Should porcelain tile be sealed? In this article, we discuss both sides of this debate…
Your complete guide to understanding and applying the best ceramic tile sealant for lasting protection and appearance.
Table Of Contents
- Why Should You Seal Your Ceramic Tile?
- Why Should You Not Seal Your Ceramic Tile?
- What Happens When You Don’t Seal Tile?
- How To Deal With Ceramic Tile Grout
- What Are The Different Types Of Ceramic Tile Sealers?
- Why Aren’t Standardized Ceramic Tile Sealers Enough?
- When Is The Best Time To Seal Ceramic Tile?
- How To Determine If Ceramic Tile Has Already Been Sealed
- Stripping & Applying Ceramic Tile Sealer
- How Long Does Tile Sealer Take To Dry?
- What Are The Best Practices For Keeping Tile Clean?
- A Word Of Caution Before Using Homemade Tile Cleaners
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What Is Ceramic Tile Sealant and How Does It Work?
Ceramic tile sealant, or sealer, is any type of specially developed solution applied over the tiles that dries and leaves behind some form of protection. Tile sealers are manufactured in a few different types, and it’s important to understand those differences when choosing the right one for your project. But you should first evaluate if sealing your tile is the best option.
Why Should You Seal Your Ceramic Tile?
People seal their tile floors and walls for a handful of reasons.
The main is to seal tile is to protect it from staining, wear and tear. A welcome side effect is the sealer makes cleaning and maintenance much easier.
Next, sealing tiles can change the look of them, 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 tile more shiny. They want to make it less shiny. They want to enhance or bring out the colors or maybe 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. If that very smooth tile surface is causing safety issues, then using the right sealer can provide slip resistance as well.
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 as well as increase the tile’s longevity.
While sealing a very dense, glazed tile like ceramic is not exactly necessary, using a sealer could do the work of enhancing the overall appearance by protecting the grout and help keep it clean.
Why Should You Not Seal Your Ceramic Tile?
If you have a glaze tile that’s very dense and impervious, then you don’t necessarily need to seal it. 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 tile underneath won’t have to and get irreparably damaged.
Sealing your tile means you will always have to come back and reseal. It is key to understand that when you seal the tile, then there is some extra care and effort that’s needed, particularly on a very dense, very smooth surface.
For example, think of an industrial/commercial kitchen: there’s a lot of oil and grease and excess water that can all cause slippery hazards. Using a topical sealer for the tile in that environment can actually make it more slippery.
If it’s not necessary to seal the tile, you may still want to address the grout as it is typically very porous and much harder to keep clean.
What Happens When You Don’t Seal Tile?
Without sealing, you are greatly decreasing the longevity of your floor as well as greatly increasing the maintenance needed to keep it clean.
If you have porous tile and grout and you don’t seal it, then there are a number of problems that will occur. Most importantly, it’s going to be much more difficult to keep that tile and grout clean. You will get water based stains, dirt and bacteria getting trapped, and all soaking into the tile. This transforms your beautiful 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 tiled 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 a tile sealer for both tile and grout.
How To Deal With Ceramic Tile Grout
The grout can easily trap bacteria, which will lead to odor problems.
Foul odors due to poor sanitation are a big concern for both commercial places like restaurants and public bathrooms, as well as family homes with children and pets. These places are faced with 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 tile slipperiness too. of a tile. These types of microbial cleaners are great when you’re just dealing with cleaning grout without sealing it.
Another option for dealing with porous grout is to use penetrating sealers (those work on porous tile). A penetrating or impregnating sealer soaks into the tile and doesn’t form 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, or quarry tile as they call it, using a penetrating sealer would work to repel water, oil, stains, etc. Our CoverSeal Premium penetrating sealer is extremely oil and stain resistant.
Keep reading to discover all you need to know about the different types of ceramic tile sealer.
What Are The Different Types Of Ceramic Tile Sealers?
The types of sealers that are available for use on tile and grout are divided into two broad categories: penetrating or impregnating sealer and topical sealer.
Penetrating sealers soak into the surface, and don’t change the appearance. 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.
Topical sealers form a film on the surface, and that thin film acts as an absolute barrier. But the film forming sealers will 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 the protection. (In order to address any slippery issues, you can use an additive to your sealer – like our CoverGrip.)
Average topical sealers will not bond to denser ceramic and porcelain, which is why you might see recommendations against using topical sealer on those tiles. Very dense and impervious surfaces can’t take a regular concrete sealer or acrylic-based sealer and still produce 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 and come in multiple finishes: high gloss, satin, and matte. Our products were carefully developed to contain adhesion promoters, or simply, chemical ingredients to allow the sealer to bond at a microscope level to these very dense and very hard services for many years.
A good topical sealer will be able to seal both the ceramic tile and the grout. And it puts a clear barrier across the floor that will make the tile and grout much easier to maintain.
Polyurethane vs Acrylic Tile Sealers
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 tiles, you will need a polyurethane topical 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 has advanced adhesion promotion.
Water Based vs Solvent (Chemical) Based
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, leaves 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 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 near 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 Ceramic 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 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 are just quick shine made for unglazed, porous tile. They only have about 12 or 15 percent active ingredients.
So when you are searching for a proper tile sealer, look in the description for where it can be used and where it can’t.
Our GlazeGuard tile sealer in particular is designed specifically for dense, glazed, non-porous tile. 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 solid sealer that’s not designed for a 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. Very soon, you will see those products lift and peel.
When you start to clean with any kind of water based cleaner, you’re going to 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.
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 Ceramic Tile?
For maximum protection, the best time to seal the tile and grout is when the floor is first installed. Make sure the grout has had time to dry out (typically about 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. Especially if there’s additional construction in the home or building, prioritize sealing your floors.
How To Determine If Ceramic Tile Has Already Been Sealed
If you are dealing with an existing ceramic tile floor, 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 surface.
After five minutes, wipe that water away and observe if there is a dark spot or patch. If there is, that’s an indication that the tile is still absorbent and it 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.
In many cases, you will be able to detect the sheen produced by a topical sealer on top of the tile and grout. However, this same visual test can’t be used to detect an old penetrating or impregnating sealer.
Wet Areas With Ceramic Tile
We’ll get into more detail about the cleaning and prep of the ceramic tile in the next section, but there is a separate consideration when it comes to things called ‘wet areas’.
This is any area that gets so much moisture that even after stripping or after cleaning, it will still be necessary to use the PreTreat to microscopically etch the tile before we seal it.
These are places that receive a lot of water exposure from faucets and even rain like interior shower walls/stalls and kitchen floors, and exterior shower floors and patios.
If we want to seal those ceramic and porcelain surfaces with a topical sealer, then it’s important to use that pretreatment to ensure that nothing will prevent adhesion. That way, you will have the extra surface area to bond long term. (This is not necessary for porous tiles like natural stone and saltillo.)
Stripping & Applying Ceramic Tile Sealer
The application of a tile and grout sealer depends on the type of sealer you are using. If you are sealing ceramic and porcelain tile, you will first want to make sure that the sealer will bond directly to the tile, and there’s nothing on the surface that would interfere with adhesion or absorption.
This being said, any previous sealers, any paint or dirt, anything that oil or grease, all have to be cleaned off the tile.
So if there is an existing sealer, like a topical sealer that has started to lift and peel for example, make sure to remove or strip that from the surface. At CoverTec, we would use something like our FloorStrip HP to remove that topical acrylic sealer.
If it’s a penetrating sealer in the grout and not necessarily on the tile, that old sealer can still act as a bond breaker to a new topical sealer. So it must be stripped off as well.
The floor has to be clean and dry before sealing, and we always recommend going around one final time with an easy mop to pick up any dust or dirt. Remember that the sealer is going to last many years, so this is the time to be fussy about the cleaning of that surface.
If the surface has not been previously sealed, our CT 50 is a good way of deep cleaning and prepping the surface prior to sealing it with GlazeGuard. That product is used with warm or hot water which will give your tile and grout a great clean. Then you rinse it off, and let it dry.
As we mentioned earlier, check to see whether that grout is porous or not. If it is non porous, then the chances are it has a penetrating sealer, which is more difficult to remove. This would need some etching to remove. Use something like our PreTreat or our Surface PrepWork.
These are acidic based cleaners that will microscopically etch and remove that penetrating sealer from the top of the tile surface. We highly recommend performing a product test in a small, discreet area before using it over your entire floor. This is to make sure that the surface is now correctly prepared and the sealer will properly adhere to the tile.
Now you’re ready to seal your tile floor!
Our penetrating tile sealers can be applied with a roller, brush, lambswool applicator, or low pressure pump-up sprayer. Put a generous amount onto the surface of the tile and the ground, and it should all soak in within about 15 minutes.
If it’s still on the surface after 15 minutes, then remove the excess with a cloth. If you find that the sealer is soaking in very quickly (within five minutes), then that’s telling you that you should come back with a second coat.
GlazeGuard, our star topical sealer, is easily applied in a single coat with a ⅜ nap microfiber paint roller.
Tips For Sealing Tile Walls
So when it comes to ceiling walls or border vertical surfaces, you can use the same types of sealers, just be aware that gravity works against us. It’s good to start at the bottom of the wall and work your way up. Watch out for runs and drips when you’re using topical sealers, so don’t get too far ahead of yourself to catch them.
Keep in mind that topical sealers will not just change the look of the tile, but also darken the grout itself. If you’re just doing the wall, understand that the grout may have a different appearance than what’s on the floor.
For example, on a kitchen backsplash, we want to bring out the colors and protect the grout as well as make it much easier to clean. Just consider how the darkened grout and enhanced tile will look compared to your floor before choosing which type of sealer to use.
Penetrating sealers don’t change the appearance, but we still recommend testing just to make sure you will like the visual results. Either way, gravity will still work against you on a vertical tile surface, so mind those runs and drips!
Using a penetrating sealer is especially good for stain resistance on a wall that has porous or unglazed tile (like an unglazed kitchen backsplash).
Our Premium penetrating sealer has one of the highest active solids percentages in the market, and it is very oil and stain resistant as well as water resistant. It’s a great option to use on the vertical tile and grout without changing the appearance.
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. This being said, you might need more coats on the wall to achieve the same protection level as you would on the floor.
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.
I’ve had a job end in tears where it’s been the other way around, you know, we’ve done the floor and they’ve actually used the same tile on the walls. And now the floor looks different from the wall and they’re unhappy. So you’ve got to be aware of that. It does darken the grout as well as the tile.” – Charles Idowu, CoverTec Founder & CEO
How Long Does Tile Sealer Take To Dry?
Topical sealers will dry 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.
Our acrylic, water based penetrating sealers, like our AC 250, dry much faster. They take 20 to 30 minutes between coats, and you apply two or three coats.
Once they’re tack free, you can walk on them, but only light foot traffic. You should wait three or four hours before permitting any heavy foot traffic and 48 hours before having any kind of vehicular traffic (like in a mechanic’s garage).
For both types of sealers: 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 having any kind of heavy traffic.
What Are The Best Practices For Keeping Tile Clean?
Now that we’ve sealed our tile and grout, cleaning and maintaining the surface should be much, much easier. And you won’t need to use harsh chemicals like bleach and chlorine (what we call high pH, or aggressive, cleaners).
These substances will dull the surface by breaking down the repellency of the sealer. Avoid the same results with acidic solutions. Those can break down the sealer and even burn it, affecting the overall performance.
You are better off using microbial cleaners. We recommend those because they will actually break down and consume oil and grease without leaving any residue or damaging the sealer. Using microbial cleaners are a great way to clean a tile surface.
If you want to use degreasers or different types of mild soapy solutions, just don’t use them at a heavy concentration. For these cleaners, we recommend only one or two ounces per gallon because the surface now is much easier to keep clean.
Dirt and other substances aren’t sticking to the surface, so there is no need to use high doses of cleaning chemicals to loosen and remove them and risk damaging your sealer.
The CoverClean AE is a great product for cleaning tile 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 in order to maintain the gloss and sheen of your topical sealer.
A Word Of Caution Before Using Homemade Tile Cleaners
In regards to homemade cleaners and polish remedies, 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 even etch the surface of natural stone tile that has a penetrating sealer.
Or simply they’ll leave a residue on the surface. This is particularly from things like baking soda, which is an undeniable lifting and cleaning agent, but 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 concoct 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 breath in for you, your family and pets, 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.
Make The Most Of Your Ceramic Tile
Ceramic tiles are as beautiful as they are durable. But nothing can stop time, and accidents still happen. Using a protective tile sealer to shield your ceramic floors from stains, dirt, and damage so you don’t have to worry.
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 Ceramic Tile Less Slippery
So it’s important, particularly with topical sealers that smooth out the surface, that you are aware that they could be slippery when wet, like showers, or high-traffic kitchens. You should always check with a test area to see if you are satisfied with the sealer’s results in terms of slip resistance.
If you are looking to make it less slippery, then we have additives like theCoverGrip that can be mixed into the sealer at the time of application. Or, we have a product like our GlazeGuard Plus that already has the CoverGrip additive in the product and it’s been proportioned accordingly. That provides an excellent non-slip surface and all you would have to do is mix it up and roll it out.
Both of these will dry out and leave the surface with more roughness or texture that you can feel and will grip your feet rather well. And because it uses such a clear and fine aggregate, it does not significantly change the appearance of the tile.
We also have treatments available for ceramic, porcelain, and natural stone tile that don’t involve coating. 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, and of course, one advantage of that product is that it’s very easy to maintain. So you don’t have to worry about lifting and peeling, particularly in those wet areas and/or high traffic areas.
The trade off, of course, is that it’ll be a little harder to keep clean. And the more additive you put in, the more texture you create that can trap dirt and needs 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.
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.