Cement Board vs. Drywall: Which to Use?

Cement Board vs. Drywall: Which to Use?

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If you are planning to do underlayment for tiles, building walls, or anything similar, there are a lot of options at your disposal. Two popular materials here include cement board and drywall. However, these two choices are two very different.

Today, we want to figure out exactly what cement board and drywall are, what makes them different, and what they’re both best used for.

Cement Board and Drywall: The Basics

Before we talk about similarities and differences, let’s first figure out what exactly both cement board and drywall are.

Is Cement Board the Same as Drywall?

No, cement board and drywall are not at all the same things. While they do both come in panels that are relatively easy to use, that’s more or less where the similarities end.

What Is Cement Board?

Cement board is an extremely hard panel that is formed using a cement slurry combined with a reinforced fiberglass mesh in the middle. Due to it being made out of real cement, this material is extremely hard, dense, and durable. Cement board generally comes in sheets that are 3 x 5 feet in size, which makes them ideal for smaller applications such as bathtubs and showers.

Moreover, cement board is extremely resistant to direct moisture, which is why it is often used in bathroom-related applications. It makes for perfect tile underlayment in bathroom walls, especially in the shower areas. It’s also often used for underlayment in countertops, floors, and walls. Cement board is however quite costly, and it also takes a good deal of effort to install.

What Is Drywall?

We then have drywall, which may also be known as wallboard. This is made by taking a gypsum slurry that is then compressed, allowed to dry, and covered with a paper facing. Drywall is the more modern version of the traditional lath and plaster method of making interior walls.

Drywall sheets may come in various sizes, although one of the most common sizes is 4’ x 8’. Their larger size generally makes them ideal for use in larger spaces, such as for making walls. Drywall is also ideal in terms of being a good DIY method, as cutting it and installing it is fairly easy. There is also the fact that drywall is rather affordable.

Now, regular drywall is not overly moisture or mold-resistant, but there are special types of drywall designed just for this purpose, which means that it can also be used for underlayment in showers and bathtubs.

Similarities of Cement Board and Drywall

Now that we know what both cement board and drywall are, let’s figure out what makes them similar, if they even have any similarities at all.

1. They’re Fairly Easy to Cut

One of the similarities shared by both drywall and cement board is that you can cut them at home by yourself. Although one might be slightly more difficult to cut and install than the other, both do allow for at-home DIY use. It is possible to do your own underlayment with either drywall or cement board. As long as you have the necessary knowledge and tools, it’s not all that difficult.

For more information on this, you might want to learn how to cut cement board.

2. They May Be Used for the Same Applications

Really the only other similarity shared by both of these building materials is that they may be used for the same applications. Specialized moisture-resistant drywall might be used as tile underlayment in bathrooms and kitchens, just like cement board.

Drywall could also be used to underlay floors, walls, and roofs, as well as countertops, which can also be said for cement board. Although, which one you use for specific jobs does depend, as both have their advantages and disadvantages. This really brings us to our next section, which is all about the differences between these two materials.

Differences Between Cement Board and Drywall

Now that we know what makes cement board and drywall similar, let’s determine what makes them different.

1. Composition

Drywall is made out of gypsum and paper facing, whereas cement board is made out of a cement slurry and fiberglass reinforcement mesh. As you can see, they are two completely different things that are made out of very different materials.

2. Strength and Durability

Another major difference here has to do with strength and durability, especially in terms of weight-bearing capabilities and impact resistance.

Because cement board is very hard and dense, it does also have a big deal of impact resistance and can bear a good deal of weight.

Generally speaking, cement board is much stronger and more durable than drywall. This is why it makes for such a good floor underlayment option. It’s not like drywall is weak per se, but it’s certainly not as durable as cement board.

3. Moisture and Mold Resistance

Another major difference here is that, because cement board is extremely hard and dense, and because it is not made with any organic materials, it is also extremely resistant to moisture, mold, pests, and other such things.

It’s not going to absorb any water when it gets wet, therefore it won’t degrade and crumble, and it won’t warp either.

These are issues that drywall does often suffer from, as it can absorb some moisture. Once it starts to absorb moisture, it starts to crumble, and may also develop mold. There are special types of moisture-resistant drywall out there, but they’re still not as moisture resistant as cement board.

4. Ease of Cutting and Installation

Drywall is very easy to cut with a utility knife, as well as many other tools. You also only need taper head drywall screws to install it. However, with cement board, you need a heavy-duty masonry cutting blade, as well as special decking screws or roofing nails to install it.

5. Sizes

The most common size of cement board is 3’ x 5’, whereas the most common size of drywall is 4’ x 8’.

6. Cost

Your average cement board panel is going to cost you anywhere between two to four times as much as your average drywall panel, depending on the retailer.

7. Appearance and Ease of Painting

The advantage that drywall has is that it does tend to look quite nice, and is also very easy to paint, which is not really true of cement board. This is why we generally wouldn’t use cement board for actual walls, but rather just for wall underlayment.

Do You Need to Have Drywall Behind Cement Board?

No, you do not need to have drywall behind cement board. In fact, it is actually not recommended to put cement board over drywall. For regular use, such as flooring, you’d put cement board onto a plywood subfloor. For areas that are generally wet a lot, such as in bathtubs and showers, you usually put cement boards right onto the wall studs.

Cement Board vs. Drywall: Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you are going for a cost-effective floor, roof, or wall underlayment, or you want to make surface walls, drywall is recommended. However, if you are underlaying tiles in your bathroom floor, shower walls, or bathtub walls, then cement board is recommended. Due to its water resistance, cement board is also recommended for the underlayment of kitchen counters.

Before deciding, you might also want to read my articles about alternatives to cement board and alternatives to drywall.


Now that you know what exactly drywall and cement board are, and what their pros and cons are, you can make an informed decision between the two.

How Does Cement Board Compare with Other Materials?

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How Does Drywall Compare with Other Materials?

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