearance.


The amount of moisture and heat the location will be subjected to is a big factor. For areas around sinks, dishwashers, stoves and ovens, porcelain is the best choice. For low-heat, low-moisture areas, ceramic may suffice.

Pros and Cons of Ceramic Tile Backsplashes


  • Wide range of colors, styles and designs
  • Good light reflection for brightening kitchens
  • Budget-friendly price point
  • Easy maintenance if properly sealed
  • Relatively easy DIY installation


  • Prone to staining and moisture absorption if not sealed properly
  • Not as durable or scratch-resistant as porcelain
  • Can crack from heat exposure
  • Needs re-sealing over time

Pros and Cons of Porcelain Tile Backsplashes


  • Extremely durable, scratch and chip resistant surface
  • Impervious to moisture and heat
  • Stain-proof and easy to keep clean
  • Long lifespan with minimal maintenance
  • Realistic natural stone and wood looks


  • Fewer color and design options than ceramic tile
  • Premium styles can be more expensive
  • Heavier weight makes installation more difficult
  • Can crack if installation is not done properly

Cost Comparison

Ceramic tile tends to be more budget-friendly for kitchen backsplashes. Here are some average price ranges:

  • Ceramic tile: $1 to $20 per sq. ft.
  • Porcelain tile: $2 to $40 per sq. ft.

Type of tile, size, quality, pattern and other factors affect the price range. Simple white 3×6-inch ceramic subway tiles can cost as little as $5 per square foot. Handmade ceramic mosaics and special artisan tiles may range from $15 to $20 per square foot.

For porcelain tile, expect to spend $5 to $15 per square foot for basic white and solid color tiles. Stone-look porcelains usually start around $10, with premium styles reaching $30 to $40 per square foot.

The amount of tile needed for your backsplash also affects overall cost. An average 10-square foot backsplash requires about 10-15 tiles. Calculate the tile cost per square foot times the total square footage of your backsplash area for an estimated price range. Include extra tile to allow for cuts, waste and future repairs.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Tile

  • Moisture resistance – Porcelain rates higher for kitchens.
  • Heat resistance – Porcelain withstands heat better than ceramic.
  • Durability – Porcelain is harder and more scratch resistant.
  • Patterns and colors – Ceramic offers more decorative styles.
  • Longevity – Porcelain lasts longer with minimal maintenance.
  • Sustainability – Porcelain is generally more eco-friendly.
  • Installation – Ceramic is easier for DIYers to install.
  • Budget – Ceramic tiles are typically more economical.
  • Location – Use porcelain near sinks, dishwashers, stoves.
  • Design – Ceramic for bold patterns; porcelain for natural looks.

Carefully consider the pros and cons of ceramic and porcelain tile. Choose the material that best fits your kitchen design, budget and lifestyle needs.

Trendy Kitchen Backsplash Ideas with Tile

Not sure where to start with designing your kitchen backsplash? Here are some of the most popular backsplash tile trends:

Subway Tile

Subway tile backsplashes are a classic choice, with white 3×6-inch glossy tiles arranged in a brick pattern. They work in any kitchen style from farmhouse to modern. Use porcelain subway tiles for high-moisture areas.

White subway tile kitchen backsplash

Hexagon Tile

For a honeycomb-inspired backsplash, cover the wall with hexagon shaped tiles. Mixing multiple colors and patterns creates depth and visual interest. Use porcelain or ceramic tiles.

Hexagon tile backsplash

Metal Tile

Metallic tiles add a contemporary, reflective finish. Stainless steel, copper, and aluminum tiles pair nicely with industrial design elements. Use durable porcelain or ceramic tiles.

Metal tile backsplash

Moroccan Fish Scale Tile

Fish scale pattern tiles arranged in solid colors or multiple complementary hues create a beautiful mosaic appearance, reminiscent of Moroccan design. Use ceramic or porcelain.

Moroccan fish scale tile

Geometric Pattern Tile

Play with shape and form by combining geometric patterns like triangles, circles, diamonds, lines. Use the same colors or mix bold brights with neutrals. Ceramic and porcelain tiles work.

Geometric tile

Wood Look Plank Tile

Wood-look porcelain planks offer the beauty of real wood with more durability. The long narrow tiles allow for stylish vertical or horizontal pattern designs. Use wood-look porcelain only.

Wood plank tile

Marble, Travertine or Stone Looks

Porcelain tile that mimics the colorations, veins and natural texture of authentic stone offers elegance. Marble, travertine and limestone looks are most popular. Use porcelain only.

Marble look tile

Bold Colors and Patterns

Make a dramatic style statement by combining colorful patterned tiles like Moroccan, geometric, floral, fruit designs. Use matte or glossy ceramic and porcelain.

Patterned tile backsplash

Creative Backsplash Tile Layouts

Go beyond basic subway layouts with creative tile arrangements:

  • Stack different sized tiles – Mix different tile sizes and orientations for interest.
  • Vertical tiles – Stack longer tiles vertically instead of horizontal rows.
  • Three-dimensional tiles – Overlapping tile shapes create depth and shadow lines.
  • Focal point – Create a central focal point with an intricate tile design.
  • Shape designs – Use shaped tiles to make patterns like flowers or concentric circles.
  • Contrasting borders – Outline the backsplash perimeter with tiles in a contrasting color or finish.
  • Mini mosaic – Cover a section in a mosaic of tiny tiles for accent.
  • Combine materials – Blend stone, glass and porcelain tiles for eclectic charm.

DIY Installation Tips

Installing a tile backsplash is a DIY project many homeowners can accomplish. Here are some tips:

  • Carefully prepare the surface – Remove old backsplash tile, grease and soap scum so new tile adheres well.
  • Gather all materials – Tiles, thinset mortar, grout, grout sealer, spacers, tape, tools.
  • Use a ledger board at bottom to keep first row straight and level.
  • Apply thinset mortar evenly to small sections at a time, use notched trowel for even depth.
  • Place tiles in position, use spacers for consistent grout lines. Press tiles firmly into thinset.
  • Let tile set 24 hours before grouting. Apply grout with rubber grout float.
  • Wipe away excess grout with damp sponge, clean in circular motion. Rinse sponge frequently.
  • Once grout dries, apply sealer following product directions to protect from stains.
  • Caulk perimeter edges between countertop and backsplash.

Always refer to manufacturer’s installation guides for best practices. Take care to evenly space tiles and keep everything straight and level. If tiling around electrical outlets, consult an electrician.

Hiring a Professional Tile Installer

For large backsplash projects, intricate designs or tricky layouts, hiring a professional tile installer is worth considering. Here’s what to expect:

  • Get quotes from 3-4 tile contractors. Check reviews and examples of past work.
  • Negotiate specifics – timeline, materials, permits needed, removal of old backsplash, wall prep, clean-up.
  • Schedule – Typical professional installation takes 1-3 days from start to finish.
  • Cost – Prices range from $10-$50 per square foot installed. Factors like tile type and difficult installation impact price.
  • Result – A meticulously installed, high-quality backsplash that enhances your kitchen for years.

Pro tile installers can handle challenging designs and have specialized tools for precise cuts and placement. Their expertise allows for a seamless finished look.