The Difference Between Stoneware, Porcelain, and Other Dinnerware

Dinnerware in cabinet
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When you’re shopping for dinnerware, whether casual or formal, there is a wide variety of dinnerware materials from which to choose. Porcelain, stoneware, bone china, and other materials have their own qualities, features and, yes, drawbacks.

To make the best decision, it’s a good idea to learn about the properties of each material. Use this guide so you'll be better educated when you are shopping for dinnerware.

Earthenware

Often less expensive than other types of dinnerware, earthenware is ceramic that has been glazed and fired. It is what is typically used for hand-painted designs and has a thick, heavy and rustic look and feel. It’s not as durable and strong as other types of dinnerware and is prone to chipping.

It is often porous, which means it could stain or absorb liquid, so avoid leaving it submerged in water. Check with the manufacturer, but most glazed earthenware is dishwasher safe and can be used in the microwave.

Brands to Look For: Tabletops Unlimited

Stoneware

Another type of fired ceramic dinnerware, stoneware is usually a little more durable than earthenware because the clay has vitreous (glass) material added to it for strength. The body of stoneware is thicker and more opaque than finer materials like porcelain and china and can be finished with a variety of glaze textures, such as shiny, satin or matte.

It is typically used in casual, everyday place settings. Most good-quality stoneware is very versatile to use and to maintain. It can go in the microwave, dishwasher, oven, and freezer (of course, check with the manufacturer for the specific qualities of your dinnerware). It should not be exposed to sudden or extreme temperature changes. Ironstone is a type of stoneware.

Brands to look for include Pfaltzgraff, Dansk (Lenox), and Fiesta (Homer Laughlin).

Porcelain or China

Porcelain and china are both terms that refer to dinnerware made of a fine-particle clay, typically comprised of feldspar, kaolin, and quartz, that is fired at a higher temperature. This makes the resulting dinnerware extremely durable and nonporous.

This process also allows the body to be thinner and more delicately constructed, which gives it a translucent appearance, as well as allowing for shaped details to be incorporated into the design of the body.

Most fine china is dishwasher-, microwave-, and oven-safe unless the manufacturer indicates otherwise. China that has a gold, silver or platinum border should not be microwaved, and lemon- or citrus-scented detergent might damage metal accents.

Porcelain often has a more upscale look, lending itself to more formal dining occasions, but it also can be used every day to make any meal a little more elegant. 

Brands to look for include Lenox, Noritake, and Villeroy & Boch.

Bone China

Bone ash (which is, yes, actually made from animal bones) is combined with porcelain clay and fired at a slightly lower temperature than porcelain to produce a material that is very lightweight, translucent and delicate in feel, with a milky appearance.

Despite its fragile appearance, this is actually the strongest and most durable ceramic dinnerware. Most bone china is dishwasher safe and, unless it has metallic banding, it can go in the microwave and oven as well.

Bone china, as with porcelain, can be used daily or reserved for a more formal dining occasion.

Brands to look for include Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, and Mikasa.

Vitrified Glass

Vitrified glass is glass, usually opaque in the case of dinnerware, that has been fired at an ultra-high temperature so that it is nonporous and extremely durable.

The best-known vitrified glass dinnerware is Corelle, which is a proprietary glass laminate that is virtually indestructible—it will not break or chip even when dropped onto a hard floor.

Vitrified glass is safe to use in the dishwasher and microwave, and is ideal for children or outdoor use because of its durability.

Look to the Corelle brand for vitrified glass.

Melamine

If you're looking for unbreakable plates, Melamine is the way to go. This plastic material is lightweight but has a sturdy, inflexible feel and a glossy finish. It is virtually indestructible and is ideal for children or outdoor use.

It is usually dishwasher safe on the top rack, but not suitable for the microwave or oven, and should not be heated with food in it. Melamine is BPA free.

Zak! Designs is a good brand for Melamine dinnerware.