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How Sealing Ceramic Tile Will Save Your Tile Floor (And Your Wallet)

There are valid points to both sides of the ceramic tile sealing argument, and we delve into all the details and why the experts here at CoverTec think it’s a worthy investment.

Table Of Contents

  • Why Should You Not Seal Ceramic Floor Tiles?
  • How To Deal With Ceramic Tile Grout
  • Why Should You Seal Your Ceramic Tiles?
  • What Happens When You Don’t Seal Tile
  • So What Is The Best Tile Sealer For Ceramic?
  • Why Aren’t Typical Tile Sealers Enough?
  • What’s The Best Ceramic Tile Sealer?
  • How Long Does Ceramic Tile Sealer Take To Dry?
  • Tips For Sealing Ceramic Tile Walls
  • What Are The Best Practices For Keeping Ceramic Tile Clean?
  • A Word Of Caution Before Using Homemade Tile Cleaners

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Sealing ceramic tile floors is not exactly necessary because they are such dense, smooth surfaces. However, it is undeniable that letting your easy-to-replace tile sealer take the hits is more cost-effective than your beautiful, breakable tiles. Keep reading as we break down the different factors in this debate.

Why Should You Not Seal Ceramic Floor Tiles?

If you have very dense and impervious tiles, then you don’t necessarily need to seal ceramic floor – that is true.

Whenever you seal something, there will always be a maintenance issue. Sealers aren’t indestructible; they don’t last forever – their purpose is to take any damage so the tiles underneath won’t have to and get irreparably damaged. 

Sealing your ceramic tile floor means you will always have to come back and reseal. It is key to understand that when you seal the tile, some extra care and effort are needed, particularly on a very dense, smooth surface. 

For example, think of an industrial/commercial kitchen: there’s a lot of oil, grease, and excess water that can all cause slippery hazards. Using a topical sealant for the tiles in that environment can actually make it more slippery. If it’s not necessary to seal the ceramic tile, you may still want to address the grout, as it is typically very porous and much harder to keep clean.

How To Deal With Ceramic Tile Grout

The grout between ceramic floor tiles can easily trap bacteria, which will lead to odor problems. Foul odors due to porous grout are a big concern for commercial places like restaurants, public bathrooms, and family homes with children and pets. These places are exposed to a  lot of organic material that will stain porous grout as it decays.

Those 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, without leaving a residue and will help with the tile’s slipperiness too. These microbial cleaners are great when you’re just dealing with cleaning grout without sealing it. 

Another option for porous grout is to use penetrating sealers (those work on porous tiles). A penetrating or impregnating sealant soaks into the tile and doesn’t form a film on the surface, therefore, it does not change the ceramic tile characteristics to cause any slipperiness. Using a penetrating sealer would work to repel water, oil, stains, etc in our example of the commercial kitchen with porous grout or quarry tile as they call it. Our CoverSeal Premium penetrating sealer is extremely oil and stain-resistant.

Why Should You Seal Your Ceramic Tiles?

There are a handful of reasons why someone would want to seal their ceramic tile floor or wall. First and foremost, you can seal ceramic tile to protect it from staining, wear and tear. Doing so makes it easier to clean and maintain. Next, sealing tiles can change their look, so it is an option for those who want to change their tile’s appearance for aesthetic purposes. In this case, some people want to make the ceramic tile shinier. They want to make it less shiny. They want to enhance or bring out the colors or give it a wet look. The third concern is usually about the safety of that tile floor. Some people have very slippery tiles and want to make them less slippery. 

When people talk about sealing their floor, sometimes all they are truly after is sealing and protecting the grout. If you’ve got porous tile and porous grout, you will definitely want to use a tile sealer to make it easier to clean and maintain and increase the tile’s longevity. While sealing very dense, glazed ceramic tiles is not exactly necessary, using a sealant could do the work of enhancing the overall appearance by protecting the grout and helping keep it clean. If that very smooth ceramic tile surface is causing safety issues, then using the right sealer can also provide slip resistance. 

What Happens When You Don’t Seal Tile? | The Better Question

Without sealing, you are greatly decreasing the longevity of your floor and greatly increasing the maintenance needed to keep it clean. 

If you have a porous ceramic tile and grout and don’t seal it, then several problems could occur. Most importantly, keeping the tiles and grout clean will be much more difficult. You will get water-based stains, dirt and bacteria trapped by soaking into the ceramic. This transforms your beautiful porcelain or ceramic tile surface into a nightmare to keep clean.

From a residential bathroom to a restaurant floor, these environments are exposed to excess moisture from water and harsh cleaning chemicals. This will cause more staining and deterioration of that ceramic surface than if it was sealed. 

Odor is a big problem with the grout in particular. The water, moisture, and bacteria just become a haven for 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 porcelain and ceramic tile sealant for both tiles and grout. 

So What Is the Best Tile Sealer For Ceramic?

While sealers come in different types for the different substrates, some are better than others. The ones at the local shops are certainly the most convenient and the cheapest but are far from the best quality. 

What Are The Typical Results Of Standardized Tile Sealers? | Why Aren’t They Enough?

The type of sealant that you will typically find in a big box or DIY home improvement store are standardized sealers. Generally, those are made with a lower concentration of active ingredients.

That is how they can produce these sealants at such a reduced cost, but of course, the trade-off is their durability and performance over time. Standardized sealers are just quick shine made for unglazed, porous tiles. They only have about 12 or 15 percent active ingredients.

A low solid sealant that’s not designed for porcelain or ceramic tile will quickly result in delamination. That means it is going to lift and peel within weeks, or maybe a couple of months at best. Very soon, you will see those products lift and peel.

When you start to clean with any kind of water-based cleaner, you will see moisture sensitivity and delamination. 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. 

This being said, standardized sealers are simply not tough enough for strong, lasting protection over ceramic tiles.

What's The Best Ceramic Tile Sealer?

So when you are searching for a proper tile sealer for ceramic or porcelain, look in the description for the right ingredients and the right places where it can be used.

Our GlazeGuard tile sealer is a topical sealer that is designed specifically for dense, glazed, non-porous tiles. 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, as well as other water based polyurethane products.

Our GlazeGuard is easily applied in a single coat with a ⅜ nap microfiber paint roller and has a drying time of 10 to 12 hours. And that is very important in terms of getting a long term bond between sealant and surface. GlazeGuard can last three to five years on floor tile compared to these standard acrylics that may last one or two months.

How Long Does Ceramic Tile Sealer Take To Dry?

Topical sealers will dry on ceramic at different rates depending on the temperature, the air movement, and how thickly you apply them. Our GlazeGuard products, which are two part polyurethanes, take about 12 hours to dry at temperatures above 70 degrees and with reasonable air movement. If the ambient temperature gets below 70 and there’s little air movement, that dry time can be extended. 

Make sure they are dry before you walk on them. Waiting two hours is a good rule of thumb for light foot traffic, and then wait six hours before heavy traffic.

Tips For Sealing Ceramic Tile Walls

So when it comes to sealing ceramic tiled walls or border vertical surfaces, just be aware that gravity works against us. It’s good to start at the bottom of the ceramic wall and work your way up. Watch out for runs and drips when using topical sealers. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself to catch them.

You may have to put more than one coat on a wall than you do on a floor because the sealer will inevitably be applied in thinner coats as you fight gravity.

For this application, you can use a ⅜” nap roller on perhaps a smaller hand-held roller like a six” or four” wide roller. Work systematically across the vertical surface, doing small sections at a time, and then coming back five minutes later to check for any runs and back rolling. With this method, you’ll end up with a very effective seal.

What Are The Best Practices For Keeping Ceramic Tile Clean?

Now that we’ve sealed our tiles and grout, cleaning and maintaining the ceramic surface should be much easier. And you won’t need to use harsh chemicals like bleach and chlorine (what we call high pH, or aggressive, cleaners). 

The absolute best (and easiest) thing to do is to clean up spills and messes as they happen. Proactive ceramic and porcelain tile care is always the most effective.

A Word Of Caution Before Using Homemade Tile Cleaners

Regarding cleaners and polish remedies you mix at home, we only caution that you don’t use them too concentrated – be sure to dilute! Too concentrated, and they can likely damage the finish or the sheen of your topical tile sealer.

Or they’ll simply leave a residue on the ceramic or porcelain surface. This is particularly true for baking soda, an undeniable lifting and cleaning agent, but it will leave a residue and dull the surface if you don’t have the right proportions. 

Also, be aware of the chemicals that you’re mixing together, because sometimes you can actually create a chemical byproduct that actually outgasses your home or building!  For example, the chemical or chemical byproduct ammonia can produce more toxic fumes that would be very hazardous to breathe in for you, your family and pets inside your home, your patrons at your business, etc.

Cleaning the residue from your homemade cleaning products is extra work and totally negates the ease of maintenance provided by your tile sealer. This is why manufactured chemical cleaners are better because they have already been scientifically proportioned and thus save you more labor than a diy tile cleaner.

The CoverClean AE is a great product for cleaning tiles and grout. We have our Emerald Floor Maintainer as another microbial cleaner that comes in a concentrate – a very cost-effective product for maintaining your tile and grout. These are both easy to use. We also have our neutral pH and concentrated GlossCleaner which you can use at a very low dose to maintain the gloss and sheen of your topical sealer.

So Seal Your Ceramic Tile!

So now you know the different sides of the great debate and your options. Of course, only you know best how your floor will be used and the level of care and effort you are prepared to put into keeping it clean. Just remember, preventative care is always the best protection.

As always, if you have any questions about which product is the best for your unique situation, call us at: 754-253-3401

Bonus Tip: How To Make Porcelain Tile Less Slippery

Some tiles are slippery when wet, and this is sometimes 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 a 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 tiles. Because they use such a clear and fine aggregate, you won’t be able to see it, but this you will definitely feel and will grip your feet rather well.

We also have non-coat treatments for porcelain, ceramic, and natural stone tiles. Our Surface GripTreat effectively changes the surface characteristics so that the tile is much less slippery when wet. It’s an excellent choice for exterior tiles, as it’s very easy to maintain. There’s no topical coat, so there’s no lifting or peeling,  especially in those 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 several grades to make that trade-off between cleanability and slip resistance much more acceptable for the end user.

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.

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