When tiling a bathroom or shower, there’s a good reason why we don’t simply attach tiles directly to the drywall and grout/caulk them in place.
That’s because water will inevitably work back there even with the best product and most skilled builders.
A typical paper-covered gypsum board will not handle this well.
It will bulge, weaken and grow mold or mildew.
This is where the cement board comes in. It’s specifically designed to screw straight into your drywall, giving you a solid base to tile over.
It provides numerous benefits as it’s highly water resistant and directly counters mold or mildew growth.
Not all cement boards are made equal, and picking the right brand to keep your shower/bathroom safe is vital.
So today, we’re looking at two of the most popular cement board backings, called DensShield and Durock.
The main difference between DensShield and Durock is in their building materials.
While they are both intended to provide the same function, their different materials give them some unique properties that you should keep in mind.
DensShield is made from a gypsum core, which is then covered on the front and back with fiberglass mats.
Durock is a cement board made from a cement slurry core that is then covered with a polymer-coated glass fiber mesh that wraps around all the edges, completely sealing the core.
There is much debate about which of these two products works the best.
But is there a difference between them?
What is DensShield?
Not to be confused with a cement board, this is a gypsum panel that has been reinforced with fiberglass mats which are then further coated with acrylic and a vapor barrier.
This combines to give it a high resistance to water, mold, and humidity.
This makes it ideal for almost any surface exposed to water, whether it be bathroom walls, showers, floors, kitchen backers, you name it!
It can also be painted, which is equally appropriate for non-wet areas.
This allows you to make the whole room out with this stuff and look excellent and uniform.
What is Durock?
Durock is an extremely popular cement board brand favored by builders and architects who need a durable yet water-resistant board for anything from floors, walls, showers, and even countertops.
It has its patented ‘EdgeGuard’ technology, a sealed border around the edge of the boards that prevents water entry, spinout, and crumbling.
It also shares many features with DensShield, such as water and mold resistance.
Plus, it’s also non-combustible and can easily be screwed directly into your wall studs.
The surface is also textured, which provides it with the highest surface area possible for more secure tile adhesion and security.
What are the differences between DensShield and Durock?
Both products are designed to serve the same purpose and share many similar qualities.
However, builders tend to fall in love with one product and swear by it, so let’s take a deeper look at the specific qualities and see if there’s any real benefit to using one over another.
This is probably the most significant difference between them, as they achieve their intended functions differently.
DensShield uses a moisture-resistant gypsum core, much like regular drywall.
But this is then coated with two fiberglass mats.
Those mats are then treated with an acrylic coating and a vapor barrier to protect everything against water and moisture.
It’s a solid and durable material that cuts cleanly.
Durock uses a different core, a cement slurry that is compressed and then fitted with a fiberglass mesh on either side.
2. The outer texture
As this is intended to have tiles attached, a slightly rougher surface can present a solid foundation to cement tiles.
Durock has a pocketed texture that lies over the fiberglass mesh, providing a firm bonding surface for tiles.
DensShield, on the other hand, is quite a bit smoother.
This makes it less messy to deal with as there is less crumbling and fraying, but it’s not quite as good a surface to tile to.
However, there are almost no real complaints about the DensShields tile backer board’s ability to hold tiles.
So if you decide to use this, you shouldn’t encounter anything as serious as weak tile adherence.
Durock is considered to be the more durable of the two thanks to its dense cement slurry core, but this has the added downside of making it considerably heavier and, as a result, requires a more secure screw attachment to the walls.
Some people even have trouble installing this by themselves and recommend having a second person to help lift the boards into place.
DensShield tile backer board, on the other hand, is far more convenient and lightweight to use, and although perhaps not as durable against something like a strong impact, in terms of just day-to-day wear, it should be more than adequate, and you will find very few complaints about this product.
3. Water and mold resistance
Both of these products are water and mold-resistant, although how they achieve it is slightly different.
DensShield tile backer has an acrylic and a mold/water-resistant layer applied on top of the fiberglass mats to provide exceptional water-repellent qualities.
Whereas Durock is only coated with a fiberglass mesh, the cement board core is still treated to be water resistant.
You shouldn’t have trouble with mold or water damage on either of these products.
4. Edge protection
Even though the entire face of the board is covered with a water/mold-resistant layer, often, these boards need to be cut up a bit to fit into difficult or angled spots.
Whenever a cut is made to the board, it exposes the inner core so that edge is now not as well protected against water.
Durock has an ‘edge protection,’ a layer that wraps around the edge to ensure there is not even a single inch of exposed core, completely sealing everything in.
DensShield tile backer doesn’t have this technology, so you will need to ensure the edges of the boards are caulked with a flexible joint compound to ensure none of those edges are exposed, allowing water to reach the core.
However, if you have to cut through the edge protection of the Durock backer board, you will still need to ensure that it is sealed with a joint compound, exposing the core.
One of the biggest appeals of DensShield is that it can be cut just like drywall.
You score along where you want to cut and snap it off.
It’s straightforward and clean.
Durock backer board is a far more messy affair as you need to hack through that fiber mesh coating and core, which frays a ton and creates a lot of harmful dust that is inhaled or gets into your eyes – make sure you cut it in a well-ventilated area!
6. Screw requirements/installation
DensShield tile backer can be conveniently installed with rust-resistant drywall screws.
Whereas Durock needs very specific cement board screws, which have very little utility anywhere else – meaning if you have any left, they are essentially wasted.
DensShield vs Durock: Are they the same?
Even though both of these products are designed for similar purposes and are somewhat interchangeable, some key property differences might make you prefer one more than the other, depending on your preferences.
- DensShield is made from a gypsum core which is then encased in 2 fiberglass mats coated in an acrylic layer and a vapor barrier. At the same time, Durock uses a cement slurry core coated with two fiberglass mesh layers.
- Durock has a slightly rougher outer layer which is excellent for tile adhesion due to the higher surface area. DensShield is smoother but provides more than the adequate surface for tile adhesion.
- Durock is both heavier and more durable than DensShield. It is a little more challenging to install and can often require two people to lift the heavy boards.
- Both board types are highly water resistant, but the DensShield tile backer achieves this with a vapor-resistant outer layer, while Durock has its cement slurry core treated.
- Denshield has exposed edges that require careful sealing to ensure water cannot reach the core. At the same time, Durock has special ‘edge protection,’ which wraps around the edges to encase the core completely.
- DensShield cuts very cleanly and leaves very little mess, whereas Durock’s mesh fiberglass coating makes it fray and produce a lot of dust.
- Durock can only be installed with specific cement board screws, whereas DensShield is far easier to install as it’s lighter weight and only requires simple water-resistant drywall screws.