Unglazed tile, natural stone and most grout (with the exception of 100% epoxy grout, ready-to-use grouts, and cement grouts with stain-inhibiting additives) are subject to staining if a sealer is not used. Many options exist today when considering a sealer for tile, stone or grout. For glazed ceramic or glazed porcelain tile where protecting the grout is the primary concern, there are “grout sealers” designed for just this purpose.
When choosing a sealer, there can be a huge price variance, normally based on level of performance and longevity. Premium sealers are designed to provide a higher degree of stain resistance and provide a longer interval between re-application. Economical sealers usually provide a lower degree of stain protection and require more frequent re-applications.
Sealers can be solvent or water-based. Strict safety precautions should always be considered if a flammable, solvent-based sealer issued. Ventilation is also an important factor when using a solvent-based sealer. If an installation system includes a membrane or tile warming system, always check with manufacturers before using
Sealers can be “penetrating” (impregnating) which are designed to completely penetrate into a porous surface and not change the appearance. They may also be a “coating-type” (topical) which are designed to bond to the tile or stone surface, providing either a matte, semi-gloss or gloss finish. Also, there are sealers designed to darken or colour-enhance some porous tiles and some grouts. Penetrating (impregnating) type sealers should generally be considered if no change in surface characteristics or look is desired (check with manufacturer). Penetrating-type sealers are considered appropriate for the full range of porous tiles, stone and grout. Coating-type sealers are generally recommended for either textured or high- porosity surfaces such as Saltillo, slate orders cotta when a surface sheen is required. Many coating-type sealers are not designed for exterior use. Colour-enhancing sealers are designed for porous tile and grout where the primary purpose is to achieve a darkened colour (wet look).
Regardless of the sealer used, it is always important to make sure the tile, stone and grout surfaces are clean and dry before sealer application. It is also critical to follow product directions completely. Do a test to insure desired results and call the sealer manufacturer’s technical hot line if not sure of choices or options. Important sealer qualities or characteristics to consider include: level of stain resistance; moisture vapour transmission(especially in exterior areas); UV resistance; freeze-thaw stability; slip resistance; chemical resistance; ease of re-application; longevity and finished look provided.
While most surfaces and installations will benefit from the use of a sealer, it is up to the end user or purchaser to determine the need, suitability and overall value of sealing.
High porosity tiles and stones can be stained during the grouting process. To determine if the tile or stone requires a pre-grouting sealer (Grout Release) in order to protect from grout pigment staining and to facilitate grout clean up, it is recommended that a small test area be grouted and cleaned, especially where a contrasting coloured grout will be used. If pre-sealing is needed during installation to protect the tile or stone surface from grout staining, a variety of grout release products are available. Floor manufacturer’s recommendations for application and maintenance.
Care & Maintenance
Given appropriate care and maintenance, properly installed ceramic tile and porcelain should provide a lifetime of beauty and function. Industry professionals, both at the distribution and installation levels, are encouraged to educate the customer or end user on critical issues such as sealing porous tile, stone and grout, slip resistance and basic care of the installation.
Tile and stone installations are typically easy to maintain with frequent sweeping of dry debris and periodic mopping with a soft-headed mop. Tile, stone and grout surfaces should be maintained on a routine basis using a neutral pH cleaner. Acidic cleaners should never be used for routine cleaning as they can damage the surface of sensitive stones and tiles. Products such as vinegar, bleach, abrasive scouring powders and common grocery store cleaners not recommended fertile and stone can be damaging. While these products can appear to work in the short term, proper maintenance is not only important to maintain the hygienic and aesthetic integrity of the installation, but it also keeps the surface from becoming slippery. For textured or rough surfaces, including recessed grout joints, a periodic heavy-duty cleaning is also recommended, using a high pH (alkaline) cleaner. Always test first in a small area to determine desired results.
Given a proper installation, protection and proper maintenance program, the potential for problems is greatly minimized. However, due to faulty installations, neglected maintenance, acts of Mother Nature and numerous other variables, problems may surface that cannot be remedied through normal maintenance. Contact a reputable manufacturer of care and maintenance products for trouble-shooting remedies, products and procedures.
Important tile maintenance procedures
There are three phases in the process of cleaning and maintaining tiled surfaces. General cleaning and problem solving are addressed in the following pages.
DURING TILING AND PRIOR TO HANDOVER
We begin by stressing the importance of protecting tiled surfaces during the laying process and immediately prior to the area being used.
The tile layers are responsible for sweeping the floor prior to commencement and during the installation process, thus removing any grit or debris which may scratch or mark the surface of the tiles.
Regardless of the area you have tiled or the type of tile used, all products require adequate protection during the installation process and prior to handover.
In many instances other tradespersons will have to walk on the finished tiling to work in the area in question or adjacent locations.
Once the adhesive has set, and tiles can be subjected to foot traffic, the owner or builder should ensure that the surface is protected by covering the tiles with an appropriate protective layer – cardboard, plywood, building paper, felt or a proprietary product designed specifically for this purpose. Critically, the floor should be swept and be completely cleaned before the protective layer is applied, and any objects that may scratch the tiles surface should be removed.
In addition, other trades should be advised not to place tools, or tool boxes directly on the surface of the tiles. Care must be taken to avoid spills of plaster or paint. Loose sand and cement particles can scratch or mark tiles. Blue metal aggregate can scratch the hardest ceramic surfaces, when trapped in the soles of work boots.
Care should be taken to avoid dropping heavy objects, or dragging ladders and other equipment over the surface of the tiled floor.
Critically the tiled floor should be examined when work is completed, just prior to handover.
GENERAL CLEANING OF TILE SURFACES
Ceramic floor and wall tiles generally require minimal levels of care and maintenance. Nevertheless, it is important to understand how a particular tile surface should be cleaned and maintained. For example, the maintenance of regular glazed tiles, is different to the processes required to clean and maintain unglazed materials. Fortunately those processes are relatively simple to understand and apply.
Glazed Floor Tiles
Traditional glazed ceramic tiles and glazed porcelain floor tiles laid in residential homes require minimal maintenance. Tiles laid in commercial environments or public spaces will require daily cleaning and maintenance. In a residential environment the levels of cleaning and general maintenance are determined by the location of the floor tiles and the volume of foot traffic and general wear and tear the surface is subjected too. In a busy home with multiple occupants, including children and pets daily maintenance may be required. In an apartment where grit and dirt are rarely transported to the apartment’s interior, or in a home occupied by minimal occupants, maintenance can be carried out on a weekly basis. Regardless of circumstances the cleaning and maintenance processes required to clean and maintain glazed ceramic tiles or glazed porcelain tiles are identical, only the frequency will vary, in response to the number of occupants and the general levels of foot traffic. Tiles are best kept clean by adopting the following simple steps and procedures.
In circumstances where ceramic surfaces may be subjected to dirt or grit, brought in from the street or the garden, ensure that an appropriate entry mat is provided, or change footwear.
Immediately wipe-up spills of any liquid that may create a slip hazard or dry and prove difficult to remove.
Sweep floors with a soft broom.
Vacuum when necessary.
Wash floors with a solution of warm water and a soapless pH neutral cleaner.
Frequently a combination of light sweeping and cleaning with a microfiber wipe is all that is required.
If there is a build-up of grease the occasional use of a detergent which incorporates an organic solvent or a highly-alkaline detergent (pH9) will resolve the issue. Note that overuse of acidic cleaning materials may attack the grout or produce a haze on the surface of the tiles.
Textured Glazed and Unglazed Floor Tiles
There are a variety of unglazed ceramic surfaces which include:
Natural (matt) porcelain
Natural (matt) finished porcelain tiles are generally impervious, which means that their surface is highly resistant to liquid spills and subsequent staining or a build-up of grime or dirt. However, in certain circumstances these surfaces are sealed to add a layer of protection which makes it easier to remove residual material. Most terracotta tiles are relatively porous, so they are sealed to prevent spills of liquid being absorbed into the body of the tile. Quarry tiles are generally impervious, but may be sealed to permit easy cleaning and removal of residual grime. The general cleaning processes used to clean and maintain unglazed surfaces are:
Use a pH neutral soapless cleanser. Avoid using detergents which are excessively acidic or alkaline, as they can cause irreversible damage to unglazed ceramic surfaces. In particular, avoid use of cleaners which contain wax, sodium silicate, or other additives which create a sticky residue that attracts dirt.
Sweep, dust-mop or vacuum the surface.
Dilute the chosen cleanser in warm water and apply using a mop and bucket. Large spaces may be cleaned using a mechanical scrubbing machine. Allow the cleansing solution to remain on the floor for sufficient time to penetrate and soften dirt or accumulated grime. Do not allow the solution to dry. Agitate, the surface mechanically or with an appropriate scourer or brush to disperse contaminating material, prior to completely removing the cleaning solution, using clean water. When using hand held or mechanical scourers, it is advisable to use ‘white’ pads to avoid scratching.
Rinsing dirt water should be replaced frequently.
Remember, the final application of clean water actually removes the dirt.
Remove any excess water with a wet-vac or mechanical scrubbing machine that has a suction function.
In wet areas like showers and around swimming pools a build-up of various contaminants like body fat, oils, soap residue and liquid spills may occur. In humid conditions organic growth, algae and mould may appear. These potential contaminants can be removed with an appropriate, heavy-duty (problem solving) cleaner.
Slip-Resistant Tile Surface
Textured or profiled slip-resistant tile surfaces may attract various fibres, organic dirt and liquid substances which create a gradual build-up of grime. These surfaces will require regular maintenance, including the use of a rubber stubble or micro-fibre broom, to agitate and remove potential contaminants.
Clean large floor areas with a rotary or cylindrical scrubbing machine.
If the machine features a ‘suction drying’ function, ensure it is switched off.
This will allow the water/cleaning solution to penetrate and dissolve layers of dirt and grime.
Wait 15 minutes before repeating the scrubbing process, using water only.
Rinse the floor thoroughly.
The final rinse should remove all residue particles of dirt/grime.
In some instances use of a high power water-jet will be sufficient to remove loose particles of dirt. This will not damage the tiles, but it may erode cementitious grouts if the process is conducted regularly.
Many leading European and Asian manufacturers produce polished porcelain tile. In layman’s terms, the manufacturer obtains a bright, highly polished, marble-like surface by grinding down and then polishing the hard surface of natural, unglazed porcelain.
In some instances, the polishing process may open micro-pores in the surface of the tile, which attract a build-up of grease or grime, or permit spills of liquid contaminants to seep into the surface of the tile creating a stain which may be difficult to remove.
Note: It is worth repeating that any spills should be wiped up as quickly as possible.
Sealing Polished Porcelain Tiles
Many manufacturers state that their polished porcelain tiles comply with International Standards Organisation (ISO) 13006 – 2013; 4.3.2-2(i), which classifies products that have a water absorption rate that does not exceed 0.5 per cent – Class B1a. In theory these products should not require sealing. Unfortunately, some porcelain tiles although still within the required standard limits, have slightly higher rates of porosity which may result in a build-up of grime, dirt, discolouration and in some instances staining caused by liquid penetration. Many responsible tile retailers recommend that all polished porcelain tiles are pre-sealed prior to laying. In addition, a number of tile manufacturers pre-seal products as part of the production process. Your tile supplier will be fully aware of the best way to protect the surface of the polished porcelain products you purchase. If they advise that you seal the product, you should follow that advice. If in doubt, you can conduct a simple test by using an eye-dropper to deposit small amounts of potential contaminants on the surface of a tile. Deposit small samples of red wine, ink, cooking oil and lemon juice on a tile’s surface, leave the substances on the floor for 15 to 20 minutes and then try to wipe the residue away. If any of them have seeped into the surface or leave a visible stain, the polished porcelain requires sealing.
The sealing process is relatively simple, some tile layers will carry out the task, or a sealing specialist can be consulted. Your tile supplier will undoubtedly recommend and probably supply an appropriate sealer.
In general terms, the maintenance of polished porcelain is similar to the processes used to clean and maintain regular glazed ceramic tiles and glazed porcelain. Sweep the surfaces regularly, mop carefully with a minimal amount of water, and vacuum or use micro-fibre wipes as required.
By sealing polished porcelain tile it is easier to clean and maintain the surface. The manufacturer of the sealing product will also supply products which can be used to carry out general maintenance of the sealed surface.
Always consult your tile supplier in relation to choosing appropriate seal and maintenance products. A choice will be made between topical sealers which sit on the surface and penetrating sealers. The latter type is usually preferred with polished porcelain.
Refer to the following chapter on Problem Solving for further advice.
Glazed Wall Tiles
Kitchen wall tiles can be splashed during food preparation and cooking processes, however these marks will not pose a problem, especially if they are promptly wiped away. Bathroom wall tiles particularly in the shower where soap and shampoo residues will eventually develop a feint film which will detract from the overall appearance. In some instances, the water supply may contain calcium carbonate or calcium sulphate, which can create a white stain. A light wipe with a soft cloth will remove soap, shampoo and calcium before it dries. If a problem develops it can be easily resolved by using warm water with a pH neutral cleaner, which will provide a clean, shining surface. Harsh and abrasive cleaners should be avoided at all costs, especially on decorated feature tiles as some feature tiles contain a metallic finish that can be easily scratched. Your tile retailer can recommend a suitable cleanser.
In spite of the fact that ceramic tile is the simplest surface to clean and maintain, problems can occur. We have seen that tiles require minimal levels of maintenance. In some instances, problems are created by using inappropriate and often unnecessary cleaning and cleansing materials or by allowing stains (staining agents) to set on the tile surface for long periods. Light sweeping, light mopping with clean water and a pH neutral soapless cleanser, if absolutely necessary, will suffice. In many instances, this task only needs to be completed once a week. Specialist acidic or alkaline cleaners should only be used to resolve complex staining problems, which rarely occur in private dwellings. Avoid using cleaners which contain wax, sodium silicate, or any additives which may leave a sticky film on the floor that may attract dirt and a subsequent build-up of grime. Many of the problems outlined below relate to tiles which have a textured or structured surface, these are usually unglazed products.
This problem can occur on a variety of tiled surfaces. It is usually created when tile layers hastily complete the grouting process, without washing off residue grout effectively. Some contemporary ceramic products have slightly textured surfaces which can encourage grout to cling to the surface of the tile.
Tile layers should use a clean sponge and clean water to carefully remove excess grout, without dragging grout out of the grout joints. To do this effectively it is important not to commence the wash off process too soon. In addition, residue grout should be completely squeezed out of the sponge, and the water should be changed frequently.
On Warm days grout will dry quicker and will be more prone to adhering to the tile’s surface. In those circumstances, smaller areas should be grouted to avoid sections drying too quickly, leaving behind a feint residue that later proves difficult to remove.
In most instances a light grout bloom will become evident, this can be removed using a dry rag. If grout has not been washed off effectively, this bloom or haze may reappear making the surface look smeared, dirty or dull.
If this problem occurs, the owner needs to address it promptly, as the longer it is left unattended the harder it becomes to remove the residue grout film, which will attract additional grime.
In some instances, latex contained in grout improvers may be part of the problem, the cementitious element of the grout will have been removed, but feint traces of the latex element of the mix may remain.
At this point, many home owners resort to using general household cleaners which may contain a mild alkaline or mild acidic element, which may not prove successful. Latex is usually removed by using an appropriate solvent to release it from the surface. The floor should be thoroughly cleaned with water prior to application of the solvent.
Epoxy grouts are more difficult to remove. These should always be applied and cleaned strictly following manufacturer recommendations. Never leave residues on the tile surface.
Most epoxy grout manufacturers have specific dedicated products for the cleaning.
Fortunately, most of our leading manufacturers of adhesive and grout produce problem solving cleaners which will resolve the problem. If grout haze occurs, talk to your tile supplier for advice and consult with the tile layer to ascertain which grout was used.
Once the floor is cleaned it will no longer be necessary to use these special cleaners on a regular basis.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. Conduct a test on a small out of the way section of the floor to check that the result is satisfactory.
This may occur in areas which lack adequate ventilation, it may be necessary to install an extractor fan. Mould can be removed by scrubbing with a scourer, using one of the following - bicarbonate of soda, methylated spirits, cloudy ammonia or epsom salts.
The popularity of porcelain products encouraged manufacturers to apply a light wax coating to the surface of each tile, to protect the surface of the tile from scratching during the packing, in transit and installation processes.
The majority of these wax coatings are water soluble, they can be removed using a water-based alkaline cleanser.
Before removing solvent based waxes let the cleaner dwell on the tile surface for 10 to 15 minutes to dissolve the wax. Your tile retailer can give you guidance.
You should check if your chosen porcelain tile has been coated with wax, your tile layer should be alerted prior to installation.
Overuse of High Alkaline Detergents
As previously stated, clean water and a mild pH cleanser will be suitable for cleaning the majority of tile surfaces. Use of alkaline or acidic cleaners will often create problems. Alkaline cleaners should only be used to remove specific stains, they should not form a part of the regular maintenance programme.
This problem usually occurs in external applications of unglazed ceramic materials and natural stone.
Efflorescence usually appears on the surface of a tile or around the joints in the form of a white powder. This unsightly problem is created by the transmission of liquid salts from below the tiles to the surface. In most new installations the residue can be swept or vacuumed away. The presence of excessive moisture is the prime cause of the problem.
In some instances the problem reoccurs, always remove every trace promptly to prevent hardening and subsequent calcification.
Specialist cleansers are available to treat the problem. These can only be employed when the source of the moisture is identified and if the problem persists a specialist should be consulted.
Guide to Stain Removal for Unglazed Tile
Unglazed surfaces undoubtedly present the greatest problem in regard to staining, as it is generally harder to remove liquid spills or other marks from textured or rough surfaces. Once again emphasis is placed on early removal. In addition unglazed products are frequently used externally because of their enhanced slip-resistance.
It is probably wise to seal unglazed, matt finished products laid externally around pools and in entertainment areas.
Listed below are some of the remedies which can be used to treat stains on unglazed tiles.
STAINCLEANSER TYPE Daily Cleaner ph neutral cleaner ` Cooking fats and oils` Solvent based cleaner Ink Acid based cleaner, Acetone Rust and Oxides Acid based cleaner Rubber Solvent based cleaner Ice cream Solvent based cleaner Paint Solvent based cleaner Coffee Alkaline based cleaner Wax Alkaline based cleaner Linseed oil Alkaline based cleaner
Note: Always read the manufacturer’s instruction carefully and test a small area first to check effectiveness.
Correct Use The wrong cleaner is often chosen and in many instances cleaners are used incorrectly so adopt the following procedure.
Select the correct cleaning agent.
Apply the cleaner and allow it to dwell on the surface
(The chemicals need time to do their work – usually between 5-10 minutes)
Scrub and agitate the area to be cleaned
Periodically extract the dirt (and cleaning agent) from the surface (by wet or dry vacuum cleaner, squeegee or an absorbent cloth) to determine results.
(NOTE: Heavy duty cleaners must be extracted every time they are used).
Rinse the area with clean water. (Any cleaning agent left on the surface can accelerate contamination of the area).
To avoid long term issues immediately wipe-up spills of any liquid which could cause a stain.
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