The Biggest Differences Between Cement and Concrete

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Reviewed by Matt DiBara
Updated January 7, 2022
Walkout patio with concrete floor
Photo: Iriana Shiyan / Adobe Stock

Cement and concrete are not synonymous like you may have believed

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

The terms “concrete” and “cement” often get used interchangeably, but there’s a concrete explanation to debunk this two-way misnomer. Rarely used on its own, cement is actually a key ingredient in concrete mix, along with gravel, sand, and sometimes other materials. When mixed with water, it creates wet, workable concrete. “This is not to undermine the importance of cement, which gives the concrete mix it’s hard and durable characteristics when cured,” says Matt DiBara, Expert Review Board Member and owner of DiBara Masonry.

What’s the Difference Between Cement and Concrete?

It’s hard to say when the confusion happened between these two building materials, but concrete and cement were never synonymous. You probably played hopscotch on a concrete surface as a kid, while cement typically resembles a fine consistency like flour used to bake a cake. In other words, cement is not such a great chalk-drawing surface, nor would you find it in its raw form out in the wild.

What Is Cement?

As mentioned before, cement is not a hard, solid surface. In fact, it is almost never used on its own. Instead, it acts as a binder to create different building materials—such as concrete or mortar for bricks. 

Where You Can Find It 

You may find it on its own used as grouting or to repair cracking concrete.

When It’s Used

The average homeowner typically won’t use cement except to make concrete or to make repairs in cracked concrete.

Reasons for Choosing It 

You typically won’t choose cement over concrete unless you have a specialized reason for doing so. Remember, cement is in concrete, so typically you’ll just be using it to make a concrete mixture.

Maintenance and Durability  

Cement is much less sturdy than concrete, so that’s just another reason why you’d typically want to pick concrete.

What Is Concrete?

Concrete is the hard, composite surface you’re most accustomed to, and it wouldn’t exist without cement. Your mom’s garden statues? Concrete. The hard, textured walking surface around your neighborhood swimming pool? Also concrete.

In most applications, raw cement gets mixed with gravel, sand, and sometimes other substances. Once it's ready for use, a specific amount of water turns it into pourable concrete, which then dries into a hard surface.

Where You Can Find It 

As mentioned above, so many surfaces are made with concrete, including concrete slab patios, concrete patio pavers, foundations for homes, stepping stones, staircases, sidewalks, and driveways.

When It’s Used

Again, you can make plenty of durable outdoor (and indoor!) materials using concrete, and you’ll typically choose this over cement.

Reasons for Choosing It 

Concrete can be used in many more applications and in larger projects than cement can, making it the obvious choice for nearly any project.

Maintenance and Durability 

Concrete is much sturdier than cement, so that’s just another reason why you’d want to choose it.

Concrete Reasons for Choosing Concrete Over Other Materials

Though we’ve spent a lot of time comparing concrete and cement, you should know that concrete also comes out on top when compared to many other building materials. Where many other materials would rot or break down, concrete is hardy enough to handle a heavy load. For example, investing in the cost to install a concrete wall can provide a durable retaining structure for your yard or a resilient load-bearing surface for your basement. Nothing else really comes close.

And while it may not seem like the most attractive option, concrete can also be fairly customizable. Here are some interesting and beautiful ways to finish concrete:

  • Colored glazes/stains on top

  • Mixing different colors into the concrete

  • Acid etching

  • Brushing with a broom for a non-slip texture

  • Salt finishing, which leave decorative holes in the concrete 

  • Using stamps and colors to mimic other materials, like granite or cobblestone

One more thing to note about concrete: It’s quite repairable in many cases, which can save you a lot of money versus rebuilding an entire surface. Let’s say your sidewalk develops an unsightly and dangerous crack. Rather than scrapping the whole surface, you would simply front the cost to fix the concrete sidewalk. That way, everyone avoids getting hurt (including your wallet).

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.