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Should porcelain tile be sealed? In this article, we discuss both sides of this debate as well as their solutions.
Table Of Contents
- Why Should You Not Seal Your Porcelain Tile?
- Why Should You Seal Your Porcelain Tiles?
- What Happens When You Don’t Seal Porcelain Tile?
- So How Should You Seal Porcelain Tile?
- What Are The Different Types Of Tile Sealers?
- Why Aren’t Standardized Porcelain Tile Sealers Enough?
- When Is The Best Time To Seal Porcelain Tile?
- How To Determine If Porcelain Tile Has Already Been Sealed?
- Sealing Porcelain Tile In Wet Areas
- Dealing With Porcelain Tile Grout
- Dealing With Slippery Porcelain Tile
Porcelain tile does not exactly need to be sealed. But using the right tile sealer on porcelain tiling will protect it from all life has to throw, with that sealer acting as the shield to take all the damage instead of the tiles which are quite costly to replace. On the other, that tile sealer will need to be replaced after a number of years, so there is an additional recurring maintenance cost. There are pros and cons to both of the argument, and we’ve laid out the details below to help you make the best choice for your porcelain floor.
Why Should You Not Seal Your Porcelain Tile?
The 3 main reasons why you may not want to seal tile are:
- Porcelain tile is typically dense and impervious and as such, doesn’t necessarily need to be sealed.
- Whenever any surface is sealed, there will always be an issue of recurring maintenance just for that sealer.
- Sealers (or sealants) aren’t indestructible, so no, they don’t last forever and eventually, you will need to re-seal
This means that like it or not, using a sealer on the tile will require you to come back and reseal every handful of years. The point here is that there a sealer will always need extra care and effort, particularly on a very dense, very smooth surface like porcelain.
Take the example of the industrial/commercial kitchen with all the excess water, oil, and grease. Those substances can sit on a topical sealer and cause an even more of a slipping hazard, especially in that kind of environment.
If you don’t feel your porcelain needs sealing, just be aware of the tile grout. Grout is usually very porous and will require extra effort to regularly keep clean and sanitary.
Why Should You Seal Your Porcelain Tiles?
There are a few key reasons why sealing a porcelain tile floor or wall is a valuable investment.
Above all, sealing the tiles will protect them from staining, and wear and tear. This makes porcelain tile care much easier.
The purpose of a sealant is to protect the tile beneath and you can easily reapply or rejuvenate a sealer. Once an unsealed tile is stained or damaged, however, it’s much harder to fix and often has to be removed from the floor and replaced.
Next, using a tile sealant is a great option for those who’d like to give their porcelain flooring a different aesthetic, or look. Perhaps you want to make your porcelain shiny, or less shiny. Or maybe you want wet look tile or you just want to enhance the colors of the pattern tile.
Tile sealer can come in different sheens or finishes: matte, satin, and glossy.
A big reason why people want to seal their tile floor is in fact to make it easier to clean and maintain the grout. This can be a major problem with tile floors, especially in kitchens, restrooms, or where you keep your pets. Using a sealer will make the grout much less porous protecting it from absorbing food and oil stains, pet mess, and odor-causing bacteria.
Last but not least using a tile sealer on porcelain flooring can help address the safety concern of slipping. A slippery floor can be altered for increased slip resistance with the right type of anti-slip sealer.
What Happens When You Don’t Seal Porcelain Tile? | The Better Question
Leaving a porcelain floor unsealed will decrease the longevity of the tiles themselves as well as make the floor (tile and grout) harder to keep clean as a whole.
That porcelain will now be subject to food-based stains, grease and oil, dirt and bacteria, all accumulating on the floor. This transforms your beautiful tile surface into a nightmare to keep clean.
Environments like residential bathrooms all the way to restaurant floors are exposed to excessive moisture from cleaning chemicals and water. This moisture will cause comparatively more staining and deterioration of that unsealed tiled and grout surface with no waterproofing protection.
Odor is also a very big concern, particularly from the grout between the porcelain tiles. The water, moisture, and bacteria clinging to the tile do become the breeding ground for smelly mold and mildew. So if you want to keep your floor much more clean and far more sanitary with a lot less maintenance, consider using a tile sealant for both tile and grout for a consistent barrier.
So How Should You Seal Porcelain Tile?
Should you choose to seal your tile, the next step in choosing the right sealer is understanding the different types. There are many tile sealers on the market, but they are not all the same. Read below to find out which sealers actually work on porcelain.
What Are The Different Types Of Tile Sealers?
The types of sealers that are available for use on tile and grout are divided into two broad categories: penetrating (also called impregnating) sealer and topical sealer. Penetrating sealers soak into the surface and typically don’t change the appearance.
Topical sealers form a film on the surface, and that thin film acts as an absolute barrier. Because they form a film on the surface, topical tile sealants will often change the look of the tile; they can bring out the colors and even create a new sheen, like glossy or matte. Topical sealers give enhancement and some depth as well as protection. (In order to address any slippery issues, you can use an additive to your sealer – like our CoverGrip.)
Penetrating sealers work by absorbing into the tile’s surface, as opposed to bonding overtop. This is what makes penetrating sealers perfect for use on porous tiles like natural stone, saltillo, and other unglazed tile without changing their beautiful natural appearance.
Most standard topical sealers will not bond to a ceramic or porcelain surface. That’s because the surface is very dense and impervious. This is why you might see recommendations against using a topical sealer on those tiles. If you use a regular concrete sealer or acrylic-based sealer you won’t get good long-term results
Instead, the flooring industry has needed to specially formulate topical sealers to properly bond to those smooth tiles. We have done exactly that at CoverTec, with proven results from our GlazeGuard and GlazeGuard Plus. They are made specifically for ceramic and porcelain. Our products were carefully developed to contain adhesion promoters, which are special, chemical ingredients that allow the sealer to bond at a microscope level to these very dense and very hard services for many years.
A good topical sealant will be able to seal both the tile and the grout. And it puts a clear barrier across the floor that will make the tile and grout much easier to clean
Polyurethane vs Acrylic Tile Sealer
For topical sealers, the main chemistries available are either acrylic or polyurethane, and either of those can be water based or solvent (chemical) based. Acrylic sealers are typically a single component product. There’s no mixing involved and they tend to be easier to apply and dry faster. Although the acrylic polymer is not as tough as the urethane.
Water-based urethane sealers usually come in two parts. That means you’re mixing an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ together. Those two parts will chemically combine, or crosslink, to form a much tougher polymer on the surface of your tile.
So both acrylic and polyurethane can make good tile sealers depending on what you’re looking for. But the truth is that the polyurethane tile sealers are more durable with longer lasting results. The trade-off is that they come in two parts that you have to mix carefully and they take longer to dry.
To seal ceramic and porcelain, you will need a polyurethane sealer because acrylics do not create a strong or long-lasting bond over that smooth, dense surface. Just make sure that the polyurethane sealer you want to use contains advanced adhesion promoters that allow it to be used for glazed porcelain tile.
Water Based vs Solvent (Chemical) Based Tile Sealer
Every sealer needs to be in some kind of a liquid solution – something for the polymer itself to be carried in. That carrier is either in the form of water or a chemical solvent solution. During application, that water or solvent evenly distributes the sealer across the tile, and then evaporates off, leaving the protective ingredients behind.
Older technology used to always contain solvents for an inexpensive, easy to use, and quick drying experience. But now with modern water-based technology, we have the advantage of using a much safer and environmentally friendly product.
There’s no harmful or foul odors or flammable liquids in water-based sealers. These are easier to manufacture and the end product is less sensitive to moisture. This makes water-based tile sealers ideal to use indoors. You will find that nearly all of the available tile sealers currently on the market are water-based because it is safer and permits better adhesion. Our GlazeGuard contains special adhesion promoters that allow a superior bond to denser, smoother tiles like ceramic and porcelain.
What Are The Typical Results Of Standardized Porcelain Tile Sealers? | Why Aren’t They Enough?
The type of sealers that you will typically find in a big box or DIY home improvement store are what we call ‘standardized’ sealers. Generally, those are made with a lower concentration of active ingredients. That is how they can produce these sealers at such a reduced cost, but of course, the trade off is their durability and performance over time. Standardized sealers give a quick shine and are made for only unglazed, porous tile. They only have about 15 or 20 percent active ingredients.
So when you are searching for a proper tile sealer, look in the description for a list of surfaces where the sealer can actually be used. Our GlazeGuard tile sealer in particular is designed specifically for dense, glazed, non-porous tile – perfect for porcelain. We formulated it with the highest percentage of active solids, or ingredients. We’re close to 50% active solids in the GlazeGuard product, and ours contains proprietary adhesion promoters that allow us to bond better to ceramic and porcelain tile.
A low solids sealer that’s not designed for porcelain or ceramic tile will very quickly result in delamination. That means it is going to lift and peel within weeks, or maybe a couple of months at best. When you start to clean with any kind of water based cleaner, you’re going to see moisture sensitivity and peeling. Most of those standardized products dry very quickly, in 20 or 30 minutes, but that is not sufficient time for the sealer to bond to a ceramic or porcelain tile.
Our GlazeGuard has a drying time of 10 to 12 hours. And that is very important in terms of getting a long-term bond between sealer and surface. Fast-drying acrylic sealers just will not bond well or long-term to a ceramic or porcelain tile. GlazeGuard will last three to five years on a tile compared to these standard acrylics that may last one or two months.
When Is The Best Time To Seal Porcelain Tile?
The goal of sealing tile is to get the most protection, so the best time to seal any tile and grout is when the floor is first being installed. Give the grout enough time to dry. This usually takes two to three days. The sooner you seal the tile floor, the better your chances will be of protecting the tile from getting soiled, stained, and damaged. Make sealing your tile and grout a priority, especially if there’s additional construction work being done on-site in your business or home.
How To Determine If Porcelain Tile Has Already Been Sealed
If the tile and grout are unglazed, there is a quick and easy way to determine whether it’s been sealed or not. This is to do a water test to check the absorbency of the tile and the grout itself. It’s very simple: get a small amount of water and pour or splash that onto the tiles and grout.
After five minutes, wipe that water away and view if there is a dark spot or patch on the grout or tiles. If there is, that’s an indication that the tile or grout is still absorbent and hasn’t been sealed. If the water beads up and there’s no darkening, then that’s telling you there’s likely a sealer on the surface of the tile and/or grout.
If you are dealing with Glaze porcelain or ceramic then it’s not so easy to tell if the surface has been sealed Usually you have to rely on visual inspection. if you look closely In many cases, you will be able to detect the sheen produced by a topical sealer on top of the porcelain tile and grout.
Sealing Porcelain Tile In Wet Areas
When it comes to sealing tile and grout in places we call ‘wet areas’, there is an additional consideration when sealing porcelain flooring. A wet area is any tiled area that gets so much moisture it will need extra preparation in order to seal.
These are places that receive a lot of water exposure like shower walls/stalls and locker room floors, and exterior patios and pool decks. If we want to seal those tile and grout surfaces with a topical sealer, then it’s important to use pretreatment to ensure better adhesion.
So even after stripping and/or cleaning tile, you will still need to use a PreTreat to microscopically etch the tile before sealing. That way, you will have the extra surface area to create a stronger bond between tile and sealer. (This is not necessary for porous tiles like natural stone and saltillo)
Dealing With Porcelain Tile Grout
The grout between tiles easily soaks up excess moisture, which almost always leads to bacteria growth. This unclean grout will lead to odor problems.
Foul odors are a big concern for any environment as they are a marker of poor sanitary conditions. This is intolerable for tiles and grout in commercial places like public bathrooms and restaurants. And foul odors can also be a sign of mold and mildew actually growing in the grout, which can cause sickness in both hospitals and residential homes with children and pets. These places are faced with a lot of organic material that will stain porous grout as it decays.
Those grout messes should be handled with a good microbial cleaner – like our CoverClean AE and our Emerald Floor Maintainer, which are great for deep cleaning grout. The microbial organisms in these formulas will actually consume the odor-forming bacteria, oil, and grease within the grout without leaving a residue on the tile. This helps with tile slipperiness too. These types of microbial cleaners are great when dealing with unsealed grout.
Another option for dealing with porous grout is to use penetrating sealers (those work on porous tiles). A penetrating or impregnating sealer soaks into the tile and grout without forming a film on the surface, therefore it does not change the tile characteristics to cause any slipperiness. In our example of the commercial kitchen with porous grout, using a penetrating sealer would work to repel water, oil, stains, etc. Our CoverSeal Premium penetrating sealer is extremely oil and stain-resistant and perfect for this use.
Dealing With Slippery Porcelain Tile
Some tiles are slippery when wet, and this can be exacerbated by a topical sealer as it forms that smooth film on the surface. Think of showers or high-traffic kitchens. Use a test area to check the slip resistance of your chosen tile sealer before applying it to your entire floor if safety is of paramount concern.
To remedy a slippery floor, our CoverGrip is an additive that can be mixed into the sealer right before you apply. Or, you can skip the work by using our GlazeGuard Plus. This sealer has already been precisely combined with CoverGrip. It provides an excellent non-slip surface and all you would have to do is mix and apply like your normal sealer.
Both of these products will leave a rougher, more textured surface on the tile. Because they use such a clear and fine aggregate, you won’t be able to see it, but you will definitely feel how it grips your feet rather well.
We also have non-coat treatments available for porcelain, ceramic, and natural stone tile. Our Surface GripTreat is an effective way of changing the surface characteristics so that the tile is much less slippery when wet. It’s an excellent choice for exterior tile, it’s very easy to maintain. There’s no topical coat, so there’s no lifting or peeling, especially in that high traffic and/or wet areas.
The trade off of using these products to create more textured surface area is, of course, that those extra nooks and crevices can trap dirt. The more additive you use, the more surface area you have to collect dirt. Slip-resistant floors will always need more frequent cleaning. There’s no perfect answer but the CoverGrip does provide an effective solution and we have a number of grades to make that trade-off between cleanability and slip resistance much more acceptable for the end user.
To Seal Or Not To Seal?
Whether or not you should seal your porcelain tiles is entirely up to you and your floor. You know best how that floor will be used, and you know the resources available to you for maintenance.
There are many advantages to sealing porcelain tile, especially for ease of cleaning, but the downside is you will ultimately have to replace the sealer.
Should you choose not to seal, you save that cost of sealing but you will definitely have to do more cleaning and maintenance for your floor tiles. We hope this article has laid out your options and shown the best solutions for whichever path you choose.
As always, if you have any questions about which product is the best for your unique situation, call us at: 754-253-3401
About Our Expert | Charles Idowu
Charles Idowu started his career as a civil engineer in 1983 in the UK. After achieving his MBA and his Chartered Engineer qualifications, Charles quickly became the waterproofing and coatings expert for a renowned British construction company. His international work landed him in South Florida, where he combined his engineering experience and passion for business to start CoverTec Products.