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What’s the difference between cement and concrete in home DIY?

If you’re starting a DIY project outside your home – like a new patio, a wall repair or a replacement fence – it’s essential you know the difference between cement and concrete.

They often get confused for being the same thing. Cement and concrete are just two words you can use interchangeable to mean the same thing, right?

Wrong.

Cement and concrete – and mortar – are all very different.

Knowing what those differences are – and understanding the properties of cement and concrete – is essential if you want to make sure you’ve got the right material for the DIY job.

The main difference between cement and concrete

The biggest difference between cement and concrete is that one is made up of the other.

Cement is the ingredient that makes up concrete. A component of concrete.

Think of cement like the flour you use to make a concrete cake. You can’t have a cake without flour, but flour on its own probably won’t be all that useful.

Let’s break that down.

cement or concrete poured from mixer

What is Cement?

Cement is a fine, powdery substance made primarily from limestone, clay, shells and other raw materials that are heated in a kiln to produce clinker. This clinker is then finely ground to produce cement.

The key properties and uses of cement include:

  1. Binding Agent: Cement, when mixed with water, acts as a binding agent. It can adhere to other materials and bind them together… which is why it’s used in concrete and mortar

  2. Hydration: Cement undergoes a chemical reaction called hydration when mixed with water, setting, hardening and gaining strength over time.

What is Concrete?

Concrete is a mixture of cement, water, and aggregates (like sand, gravel, or crushed stone). When these components are mixed together, they form a paste that hardens over time, thanks to the cement’s hydration process.

You can create different types – or grades – of concrete (each suitable for different tasks) depending on type and quantity of aggregates used.

In our ready-mix concrete, we only ever use high quality aggregates for high quality concrete. 

The key properties of concrete include:

  1. Strength: Concrete’s strength comes from the combination of cement and aggregates, making it suitable for heavy loads and structures – like buildings.
  2. Versatility: Depending on the type and proportion of aggregates used, concrete can be tailored for different purposes, from foundations to decorative patios.

  3. Durability: Once cured, concrete is incredibly durable and can last for decades with minimal maintenance.

Cement factory making concrete

Cement vs. Concrete: The Main Differences

When you see those large Goodmix volumetric mixer trucks, that’s not just cement.

The cement has already been mixed with sand and gravel (or aggregates as we call them) and is ready to be poured. Hence the name, ready-mix concrete.

Cement is simply the powder that’s used to make concrete. And generally, if you’re not sure which you’re looking for, it’s probably concrete.

Because:

  1. Composition: While cement is a stand-alone product, concrete is a composite material that includes cement as one of its components.

  2. Use: Cement serves as the binding agent in concrete. On its own, cement is rarely used in construction. In contrast, concrete, with its added aggregates, is used for the vast majority of construction projects, from driveways to bridges.

  3. Strength: Concrete generally has higher compressive strength than standalone cement because it has all those aggregates to reinforce the mixture.

What about mortar?

 Mortar is concrete without the aggregates. It’s a mixture of cement and sand, with water added to make paste that’s used as a glue.

It’s not as strong as concrete, but can be used to hold bricks together, fill in gaps between patio slabs or bind stones together.  

mortar spread on floor

Do I need cement or concrete for my DIY project?

 

For most DIY projects outside of your house, you’ll most likely need concrete.

  1. For driveways, and patios: Concrete is the go-to choice because of its strength and durability.
  2. For garage bases: Again, you’ll need the solid foundation – concrete it is.
  3. For fence posts and foundations: strength and stability is key again, so concrete is what you’ll need.
  4. For small repairs: Depending on the task, you might use a cement-based product or concrete repair mix. These are typically pre-mixed and only require the addition of water.
  5. For brick laying or slab fitting: Here you’ll probably want mortar, that mixture of cement, sand and water for use as a binding agent/glue.

Take a look at the top 5 DIY projects where you might need concrete here.

So what type of concrete do I need at home?

Now you know the difference between cement and concrete, and have a clearer idea of what you need for your home construction project, you’ll probably be asked the next question:

What type of concrete do I need?

The answer is simple.

Ready-mix concrete.

Its pre-mixed to your specifications, delivered to your door, and ready for whatever project you’re working on – from foundations to driveways, bases to posts.

But if you’re not sure what you need – just ask.

We’re one of the leading suppliers of ready mix concrete in Manchester, so if you need cement or concrete for a DIY job, and you’re not sure which – just give us a ring on

0161 711 1165

Or get in touch here.

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