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What is the Difference Between Concrete and Cement?

By R. Kayne
Updated: May 17, 2024

The primary difference between concrete and cement is that concrete is a composite material made of water, aggregate, and cement. Cement is a very fine powder made of limestone and other minerals, which absorbs water and acts as a binder to hold the concrete together. While cement is a construction material in its own right, concrete cannot be made without cement. The two terms often are incorrectly used interchangeably, but concrete and cement are distinctly separate products.


Cement is made from limestone, calcium, silicon, iron, and aluminum, among other ingredients. This mixture is heated in large kilns to about 2,700°F (1,482°C) to form a product known as clinkers, which roughly resemble marbles. These are ground into a powder and gypsum is added, creating the gray flour-like substance known as cement. When water is added to cement, it triggers a chemical process that allows it to harden.

Portland Cement

There are many different types of cement, but the type most commonly used in construction is Portland cement. Joseph Aspdin of Britain developed the building material in the 1700s, when he found that adding clay to limestone and superheating the mixture allowed the resulting blend to set anywhere. Portland cement is a type of hydraulic cement, which means that when water is added, it starts a chemical reaction that is not dependent on how much water there is. This allows the cement to harden underwater and remain strong even in wet conditions. The different types of hydraulic cement are primarily used in concrete and mortars.


Concrete, in contrast, is a masonry material that uses cement to bind together crushed stone, rock, and sand, also called aggregate. Cement makes up from 10% to 15% of the total mass of concrete; the exact proportions vary depending on the type of concrete being made. The aggregate and cement are mixed thoroughly with water, which starts the chemical reaction causing the cement to harden and set. Before this happens, the concrete mix can be poured into a mold so that it will harden in a specific shape, be it a block or a slab.

The amount of time it takes for concrete to set depends in part on how much gypsum is added to the mixture. This time can be accelerated by adding calcium chloride or slowed by adding sugar. These compounds work by affecting the development of the hardening crystals that form as concrete sets. Concrete that is exposed to freezing and thawing conditions may have additional chemicals added to help prevent cracking.

Concrete and Cement Ratios

The properties of concrete depend a great deal on the ratio of aggregate-to-cement-to-water in the mix. The water-to-cement ratio is the most important, as too little water will make the concrete mix difficult to work with, while too much will weaken the final product. This ratio is calculated with the following equation:

r = 8.33 qH2O / Wc

In this calculation, r is the ratio, qH2O is the quantity of water in US gallons, and Wc is the weight of cement in pounds. A ratio of at least 0.25 is required for concrete to harden, while values of 0.35 to 0.4 are typical for most applications.

Aggregate is also important, as it makes up more than 60% of a concrete mix — and up to 80% in some cases. Larger rocks require less concrete, which means less water is needed, and a stronger final product can be made. Aggregate is also less expensive than cement, so a higher percentage can lower the cost. Generally speaking, a good aggregate has a combination of rocks of many different sizes, with a specific average and maximum size; these stones must be clean and durable, and should not contain clay or other minerals that can absorb water.

Concrete's high rock content makes it extremely durable, and it often is used in swimming pool decking, skyscrapers, subways, and lamp posts, as well as sidewalks, driveways, and roads. The ingredients in both concrete and cement are among the most abundant on Earth, and both can be recycled. Cement production does require a large amount of energy, however, because of the high temperatures required and the industry has been criticized for its contributions to carbon dioxide emissions.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By anon994063 — On Jan 10, 2016

Regarding Post 9 from anon24037:

"How did the Romans heat the compound to 2700° F? There were no old tires back then. (...And any follow-up on whether they used the same recipe as we do today (per kentfx's question)?)"

The Romans didn't make their own Portland cement but used a similar naturally occurring volcanic sand they called "pozzolana". An example of their use of this material to create an early concrete was used to construct "The Pantheon" (a building still standing today in Rome).

By anon989163 — On Feb 22, 2015

Cement is a very fine and powered like particles. Breathing in these crystals deep within the interstitial tissue of the lungs will stress the cells. This leads to weakening and inflammation of the lung tissue which if done long enough can turn into disease, similar to conditions such as emphysema, or even chronic asthma via inflammation.

Once a condition becomes pathological, it rarely is halted and is progressive. Preventive medicine is always the best form of medicine. Wear proper protection

By anon983575 — On Dec 31, 2014

Which one is which? I forget -- do you pour cement or concrete?

By anon952090 — On May 19, 2014

I need more information for a project on both concrete and cement, plus a tiny paragraph about the difference between both of them. I am not asking for much, just a little more information!

By anon342099 — On Jul 17, 2013

I once worked at a company that made concrete pipes.

By anon341425 — On Jul 11, 2013

Is pure cement stronger and more durable than concrete? Is concrete used because the aggregates make the finished product stronger or is it because the aggregates reduce the amount of cement used and is hence cheaper?

By anon315445 — On Jan 24, 2013

A mixture of cement, sand and water is called Mortar. All cement (dry or wet) is dangerous to the health. It is better to take precautions. Simple PPEs do no harm.

By anon310736 — On Dec 26, 2012

Thanks for the info. Cement is very different.

By anon259165 — On Apr 05, 2012

So what do you call the mix of cement and sand used to lay bricks? It is clearly not cement or concrete either since it contains no aggregate.

By anon199739 — On Jul 24, 2011

Thank you for your explanation. It quickly and easily made sense of concrete and cement!

By anon143057 — On Jan 14, 2011

For the person who said breathing concrete dust won't kill you may wish to consult a doctor - always wear breathing protection.

By anon131365 — On Dec 02, 2010

I'm so smart, I didn't even know there was a difference. Thanks for a very nicely done, informative page.

By anon109460 — On Sep 07, 2010

I form, prep, pour, finish, strip and cut concrete without masks and i still have nostrils. the only deal that will affect you is dropping it on your hand foot or whatever. I have breathed concrete dust had wet concrete in my eye. it's really no big deal and you won't die from it.

By anon105741 — On Aug 22, 2010

Can you tell me what are the mechanical construction materials.

By anon100188 — On Jul 29, 2010

cement is binding material only, but cement only plays the vital role in concrete. it gives the good bonding to the fine aggregate and coarse aggregate.

concrete takes the maximum compressive strength in the structural members. T.T. Vinothkumar -- project engineer

By maxhouse17 — On May 26, 2010

Look, concrete gets hard. It gets rock hard, whereas cement only gets hard -- not rock hard. If you get dust in your airways that will also succumb to your secretions and become hard. It will eat away at the core of you nostrils until you no longer have nostrils. At 3 in the morning you will wake to find you have no nostrils. Either way, concrete or cement - in the end no nostrils. Have a good day.

By anon62198 — On Jan 25, 2010

We always wear eye protection with wet cement.

If it splashes in your eye then five minutes could mean very permanent sight damage. Breathing the dust can lead to a sensitization reaction making you allergic to the chrome vi content.

COSHH Manager

By anon53838 — On Nov 24, 2009

I went out in the garage. I'm no expert on concrete or cement, but there are warnings to wear a mask. lung disease and cancer were among the warnings. I always wear a mask when handling the stuff, eye protection wouldn't be a bad idea either. better safe than sorry. I would figure it would take prolonged exposure to cause any real damage though.

as for 2700 degrees, I made a gingery furnace out of concrete and a 5 gallon bucket and a plastic coffee can for the center with a 1/2 steel pipe for an air hole. with that and a leaf blower and some charcoal it got hot enough to melt aluminum. it also melted the bottom out of a mild steel pipe I was using to hold the aluminum one day. :) It shot 3-5 foot lazy flames out without the air and blasted less than 1 foot flames with. It was like a jet engine.

By anon51594 — On Nov 07, 2009

Thanks for the clarification on how cement cures. Is that why they sprinkle newly cemented highway with water?

By anon45248 — On Sep 15, 2009

i didn't know the iron was in concrete. that's really helpful. Thank you!

By mmcmenus — On Jan 07, 2009

The romans probably used pitch, coal, or charcoal for fuel. 2700 degrees is not really hard to come by with any carbon based fuel and good air flow.

By anon24037 — On Jan 06, 2009

How did the Romans heat the compound to 2700° F? There were no old tires back then. (...And any follow-up on whether they used the same recipe as we do today (per kentfx's question)?)

By mmcmenus — On Jan 05, 2009

Cement does not dry, it hydrates. The process of making the cement bakes all of the water of hydration out of the crystalline structure of the components. When water is added it rehydrates the this crystalline structure that is what allows the cement or concrete to harden or cure. This is why cement can cure under water.

As far as being environmentally friendly, after transportation and power generation, cement manufacture is the 3rd largest producer of anthropogenic CO2.

By seadog — On Jan 02, 2009

Although Concrete may last for years and can be reconstituted. The massive amounts of energy used to produce cement clinker is a cause for concern.

Cement factories often burn old tires to reach the extreme heat required for the process.

By anon23736 — On Jan 01, 2009

Are you kidding Celaire? A single exposure to concrete dust won't do a thing. He'll be fine. Some people spend their whole lives around it on a daily basis without so much as a mask. I don't recommend that, but really, one time? Come on.

By mwalsh — On Jan 01, 2009

Hi there, this may sound trivial but concrete is "placed" not poured. Happy New year all!

By kentfx — On Jan 01, 2009

I read some time ago that the concrete made during the Roman mid-empire period has not been successfully duplicated -- the method and formulation aren't known. Is that true?

By anon21679 — On Nov 19, 2008

This was great help! Thank you!!!

By Celaire — On Aug 07, 2008

Hello, a question for you. Not a very important one but thought I'd ask anyway. A friend of mine was drilling a hole in a concrete ceiling to input some alarms. He was directly underneath drilling the hole not wearing a mask or goggles which obviously meant him being covered in the substances etc causing red eyes, sneezing and so forth. He has since learned to wear protection. But, will this cause any problems to his health...???

By mendocino — On Jun 04, 2008

Concrete can also be painted. Back in the day this was a popular "aesthetic" enhancement.

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