September 22, 2015 - Tilespect

Tile Cleaning Tips – just for starters

Tile Cleaning, or just Living With Tiles

So you’ve bought a tile. It looks durable, it feels durable. If they are new tiles probably look clean, impervious and durable. You love your tiles because the surface looks hygienic and easy to clean, the design and colour is just great and they are so much better than those scummy old tiles you remember from some other time.

But have you considered what you new floor and wall will look like in 15 years, or even just 2 years.

Tiles, like anything else in life, always look their best when new. As they age then the properties of those components and how each interacts with the cleaning and use environments begin to come through. Sometimes small idiosyncrasies of the job become more obvious with wear, or small imperfections lose their importance as time goes by.


First lets look at the components that make up your tiling job just understand the areas that impact on your satisfaction with the tiles at any stage in the life of the installation.

The tiles:

Your tiles are made up of several components; Lets list these;

–          Surface

–          Base, body or biscuit

–          The back of the tile

–          The Edge

–          Form factor

–          Grout and joints

–          Sub-strate

–          Laying surface and its preparation

–          The materials and unseen work put in by the tiler.

Lets briefly familiarize ourselves with these.

The surface – that’s the part you see. The surface of the tile is the focus of most of the design work by the manufacturer. It has intrinsic properties of pattern, colour application, surface texture, hardness, slip resistance (friction), porosity, cleanability, thermal expansion and structure (or relief). Materials of the surface are unglazed ceramic, glazed or porcelain and for niche products, glass.

The surface can be fired and unworked, or worked over with different polishing types as in the case of all-porcelain tiles.

The surface of most tiles is generally the site of build up which cannot be removed by using the usual floor cleaning detergents.


Basic concepts:

Soap based cleaners cause build up of scum. This soap scum is actually the cause of most of the typical darkening of tilles and grout lines. The solution is really simple and inexpensive.

Scum on Tile joints

Scum on grout lines can be cleaned with citrus cleaner, vinegar and a plastic brush

Choose and acid based cleaner. Lots of people recommend white vinegar because it does work (a bit smelly though). I prefer citrus cleaner. Just spray on and mop off and it is inexpensive. If you prefer just use your normal soap based cleaner and whenever you notice build up, switch to the acid based cleaner.

Grout lines come up like new. Just spray on y citrus cleaner or splash a bit of vinegar diluted in water, and remove with a brush. An old toothbrush is perfect. It should look like new.

This works on all tiles.

acid types

Porcelain tiles:

Polished porcelain tiles meaning any porcelain that has had the surface mechanically altered including semi polished, honed, buffed and high polish as well as lapato. (lapato is a tile that has a lot of high and low points where the high points have been polished smooth and the low points retain their original texture).

Avoid all methylated spirit substances. Also note that Fatty material is easy to remove if the tile is properly sealed.

–          Water marks; Use the white cream cleanser (CIF or JIF brands or equivalents). Pour on, run in, then pour-on again and leave to dry to a powder, perhaps overnight – wipe off!

Example of indelible mark on porcelain tile

Example of indelible or water mark on porcelain tile

–          Oil Paint stains or stains that have mixed with the sealer; one needs to remove as much as possible. If nothing works then soak and clean multiple times with mineral turpentine (clear – not tinted of course). You will be removing the sealer from the tile with this operation and along with it the stain should also be removed;

–          Re-apply the sealer. Note – some tile shops sell a stain displacer also known as a presealer. You might want to ask around.

Glazed tiles are easy to clean – just anything that is even mildly acidic. Note that ceramic tiles have a porosity of around 5% and the biscuit will absorb stains but then again, that why they are are protected by a glaze in the first place. Porcelain tiles should have an ultra low porosity and will absorb less. That is the reason they don’t have to be glazed.

Tile Cleaning Guide;

Polished Porcelain – make sure it has been properly sealed.

Normal – Normal floor cleaner – slightly acidic – citrus cleaner is ideal

Discoloured or stained: – Soft cloth, water, also use a white (must be white) nylon scouring pad

Draw it out: Use CIF or JIF (Brand names) pour on and leave to dry – do not rub in – it will scratch. Once it is powder dry wipe off and repeat.

Extreme; Remove the sealer with solvent or sealer remover (chemical removal – non abrasive) then clean with white scouring pad. The re-seal with a high quality sealer.

Some specifics;

Hair removal wax; this can be removed with heat – used really hot water for you mop – ket the wet mop sit on the wax for a few seconds, then removed. You can also pour on a little hot water at a time and remove with a paper towel. Avoid the use of scrapers.


Generally porcelain responds well to citrus cleaners and normal floor cleaning – some specific issues;

Installation sealer – applied at the factory to prevent grout, adhesive and cement entering pores of polished porcelain tiles during installation tiling. Usually removed by tilers using special rotary floor polishing machines. Can also be removed by;

1)      Colourless Mineral Turpentine (paint solvent) – you MUST apply the full tile sealing process after  you use this method for cleaning as it also removes the deep sealer.

2)      Fine steel wool kitchen pads;I have found that fine steel scourers do not actually scratch porcelain tiles however you MUST test this out on a spare piece – I have used it on several occasions – while it is labour intensive I have found that it does work very well and should not leave a mark  however TEST IT FIRST ON A SPARE PIECE FOR TO MAKE SURE IT WILL NOT DAMAGE YOUR POLISHED PORCELAIN FLOOR. The reason it should not scratch is because steel wool is softer than porcelain which has the same hardness as quartz. DO NOT USE COARSE OR ALUMINIUM SCOURERS. Note that aluminium leaves a mark that can never be removed so do not use aluminium or alloy anything.  IT MUST BE FINE STEEL WOOL. If you don’t test it first on a spare tile and it does damage your floor I am not responsible, right?!? Also NEVER  use this method on a glazed tile, even glazed porcelain.

Note that porcelain was originally intended for commercial kitchens, restaurants, offices shopping malls and airport terminals. Certain industrial / medical chemicals can cause permanent penetrating stains on unglazed porcelain, such as iodine.

And there are others which are just plain tough to remove from any surface , such as an old (indurated)chewing gum splotch. Use a non – streaking scrapper and heat from hot water.

A tough one to remove is and alloy streak from an unprotected alloy chair leg for example. This is best removed using a light abrasive polish and a white scourer – results not guaranteed.

For glazed tiles the biggest issue is abrasion so no scourers, no steel – wool, no sand, no polishing creams of any kind.

White bristled floor bruses are fine to use. Also the citrus cleaner is great for general cleaning.

Certain chemicals can cause damage, one example is prolonged and repeated exposure to urea, and some industrial chemicals. In the main however the glazed surface is resistive to all with the exception of one type of acid. This is hydrofluoric acid (chemical formula HF). It will each through glazed and unglazed porcelain tiles.

It is only ever applied as an etch for increasing a tile’s slip resistance. This is usually applied by qualified tradespersons using this HF in combination with an inhibitor which limits the action of the chemical. Do even this about applying it – leave it to the experts– it voids all warranties from every manufacturer!

This is a bit of a ramble . Please feel free to send in your tips and captured learnings.

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