Cement vs Concrete: Here’s The Difference

The terms cement vs concrete are confusing, especially with so many brands of mixes.

Some people use the word concrete when they mean cement, and vice versa. Is there even a difference?

cement vs concrete- pile of cement next to pile of dry concrete mix with vs written in between

Are Concrete and Cement the Same?

There is a difference between concrete and cement. Since people often use the terms interchangeably, it may seem like they are the same material.

Cement is actually the main ingredient in concrete and concrete can’t exist without cement.

Cement is a binding agent that when combined with water, turns into a paste. But it needs an aggregate added to achieve that binding effect.

Cement and water alone will not bind (or glue) anything together. The reason cement will get hard is because with the addition of water, the compounds in cement will bond to water molecules.

It goes through a hardening process through this chemical reaction, which is called hydration.

Cement paste, with the addition of sand and a coarse aggregate like gravel or crushed stone, will bind together to make concrete. So technically, concrete is cement, but is combined with an aggregate.

You can dig a little deeper into this in my Cement Tests article, where I tested 6 different concrete mixes to compare color, texture, sheen. etc between them.

And this article goes into depth about the various ratios of cement to sand to aggregate, and which one is best for concrete crafts.

For details on different ratios used in hypertufa mixes, this large hypertufa planter tutorial has details.

Aggregate Materials In Concrete

cement vs concrete- four types of concrete aggregates in piles, next to each other - pea gravel, crushed rock, sand and gravel

Did you know that you can use just about anything as an aggregate? Some concrete mixtures will contain just one of these types or it can be a mixture of aggregates.

These are some ideas for some of the less uncommon aggregates that you can use. You’ll see these used in DIY/ crafts projects.

These are the typical aggregates that are in concrete.

Large Aggregates:

  • Crushed stone
  • Gravel

Small Aggregate:

  • Pea gravel

Fine Aggregate:

  • Sand

Alternate Aggregates:

  • Sanded beach glass
  • Fabric
  • Peat moss
  • Perlite
  • Vermiculite
  • Newspaper

The Ingredients In Cement

Almost all cement used worldwide is portland cement. The name portland cement is a misnomer, as it is not the brand name of a cement mix, it’s actually a generic term.

It also doesn’t come from Portland, Oregon or any other town named Portland. 

Portland cement comes from limestone and when it was first developed, this type of limestone resembled a limestone called Portland stone that came from the Isle of Portland in Dorset England.

I used portland cement in this cement planter box project.

cement vs concrete- top of photo shows wet cement mix being whipped, bottom shows mix being mixed with masonry spatula

In addition to limestone, portland cement’s other key ingredients are usually clay and silica or silica sand.

Sometimes these will be combined with smaller amounts of iron oxide, iron ore, fly ash, shale or gypsum. The elements within the mix depend on the region.

During the production process, they will place these ingredients in a kiln, and heat them to a very high temperature and grind to a fine powder. The final product is cement.

Types of Cement

Per the Portland Cement Association, there are 8 types of portland cement. They are each made to meet different physical and chemical requirements.

1. Type 1

This is general purpose cement suitable for most uses.

2. Type II

A cement used for structures in water or soil containing moderate amounts of sulfate.

3. Type II (MH)

This cement is moderately sulfate resistant and also generates moderate heat during curing. 

4. Type III

At an early state, this cement provides early strength, typically in a week or less

5. Type IV

Cement that moderates heat generated by hydration used for massive concrete structures such as dams.

6. Type V

This type of cement can resist chemical attack by soil and water high in sulfates.

7. Types IA, IIA, I(MH)A and IIIA 

These cements are used to make air-entrained concrete. They have the same properties as Types I, II, II(MH), and III, except that they have small quantities of air-entraining materials combined with them. –

-SOURCE PCA

Uses For Concrete As a Construction Material 

Concrete is an incredibly durable material that is both inexpensive and widely available. And this makes it easy to see why it’s such a popular building material. 

Construction projects use concrete for things like structures that support buildings, walls and even bridges. Also, sidewalks, driveways and patios are made from concrete.

Typical Uses Of Concrete In DIY Projects

cement vs concrete-4 concrete planters with potted plants

Concrete is cheap and widely available, so DIY’ers love using it for many types of small projects you can think of. You can make planters, side tables, drink coasters, candleholders and more!

Typically when doing smaller projects you’ll want to look for mixes that are cement vs concrete, and either have sand pre-mixed, or you can add sand yourself. You want to avoid a mix with larger aggregates in them.

This is because smaller projects typically use molds with narrow cavities and the mix needs to flow into the voids. So you should look for mixes that only contain sand.

I discuss this more in detail in How to Choose The Best Mix For Your Project.

Things To Know About Cement vs Concrete Mixes You Can Buy At Your Local Store

Shopping for concrete mixes at the store can be confusing, because proper terms are not used in the labeling when it comes to branding.

Each manufacturer will use slightly different materials, especially when it comes to admixtures like plasticizers (better flow) or accelerators (speed up set or cure time).

Here are some tips to help you understand what to look for in selecting a mix.

  • Some mixes come as quick setting
  • Not all mixes that are quick setting are quick curing
  • Depending on the project, cement and sand may be much stronger than many concrete mixes. 
  • You can buy products that will help slow down the set time of concrete
  • You can also buy products that will improve flowability, which means you can use less water, making the concrete stronger
  • Typically bags labeled “cement” won’t have any aggregate in them and a mix labeled concrete usually has aggregate in it.

To learn more, you can read How To Choose The Best Concrete Mix for your project.

Is Mortar Different Than Cement or Concrete?

cement vs concrete- person laying bricks with mortar

Mortar is the same as cement, it contains the same ingredients, but mortar mixes are formulated to be quite thick.

Mortar has a much higher ratio of cement in it than concrete.

And it can accept a lot more water, so that its texture creates a good bond between bricks and other masonry products.

So as you can see, there really aren’t any major differences between concrete and cement, or even mortar, just an overlap in ingredients.

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cement vs concrete- top of photo shows wet cement mix being whipped, bottom shows mix being mixed with masonry spatula
cement vs concrete- top of photo shows wet cement mix being whipped, bottom shows mix being mixed with masonry spatula

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