How to Maintain Ceramic Tile

Commercial Ceramic Tile Maintenance

 

General Instructions

  • Maintenance Required.  Growing technology has enhanced the durability of flooring products immensely. Yet, our fast-paced world still renders a lot of wear on our floors from spills to rolling carts or foot traffic. Regular maintenance and preventative measures can significantly prolong the new look of your important investment.
  • Supremacy of Manufacturer.  The following information is the accumulation of many years of experience, the guidelines of regulatory flooring agencies, and the instructions provided by the leading manufacturers of flooring products. The manufacturer of your flooring product may have unique guidelines that should be given seniority over the general advice given by Wolfe Flooring.
  • Documents and Samples.  Retain the sales receipt and any product description from the purchase of the goods. If possible, document the manufacturer’s name and the manufacturer’s full product description, including color. Furthermore, retain a sample of the tile for comparisons. For insurance purposes, it is prudent to safely store a photograph of your new product.
  • Not Initial Care.  The following guidelines are for regular maintenance, not initial care. Most likely, the initial care that your flooring needs is different than regular maintenance. Generally, new flooring products need about 12 to 72 hours after the installation before they are ready for furniture, regular foot traffic, or cleaning of the grout lines, etc. while the setting material cures.
  • Generic Intent.  These instructions are for normal ceramic or porcelain tile in common environments. Techniques, products, etc. change and some situations are very unique; thus, Wolfe Flooring assumes no liability for omissions, errors, or outcomes. These instructions may not apply to special situations (e.g., historic ceramic). You’re welcome to call us for a specific professional address of your situation. Please exercise general caution implementing any of the following guidelines.
  • Staff Training.  Train your personnel using the manufacturer’s instructions. Print these instructions as needed.
  • MSDS.  Collect and retain each material safety data sheet (MSDS) for cleaning agents.
  • Caution Signs.  Place caution signs or safety cones in the area before starting any maintenance in a professional or commercial environment. Do not remove the signs or cones until the floor is completely dry and all supplies and equipment is properly stored. Also, use caution signs or safety cones if the floor becomes wet or develops a trip hazard.
  • Attic Stock & Storing.  Retain extra tile and grout for the possibility of future repairs. Keep your attic stock materials in a dry place. Humidity can damage setting materials and grouts. Do not store your ceramic in a place subject to freezing temperatures unless your tile is freeze-thaw stable. Store your tile on a flat surface. Do not stack more than five boxes high.
  • Entrances.  Keep the outside entrance areas (e.g., sidewalk, service entrance, grand portico, driveway) free of sand and debris. Non-staining walk-off mats (avoid rubber mats) and budget-friendly entry rugs are strongly recommended at your building’s entryways (both inside and outside) to catch most of the soiling. Use mats at the entrances to a commercial kitchen and at the top and bottom of escalators. The mass majority of the soil and grit that will fall into the room will do so in the first six feet of the entrances. Transitional mats should be cleaned recurrently; otherwise, the mats will accelerate the soiling.  Read a blog article on an overall strategy.
  • Rugs and Underlayments.  Area rugs are very helpful in places of high activity (e.g., in front of the reception desk) and at pivot-points (e.g., a corridor intersection) to avoid the apparent traffic patterns. Never allow moisture to become trapped under your rug. Use non-slip underlayments under rugs to prevent possible dye transfer and to prevent the rug from sliding or “walking.” Small rugs are especially prone to slip on smooth ceramic. The grip that is provided by a non-slip underlayment can prevent a nasty fall. Underlayment also benefits by absorbing a portion of the impact of each footstep, which means that underlayment helps the rug experience less crushing.
  • Sweep or Vacuum.  Sweep or dust-mop your commercial ceramic or porcelain tile once per day. You can also use a vacuum cleaner without a beater bar. Sand and grit are among the greatest enemies against your tile's sheen and will act as abrasives to scratch and dull the finish depending upon your tile's gloss level and PE rating.
  • Mop.  Sweep the dry particulate before mopping. Damp-mop your ceramic or porcelain tile floor with water. Commercial properties may have to damp-mop once or twice per day. Hot water will clean better than cold water, but water alone will suffice in most cases. Do not use acid-based, vinegar, wax, or soapy cleaners. Acid can etch the surface of ceramic tile. If you use a cleaning product, be careful to remove any residue. Replace your mop water frequently to avoid an unsightly residue. Dirty mop water will settle into and discolor your grout lines.
  • Soiling, Stains, Spills, and More.  See our Ceramic Tile Spot Cleaning Guidelines.
  • Keep Dry.  Keep your ceramic tile dry, unless the tile is intended for a designated wet space (e.g., poolside patio). (Ceramic tile in a designated wet area should have a higher friction coefficient [i.e., more surface grip].) Wet tile presents the risk for (1) slipping and (2) mold or mildew. Be especially mindful of walk-off moisture or drips when weather conditions outside are wet or snowy. For safety, immediately dry-mop or use towels to wipe the floor dry. Immediately place your caution signs or warning cones if you expect an on-going risk or you have a residual of moisture after mopping. Fans will accelerate drying. Warm air is more effective than cold air to dry up moisture.
  • Professional Cleaning.  Have your ceramic tile and grout professionally cleaned on a regular basis as soiling and grout discoloration appears. (Tile and grout next to the walls will typically retain an original color for your comparison.) The average commercial ceramic tile needs to be professionally cleaned about once or twice per year. Restaurants and dining rooms need professional cleaning every two to four months. Tile can become very slippery if not properly cleaned, especially in a restaurant or commercial kitchen. When tile and grout are pressured cleaned, water pressure needs to reach 1,000 psi. (Excessive pressure may remove grout.) Some mechanical scrubbing may be needed. (Higher temperatures are more effective at breaking down oils and soiling.) The professional cleaning company that you select should leave no residue of cleaning solutions by doing a good extraction/rinse. Detergent residue left on the tile will be sticky and thus cause the tile to re-soil more quickly. The final step is to clean with water only.
  • Refinishing:  Sealers, Finishes, Enhancers, and Hardeners.  Most ceramic tiles should not be refinished, but unglazed tiles (e.g., Mexican saltillo, terracotta, and adobe) are porous. Grouts and porous tiles can absorb stains just as they absorb moisture. Coffee, oil, and a host of other products can create permanent stains. Some tiles are also vulnerable to etching by acids or discolorations by strong alkalines and solvents. When the tile is new or has been professionally cleaned, apply an appropriate sealer to protect against stains and discolorations. In brief, sealers are classified as penetrating or topical. Generally, penetrating sealers provide better performance at a higher cost than topical sealers. Topical sealers are formulated using wax, polymer, or acrylic. Penetrating sealers are commonly water-based or solvent-based. One-step sealers are available from no-sheen (i.e., natural) to high-sheen finishes. Enhancers (to darken and enrich color) and hardeners (to add finish durability) are also available. Select a product that is suitable for your tile's sealing history and interior or exterior application. Multiple applications of the sealer may be required for full protection.
  • Grout Sealing.  Common glazed tiles and porcelain tiles should not be sealer; although, the grout may need a sealer. Epoxy grouts does not need to be sealed, but other grouts are porous and should be sealed if the area will be subject to substances that can cause permanent stains: wine, juice, food dye, coffee, oil, urine, and a host of other products. When the tile is new or has been professionally cleaned, apply an appropriate sealer to protect against stains and discolorations. Penetrating sealers are commonly water-based or solvent-based. Select a product that is suitable for your grout's sealing history and interior or exterior application. Multiple applications of the sealer may be required for full protection.
  • Mold.  Kill mold or mildew with an over-the-counter mold remover for tile, Lysol Disinfectant Spray (10.8 - 11.8 pH), or Clorox Bleach (~11.9 pH). If you use bleach, create a mixture of bleach and water (1:15 ratio or 4 ounces of bleach for 60 ounces of water). Rinse the bleach residue off when you’re finished. Warm, dark, and humid environments accelerate mold. So, suppress the growth of mildew by keeping the area cold, well lit, and dry. You may want to consider using a squeegee or towel to dry the surface quickly and using a fan to circulate the air.
  • Repairs.  Tend to repairs immediately to limit exposure and to keep repair expenses as low as possible. Place a caution sign on or near a damaged area if a tripping hazard develops. Place painters’ blue tape or a mat over a transition or flooring that is loose. Retain a piece of grout if the grout breaks free for color matching. Ceramic with a chip or a crack needs to be repaired with filler or by tile replacement. Cracks that run in a general line often indicate a slab crack.
  • Furniture Placement.  Relocate furniture occasionally to distribute traffic patterns.
  • Furniture Legs.  Ceramic tile can tolerate a limited amount of pressure per square inch (PSI). Prevent chips, cracks, and shattering due to heavy weight concentrated upon the legs of furniture by using casters with a flat undersurface made of wood or hard plastic. A caster should be no less than 4 inches in diameter, depending upon the weight of the object. A wide caster will disperse the weight of the furniture better than a narrow caster. Avoid heavy furniture with ball-type casters which concentrate the PSI. Use felt or Teflon pad protectors on the bottom of furniture that is moved frequently. Change your furniture pads periodically. Metal tabs on the bottom of furniture can scratch some ceramic tiles.
  • Chair Mats.  Chair pads are required under desk chairs with metal bottoms to preserve appearance. Chair pads may be required under roller casters to enable a chair to smoothly roll over the grout lines. The width and depth of the grout lines combined with the smoothness of the tile’s surface determines the thickness and rigidity needed in the chair mat. Ceramic tile with a smooth surface needs a mat of 110 mils (0.11″) thickness. Ceramic tile with an irregular surface needs a mat of 170 mil (0.17″) thickness. Purchase a mat with a felt or smooth bottom (i.e., no cleats). Add a thin underlayment under the chair mat if the mat will not remain stationary, if the mat is too noisy, or the tile has an irregular texture.
  • Moving Furniture and Heavy Equipment.  Sliding or dragging furniture or equipment over your ceramic may scratch or chip the surface. This advice is especially important if your tile has a high-gloss surface or the grout lines are deep. Some ceramic is vulnerable to a metal scratch, which will seem impossible to remove. Rolling a heavy load (i.e., a load that exceeds the PSI weight limit) over your ceramic may crack or shatter your tile. Loaded pallet jacks and portable aerial hydraulic work platforms (a.k.a., mobile scissor lifts) present risks. At a minimum, use 1/4-inch hardboard runways.  See our expanded guide, How to Protect Flooring, to learn more.  The Plywood and Masonite section and the Moving Tools section are most applicable.
  • General Renovations, Painting, or Major Events.  If you will be renovating, painting, moving in or out, etc., then read our guide, How to Protect Flooring.
  • Pets.  Most commercial properties will not have pets, but pets are present in select environments (e.g., veterinarian offices, zoos, police academies, etc.). As with humans, pets can track in dirt, mud, etc., so attempt to keep your pet's paws clean. Address urine and other accidents as quickly as possible. Typically, the surface of tile is resistant to urine, but the grout lines are commonly vulnerable and will absorb urine. First, clean with cold water and a mop or sponge. Apply a clear alcohol, diluted hydrogen peroxide, a clear disinfectant, or diluted bleach to the grout line to address odors or stains. Remove the cleaning agent's residue using cold water.
  • Plants.  Do not set a potted plant directly on your ceramic flooring. Place a waterproof tray underneath.
  • Temperature.  A steady temperature is best for all flooring products. Maintain temperatures between 65°F and 85°F to avoid substantial contraction or expansion. Porcelain tile possesses a wider range of tolerance. Common tile that is not freeze-thaw stable is subject to cracking if the tile freezes. Cold temperatures make tile contract; hot temperatures make tile expand. Regular fluctuations between the tile, the setting material, and the substrate can cause the tile to release from the substrate.
  • Heat.  If you have a radiant floor heating system, be cautious to not exceed the limit established by your manufacturer. Do not make rapid changes in temperature, which can cause a bonding failure.
  • Sunlight.  Deflect direct sunlight away from tile to prevent discoloration if your tile has a topical sealer.
  • HVAC.  Change the filters in your air conditioning system regularly to minimize pollen and other airborne particulate.