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Porcelain Tiles – Are They All They Seem? Part 2

When Porcelain tiles were first launched, they were produced by just a few companies in Italy and they set pretty exacting standards. The resulting products had the following typical characteristics:

  • The tiles were much more dense and harder-wearing
  • They could be coloured in a much greater variety of shades, opening up design possibilities
  • They had extremely low water absorption figures for example, they could have a WA figure of 0.5% or lower compare this with 2 -3 % for a typical unglazed quarry tile of the time.
  • All the advantages of being unglazed (better slip resistance, harder wearing) without the colour or design restrictions
  • They could also be glazed

These first generation porcelain tiles were easy to keep clean and in general were so dense and non-porous that they did not need sealing. However, things have changed, a lot. In future articles I will discuss each of the issues in greater detail but for now at least anyone considering buying porcelain (and as more and more factories are switching to porcelain production, it almost unavoidable) should be aware of the following ‘potential’ issues.

As the popularity of porcelain has grown, and with the growth in the worldwide economies, there has been huge increase in porcelain production, all over the world; the biggest producer now by far is no longer Italy but China. With this proliferation, comes a greater variety of standards and quality control. Companies looking for a competitive advantage or areas where they can cut costs can take seemingly small short-cuts or use lower cost raw materials and/or production equipment and machinery, all of which can result in issues such as:

  • Staining, due to exposed micro pores in polished porcelain
  • Fine scratches due to poor polishing quality control
  • White marks fused to the surface (from ‘kiln release’ transfer off the back of the next ‘tile in the stack’)
  • Grid-mark impression in the face. Again from the back of adjacent tiles
  • General cleaning issues of standard finish porcelain due to micro-surface texture
  • Factory-applied wax coatings that can be difficult to remove
  • Residues from factory-applied nano-sealers

In future articles, I will look at the causes and some possible solutions to these issues but for now the phrase “buyer beware” comes to mind.

Copyright Ian Taylor and The Tile and Stone, 2013. See copyright notice above.

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