Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
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Thanks to its sleek, nonporous finish and durability, porcelain tile is a staple of kitchens, showers, bathrooms, and public spaces like lobbies and hallways. It’s a big investment and you may want to protect it by sealing it.
One of the most important steps in caring for your porcelain tile is sealing it and any grout you used to install it. That process requires preparatory cleaning, applying the sealant, and letting it saturate for several hours. You’ll also want to think hard about which sealant you use.
However, sealing porcelain tile isn’t a simple task. You’ll need to be meticulous with each step. What’s more, there is a lot to consider before jumping headlong into this, like if you even need to seal your tile. To cover everything you’ll need to know, here’s a complete guide to sealing porcelain tile.
Steps to Sealing Porcelain Tile
To ensure you preserve porcelain tile and grout properly, you should apply some type of sealant to the tile, whether in a bathroom, in a kitchen, or outdoors. Doing this is a relatively simple procedure. Here are the steps:
- Start by cleaning the tile and grout, either with a vinegar-water mixture or a commercially made cleaner. Be sure to get rid of any loose dirt.
- Apply the sealant with a rag or applicator. Be deliberate, working on one small area at a time. Don’t forget to get the grout lines.
- After letting the sealant saturate into the tile for a few minutes, wipe up the residual sealant. If you find the tile is sticky, apply a little bit more, let it sit for no more than three minutes, and then wipe up the excess sealant.
- Allow the sealant to cure into the tile for about an hour. The tile won’t be completely ready for heavy use for at least a day, but it can be used sparingly.
As with many other things, there are some important tips to consider when taking on each step: how to clean the tile in the first place, how to apply the sealant, etc. Let’s break down each step.
Cleaning Porcelain Tile and Grout
It’s critical to clean your porcelain tile and grout before applying sealant. Skipping this step could seal in existing dirt and stains into the tile. Cleaning methods vary a little by type of porcelain tile, but they generally follow this basic format:
- Remove loose dirt by sweeping or vacuuming
- Wash with a cleaning solution (make sure to scrub trouble spots!)
- Rinse off the solution
- Allow to dry
You can make a proper porcelain tile cleaning solution at home. Just add ¼ cup of vinegar to 2 gallons of water. You can also use any multi-purpose cleaner that you may use for countertops other floors.
However, if your tile is fairly stained, you might want to consider a heavy-duty commercially made product. Be careful about which solutions you use; harsh chemicals like acid or ammonia can permanently damage your tile if it’s glazed or polished. Here are some good, non-harmful options:
- Miracle Sealants Tile & Stone Cleaner
- Black Diamond Stoneworks Marble & Tile Concentrated Cleaner (also consider Black Diamond’s Intensive solution for a deeper clean)
Some cleaning products come with a scrub or applicator that makes it easy to work on heavily stained parts of your tile. If you stick with just vinegar and water, a mop will do just fine.
Since you’re already cleaning the tile, it would be good to spend some time on the surrounding grout, too. Lucky for you, most cleaners and sealants work well on both tile and grout. However, if you notice grout haze (more on this later), there are specific cleaners you can use:
After finishing scrubbing or washing your tile, make sure to rinse and allow the porcelain and grout to dry. Consider mopping or wiping any excess water to expedite drying and contributing to any water damage.
Applying the Sealant to the Tile and Grout
Now that your tile and grout are clean, it’s time to apply the sealant. A rag or brush is a good household tool for spreading the sealant. You can also purchase an applicator, which is closer to a squeegee. An applicator can keep the mess to a minimum and make sure your sealant coat is even.
How Much Sealer Do You Need?
Typically, you’ll need a 32oz. bottle of sealer if you’re working on a kitchen or bathroom floor. However, it may be wise to have a larger container if you expect your tiled room or area to be used heavily.
When applying the sealant to the tile, put some into a smaller container for use rather than pouring it directly onto the tile. This container could be a cup or tray; just make sure you can fit your rag or applicator into it.
The trick to applying the sealant is to work in small areas. You don’t want to apply a lot at once as you would with a cleaning solution. Instead, focus on a tile at a time, or a few at once if your tiles are smaller. Go over an area carefully, then let it settle for a few minutes, five at the most.
Do not forget to spend some time on grout lines, too. A rag or brush can come in handy for the grout if you have trouble using the applicator. Just make sure to follow the same method used for the tiles: apply in small doses and allow to saturate for a few minutes.
Wipe Away Residual Sealant
After letting the sealant get comfortable for a few minutes, take a clean, dry rag and wipe away any residual sealant from the tile and grout.
Depending on the sealant, your tile can get sticky if you let it sit for too long. If this happens, don’t apply water or a cleaning solution to wipe it off. Instead, apply a little more sealant; make sure to let it sit as well, just for less time as your first coat. Then, wipe away any leftover sealant.
Wait for About an Hour
Although you already allowed the sealant to saturate before wiping away the excess, it still takes time for the sealant to work its magic. As the sealant cures the floor, it fills in or covers the tiny pores in the tile. You need to wait about an hour before walking on the porcelain or using the area in which it’s installed (like a shower).
When it comes to heavy use, you should wait much longer, maybe up to three days. If the tile is in a heavily trafficked area, like a hallway or public bathroom, constant use could undo some of the new sealant’s effects or embed new dirt into it.
If you followed these steps: good job! You now have porcelain tile and grout that is protected from staining and is even more impervious to water damage than before. It just became easier to clean your:
How to Know if You Need to Seal Your Porcelain Tile
Before going ahead with any of the steps above, you need to figure out if you should seal your tile in the first place. To determine this, you need to know what kind of porcelain it is. It also helps to know why some types need to be sealed whereas others don’t. This can help you pick a sealant. We cover this later.
Porcelain tiles fall under two categories, glazed and unglazed. There are also two sub-categories for unglazed: polished and unpolished.
Glazed vs. Unglazed
Glazed and unglazed porcelain tiles are made virtually the same, except for one additional step. The porcelain is made by compressing clay, silica, and other materials in extremely high temperatures. This compression is part of why porcelain is more water-resistant than other substances.
Here’s where the two types diverge: Some tiles are given an extra layer of glass (the glazed tiles), while others aren’t (the unglazed tiles). That layer of glass gives glazed tiles protection from stains, so they don’t need to be sealed.
Glazed tiles tend to be slightly thinner and less dense than unglazed ones, meaning they weigh less and frequently cost less to make or install. Conversely, unglazed porcelain tiles are more slip-resistant since they lack the top layer of glass, making them ideal for heavy traffic areas. They’re also better for bathroom or shower floors for this reason.
Since glazed tiles include the extra layer of defense, they’re less likely to be colored all the way through. Unglazed ones are, which is important if they get scratched—any chips or scratches are less noticeable since the layer underneath matches the surface. Unglazed tiles’ less-refined finish also makes them appear more natural, earthy, or rustic like stone tile. This makes them ideal for outdoor areas, like patios.
Glazed tiles don’t need to be sealed, although it doesn’t hurt to do so. Additionally, you should still seal the grout to prevent mold from building up if this tile is installed in a high moisture area, such as a bathroom.
Meanwhile, some unglazed tiles should be sealed if you want to prevent them from staining or retaining dirt. There are two types of unglazed tiles that prompt further consideration before using a sealant.
Polished vs. Unpolished
Polished porcelain tiles are unglazed but have the same look and shine as glazed tiles. That’s because the tiles are given an extra step in the process: surface grinding. It’s similar to sanding something down in order to get a smooth surface. However, doing this also creates tiny, unseeable pores in the tile that can retain grout and dirt over time.
Unpolished tiles skip this grinding step, giving them a more texturous feel and helping them stay water-resistant. However, they’re still more susceptible to stains since they aren’t glazed.
It’s important to note that not all unglazed porcelain tiles that are textured or matte are unpolished. Depending on the manufacturer, there could be additional steps that give your tile a look that betrays what kind of porcelain tile it is.
If you’re unsure of what kind of tile you would like to use or already have installed, try a water-resistance test. Simply leave a few droplets of water on a tile and observe whether or not it has seeped into the tile after several minutes.
Don’t Forget the Grout
Grout is the substance applied between the tiles. It seals the spaces between tiles (porcelain and other kinds) to prevent the following from building up underneath:
Since grout is visible, it’s also an important component of your tile’s aesthetic. Maintaining it is almost as important as the tile itself.
If applying tile and grout to a floor in your kitchen or bathroom, you can use sanded grout. It’s cheap and works well with wider spaces between tiles. It also comes in a variety of colors.
Unsanded grout, however, is more durable and might even be pre-sealed, depending on the brand. It’s usable in any setting and is better suited for porcelain tile since it is less likely to scratch the surface. However, it’s also more expensive than sanded grout, and it doesn’t work as well in wide spaces between tiles.
You might notice some residual grout sitting on the tile. That’s grout haze, which is leftover material from when the grout and tile were installed. This can take away from your tile’s overall look, but it can be removed using some cleaning solutions.
Tips on Picking And Using a Sealant
Suppose you determine the tile needs a layer of sealant, or you’d like the additional protection. If so, you now need to pick a type of sealant. There are many to choose from, and some offer better protection for your tile than others.
What Kind of Sealer Should You Use?
To get the best protection for your tile, the sealant needs to complement where you have installed the porcelain. When it comes to porcelain tile sealing, you should stick to two families of sealant:
Penetrating or impregnating sealant is good for porcelain tile, specifically unglazed but it will not ruin glazed tile if you decide to apply it. When you do so, the sealant cures and soaks into the tile, filling the microscopic holes without changing the porcelain’s appearance or slip resistance.
Most penetrating sealants are solvent-based. This composition allows the sealant to more easily saturate into denser tile, like porcelain and granite. It also more tightly holds its layer, making it a better protecting solution than some traditional water-based products.
One of the most commonly used penetrating sealants is Miracle Sealants’ 511 Impregnator, which offers stain and water protection while preserving any slip resistance to porcelain tile. It also works on grout and stone material, such as granite, polished marble, and slate.
Other penetrating sealants should work as well, including:
- Mapei Ultimate Penetrating SB Stone, Tile, & Grout Sealer
- GlazeGuard Gloss Ultra Durable Ceramic Porcelain Tile Sealer, which comes in high gloss, satin, and matte finishes
- MORE Grout, Ceramic & Porcelain Sealer, which is water-based
- FILA Surface Care Solutions MP60 Eco Plus High-Performance Penetrating Sealer, also water-based
Floor finishes, or surface sealants, are a bit low-grade compared to impregnators. Typically, these are used to clean or repair tile that is damaged or worn down over time. When it comes to porcelain tile, floor finishes don’t apply well to new polished tiles.
If you choose this type of sealant, you’ll want a higher-end brand like Aqua Mix’s High-Gloss Sealer. It simultaneously protects tile and gives it a great deal of sheen, so it works well with polished porcelain tile.
Using an ineffective sealant will most likely not have a permanent effect on the tile that you can’t undo. Still, an inappropriate sealer that doesn’t properly adhere to your tile can have some unpleasant results:
- The sealant can peel or come up after a few weeks.
- It could give a tacky, filmy sheen to the tile that you may not have wanted.
- The sealant might stop working altogether after several weeks.
Other Tips for Your Porcelain Tile and Grout
Taking care of your porcelain tile doesn’t stop with sealing it. You should clean the tile regularly, as you would with other surfaces.
First, steer clear of harsh chemicals and bleach (like we discussed earlier); do not use steel wool or wire brushes when scrubbing porcelain tile. Just because the tile is now sealed doesn’t mean it is protected from using these materials. Instead, stick to using rags, soft brushes, and mops when cleaning your tile and grout.
If you haven’t yet installed your porcelain tile, keep in mind you could apply sealant before doing so. This might be wise if your tile is unglazed and polished—the tile is likely to have more pores than other porcelain tiles, making it more susceptible to retaining dirt and grime during the installation process.
If you choose to do this, just follow the steps we covered above: clean the tiles, apply the sealant in small batches and let it sit, then wipe excess sealant off and give it more time to cure.
While sealing porcelain tile is not complicated in and of itself, there are a few important steps before you tackle this task. If you learn a bit more about your specific tile and understand what works best with it, you can preserve the porcelain’s design and material and make it last for years.
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