Polished vs Unpolished Porcelain Tile: Which Is Better?

Reposting this article from Houzz.com, which featured the beautiful blue tile of the Tilden House bathroom. Thanks Houzz! 🙂

The popular porcelain tile comes in polished and unpolished grades. But do you know their strengths and weaknesses?

Rashmi Haralalka

Porcelain seems to have almost as many ‘types’ of tiles as it has ‘styles’. To sort this maze of confusing terminology, we have put together an informative guide on the two most common types of porcelain tiles available – polished and unpolished. Let’s understand their pros and cons, so you can decide which is best for you.

Lewis / Schoeplein architects

Hailing from the ceramic tile family, porcelain is manufactured from very fine clay, which is blended with other natural materials such as quartz, silica or feldspar and baked at extremely high temperatures. Doing so eliminates moisture resulting in a much harder, denser and stronger tile as compared to ceramic.

What is the difference between polished and unpolished porcelain tiles?
Unpolished porcelain tiles have a more textured finish which occurs during the moulding process of the tile. Polished porcelain tiles are made by polishing the surface of the tile with a diamond disk. Microscopic pores are made on the surface of the tile during the grinding process which are concealed by the glossy finish.

Polished glazed tiles are generally used on internal and external walls, backsplashes and so on. Avoid them on floors since as they are a bit slippery. Unglazed polished tiles can be used used virtually everywhere including floors as they are less slippery than glazed versions.

Like the unglazed polished tiles, the unpolished variation is used both indoors and outdoors for a muted, textured look.

Polished porcelain tiles
As indicated by the name, polished porcelain features a high gloss with a smooth finish. It comes in a variety of finishes and colours, 3D surfaces and so on. These tiles are available in two versions:

Glazed: While the general manufacturing process of both tiles is the same, glazed versions have a layer of liquid glass added to the tile before it goes into the kiln. Though it may reduce durability, the glaze highlights eye-catching designs with incredible detail.

Unglazed: In this type of tiles, one doesn’t have to worry about glazing wearing away. Unglazed porcelain tiles look and feel like the unpolished ones. However, the unpolished versions are more hard-wearing because they are denser and thicker than glazed tiles.

Ceramic vs Porcelain Tiles

Pros
The characteristics of polished porcelain tiles vary according to whether they are glazed or not, but in general, they have these points to recommend them:

  • Don’t scratch easily: Polished porcelain tiles are scratch-resistant, especially the unglazed version. Considering the textured and natural finish on unglazed polished tiles, scratches don’t show easily.
  • Resilient: Unglazed polished porcelain tiles don’t fade or show signs of wear since they already have a rough finish compared to glazed tiles. This makes them suitable for high-traffic areas like corridors and kitchen.
  • Water-resistant: Polished porcelain tiles are water- and stain-resistant, making them a good pick for shower walls and other wet areas, including kitchen backsplashes.
  • Aesthetically appealing: The polished surface of porcelain tiles adds to the aesthetic appeal of any space. Available in different designs and patterns including digital-print versions, the glistening and shiny surface lends a touch of glamour.

Cons
Like other polished surfaces, the polished porcelain tiles need some maintenance and come with a few caveats:

  • Require sealing: Like marble, polished porcelain requires a sealant before grouting and whenever water stops beading off the surface so that it stays cleaner. On the other hand unpolished tiles benefit from barrier treatment and don’t need to be sealed.
  • Slippery: Like any other smooth, glossy surface, polished porcelain tends to be more slippery, especially when wet – as compared to matte varieties. Avoid using them on bathroom floors.
  • More expensive: Because polished porcelain tiles go through a polishing process in the factory, it adds to the cost.

Unpolished porcelain tiles
Unlike polished porcelain, unpolished tiles don’t come in glazed or unglazed versions. It usually has a honed or matte finish which is achieved during manufacturing in the mould. It can also be achieved by grinding the tile surface for a smooth finish. Unpolished versions have a textured feel, unlike the smooth polished versions.

Pros
Unpolished porcelain tiles offer the advantages that come with natural stone tiles, with the added toughness of porcelain.

  • Low maintenance: With a highly resilient surface, unpolished porcelain tiles are low maintenance and doesn’t show wear patterns easily. One can easily scrub the tiles to remove stains and stubborn dirt. Since the surface is not shiny, using chemicals or hard brushes doesn’t damage it.
  • Non-slippery: Matte-finish and textured tiles offer a better foot grip making them non-slip. They are ideal for wet indoor areas like the bathroom and feel great underfoot, too.
  • Scratch-resistant: Compared to the polished variety, the unpolished tiles are more scratch-resistant thanks to their natural, resilient composition.
  • Aesthetic appeal: Matte or unpolished porcelain tiles provide a more subtle look similar to that of limestone or other soft, honed stone tiles for an earthy, cool finish.

Earlier it wasn’t easy to find much variety in the unpolished porcelain tiles. But with advanced technology, it is possible to replicate the look and feel of marble, travertine, limestone and so on in a range of designs and patterns.

  • Less expensive: Unlike the polished version, the unpolished tiles don’t undergo any additional processes during manufacturing, which reduces the cost.

Cons
Unpolished porcelain tiles resemble natural surfaces, which translates to one disadvantage.

  • May seem restrictive: The matte finish of unpolished tiles may seem restrictive and boring to some.

What should you go for?
While both polished and unpolished porcelain tiles give a long-lasting, durable option for floors and walls, it is the little details that can influence your choice.

For example, if you want an earthy, rustic vibe then an unglazed polished or even unpolished tile is recommended. So evaluate and compare these pros and cons to make an informed decision.