This article gives routine ceramic tile maintenance advice and cleaning tips for difficult to remove stains. It also gives basic steps for regrouting severly damaged tiles.
Ceramic tile care and maintenance begins as soon as the tiles are installed. The very first step should be to seal the grout in your tiles. Sealing will not only repel water, but help prevent staining and tracking of grout dust through the rest of the house. Grout sealer can be found in the flooring section of your hardware store. Thoroughly vacuum any dust from the tiles before sealing. Use a sponge brush to paint the grout lines and let the sealer stand for about three minutes, then wipe with clear water. Apply at least two coats, waiting thirty minutes between each coat. Allow the sealer to cure for 24 hours before soaking, 12 hours before walking on it. Applying a coat of sealer once a year after the initial coats will keep your grout looking fresh and cut down on cleaning.
When cleaning for the first time after installation, there may be a whitish film caused by the grouting of your tiles. This film can be removed by scrubbing with muriatic acid, which can be found in your hardware store. Mix one part muriatic acid with ten parts water and scrub with a cloth. Rinse very well with clean water. If muriatic acid is left on the tiles, it will continue to leach lime from the grout and cause the whitish film to return.
Every day cleaning can be done with a damp mop to maintain shine. However, if you feel the need to clean and disinfect you should use a mixture of ¼ cup low-sudsing cleaner (usually any commercial floor cleaner is low-sudsing), 1-2 tablespoons of tri-sodium phosphate, and 1 gallon of water. Damp mop the area and rinse well with clean water. An easier alternative to this would be to rent or buy an electric floor polisher-scrubber that will leave your floor clean and shining.
A mixture of chlorine bleach and water can be used to clean particularly stubborn grout. Allow the mixture to sit on the grout for about 20 minutes then mop the floor, rinse thoroughly, and wipe dry to maintain shine. You made need to let the mixture sit longer or repeat the process if the grout is not as clean as you want it to be. Once you have achieved the desired look, waxing may be a good option for protecting your clean grout. However, choose your wax carefully as it may leave streaks on the surface of your tiles.
Soap scum, mildew, and hard water build up will be difficult to remove and need special attention when cleaning. The simplest method of removal would be to use a commercial product designed for that purpose. Alternatively, soap scum can be removed with 1-2 tablespoons of tri-sodium phosphate in one gallon of hot water, and then rinsed well. Mildew can be removed with diluted solution of bleach and water, according to the directions on the label. Hard water build up is best cleaned with a commercial cleanser.
Occasionally stains form in showers that have not been cleaned in a while due to a combination of body oils and soap scum. Apply liquid laundry detergent to the stain and allow it to sit for at least two hours, longer if necessary. Clean with water and rinse well.
All of these care tips refer to glazed ceramic tile. When cleaning glazed ceramic tile, do not use abrasive cleaners or harsh scrub pads that might scratch the tile. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are good alternatives for harsh cleaners because they are naturally acidic and less expensive. Unglazed tile is porous and requires more careful cleaning in order not to damage the surface. Do not use acidic cleaners or excessive water on unglazed tiles. Clean up any spills as soon as possible to avoid staining. Everyday maintenance is easily done with a vacuum or dust mop, but if deeper cleaning is needed use a mild, colorless cleaner diluted with water. Wring out the mop or rag so that it is damp, not dripping. Finishing and refinishing unglazed tiles is best done by a professional because of the porous nature of the tiles.
If you have cleaned and cleaned your tiles, but the grout is still dingy and gross, you may want to consider re-grouting your tiles. To begin, you will need to remove the old grout with a grout saw, which can be found in your hardware store and is inexpensive. The saw consists of a blade on a plastic handle. To use it, press it firmly into the grout joints and make two or three passes to remove old grout. Be careful not to slip and scratch the tile. Sometimes you will need to remove all of the grout, but there is usually clean, solid grout under the damaged portions and this can be left in the joints. Use a utility knife to cut around any caulked edges and pull out the old caulking. Once you have cleaned the joints, use a heavy duty vacuum cleaner to clean up the mess and remove excess dust.
You will find the necessary tools for re-grouting in the flooring section of your hardware store. You will need grout (either pre-mixed or powder), latex additive or water (for powder), a rubber float, a paint stirrer, a sponge, a bucket, and a caulk gun and caulk. Mix the powdered grout with latex additive or water to the consistency of cake icing and let it sit for a few minutes before applying. Latex additive makes the grout more water resistant and stronger. Use the rubber float to apply grout to the tiles and force it into the joints. Grout a few joints at a time, and then wipe the face of the tiles clean with a damp sponge. Use the sponge to clean up the grout lines so that they look neat and consistent. After grouting all the joints, use the caulk gun to re-caulk the seams around floors, tubs, shower pans, etc. Allow the new grout to cure for 24 hours before sealing.
By following these routine care and maintenance tips, your tile should remain clean and functional for years to come.