Concrete and Cement: A Case of Mistaken Identities

Let's review the "concrete" evidence and clear up the confusion once and for all.

Concrete vs. Cement

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It’s an old cliché of the Mafia: A fellow gets on the wrong side of La Cosa Nostra only to wind up wearing cement shoes at the bottom of a river. Well, those shoes may be made of cement, but little else in the world is composed of cement and cement only. Concrete, however, is everywhere. It’s even in the large, rotating drums of those ubiquitous vehicles we inaccurately refer to as cement trucks. It’s not surprising that people are always mixing up these sedimentary mixes, which look alike and behave similarly. To help you keep them straight, we’ve looked at them side by side—cement vs. concrete—to call attention to the solid differences between the two.

Cement itself is made from calcium and silica-rich materials, such as limestone and clay.

Its unique adhesive properties make it an excellent binding agent, but on its own, cement is prone to cracking.

There is cement in concrete.

Here’s one of the main reasons cement and concrete are so often confused. That’s right; when cement mix is blended with water, it creates a paste. And when that paste is combined with aggregates like gravel and sand, the result is what we know and love as concrete.

Concrete is more durable than cement.

Yes, concrete can last hundreds of years, but cement is much less durable. To use an analogy, cement is to concrete as milk is to ice cream. Sure, ice cream has milk in it, but it isn’t milk. It’s actually much better.

RELATED: 8 Surprising Reasons to Bring Concrete Indoors

Cement vs. Concrete - Tools

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Concrete works well in larger projects, while cement is more often used in smaller jobs.

One of the strongest and longest-lasting materials known to man, concrete is used to build schools, bridges, sidewalks, and countless other structures. But you don’t need a hard hat to have success with concrete. Amateur handymen use it for DIY projects of all kinds, among them landscape edging, kitchen countertops, and front walkways. Cement, by comparison, is used mainly in smaller jobs (for example, grouting and specialized masonry) and in the repair of cracked or crumbling concrete.

Home improvement stores offer many types of concrete from which to choose.

Complicating matters further is the fact that you can buy dozens of different kinds of concrete. Each type responds to the demands of specific applications. For example, fiber-reinforced concrete, which resists cracking even under immense loads, ranks as a common choice for driveways. There’s also fast-track concrete, employed when time is of the essence. Before purchasing any concrete, be sure to consult with an expert or do a bit of research so that you understand the pros and cons of all the options available. Start your research with our guide to the best types of concrete for any project.