Yes, there is a difference between concrete and cement.
The terms are confusing, especially with so many brands of mixes.
Some people use the word concrete when they mean cement, and vice versa. And since the terms are used interchangeably, it may seem like they are the same material.
As someone who works with concrete almost daily, I often get asked if there is a difference. I wanted to answer it in detail here to help end some confusion.
What Is Cement?
Cement is the main ingredient in concrete, and concrete can’t exist without cement.
It is a binding agent that turns into a paste when combined with water. But it needs an aggregate added to achieve that binding effect.
Cement and water alone will not bind (or glue) anything together.
Cement will harden because the compounds in cement will bond to water molecules with the addition of water.
It goes through a hardening process through this chemical reaction called hydration.
Cement paste, with sand or a coarse aggregate like gravel or crushed stone, will glue together to produce a concrete mixture.
In summary, concrete is a material that contains cement combined with any aggregate.
The Ingredients In Cement
The most common type of cement is Portland cement. In fact, it is used worldwide.
The name portland cement is a misnomer, as it is not the brand name of a cement mix; it’s actually a generic term. Portland cement also doesn’t come from Portland, Oregon.
Portland cement was named after a type of limestone called Portland stone from the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England.
In addition to limestone, portland cement’s other key ingredients are clay and silica or 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 production, they will place these ingredients in a kiln, heat them to a very high temperature, and grind them to a fine powder. The final product is cement.
Types of Cement
Per the Portland Cement Association, there are eight 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.
In this article, you can dig deeper into different mix types; I tested 6 different concrete mixes to compare color, texture, sheen, etc., between them.
Aggregate Materials In Concrete
Although sand is the most common aggregate in cement, did you know you can use just about anything as an aggregate?
This article will help you calculate how much aggregate to use in your own Portland cement DIY concrete crafts projects.
Some concrete mixtures contain just one of these types or can be a mixture of aggregates.
These are some ideas for some of the less uncommon aggregates you can use. You’ll see these used in DIY/ crafts projects.
These are the typical aggregates that are in concrete.
• Crushed stone
• Pea gravel
• Sanded beach glass
• Peat moss
Check out this hypertufa planter tutorial for types of aggregate to use in hypertufa mixes and cement mixture ratios.
Uses For Concrete As a Construction Material
Concrete is an incredibly durable material that is both inexpensive and widely available.
It makes it easy to see why it’s such a popular building material.
Construction projects use concrete for structures that support buildings, walls, and even bridges.
Also, sidewalks, driveways, and patios are made from concrete.
Typical Uses Of Concrete In DIY Projects
Concrete is cheap and widely available, so DIY’ers love using it for many types of small projects you can think of.
Typically, when doing smaller projects, you’ll want to look for cement or concrete mixes that either have sand pre-mixed or you can add sand yourself.
You should avoid a mix with larger aggregates in them.
The reason is that smaller projects typically use molds with narrow cavities, and the mix needs to flow into the voids. So look for mixes that only contain sand.
Is Mortar Different Than Cement or Concrete?
Mortar is generally the same as cement because it contains the same ingredients. However, mortar mixes are often formulated to be quite thick.
Mortar has a much higher cement ratio than concrete and can accept much more water.
This texture creates a good bond between bricks and other masonry products.
So, as you can see, there aren’t any significant differences between concrete, cement, or even mortar, just an ingredient overlap.
Things To Know About Mixes Available 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 regarding 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 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 to improve flowability, using less water and strengthening the concrete.
- Typically, bags labeled “cement” won’t have any aggregate, and a mix labeled concrete usually has aggregate.
Get detailed help here on choosing the best mix for your project.
And for those who live outside the US or Canada, get recommendations on the best mix in your location.
Cement vs Concrete FAQs
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