Cement vs Concrete: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve never worked with concrete or cement, chances are use the two terms interchangeably.

Cement and concrete are actually two quite different materials.

To make matters more complicated, there are different types of concrete and cement available to consumers today. Each type comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Below, we cover all you need to know.

What is cement?

Cement is a fine, soft, powder-like material. Cement is made from natural materials such as limestone, clay, marl, chalk, silica sand and shale.

When cement is mixed with water it binds to itself and other materials to become hard.

Cement is most commonly used as a binding agent in concrete and mortar; it can also be used to make grout.

Cement is made by heating the limestone and clay to very high temperatures before being ground with other materials such as silica fume or fly ash (called a pozzolan).

What is concrete?

Concrete is a mixture of cement, water, and aggregates.

Aggregates are pieces of materials such as sand, gravel, or crushed stone that make up the bulk of a concrete mixture.

Sand, gravel or crushed stone are the aggregates in plain concrete mix.

However, other kinds of aggregates can be used to give specific properties to the concrete.

For example:

  • lightweight aggregate is often added to provide strength with reduced weight
  • air-entraining agents are added to create tiny voids in the mix that allow it to withstand freezing temperatures without cracking
  • pozzolans help minimize alkali-silica reaction—a common cause of concrete deterioration
  • chemical admixtures like waterproofing agents reduce shrinkage and permeability

What is cement used for?

Concrete is the most common use of cement, and it’s used to hold together the aggregate material that makes up sidewalks, roads, driveways, and buildings.

It is also a key ingredient in mortar, stucco, and tile grout.

What is mortar?

Mortar is another mixture that uses a cement product as its binder, but it has sand added to it. It’s often used to bond bricks, blocks and stones together.

Mortar is generally not used as a building material on its own; rather, it acts as the glue that holds together stone or brick.

What is concrete used for?

As a construction material, concrete is used in the creation and repair of sidewalks, driveways, floors, walls, and bridges.

It’s also used to create large slabs of concrete to serve as a foundation for other construction materials such as timber and brick.

RELATED: Check out our concrete calculator

What’s the main difference between concrete and cement?

The answer is that concrete is simply a mixture of paste and aggregates. The paste is water and cement, while the aggregates are sand and crushed stone or gravel.

Cement, on the other hand, is a fine binding powder (which is never used alone) that acts as a binder for sand and gravel or other aggregates to make concrete or mortar.

Both cement and concrete have their place in modern construction, with each offering unique properties for different projects

Is concrete stronger than cement?

Concrete is much stronger than cement. As explained in the section above, concrete is made of cement mixed with aggregates like gravel, sand, and water.

When cement and water combine, they form a paste. This paste coats each particle of stone and sand, creating concrete.

A chemical reaction called hydration hardens the concrete and gives it strength.

Should you use concrete or cement for a slab?

For a slab, use concrete. It will provide the strength and durability required to last a long time.

Should you use concrete or cement for a driveway?

Concrete is the best choice for a driveway.

While we may say a driveway contains cement, we mean that concrete is made of cement, aggregate, and water.