Differences between concrete, mortar, and cement: Surprising Answer

The terms cement, concrete, and mortar are often used interchangeably and for a common man or woman, it does not really matter much. For them, these are the terms used by a mason and all of them harden to form a strong and flat surface. In reality, all three are different items used in the construction industry, and in this article, we will explore the differences.


We all love our homes, and when we are growing up, most of us have one common vision- to build a home of our dreams. For most people, it is the single most expensive possession in terms of market value and emotional value. A home is a place where we come back to after a hard day’s job. Home gives us security and comfort. A sound and secure home helps us to build our childhood memories and a lot of our personality depends on the home we grew up in.

You will be surprised to know that after air and water, the most consumed resource on planet earth is concrete.

Cement, its composition, and history

Cement binds both concrete and mortar and it is also referred to as Portland cement. It is available in powder form. Cement is never used alone for constructing a wall, and it is a binding powder used even to erect stucco walls and tile-grout. It binds sand and stone chips together and that mixture is known as concrete.

Cement is manufactured by adding limestone, shells, clay, and silica sand in different proportions. After crushing these materials and converting them into a fine powder, it is mixed with many other ingredients including iron ore particles. This mixture is heated at 2700 degrees Fahrenheit. This mass that is produced is known as clinker and this becomes the base to manufacture fine quality cement.

In the modern days, cement was first invented by a mason from England named Joseph Aspdin. This invention happened sometime in the 1800s and he used the stones from the quarries of the island of Portland, in England, Europe. Hence, the hydraulic cement that we use today is known as Portland cement.

Concrete, its usage, and composition

There are two types of cement powder non-hydraulic or hydraulic used in construction sites. Hydraulic cement is more popular than the non-hydraulic version. Hydraulic cement powder is mixed with water and then it acts like a binder. However, it takes a long time for the cement mixture to dry up, and it has to be watered regularly to reduce the cracks.

Concrete first is a dry mixture of cement, gravel, and sand. Then after water is mixed with it, it becomes semi-liquid in texture. This material is used for foundation walls, concrete walls, concrete slabs, etc. while erecting a modern structure. After the concrete dries up, it becomes a rock-solid material that cannot be easily broken with regular machines. One needs to bulldoze a structure made of concrete. The only flip-side of concrete is that it is not fire-resistant and in case of any major fire outburst, it might take hours to douse the fire.

The strength of concrete can be seen today in the bombed cities of Ukraine after the Russian invasion. Even the shelling could not completely bring down all the structures. Some parts of the buildings are still intact and can be rebuilt after the war is over.

Concrete structures are often reinforced with steel or aluminum bars to increase the load-bearing capacity and the strength of the structures.

Usage of concrete in the Ancient civilizations

The mineral hydrates present in the hydraulic cement are very durable and are capable of safeguarding the building from chemical attacks. Ancient Greek civilization lasted between the 12th centuries BC to 600 AD. They used lime (calcium oxide) to bind materials in construction sites and this can be considered as one of the initial usage of non-hydraulic cement.

The Greeks used volcanic tuff to create pozzolan and archeologists have found the presence of this kind of cement in Crete which is the largest Greek island.

Even Roman engineers used crushed volcanic ash and mixed it with lime to create a fine mixture that was similar to the cement which is used today. After it was mixed with water, this material similar to concrete was known as pozzolana. The huge dome of the Pantheon in Rome used these materials and is an example of the architectural superiority of Greeks and Romans in ancient times.

Non-hydraulic cement does not require water to set in. It reacts with the CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the air and dries up. Unfortunately, the production of cement is not very eco-friendly and it is responsible for about 4% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Mortar, its composition, and usage

Mortar is a mixture of cement and sand. It is not used to create walls. It is used only as an adhesive to join the bricks. After the water is mixed with this mixture of cement and sand, it becomes usable. If you go to any construction site where the laborers are building the structure with hands, you will see the usage of mortar. You will see them using a putty knife to spread the mortar on one piece of brick just like we spread butter on bread.

Often a cement mixer that rotates mechanically is capable of creating the mortar using cement, sand, and water. A simple shovel can be used to scoop in the mortar mixture and put it on a wheelbarrow. Then water can be mixed to create the mortar semi-liquid solution.


We all hope that you build your dream home soon. With the rising prices of construction materials, engineers and construction consultants are looking for options to make the projects cost-effective. Using drywalls instead of solid concrete walls became the norm in the 1960s. Concrete, mortar, and cement are still being used often. Based on this post, you know the differences between them.