Should porcelain tile be sealed? In this article, we discuss both sides of this debate…
Your Complete Guide to Sealing Your Porcelain Tiles For Lasting Protection And Beautiful Appearance
Table Of Contents
- What Is Floor Tile Sealer And How Does It Work On Porcelain?
- Why Should You Seal Your Porcelain Tile?
- Why Should You Not Seal Your Porcelain Tile?
- What Happens When You Don’t Seal Tile?
- How To Deal With Porcelain Tile Grout
- What Are The Different Types Of Porcelain And Ceramic Tile Sealer?
- What Are The Typical Results Of Standardized Porcelain Tile Sealers?
- When Is The Best Time To Seal Porcelain Tile?
- How To Determine If Porcelain Tile Has Already Been Sealed
- Wet Areas With Porcelain Tile
- Stripping & Applying Porcelain Tile Sealer
- Tips For Sealing Tile Walls
- 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 Floor Tile Sealer and How Does It Work On Porcelain?
Porcelain sealer is a solution applied over the tiles that is specifically developed to dry and leave behind some form of protective barrier. There are different types of tile sealers and the key to choosing the best one for your project is to understand those differences. To do this, you must first evaluate if sealing your floor tile is the best choice.
Why Should You Seal Your Porcelain Tile?
There are a handful of reasons why someone would want to seal their tile floor or wall.
First and foremost, you can seal tile to protect it from staining, wear and tear, in doing so make it easier to clean and to maintain.
Next, sealing tiles is a great option for those who want to change the aesthetic appearance of their porcelain. Some tile sealers are specifically designed to leaves different finishes, so you can use them to make your tile floors shiny, matte, wet looking, or even simply color-enhanced.
Safety is another big reason people seal their porcelain tile. It is usually so smooth, it can be slippery, especially when wet. If that very smooth tile surface is causing safety concerns, then using the right sealer can provide slip resistance by increasing the traction on the floor.
Sometimes, all a person might be after is managing the grout. Regardless of the type of tile you have, If you’ve got porous grout, using a tile sealer is a great way to keep the grout cleaner and easier to maintain. This tactic of keeping the grout as clean as possible at all times is a boon to enhance your floors’ overall appearance.
Why Should You Not Seal Your Porcelain Tile?
It’s not exactly necessary to seal glazed tile that’s very dense and impervious. Just keep in mind that for all nice things, maintenance is always required. Whenever you use a sealer, you will have to deal with the maintenance.
Nothing lasts forever, and floor sealers are no exception. They aren’t indestructible and they don’t last forever; the purpose of using a sealer is so the sealer will take any damage instead of the beautiful tile underneath. The sealer you can easily recoat, but irreparably damaged tiles are much pricier to replace. Once you seal your tile, expect to have to reseal again in the future. But the extra care and effort you put into sealing porcelain tile, the easier the floor is to maintain as a whole, and the longer it will last.
Another reason you might not want to seal tile is an increase in slipperiness. Take the greasy, watery floor of an industrial/commercial kitchen. To use a topical tile sealer in that environment can actually make it make matters worse, because there is so little time to clean away each puddle. This is an instance where sealing the smooth tile is not necessary – focus instead on sealing the grout and keeping the whole floor clean.
What Happens When You Don’t Seal Tile?
A number of problems will arise from not sealing porous tile and grout.
An unsealed floor will be harder to maintain and keep clean, most importantly. It will pick up stains more easily, and dirt and bacteria will get trapped and grow mold and mildew. This transforms your beautiful tile surface into an ugly mess that you’ll have to replace much sooner than anticipated.
Think especially of environments that are exposed to excess moisture from both water and harsh cleaning chemicals, like residential bathrooms and restaurant floors. These wet areas especially will be more susceptible to staining and deterioration if they are left unsealed.
Additionally, dirty grout is a common perpetrator of odor issues. The water, moisture, and bacteria just become a haven for mold and mildew. So consider using a tile sealer for both tile and grout if you want to keep your floor much more clean and far more sanitary with a lot less maintenance.
How To Deal With Porcelain Tile Grout
The grout in a tile floor easily traps bacteria, which can lead to odorous mold and mildew.
Poor sanitation of grouted tiles cause such foul odors in commercial and residential places alike – for example: an unsanitary commercial kitchen floor can smell them same as a bathroom shared by children (or messy teens). Places like these that encounter a lot of organic material should be very aware of the smelly stains left on their porous grout.
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.
These types of microbial cleaners are great when you’re just dealing with cleaning grout without sealing it.
Penetrating sealers are another solution for managing porous grout, as they work well on porous tile. A penetrating or impregnating sealer doesn’t form a film on top of the tile, it instead soaks into the surface without changing the tile characteristics (like slipperiness).
This type of sealer would work well in our example of the commercial kitchen to repel water, oil, stains, etc. Our CoverSeal Premium penetrating sealer is extremely oil and stain resistant.
In the next section, we dive into the different types of porcelain tile sealer.
What Are The Different Types Of Porcelain and Ceramic Tile Sealer?
Tile sealers are best divided into two general categories: penetrating (impregnating) sealer, and topical sealer.
Penetrating sealers don’t alter the appearance of the tiles. They work by soaking absorbing into the surface. 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 look.
Topical sealers work by forming a film on the surface, which acts as an absolute barrier. It’s through this use of a topical film that the tile appearance can be changed; they are usually available in different sheens: glossy, satin, and matte. Topical sealers give color enhancement as well as protection, and can be used in combination with additives like our CoverGrip to increase traction and minimize slipping hazards.
Average topical sealers will not bond to denser porcelain 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 porcelain 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
Topical sealers are usually available in either acrylic or polyurethane, and either of those can be water based or solvent (chemical) based.
Acrylic sealers are typically manufactured as a single product. There’s no mixing multiple components and acrylics tend to dry faster. However, it is a valuable note that acrylic polymer is not as durable as urethane.
Water based polyurethane sealers usually come in two parts: an “A” and a “B” that you mix together. Those two parts will crosslink, or chemically combine to form a much stronger polymer to protect the surface of the tiles.
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.
It’s best to use a polyurethane topical sealer on porcelain tile because acrylics do not create a tough or lasting bond to 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 requires a liquid solution to carry the polymer across or into the substrate. 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, leaving the protective ingredients behind to cure and harden.
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 porcelain 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 at your local home improvement store are what we call standardized sealers.
Generally, they cost less on the shelf because they cost less to make. This reduced cost is managed by lowering the active ingredients in each product. The trade off, of course, is their overall performance and durability. Standardized sealers are typically made for unglazed, porous tile; just a quick, supplemental shine made with only about 12 or 15 percent active ingredients.
Check the descriptions, when you are searching for a proper tile sealer. Make sure it specifically states that it can be used on porcelain tile. Our GlazeGuard tile sealer is specifically designed for bonding to dense, glazed, non-porous tile. We formulated it with the highest percentage of active solids, or ingredients – close to 50% – and it contains our proprietary adhesion promoters that allow us to bond better to ceramic and porcelain tile.
A low solid sealer that’s not designed for porcelain will delaminate very quickly. That means it is going to lift and peel within weeks, or maybe a couple of months at best. As soon as you start to clean with any kind of water based cleaner, you’re going to see that effect of moisture sensitivity.
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 porcelain 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 porcelain 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?
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 Porcelain Tile Has Already Been Sealed
If you are dealing with an existing porcelain tile floor, there two easy ways to determine whether it’s been sealed or not. 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.
If the visual appearance of the tile is not enough to detect the sealer, you can do a water test. This checks 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.
Wet Areas With Porcelain Tile
We’ll get into more detail about the cleaning and prep of the porcelain 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 you want to seal those ceramic and porcelain tiles with a topical sealer, then it’s important to use PreTreat to ensure that nothing will prevent adhesion. That way, you will have the extra surface area needed to bond long term. (This is not necessary for porous tiles like natural stone and saltillo.)
Stripping & Applying Porcelain Tile Sealer
To seal ceramic and porcelain tile, you will first want to make sure that the sealer will bond completely without anything on the surface that would interfere with adhesion or absorption. So any previous sealers, any paint or dirt, anything that oil or grease, all have to be cleaned off the tile.
For an existing sealer, like a topical sealer that has started to lift and peel, make sure to strip or remove all the old sealer from the surface. We recommend using FloorStrip HP to for the job of removing that topical acrylic sealer.
If it’s a penetrating sealer in the grout and not necessarily on the tile, that old sealer can still interfere with a new topical sealer, so strip that off as well.
Remember the goal is to make the sealer last as long as possible, so during preparations is the most important time to be strict about getting that surface clean. 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.
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 rinse and allow to 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 harder to strip. Etching might be needed in this case. Use something like our PreTreat or our Surface PrepWork, which are acidic based cleaners that will microscopically etch that penetrating sealer from the tile surface. We highly recommend performing a product test in a small, discreet area before using it over your entire floor, to observe the results to the tile’s appearance.
Time to apply the sealer!
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
Sealing tile walls or any vertical tile surfaces is not difficult. You can use the same types of sealers, just be aware that gravity will fight you and win if you don’t apply the sealer carefully!
Start at the bottom of the wall and work your way up. The key to this method is watching out for runs (drips) and drips, especially for topical sealers. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself to catch them.
It is important to understand that topical sealers will not just change the look of the tile, but also darken the grout itself. If you only plan to seal the tile wall, keep in mind the topical sealer may make the grout look different than the floor.
For example, you might want to bring out the colors of your kitchen backsplash, and protect the grout from staining. Just consider how the darker grout will look in contrast to the floor before you decide on the type of sealer you want to use.
Penetrating sealers are especially good for stain protection that won’t darken grout, but we still recommend performing a discreet test to ensure you will like the end result. 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.
No matter what, you will still be working against gravity, so mind those runs and drips along the walls! The sealer will inevitably thin out with gravity as you apply it, so it might need more coats on the wall to achieve the same protection level as the floor.
For this vertical 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.
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: don’t walk on them until they are dry. 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?
Tile surfaces are far easier to clean once sealed. You won’t need to use harsh chemicals like bleach and chlorine. These substances are high pH, aggressive cleaners that will dull the surface by breaking down the repellency of the sealer. Acidic cleaners do the same, and can break down the sealer and even burn it, affecting the overall performance.
You are better off using microbial cleaners because they will actually consume the molecules of oil and grease without causing any residue or damage to the sealer.
If you want to try mild soapy solutions and degreasers, only use one or two ounces per gallon instead of a heavy concentration. 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
We caution the use of DIY polishes and cleaners in heavy concentrations – be sure to dilute! Too concentrated, and they can likely dull the sheen of your topical sealer, or even etch the surface of natural stone tile that has a penetrating sealer.
In other cases, home remedies for cleaning tile will leave a surface residue. Cleaning the residue from your homemade cleaning products is extra work, and totally negates original reason for sealing: ease of maintenance. For example, baking soda, which is an undeniable lifting and cleaning agent, will leave a residue if you don’t dilute it.
Be cautious of the chemicals that you’re mixing together. You can accidentally make a chemical byproduct to outgass your home or building. Unintended chemical reactions and byproducts can prove hazardous to you, your family and pets, your business, etc.
Manufactured chemical cleaners are far better and safer to use because they have already been scientifically proportioned.
Make The Most Of Your Porcelain Tile
Porcelain tiles are such a lovely investment for any floor. But whether we are prepared or not, accidents can still occur and make messes. A tile sealer will protect your porcelain floors from that potential damage and make cleaning even easier, leaving you with one less thing to worry about.
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 an apply like your normal sealer.
Both of these products will leave the 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 this you will definitely feel and will grip 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 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 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.