Sometimes big cleaning can be big problems. The owner of this facility complained of gloss loss on their floor over the course of several years. It was found that the cleaner they were using was digesting not only the soil but the tile product as well. Make sure you use suitable products!

While not true for ALL polished porcelain, some lighter color polished porcelain can greatly benefit from use of a penetrating sealer. This is often applied prior to grouting to keep the pores exposed in the polishing process from staining.

You ever get that call from the customer who says their floor is “wearing out” after several years of use? How about the one where they can’t keep the grout clean anymore? Most people fail to realize that tile being relatively impervious, hides no soil. Cement grout, being relatively porous, loves soil.

One of the most popular reasons for buying tile is the desire for easy maintenance which is often confused with no maintenance. In carpet, you could easily loose a cup of dirt in the fiber and with wood you would probably have to look twice to find it. Not so with tile, it is right there and readily apparent. In our rush to sell and install tile products we often forget to make any mention of the floor care required to keep their investment in that like new condition. The danger of not addressing floor care at the time of sale is we leave the customer to their own devices. This may sometimes involve Grandma’s tried and true method of vinegar and water or perhaps Grandpa’s method which is sure to be even worse. Not informing the customer about floor care and the correct products to accomplish that task leaves us vulnerable not only to the possibly ill-advised means of others, but it’s almost like inviting a future complaint.

So for this issue, let’s take and look at cleaners and sealers. What is real, what is marketing, and is it really worth the effort?

Sealers are designed to provide a given degree of stain resistance and reaction time to clean it up. They are not stain proofing agents. Spills should be cleaned up as soon as they occur or are noticed. Photo courtesy of Custom Building Products.

Sealers are usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think about grout, stone, or porous tile products. Sealers should be looked at as enhancements, not cures. They don’t fix anything. Contrary to overly optimistic expectations they do not cause the soil to levitate off the tile and grout. They can’t correct nor are they a substitute for correcting bad conditions. If the grout job is poor (soft absorbent joints) due to excessive use of water in the mixing or cleaning, they may provide limited assistance. When the grout joints are deep below the edge of the tile it will continue to collect soil. If the shower is leaking, a sealer is not going to stop the leak or make it waterproof. They are not cures, they are aids to cleaning allowing increased response times. To overly simplify it, sealers work by providing microscopic particles and a carrier (often water), to plug the holes in porous tile, grout or stone.

There are numerous combinations and variations both carriers and fillers dependent on the anticipated pore structure and degree of protection desired. To assume that one product will perform equally well whether used on a very porous travertine or to seal impervious polished porcelain prior to grouting is not always correct. Some are designed for use on specific products and others specific applications. Being a very competitive business you get what you pay for. It is quite reasonable to assume a $12 quart bottle from one manufacturer will not provide the same protection as a $24 pint can from another.

The first step in sealing is cleaning. If the product is new and the floor has been protected or traffic restricted the effort required is minimal. If the porous tile, stone, or grout has been in service it must be thoroughly cleaned to be effectively sealed.

Mopping a floor is not a method of through cleaning; it is a method of minimal soil removal and primarily a means of soil redistribution over a broad area. While a mop picks up very little soil it makes a great application tool for many cleaning products. Cleaners work by loosening and suspending soils for removal. To effectively clean a floor a product must be applied, allowed to dwell on the surface loosening the soil, abraded by the appropriate means, removed by extraction then rinsed followed by more extraction. Sounds like a lot of work and it is. Intensive cleaning is usually done with alkaline floor cleaners. They are favored for their aggressive removal of soils but as previously mentioned; require a good rinse after use, especially if a floor is to be sealed.

For everyday cleaning pH neutral cleaners are the preference when needed. These are most often mild cleaners that do not leave a film or require rinsing. Products to be avoided are those which contain vegetable or other oils. These leave a film coating on the floor and have a dulling effect on glazed tile. As they build-up they can also become very slippery. Acids are products to be used with extreme caution. Acids are not cleaners, they are eaters. They eat away at the finish of both the tile and grout. Many a floor has been ruined by a single use, especially stone. Use of acids on a regular basis with tile products that will tolerate it often end up so abrasive they are nearly impossible to maintain. This includes use of the famous vinegar and water.

If you’re a retailer, nearly every tile manufacture has a care brochure you can hand out. Most commercial projects require floor care be part of the submittal package. For our residential customers, we used to give out sample size containers of appropriate sealers and cleaners at no charge. While far from the biggest tile shop around, in a few short years, we were the number one wholesale purchaser of cleaning products in our area. Not a day went by where someone did not come to the store to purchase cleaning products. Another consequence of that proactive approach is we rarely received a complaint and if we did, easily chagrined the customer with the fact we gave them instructions and free product with their purchase. Try it, you will like it.