Ceramic tiles are a beautiful to look at. Many designs and colors of today's ceramic tiles are on the same level as fine art. Just like a painting, how the masterpiece is framed contributes immensely to the viewer’s appreciation or disappointment over the work that is being reviewed.
The humble grout frames the ceramic tile. Grout is the material that fills the gaps between tiles as they are set on the surface. It fixes, connects, and keeps the tiles together. Grout is a soft and pliable construction material that adds to the tile work visually as it fills the gaps between tiles. As it dries, it sets and cures to become a solid filler. The grout can also have its own color, which allows it to either blend with the tiles or provide a framing contrast to them.
It is important that grout is able to keep the moisture out. Once water is able to seep through and get underneath the tiles, the water intrusion will undermine their fixed setting. In addition, any expansion due to moisture under the tiles along with any humidity will eventually loosen the tiles, widen the gaps, and will definitely contribute to putting the floor off level.
Grout is therefore to be considered a very important material in the understanding of ceramic tile floors and is essential for a lasting appreciation of the efforts put forth by the architect, General Contractor, various engineers, and interior designer of your home.
While we have set our eyes on properly sealing ceramic tile grout as the end result, it is necessary for us to understand its role and relationship to the component that it frames - the tile itself. That is because attending to the grout requires that we also have to deal with the tiles it frames because they go hand-in-hand. In a manner of saying, sealing the ceramic tile grout requires us to work backwards to the basics.
Ceramic tiles are made from a mixture of natural clays fired in kilns at high temperatures producing hard bisque. These types of tiles are done in either glazed or unglazed finish.
A special coating or glaze may be applied on the surface of uncured clay before being fired at the kiln's high temperature. The distinctive mirror-like finish on the surface easily identifies the final product as a Glazed Ceramic Tile.
Unglazed Ceramic Tiles are kiln-hardened, untreated, non-edible biscuit. They do not have a mirror-like finish, but they are strong and are the preferred product for heavy trafficked areas. These types of tiles exhibit a slip-resistant quality, which is why they are also widely used in swimming pools and other places that are relatively wet. Remember that ceramic tiles are not used on floors alone but are used in walls, tabletops, and counter tops as well.
Cleaning Ceramic Tile Grout
Sealing ceramic tile grout properly means suitably cleaning the ceramic tile surface. Tile and grout cleaning is simple and straightforward and when done on a regular basis, it is pain-free and quite easy. The tools and implements used are generally the same for the chore of cleaning them: a cleaning broom, a toothbrush, a sprayer, a scrub brush, a clean mop, and a towel or sponge. Wear rubber gloves for chemical safety when there will be direct contact with the cleaning solutions and mixtures.
However, keep the specific areas the tiles will be installed in mind: Floors, Walls, Countertops, etc. For sanitary purposes, you may want to have one set to use for cleaning floor ceramic tiles and another set to use on counter tops and wall ceramic tiles. Avoid using brushes and sponges that are for the bathroom floor and wall on your countertops.
Before any damp or wet application, be sure to vacuum the tiles for dust or dry debris. Dust and debris will become grime and just complicate your routine cleaning up and maintenance chores. Otherwise, simply sweep the floor or brush the surface with a broom. Finish this daily routine with a damp mop and warm water and you will be glad to avoid complicated and even expensive repair work in the future. You may find it useful to apply commercial glass window cleaner on glazed tiles to bring out their sheen.
Also, have a weekly maintenance of light mopping-over with a solution of mild detergent and warm water. Be sure to rinse the tiles thoroughly afterwards to remove residue from the detergent. Use mild abrasive scouring powder for cleaning unglazed ceramic tiles but avoid using this on glazed tiles as the scouring powder may cause fine scratches over a period of time.
Stains normally are generally easy to remove from glazed tile surfaces. Failing to immediately mop up spilled liquids, chemicals, or foodstuff would allow residue from the evaporation to stick fast to surfaces. To deal with this problem, spray wet the surface to be cleaned from stubborn stains. Allow to stand from three to 5 minutes and mop over with a little more vigor than usual.
Some stains may really be tough and hard to get out. If you encounter this then repeat the process of spraying the tiles until again wet. Allow once more to stand and let the solution soften the hard stains. After 3 minutes, put on rubber gloves and use a stiff-bristled brush to scrub off the stain. Spray and wet as needed as you brush the surface. Sponge the runoff water. Do not forget to rinse the surface well and dry thoroughly. Check the grout for any retention of moisture and take not of your observation for dealing with the grout afterwards.
In tile and grout cleaning routines, handling the tiles may be a breeze but dealing with grout may take a little more patience. The daily mopping-over of the tiled surfaces as well as the weekly maintenance cleaning chores may generally take care of the grout. However, because of their porous nature, even after having already dried and set, grout has a tendency to absorb debris, grime, and even stains. That is why you may consider scheduling a monthly grout care routine.
In order to have a minimum monthly maintenance grout care, it is important to be familiar with grout first aid when accidents do happen. Common household accidents could be the likes of liquid spills on tiled surfaces. Note that spilled liquids and chemicals would find their way from the smooth tiled surfaces to the porous edges and joints between the tiles. That is why grout is vulnerable to spills that cause stains and chemical reactions.
Warm to hot water with mild detergent easily handles spilled oil, grease, and fats. The same practical water-based solution could be used variably for coffee, fruit juices and other liquid food spills.
For tougher stains, such as those caused by dyestuff, inks, mercurochrome and the like, apply a 50/50 solution of warm water with household bleach on the affected grout. For stubborn stains, soak a paper towel with the solution and lay over the grout. Focus the chemical activity on the stains by covering the soaked towel with a plastic sheet and let stand from five to 10 minutes, depending on the severity of the stain.
One detail to remember well is that bleaching agents remove color from the grout. In order to remove stains from grout but preserve its color at the same time, a practical household solution is spraying shaving cream over the stain. Allow a few minutes for the cream to break down and soak up the stain.
Sealing The Tile Grout
The grout may become flaky and brittle over time. When you see this happen, vacuum the debris or gently brush clean. After making sure that the remaining grout continues to be stable and firm, put fresh grout, and allow ample drying time. Mark out the surface areas that have been re-grouted. Keep the areas clean and off-limits for the next 48 as that is the proper curing time for the new grout.
After the curing and drying period, apply a good quality commercially available silicone sealant to protect the grout from liquid and chemical seepage. What the sealer does is to fill in the gaps and pores of the grout so that there is no way that moisture, water or liquid would be able to creep in. This explains the long curing and drying time that the freshly laid grout undergoes. The grout, when dry will have pores. It will shrink and contract as moisture evaporates. After the grout had properly dried in 48 hours, the applied silicone sealant goes to work just as we have described previously.
Be sure to have a damp sponge handy to wipe off and remove excess sealant from the surface quickly. Sealant dries fast so your other hand must be quick otherwise the dried residue may leave a haze on the tile surface that is quite difficult to remove.
All these meticulous cleaning and preparation ensures that the final stage of sealing the grout properly goes smoothly.
Personally enjoying the sight of the beautiful ceramic tile surface on your floor, wall or countertop, as well as hearing your guests say, "Oooh" and "Aaah", over and over again, certainly is soothing and makes worthwhile all the hard tile and grout cleaning that you regularly do.