Porcelain tiles are affordable, easy to maintain, durable, and suitable for outdoor use. Because marble is a natural, porous stone, marble tiles are better suited for interior use. When used as flooring, marble tiles should be kept in areas with low- to moderate- traffic. Marble tiles are quite expensive and must be maintained more carefully.
Properties of Marble vs. Porcelain Surfaces
Marble tiles have the advantage of looking natural and unique — usually gray- or cream-colored with darker veins running through them. No two tiles are exactly alike. To make tiles, marble stone is sized and cut, then polished and finished on one side to create a uniform surface and thickness.
Porcelain tiles are a type of ceramic tile made with a refined clay — usually red or white clay. This special process makes porcelain tiles less absorbent, thicker, and more durable, and thus suitable as flooring. Compared to marble tiles, porcelain tiles are less likely to stain. However, they should be bought carefully, as thinner porcelain tiles may be brittle and prone to chipping during installation or when dropping something hard on them.
With proper care, both marble and porcelain tiles can last for a long time.
Both marble and porcelain tiles are soft; so it is recommended to use unsanded grout during installation. This means the space between tiles should be kept small (less than 1/8 inch).
Pros and Cons
As a natural stone, marble has a high aesthetic value and adds both elegance and value to a home. However, care for marble tiles can be time-consuming and costly. Like granite, marble is porous and requires regular (twice-yearly) applications of sealants to remain resistant to stains and dulling. Its absorbent nature means it is not appropriate for exterior walls or in landscaping.
Porcelain tiles are less absorbent, so they are resistant to frost and much less likely to stain, especially if they are glazed. They are also more durable than traditional ceramic tiles and marble and can withstand moisture and harsher weather conditions. Caring for porcelain tiles is easy, as few cleaning solutions will harm them. Their hardness, however, can make them brittle, meaning installation must be carried out with great care. For those who desire the durability of porcelain tiles, but the aesthetics of marble, there are now porcelain tiles that are made to look like marble.
Marble tiles can be used on walls, but they are more popular for indoor flooring, backsplashes, sinks, kitchen islands, and countertops. While they are mostly used as indoor tiles, marble has been used outside in moderate- to low-traffic areas shielded from rain and freezing cold weather.
Porcelain tiles are hard and are used for flooring as well as interior and exterior walls, as they can survive cold and moisture. Because some porcelain tiles can be quite brittle, they may typically require a professional to cut and install them.
Marble floors should be installed by an expert. They should be sealed during installation and resealed once or, preferably, twice a year. Marble floors have to be constantly dusted and mopped to keep them from staining and absorbing water or other liquids.
By comparison, porcelain tiles do not require as much maintenance. They are best cut and installed by a professional, but upkeep is easy, and they are much less likely to stain than marble.
Cost of Marble and Porcelain Tiles
Generally, porcelain tiles cost $4 to $10 per square foot. However, the cost of porcelain tile varies according to its class rating — i.e., whether it is durable enough for wall use, indoor or outdoor use, countertop use, low-traffic floors, or high-traffic floors. There are five classes of porcelain tile, as standardized by the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI), with PEI Class 0 being the most delicate and recommended only for wall use and Class 5 being the most durable. Only thicker, more expensive classes of porcelain tiles are recommended for high-traffic or commercial purposes.
Porcelain tiles are much cheaper than marble tiles, which often have to be custom ordered. Marble tiles typically cost $40 to $150 cost per square foot.
Both types of tiles should be installed by a professional. Installation costs vary by region. Current prices for some of the commonly used marble tiles are available on Amazon.com: