Hygiene and good health are hot topics nowadays, and when it comes to keeping surfaces healthy and hygienic, the first thing we think about is cleaning. We imagine that if our countertops, floors and frequently touched objects are clean and disinfected, then we’ve won the battle against germs and bacteria. While cleaning is certainly key in maintaining good hygiene in the home, workplace and public areas, it is only the first step in fighting off infection, viruses and disease.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could create a shield against germs, an armor that bacteria could not penetrate — a defense that is long-lasting so that we could clean the surface with the peace of mind that the material is protected at its core? Sealers aid in providing this protection; they are the all-too-often forgotten link in the surface maintenance chain. Let’s take a closer look at the surface care, protection and maintenance chain in detail.

Post-Construction Cleaning

When floors are newly installed, the installation process itself causes staining. As the grout is applied and spread on the material, a whitish residue (grout haze) remains on the surface. Other types of inorganic construction dirt such as dust and sheetrock also form a film and must be removed to reveal the true beauty of the material. Simply washing the surface with water is not enough — it’s important to use a post-installation cleaner that is suitable for the material and grout used, be it cementitious, epoxy, urethane or pre-mixed.

On porcelain, ceramic, mosaic, quartz, terracotta, brick and acid-resistant stone installed with cementitious grout, an acid-based post-installation cleaner is ideal. On the same materials installed with epoxy, urethane or pre-mixed grout, an alkaline cleaner must be used. Finally, on delicate materials such as marble, granite, travertine and polished agglomerates, a neutral cleaner is recommended.

The most important characteristic to consider when selecting a post-installation cleaner: make sure it’s safe for the surface you’re applying it on. The last thing you want is to ruin a precious material in which you invested a lot of money.

Carrying out post-installation cleaning is not only crucial in removing construction dirt, it plays a central role in stain prevention. When a floor is not cleaned adequately, building residue can actually attract dirt and stains, making them difficult to remove and creating streaks that cannot be eliminated with routine maintenance.

Sealing

Absorbent materials and grout, by their nature, contain micropores along the surface and internal structure. These pores facilitate the penetration of water and dirt.

So, what happens if water and dirt filter into the material? Visually, you may see a change in color and everyday cleaning could become more difficult. However, if you were to look at this surface under a microscope, you might be surprised to see microorganisms growing inside the pores. The small holes are actually the perfect habitat for germs to grow; they are dark, warm, protected and rich in food and water. Before long, bacteria have begun growing and proliferating your precious material.

Is it possible to place a roadblock on the micropores to prevent germs and bacteria from entering? Of course — that’s where sealers come into the picture. Applying sealers is the second, fundamental link in the chain. Water and oil repellents, that is, products that block water, oil or staining agents such as coffee, grease and ink, create a breathable barrier that limits the absorption of liquids, keeping the material like it was on the day you moved in.

There are several types of sealers available on the market, which can be divided into two categories: water-based and solvent-based. Generally, solvent-based sealers penetrate deeper on highly compact stone such as granite, engineered stone and other low-absorption stone, as well as polished porcelain. They also require more time to cure (about eight hours); are very sensitive to humidity; and have strong, toxic fumes. Water-based sealers, on the other hand, are excellent on high-absorption materials such as travertine, sandstone, terracotta and concrete. They are often preferred by do-it-yourselfers because they cure faster (in about four hours), are not sensitive to humidity and do not release fumes, so the space does not need to be ventilated when it is applied.

Let’s not forget the cementitious grout joints in ceramic and porcelain tile. Even though tile is usually installed in bathrooms and kitchens because it is so easy to clean and maintain, the tile joints themselves present a major problem in terms of hygiene. If it is not protected, the grout attracts dirt and germs, which can grow exponentially in humid environments.

Routine Maintenance and Heavy Duty Cleaning

Now that the surface is sealed, we can finally touch on how to maintain it on a daily basis and how to deep clean it a couple of times a year.

Routine maintenance refers to all the fast, simple cleaning operations we carry out daily or weekly. Since they are implemented regularly, neutral, nonaggressive cleaners must be used. Another essential quality of everyday cleaners is that they must not leave a residue. Cleaner residue builds up and gives the surface an uneven color, eventually even making it slippery and unsafe.

Tips for effective regular maintenance:

  • Choose a neutral cleaner that is appropriate for the surface you are cleaning.
  • Avoid using cleaners with wax or silicone, as they might leave a residue on the surface, thus creating an undesired receptacle for bacteria.
  • Use microfiber mops or cloths for large and small surfaces. Microfiber can be washed at a temperature of up to 90º C (194º F) to eliminate bacteria.

Spray neutral cleaners are also priceless for people on the go. They can be used for quick cleanups on small surfaces like kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, desks, tables and windowsills. Spray cleaners are also handy for spot cleaning floors between weekly washings.

Heavy duty cleaning is defined as cleaning procedures implemented to remove grease or dirt that slowly build up over time. Acid cleaners should be used to remove inorganic stains (limescale residue, rust, metal marks, etc.) from acid-resistant surfaces, while alkaline cleaners should be used for organic stains (coffee, wine, ink, etc.).

Tips for effective heavy duty cleaning:

  • Choose a cleaner that is appropriate for the material and the type of dirt you are trying to remove.
  • Dilute the cleaner correctly as described on the label.
  • Use household microfiber mops or professional floor scrubbing machines and wet-vacuums.
    • A quick word on rinsing. While regular maintenance commonly does not require rinsing, deep cleaning and post-installation cleaning always do. When dirt and grease dissolve, they need to be completely removed by rinsing. Otherwise, they will dry up and collect on the surface once again. Effective rinsing must be performed a few square feet at a time, before the residue dries. If using a mop, change the water in the bucket often or use the two-bucket system (one bucket to hold clean water and another bucket to strain dirty mop water). This will prevent dirty mop water from contaminating the clean water used for rinsing.

Before we finish up, let’s review the three links to the surface care, protection and maintenance chain one more time. Post-installation cleaning or deep cleaning removes dirt and prepares the surface for sealing. Sealing then shields the material and grout joints from water, stains and germs so that they can no longer penetrate the micropores. Sealing also prepares the surface for regular maintenance. Now that the surface is protected, you can easily and quickly wipe up stains and dirt. A couple of times a year, proceed with heavy duty cleaning to keep floors, walls and small surfaces in top shape.