Cleaning ceramic tile floors—and keeping them clean—can often seem like quite a tedious task. Ceramic tile often requires a lot of extra attention in order to prevent staining and moisture damage—and even daily attention can be needed for high-traffic areas. That said, there are several ways to minimize the amount of work involved with cleaning and maintaining such tiling, and with the proper methods, you can actually keep ceramic tile clean for a fairly extended period of time. The following are a few tips aimed at helping BSCs take better care of ceramic tile floors, along with some preventative measures that can be taken to decrease future work. By adopting these strategies, you will hopefully enjoy a longlasting, beautiful look and finish on all of your ceramic tile projects.
Glazed or unglazed
Before doing any cleaning, it’s important to first determine whether the ceramic tile is glazed or unglazed, as not all cleaning agents can be used for both types. The glossy sheen of a clean, glazed ceramic tile floor can add vibrancy, comfort, and class to the aesthetic of any space. The glaze is actually a form of liquid glass that’s baked into the tile in kilns at extremely high-temperatures. This process provides the tile with not only a beautiful, smooth finish, but also a built-in barrier to help prevent dirt from settling and seeping into cracks and pores. Eventually, the glaze will grow dull and wear thin, making it important to regularly—and correctly—clean the tile to help keep the glazed barrier strong and shiny.
Unglazed tile lacks the obvious glassy facade of glazed ceramics— and it will also have more of an earthy tone and feel to it. This tone is typically colored only by the mineral deposits from which the clay was taken, although it can sometimes be mixed with pigments as well. Unglazed tiles are usually denser and thicker than their glazed counterparts and most likely to be installed in areas where slip-resistance is a concern.
Glazed and unglazed tiles are created the same way; however, glazed tiles go through an additional stage of firing in the kiln, during which time the liquid glass finish is applied and cured. Because unglazed tiles lack this fortification, they typically need to be cleaned more frequently, and it’s important that such cleaning is done using substances and/or solutions that are fairly gentle on their surfaces.
Cheap, green, and clean
There are many effective tile and grout cleaners on the market, but some of these can be pretty expensive and contain an assortment of chemicals that often aren’t the most environmentally friendly. Here are a few simple methods for thoroughly cleaning ceramic tile without the noxious chemicals or wallet-sapping expense.
• Vacuum and Sweep: Whether using more natural or industrial- strength cleaning agents for the actual scrubbing process, all ceramic tile floors should be regularly swept and vacuumed to prevent grit, grime, and dust from settling into the surface. Glazed tiles may be resistant to dirt, but grit and sand left to be walked upon will eventually dull and weaken the surface and sealant. Both sweeping AND vacuuming are recommended, though if forced to choose, vacuuming is more effective at cleaning the entire surface area. Just make sure the vacuum does not have a beater bar in order to avoid scratching or further dulling the tiles. If done regularly, sweeping and vacuuming are the easiest ways to keep your floors looking brand new.
• Mopping: After the loose dirt and debris has been removed, the floor should be mopped thoroughly at least once or twice a week for low to moderately-trafficked areas, while high-trafficked areas should be mopped daily. Cotton, microfiber or chamois-style mops are recommended over sponges or sponge-mops, since these tend to push grime and dirty water into cracks and grout lines, making them even harder to clean and keep dry. Nothing harsher than a combination of clean water and a mild detergent should be necessary.
For unglazed tiles, try using just hot water—and perhaps adding a soapless detergent when necessary. Anything harsher will only hasten the degradation of the tile surface. And for a cost-effective, environmentally-safe odor-eliminator, try mixing white vinegar with water. This is especially a good idea when cleaning surfaces that are frequented by animals and/or small children. If you find that there is a filmy residue left behind after using any type of soap or detergent, you can get rid of it with a nonabrasive all-purpose cleaner. You can also use a mild acid, such as lemon juice, but only on glazed tile. Acids should never be used on unglazed ceramic or stone floors. And be sure to rinse the floor with fresh, clean water after each mop or scrub.
Changing the mop water often while mopping is important, as old water solutions will only make the tile appear cloudy, which can create a dirtier-looking floor than before. Obviously, the frequency with which you change the water should increase proportionately to the size of the floor you are mopping. After mopping and rinsing, the floor should then be dried with a dry-mop, or at least sufficiently aired out, in order to prevent mildew and sub-surface water damage.
• Floor Mats: Placing floor mats inside entry-ways and around heavy pivoting locations (i.e. restrooms, kitchens, etc.) will help capture loose dirt and debris before it gets deposited and tracked across the tile floor. Just make sure to clean and shake the mats out often to prevent buildup.
Don’t Forget the Grout
As if you could, right? When the grout is dirty, it’s usually super noticeable and can absolutely ruin otherwise clean ceramic tiles. Grout is typically a white, mortar-like substance binding each tile together, and it’s actually the most vulnerable part of the surface to staining and water damage.
Cleaning the grout lines—and keeping them clean—can seem like the most ardous part of cleaning ceramic tile floors, but the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. When ceramic tile floors are installed, the grout lines should be reinforced with caulk, and the entire floor should be finished with a sealant. This preventative step will help make cleaning them a lot easier, and help weaken the severity of future stains. However, sealants don’t protect the floor forever. It is recommended that floors be resealed about twice every year, in order to maintain high levels of stain protection.
Plus, sealing is only a preventative measure against dirt and liquid stains. Cleaning the grout regularly, especially right after spills of any kind, is still required to maintain spotless floors. Commercial cleaners are not always necessary, however. Mixing up a paste of baking soda and water can be equally efficient and much more cost-effective. Just apply the mixture to all grout lines—or directly on a stain—and let it sit for several hours. Then scrub with a stiff nylon or toothbrush (no metal brushes). As an alternative, you can also use a mixture of equal parts water and hydrogen peroxide. Just make sure not to use bleach or ammonia, especially on unglazed tile.
A couple of other handy methods for cleaning grout involve other easy-to-find materials—sandpaper and pencil erasers. Working creased sandpaper or a pencil eraser back and forth along the grout grooves can loosen up quite a bit of dirt. Just rinse afterwards to make sure that dirt doesn’t settle again.
All of these suggestions might appear to add up to a lot of extra work, but by paying a little extra attention as described here, you will not only help minimize future maintenance, but ultimately help make cleaning your ceramic tile floors a far less stressful task.
Scott Saier is a freelance writer who frequently contributes content to the comerical cleaning/BSC industry.