The difference between vitrified, clinker and ceramic tile

Tile floors perform differently depending their type. Before installing them in your facility, make sure you've chosen the right tile for your environment.

There are many kinds of tile, all with their own unique properties. Even “ceramic tile” is not a catch-all term – differences in manufacturing processes create stark differences between the glazed ceramic tile you may have in your home and the fully vitrified porcelain and red clinker tile made by Argelith.

So what is the difference between ceramic and vitrified tile? Or between porcelain and ceramic? And what is clinker tile, anyway?

Fully Vitrified

Fully vitrified tiles contain elements such as quartz, feldspar and silica that melt at very high temperatures, creating a strong tile with very low absorption and very high resistance to wear. These industrial tiles are the gold standard for strong, durable flooring.

Fully vitrified tiles, also called porcelain tiles, begin with natural minerals ground to an extremely fine powder and pressed into molds. Pigment can be added to give the tiles a specific color. Because the color is not dependent upon a glaze, Argelith tiles are full body tiles – that is, each tile is a single layer with uniform color and density throughout.

Once in the molds, the tiles are dried to the ideal moisture content. They are then fired for more than an hour at more than 1,200 degrees Celsius. Too little moisture can result in brittle ceramic; over years of research and development Argelith has found the perfect balance to create a tile that is as hard as steel with an absorption rate of less than 0.1 percent.

Argelith’s fully vitrified tiles are then laser measured by an advanced system that can detect imperfections to a fraction of a millimeter. This industry-leading technology is one of the innovations that makes Argelith’s factory the most technologically advanced facility of its kind.

Red Clinker

These are known in some circles as classic German clinker tile. Argelith mines the clay for its red clinker tiles in its own quarry. The clay and minerals are ground into a fine powder and dry pressed into molds before being fired at high temperatures. This results in a very dense, very strong tile.

With an absorption rate of less than 4 percent, red clinker tile is stronger and less absorbent than glazed ceramic tile but is not as strong as fully vitrified tile. Argelith’s clinker is particularly resistant to moisture, with an absorption rate around 2 percent. It is recommended that clinker tile be treated periodically with clinker oil, which fills microscopic spaces in the tile to make it stronger.

Glazed Ceramic

This is what many laypeople think of when they hear “ceramic tile.” These residential-grade tiles are made of clay mixed with water, coated with a liquid glaze to add color, shine and hardness, and then fired in a kiln. These tiles are less strong and more absorbent than vitrified tiles. Because they are not moisture or frost resistant they are not appropriate for outdoor use, and they generally do not have the mechanical strength needed for commercial applications.