ICS Magazine

Ceramic Tile and Grout Maintenance

July 12, 2007


Ceramic tile floor coverings, like all flooring, have four different maintenance periods: initial, daily/routine, periodic and restorative. More often than not, floor maintenance concerns are transferred from one company to the next, with the new company inheriting the problems of its predecessor. During this transition, performing restorative service procedures may be in order to present the floor in its optimum condition.

The type of restorative service procedure will be predicated by the current condition of the ceramic tile. If the tile has a water-based acrylic floor seal/finish applied to it, the process will include removal of all existing coats of floor seal and/or finish using stripping chemicals in conjunction with stripping pads/brushes. If it does not, remove the soils from the floor surface using aggressive chemicals and abrasives pads/brushes.

Inspect the floor and identify existing damage before starting the restorative service procedure process. Existing damaged tile or grout cannot be repaired with this procedure. Cracked, chipped or broken tiles will require replacement. Some grout may be unstable or missing. Unstable grout may exist due to pre-existing conditions, which may leave it in a condition that allows it to be easily removed during the cleaning process. Generally the amount is insignificant; however, in some cases re-grouting may be required. It is important to establish what can and can’t be done with the customer to eliminate any false expectations before starting the job.

The equipment required to perform this service procedure are a rotary floor machine with pad holder or cylindrical brush machine; stripping pads or brushes affixed to either machine; a wet vacuum with a wand or floor squeegee attachment; mops, mop buckets and wringers; and detailing tools, including putty knife, razor scraper, grout saw and plenty of towels.

If the tile has floor seal/finish on it, begin by mixing stripping chemicals with water in conjunction with the manufacturer’s recommended dilution ratio. Apply the stripping solution liberally to the floor surface and allow several minutes dwell time allowing chemicals to re-emulsify floor seal/finish. Agitate the floor using a 175-RPM rotary floor machine or cylindrical brush machine in conjunction with stripping pads or brushes. Remove the slurry with wet vacuum with wand or floor squeegee attachment, and rinse the floor once to remove slurry residue and detail edges, corners, baseboards (3 inches to 6 inches up the wall), kick plates, and hard-to-get-to areas (grout lines under counters, urinals and toilet bases). Remove debris and rinse the floor surface again thoroughly. After the floor has completely dried, inspect for inconsistencies and correct them.

If the floor surface does not appear to have aqueous (water-based) seals or finishes, use an all-purpose cleaner or degreaser chemicals in place of the stripping chemical. In many cases this will accomplish the cleaning objectives just as effectively. If there is doubt as to whether the floor has seal/finishes on it, it is better to use stripping chemicals just in case.

When using all-purpose cleaners and degreaser chemicals, mix them in accordance with manufacturers recommended dilution ratios. The ratios can usually be adjusted to a more concentrated level when needed.

Apply the solution liberally to the floor surface and allow an adequate amount of dwell time for the soil to be removed. Agitate the solution using a 175-RPM rotary floor machine or cylindrical brush machine in conjunction with appropriate stripping pad/brush. Remove the contaminated solution with wet vacuum and wand or floor-mount squeegee attachment. Rinse the floor once to remove solution and detail edges, corners, baseboards, kick plates, and hard-to-get-to areas. Remove debris and rinse the floor surface thoroughly. After the floor has completely dried, inspect for inconsistencies and correct them.

If there is still minor discoloration in the grout, a solution of specialty tile cleaner or a mild acid solution may be applied in an attempt to remove it. The solution is applied to the floor with a wet mop and agitated with a brush or pad; after agitation, allow the chemical to dwell a few minutes, then remove the solution and rinse the floor thoroughly. This will generally produce acceptable results; however, if staining has penetrated deep into the grout no amount of chemical or scrapping will eliminate it.

Acids are generally used directly after installation to remove grout residue and haze. Acids can also be used to remove efflorescence, mineral deposits and some rust stains or to etch the surface to ensure adhesion. There are varying degrees of acid concentrate; they are generally of the phosphoric and sulfamic variety and have different dilution ratios. In many situations acids are not really required unless the aforementioned situations exist.

After the floor has been cleaned, allow it to dry completely. This process can be expedited with the use of an air mover. Once the floor has dried, any imperfections will become apparent. Inspect the floor to identify these imperfections and correct them before applying the sealer.

When all inconsistencies have been addressed, the floor will be ready to accept a penetrating seal. Solvent or aqueous penetrating sealers are available. Apply a moderate coat of seal to the floor with towels, a designated mop or low-pressure sprayer, allow a few minutes for penetration, then remove any excess with dry towels or a well-wrung-out mop. The objective is to remove as much excess from the surface as possible. Allow the seal to cure (curing times will vary; use manufacturers’ recommended times) and apply an additional coat in the same manner.

Once the final coats have dried, final wiping with a terry cloth towel or buffing with a soft pad will remove any residue. Penetrating sealers do not produce a high gloss. They will, however, give the floor protection that can last many years under normal circumstances.