Homeowners have gotten creative over the years and found new ways to work flooring into other areas of their home. While it’s not uncommon to find wood on walls, tile is the only material that’s truly universal. You can find it on walls, in showers, countertops, and ceilings. It’s also an excellent material for flooring in certain parts of your home.
Tile provides homeowners with a wealth of options when it comes to style, but it’s also popular because it is low maintenance. Water typically isn’t a concern when cleaning time rolls around like it would be with organic materials. Cleaning tile floors is simple when you know what you’re doing, although it’s a good idea to understand what type of tile you have beforehand.
Tile Flooring: Everything You Need to Know
For residential use, there are two types of tiles commonly found in the floors of homes today – peel and stick vinyl tiles excluded. The first, and most popular is clay-based tile. It can be ceramic or porcelain, although the latter is superior when it comes to durability. Porcelain is fired at a higher temperature and has tiles with through-body construction.
Porcelain tile is not as porous as ceramic tiles, which is important when water is in play. When tiles are glazed, it’s usually not an issue, but if the glaze is cracked, water can become absorbed by ceramic tiles. Again, if you have porcelain tile, water will never be a problem as it’s commonly used outdoors along with indoor areas like bathrooms and kitchens.
While it’s best to think of ceramic tiles as “water-resistant” not waterproof, there is another type of tile to consider as well. That would be tile flooring made from natural stone. Quarry tiles are popular and have a distinct look as they are actually made from several types of material like feldspar and shale. Slate, travertine, and granite are also found in millions of homes across America along with marble.
It’s difficult to damage any of these materials through general cleaning, but you need to see if your tile is waterproof by design, porous, or has been treated with a sealer. You also need to proceed with caution when choosing cleaning products considering marble and other porous types of stones can be stained. While you can simply wipe down porcelain, you may need to make a poultice for marble.
How to Clean Tile Floors
How to clean tile floors depends on the type of tile you have. With that in mind, there are some common cleaning techniques that are universal, whether you have sealed travertine, ceramic, or marble tile. Before we get into techniques for individual materials, here’s how standard cleaning tools perform on tile.
When you have dust, dirt, or debris to deal with, it’s hard to go wrong with a broom. It’s easy on tile of any kind, and the bristles can clean more than the surface. Tiles with deep grout lines are no match for a good broom, even if they won’t be helpful against wet messes or stains. It’s the cheapest cleaning tool you can purchase, although our next option isn’t far behind. On the downside, while they are easy to use, they aren’t the quickest cleaning tool for tile flooring.
A dust mop works on the same types of messes as a broom but has a completely different type of head. Microfiber is the most popular choice and ideal for smooth surfaces, like ceramic, porcelain, marble, or quarry tile. Stone tile that’s textured can actually snag on the fibers of a dust mop, however, which could leave you with fuzz on your flooring.
For smooth surfaces, a good dust mop should be high on your list, but they can’t cut through stains without some help. The price of cleaning pads can become an issue as well; considering some have washable heads while others use disposable pads.
While there are only a few styles of brooms and dust mops to choose from, the choices can be overwhelming with vacuum cleaners. They could be considered overkill for tile as well, although they are your best option if you have multiple types of flooring in your home – not just tile.
The best vacuum cleaner for tile could be a 15 pound upright or a 3 ½” robot vacuum cleaner depending on your needs and the layout of your home. Do you have several floors to clean? If so, you’ll want something lightweight, which can be an issue if you have carpet throughout half your home. When your home has low pile carpet and plenty of hard flooring surfaces, your options are unlimited.
For tile alone, we recommend a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush roll, even if they can be difficult to find or a bit expensive. Aside from a few unique systems, you typically find these vacuums in the canister or stick vacuum class. If the vacuum allows you to switch cleaning heads, there’s a good chance you can pick up a soft roller for it.
While a traditional brush roll won’t scratch tile on its own, it’s important to make sure the brush roll is clean and doesn’t have anything rigid or hard lodged in the bristles. You can also look for a vacuum with an adjustable height feature if the brush roll in a concern. You could opt for a suction-only vacuum cleaner as well, which you can find with robot vacuum cleaners and skinny stick vacuums.
This is where things being to get interesting as you can wet mop most forms of tile, something you can’t do with hardwood, laminate, or even luxury vinyl flooring. Again, you need to make sure your floors are waterproof beforehand, but if they are, feel free to break out an old-fashioned wash bucket and mop.
A spray mop is the best option for tile in most cases, especially for smooth, slick surfaces. With this style, you can control how much cleaner hits the floor, then quickly mop it up with an absorbent pad afterward. Some spray mops, like the Wet Jet from Swiffer, use a premixed solution, while others allow you to mix your own concoction. That’s ideal for stone tile flooring, considering there are plenty of cleaners that don’t necessarily go well with travertine or marble.
Streaking can also be an issue with spray mops depending on what type of cleaner you use, although it’s not as big of an issue with tile as it is with hardwood or laminate. Spin mops are another option, and similar to spray mops as they also have a tank for cleaning solution but have spinning cleaning heads in place of a fixed one.
The last cleaning tool we recommend for tile is a steam mop, often referred to as a steam cleaner. Steam can disinfect and remove stains that a wet mop can’t touch, and as long as your flooring is sealed, you’re good to go. Maintenance is low with steam mops as well, considering you only need to supply them with water.
Cleaning pads are removable on these machines, and most are washable dozens of times. Some of the best steam mops for tile are also capable of cleaning grout. Convertible or 2-in-1 cleaners come with attachments that allow you to scrub the grout, which can save you a considerable amount of time.
The only negative to a steam mop is the fact they are really only built for tile flooring, and some systems can go through water very quickly. Pay attention to capacity and cord length if you’re interested in a steam mop for your tile flooring.
Cleaning Tips from the Pros
With glazed or sealed tile, water is what professionals recommended along with a soft cloth or sponge. The surface texture of your tile may not be suitable for a sponge, however, and you’ll quickly wear yourself out trying to clean an entire floor that way.
If you plan on using a cleaner, MSI and other top companies in the tile world recommend going with a formula that is pH neutral. Those are typically safe for a wide variety of flooring, although you should always test the product on a small section of tile first before using it across your entire floor. Tile can be a pain to replace, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Warm water and soap are sufficient on their tile flooring, according to Daltile, but you can also use a multipurpose cleaner as well. There are a variety of kitchen and bathroom-friendly products that will remove stains from hard water and mildew quickly along with stains from food and daily life. What’s not recommended are cleaners with ammonia or acids as they will damage the glaze or even your grout.
Porcelain tile is tough, but it can still be stained by certain substances. Dyes and permanent markers are two things that can ruin tile if not addressed quickly. Grout is generally more of a problem when it comes to stains, especially if you choose white grout or cementitious grout. Even if your tile is sealed and waterproof, certain types of grout will need to be sealed as well unless you choose an epoxy-based product.
As mentioned, grout joints can be tricky to clean. While there are some cleaning tools and attachments that can handle it, more often than not, you’ll need to clean it by hand. This is another area where some hot water and elbow grease may do the trick, although it depends on just how dirty the grout between your tile is.
Thankfully, there are a number of products available geared to clean grout. Some cleaners are relatively mild, along with more potent solutions capable of removing anything from grease and soap scum to wax. You won’t have a problem picking up a bottle from your local hardware store, but as it’s used indoors, look for grout cleaner that won’t drive you out of the house with its smell and is rated with low VOCs.
Homemade mixtures are a popular way to clean the grout as well, but an area where you’ll want to tread lightly. Vinegar can actually weaken unsealed grout, and while chlorine bleach is an excellent oxidizer, the fumes are intense, and it can damage carpeting, rugs, and your clothing. From baking soda-based mixes to professional cleaning solutions, there are many ways to make your grout look new again. Just remember to test clean a small spot first, or you could end up having to recolor grout joints.
Vacuum cleaners will work on most types of stone, but MSI and others recommend steering clear of uprights on marble. You can damage the finish with wheels or other parts, and they also suggest sticking to brush attachments as well. You should use marble cleaner when possible as well and stay away from things like vinegar or lemon juice unless you want damaged floors.
Lemon and vinegar are also harmful on slate, so you’ll want a pH-neutral product. With newer slate flooring, spalling can be an issue, so if your floor is still flaky, clean carefully until it settles. Slate is also prone to scratches compared to other types of natural stone flooring, which makes brooms and dry mops a better choice than a vacuum cleaner with a brush roll or beater bar. Those same rules prove true for homeowners with limestone flooring as well.
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Q: Do I need to seal my ceramic tile before cleaning it?
A: If your tile flooring is glazed, it’s already resistant to stains, and you’re good to go as long as you use the appropriate cleaning methods and solutions.
Q: Will cleaning my tile affect the COF rating?
A: Not permanently, but tile flooring can become incredibly slippery when wet, even if it’s textured or glazed.
Q: How often should I clean my grout?
A: There’s no right or wrong answer to this one as it depends on how dirty it is. When properly maintained, you should only have to give the grout a deep cleaning once every few years.