It’s not unusual to hear someone asking about which is better, concrete vs cement. On the other hand, you might listen to someone asking if concrete and cement are the same thing. They are different things, only that cement is part of the concrete mix that binds it together.
What is a concrete mix made of
Usually, concrete is made of sand, gravel (crushed stones), and cement. Mixing it with water, water, and cement will form a paste that will keep everything together. So comparisons like concrete vs cement are useless as people are usually asking about the same thing.
On the other hand, we could compare concrete with different amounts of cement. Does adding more cement make concrete harder? Surprisingly, the answer is no.
Adding cement to the sand and gravel will only help strengthen it to a certain point; after that, it will be negative. The concrete will get too firm, and it might cause it to crack. So, keeping the right amount of cement to aggregate ratio is essential to achieve the desired results.
Another thing that affects concrete strength is the amount of water we use. Lower water means more strength, but too low water causes low strength. Then, too much water weakens the strength again, so what is the proper amount? It depends on the amount of cement in the mix.
Cement usually makes around 10-15% of concrete weight, while sand and gravel make 60-80%, depending on the case. Rest is left for water and air. You can sometimes see workers using the vibrating tools on fresh concrete. That tool helps the concrete set tight by removing air from the mix.
Concrete cures over time
One thing to remember is also that concrete doesn’t dry in the traditional sense. Water reacts with cement, forming a paste that will “cure” over time. It will continue to harden, so you see workers wetting concrete. Outdoor plasters are the same as cement; spray them with water a few days after rendering.
With the help of watering, the concrete can achieve greater strength as the moisture will evaporate more slowly. We often want the best results, so it’s suitable to almost always water the concrete. It will provide a stronger foundation for tiling, plaster, rendering, and painting.
Gravel or crushed stone also affects the strength of the concrete. It’s usually rough-surfaced because it has more surface for sand and cement to bind to, making it a more potent combination.
Different types of mortar, different uses.
Concrete vs cement vs mortar?
We’re clear at this point that there is a difference between concrete and cement, and their uses are quite different. So what is the mortar used for, and is it different from concrete?
Mortar is another mix of sand and cement. It hardens/cures like concrete, but it’s a weaker mix. It mainly holds bricks together, so the water and cement ratio is higher than concrete. It’s essential to pick the right kind of mortar for your work as it can crack if it is too complicated and wear down if it’s too soft.
Good examples would be cold and windy places. Rain might pour on tall walls, and snow will also fall on them. That will cause erosion in the mortar, weakening its properties. On the other hand, hot weather will affect the curing process and might affect the result badly.
Mortar can also render brick walls outside as it can handle the weather. The cement-to-sand ratio differs from the one used for laying bricks, but the principle is the same. With rendering mortar, a level outlook or ornamental forms can be achieved.
The amount of cement for mortar varies a lot. Still, I’ve seen recommendations from 1:6 (1 cement: 6 sand) to even 1:3. There are also ready-mix mortars for hobbyists and small projects, which should be the safest bet. Still, it’s good to check the place where we need it; if it has to take lots of changes in weather and temperature, a more complex mix might be required for it to last.
Mortar vs. grout
Grout is often associated with mortar as it’s one of the materials we need when we do ceramic tiling at home. Can grout be used as mortar? As they are most often quite different from each other, hard grout could easily break under tiles.
Grout has more water in the mix than mortar as it needs more ability to fill gaps. For example, grout is used for filling in the spaces between ceramic tiles mentioned before. That’s why getting in between tiles needs to be more fluid.
We want to fill all the gaps to avoid any filth/dirt gathering in our washing rooms or kitchens. Grout is suitable to apply with pressure, so it goes deep in the gaps. After using extra, it is washed off with a sponge, for example.
So there is little difference on the material level, only how each part is measured. Grout also doesn’t have much sand, if all, at it as it’s supposed to be, like paste, and almost as hard as the material around it. They shouldn’t be compared as their uses are different, so they are meant to have other features.
If you mix them with close enough ratios, you could use mortar and grout in one mix. I’d do that in places like outside, where I’ll use the mortar to adhere the tiles and make it more runny to do the joints.
What is thinset?
Finally, there is thinset. Thinset is used as mortar, helping two things to stick together. This set also contains the same materials as mortar, so what is the difference this time? Thinset is better with heavier materials and is most commonly used in bathrooms with ceramic tiles.
Thinset is very good for tiling inside and outside because of its adhering features. You can also use it for leveling floors and walls before tiling. That’s because for tiling, you need to have as level a surface as possible, and the thinset adheres well to the surface we’re working on.
Also, because it’s the same material, a new layer of thin set with ceramic tiles installed will have a firm grip on the concrete or the bottom level.
Cement, aggregate, and water combinations shouldn’t be compared as they have different uses. It would be best if you didn’t try to work with the wrong materials because the results won’t work as they should. Concrete and mortar are sometimes mixed up as some mortar combinations look like concrete when wet, but they won’t achieve the same result.
Also, concrete used for building is mostly reinforced with steel, giving it a more substantial structure. Mortar is used in laying bricks and covering brick walls, and grout can be used on seams. It’s amazing how changing the cement ratio can bring out such different applications.