The Differences Between Cement, Concrete, and Mortar

Cement, concrete, and mortar are three of the most common building materials used in construction projects. While they share some similarities and are often used together, there are important differences between them that determine their specific uses. Understanding the unique properties and ideal applications of each can help ensure they are used properly and projects are built to last.

What is Cement?

Cement is a fine, gray powder that acts as the binding agent when mixed with sand, gravel, and water to create concrete. It is made by grinding limestone, clay, shells, and chalk, then heating the mixture to high temperatures in a kiln to form clinker. The clinker is then ground into the fine cement powder.

The key ingredients of cement are:

  • Calcium – Typically from limestone, seashells, or chalk
  • Silica – From sand or clay
  • Alumina – From bauxite or aluminium ore
  • Iron – From iron ore

Cement acts as the glue that holds concretes ingredients together. On its own, cement is not very strong. But when mixed with water, it undergoes a hydration reaction and hardens. This bonding process is what gives concrete its strength and durability.

What is Concrete?

Concrete is a mixture of cement, sand, gravel, water, and other aggregates. The cement and water form a paste that surrounds and binds the aggregates together as it hardens. Concrete has high compressive strength but relatively low tensile strength.

The typical ingredients in concrete are:

  • 10-15% Cement
  • 60-75% Sand and gravel aggregates
  • 15-20% Water
  • 0-5% Admixtures such as plasticizers or accelerators

The proportions of the ingredients determine the properties of the concrete such as workability, strength, and durability. Concrete is extremely versatile and is used for everything from building foundations to decorative pathways. It can be poured into moulds while wet and hardened into almost any shape.

What is Mortar?

Mortar is a workable paste composed of cement, sand, and water. It has binding properties but is not as strong as concrete due to its low aggregate content. Mortar is used to bond bricks, concrete blocks, stones, and other masonry units together.

The typical mortar mix ratio is:

  • 1 part cement
  • 3 to 5 parts sand
  • Enough water to form a plastic consistency

Mortar provides flexibility to allow for some movement between masonry units. It also seals joints between units to prevent water penetration. Masons use different mortar mixes and textures to achieve the desired bond strength, workability, and aesthetic.

Key Differences Between Cement, Concrete, and Mortar


  • Acts as the binding agent or glue
  • Very fine powder made from limestone and clay
  • No aggregates included
  • Not very strong on its own
  • Undergoes hydration to bond and harden


  • Mixture of cement, aggregates, and water
  • Very strong and durable
  • Poured into moulds and shaped while wet
  • Used for foundations, slabs, walls, and structures


  • Mixture of cement, sand, and water
  • Low strength but good bonding properties
  • Used to join masonry blocks, bricks, and stones
  • Provides flexibility and seals joints

When to Use Each Material


Cement is rarely used on its own but is a key ingredient in both concrete and mortar. It should not be used as a patching or repair material. Any project requiring cement will also require sand and aggregate (for concrete) or sand and water (for mortar).


Concrete is ideal for:

  • Foundations and slabs
  • Structural walls, columns, and beams
  • Pavements, roads, and bridges
  • Precast elements like pipes and blocks
  • Decorative and architectural features


Mortar is designed for:

  • Masonry construction – bonding bricks, blocks, and stone
  • Tuckpointing mortar joints
  • Creating decorative finishes like stucco
  • Repairing cracks and holes in masonry

Mortar should not be used in place of concrete that requires high strength.


Cement, concrete, and mortar require similar ingredients but their proportions determine their unique properties and ideal applications. Understanding when to use each material is key to building durable, long-lasting structures. Their differences come down to:

  • Cement – The binding agent that cures and hardens to bond the other materials
  • Concrete – Very strong due to high aggregate content; ideal for structural building elements
  • Mortar – Workable paste with good bonding ability to join masonry units together

Always check the specifications and requirements when planning a construction project to ensure you are using the right materials for the job. With the proper mix and application of cement, concrete, and mortar, you can build structures that stand the test of time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between cement and concrete?

The main difference is that cement is an ingredient while concrete is the finished product. Cement is a fine binding powder that undergoes a chemical reaction when mixed with water. Concrete contains cement plus sand, gravel, and aggregate materials that make it strong and durable.

Can you use cement instead of concrete?

No, cement should not be used in place of concrete. Concrete gains its strength and durability from the aggregates mixed with the cement. Using only cement would result in a weak finished product.

Is mortar as strong as concrete?

No, mortar does not have the same compressive strength as concrete. It contains less aggregate and is designed to have more flexibility to allow movement between masonry units. Concrete would be too brittle for bonding brick and stone.

Can mortar be used for structural projects?

Mortar should not be used for major structural projects in place of concrete. While it has good bonding strength, it does not have the same load-bearing capacity. Mortar is unsuitable for foundations, slabs, beams, and columns.

What is the difference between cement and mortar?

Cement is an ingredient while mortar is the finished product. Mortar is a mixture of cement, sand, and water. Cement provides the binding properties while the sand provides bulk and flexibility. Mortar can be troweled to join masonry units together.