Cement vs. Concrete: What’s the Difference?

Do you know the difference between cement and concrete?

Concrete is the most used material in the world. A lot of the time, you might see the terms “cement” and “concrete” interchangeably. But you might not know that they’re actually two very different, but related, materials.

Don’t worry, if you’re not sure, we’re here to help! Read on for our guide to cement vs concrete.

What is Cement?

Cement is the “glue” that will bind concrete. It’s a fine powder made from crushed minerals. These include clay and limestone and it functions as a binding agent but you can’t use it on its own.

You can make cement from a variety of materials though. In Ancient Rome, they used crushed rock, brick, volcanic ash, and burnt lime.

environmentally friendly concrete

The most common cement used in the US today is portland cement. It’s one of the lowest cost materials on the market.
There are 8 types of cement that will meet different chemical and physical needs. These are:

  1. Type I: this is for general purposes that don’t need special requirements.
  2. Type II: has moderate sulfate resistance and is the most common type used across the US.
  3. Type III: gains strength faster than type I & II so you can remove molds sooner.
  4. Type IV: this has a low heat of hydration and often used in large construction projects. Slow to develop strength.
  5. Type V: Only used when there is a need for high sulfate resistance as is slow to develop strength.
  6. Types IA, IIA, and IIIA: These are for use when making air-entrained concrete. They have the same properties as Types I, II, and III but also have air-entraining materials in their mix.

You might also see normal portland cement and white portland cement. White cement has the same raw materials as the regular kind, but it has little to no iron or manganese. These are the materials that give off the typical grey color.

Some of the portland cement will meet requirements for several types of cement. You might see a bag that says Type I/II on it. This means it will meet the needs of any job that need either Type I or II cement.

Mortar & Stucco

Most of the time, when people reference cement what they actually mean is the mortar. Mortar is a type of material that contains cement. It mixed cement with water, fine sand grains, and lime for extra durability.

The addition of water will trigger the cement’s hardening properties so that it will cure and set. Mortar isn’t as strong as concrete though and isn’t often used as a sole building material. Instead, it’s used as a masonry “glue” that will set stone, concrete, and brick blocks together.

You’ll often find mortar in pre-mixed bags where you only need to add water. Some people will mix it on-site using a cement mixer, or with a shovel in a wheelbarrow or tub.

As with cement, there are different types of mortar for different uses. If you’re working with masonry units or brick, you need to get the right mortar for the job. Some will be too hard and can cause cracking when they set.

Sometimes, people might be referring to stucco. This is a finish applied to the exterior of buildings. It’s applied over brick, stone, or a metal lath that’s attached to wooden frames.

Stucco makes a durable, breathable, durable, low maintenance surface. You can get already prepared commercial stucco mixes. These have combined sand, cement, plasticizers, waterproofing materials, and color pigments.

What is Concrete?

Concrete is a complete build material mix. You use it for patios, foundations, concrete slabs, and any other masonry structure. It’s unique plus point is that it’s very versatile.

To start, it’s a dry mix, then it’s a flexible, pourable semi-liquid that can fit any mold or shape. Once it dries, it’s rock solid and durable.

For a lot of concrete structures, metal reinforcements are in place. This is usually rebar or a wire mesh. It helps strengthen the concrete and will help prevent cracking when it dries.

The simplest form of concrete is a mix of aggregates and paste; or rock and sand. This paste, makeup of cement and water, covers the surface of your fine sand and the coarser rocks. It will bind them together into one mass that resembles a rock cluster called concrete.

This is where it’s a unique trait of plastic-like, liquid-like form when wet and solid, strong form when dry comes into play. It explains why one material has so many different purposes and functions. Concrete can build skyscrapers, bridges, dams, highways, houses, and more. You can now even find environmentally friendly concrete.

There are ready-made concrete mixes that you can buy from the hardware store. These already have the cement, sand, and gravel mix combined together.

These are perfect for the smaller projects or work you need to do around the home. All you will need to do is add the water as instructed. You can use them for resurfacing the driveway, setting fence posts, and building small foundations.

For larger projects, you’re better off buying bags of cement and mixing them with the sand and gravel. You can use the wheelbarrow and shovel method, or get a mixer.

Or you can order in premixed concrete that’s delivered by the truckload. This is usually called “ready-mix concrete” for future reference.

Cement vs Concrete: Now You Know

So there you have it! Now you know the difference between cement vs concrete.

Concrete may be the most used material in the world, but it isn’t all that cement is used for. Mortar, stucco, and much more all use cement as a base, and it is important that you know what is what before you start mixing it!

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