Keep ceramic tile looking good

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
- posted Tue., Sep. 13, 2011
- Contributed Photo

How long has it been since you had your ceramic floor tile installed? Perhaps you did it yourself, and would not like to think about it. Although it was a good decision on your part – tile is durable and adds value to your home – as far maintenance goes, you can’t just sweep it and forget about it.

If you installed the tile yourself, did you remember to seal the tile and/or grout? If it’s been a while, a good cleaning may perk the floor up, and restore it to a look more like the day you finished. Presumably, you have been sweeping it and keeping is washed. But over time, oil, grease and debris will darken and even stain the grout, if not the tile itself. Tile, especially the unglazed variety, is susceptible to staining from wine, juice, coffee and a variety of other common food items. You need to wipe it up right away. If you didn’t do that, or didn’t attend to a stain right away, you may have some discoloration that needs attention.

First of all, don’t just run off to the cleaning products aisle of the supermarket. Instead, go to a tile store or to a home products outlet. There, you will find products that are more specific to the type of tile in your room. What’s more, there are cleaners that are more appropriate to the types of stains on your tile. What may not take out coffee stains might work well on wine, for example. One of the cleaning solutions that seems to get some good play and reviews is oxygen bleach. You have no doubt seen products of this nature advertised for cleaning clothes. Oxygen bleach, as applied to the tile-cleaning problem, uses the same concept. In a good formulation, the oxygen is released so that it begins to digest and dissolve the material staining the grout, yet does not affect the grout itself. You let the solution soak onto the grout, keeping it wet, and then brush it to reveal clean grout.

If you or your installer sealed the tile and/or grout, you will need to remove that coat before you apply a new sealer. Thoroughly vacuum the floor. Then wet mop it. And, finally, go over it tile-by-tile, looking for stains and dirt, particularly on the grout. Porcelain and glazed tile do not require sealing, but grout does. Get a product that removes sealer, and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Some sealers remain on top of the tile, while others penetrate into the tile. Talk to the tile store representative, and get the sealer that’s right for your tile. Sealer should be applied when the installation is done, and then reapplied every few years. Doing so will keep the floor looking bright.

While ceramic tile has a surface that’s hard as glass, like glass, it is subject to chipping. Porcelain tile, which is produced at a higher heat, is particularly durable, and it will resist a lot of scratches. But even it will chip, like the porcelain on appliances and bathroom fixtures.

There is nothing you can do to avoid the potential for chipping altogether.  So if your tiles become chipped, there are very few options, aside from complete replacement of the tiles. That is an arduous process, and one that is not altogether failsafe. Done improperly, one replaced tile could stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. It might be a different color, the grout may be a different color and highlight the replaced piece, or it may be slightly higher or lower than the tiles around it.

If the offending chip is right at the edge of the tile, you might try re-grouting in that area, and letting it spill over the chip. It might not look too obvious. Another solution with some potential for a satisfactory appearance is porcelain touch-up glaze. It’s a process akin to touching up blemishes on your appliances, but the material is also made for wall or floor tiles. Your local store might only carry kits in white or beige, but check with the manufacturer, and you will find that they offer a wide range of colors.

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