All About Sealers

There are two main types of sealers – Topical and Penetrating.

Topical Sealers sit on the surface of the tile and grout. They will often give the area a high gloss finish. Topical sealers can lift and flake over time. They usually require stripping prior to resealing. (Note – Total TileCare does NOT deal with Topical Sealers).

Penetrating sealers sit just below the surface of the tile and prevent spills from penetrating and hence staining the tile. It is important to realise that a penetrating sealer is not an impenetrable barrier – it provides reaction time to deal with spills. An unsealed floor can stain immediately, whereas a sealed floor is stain resistant and can have a reaction time of up to 4-5 hours.

There are two commonly used types of penetrating sealer – Natural Look and Wet Look. • A Natural Look Penetrating Sealer leaves the tiles looking like they do in their natural state. To the naked eye, there is no visible difference to the tiles. • A Wet Look Penetrating Sealer leaves the tiles looking like they do when they are wet, often enhancing / deepening the colour. Penetrating Sealers do not prevent acid based spills (eg red wine, vinegar, urine, fruit juice etc) from etching / burning the surface of the tile which can create a dull or frosty appearance. Spills of this nature should be cleaned immediately to prevent permanent damage to the tile surface.

Penetrating Sealers can also be classified as either Water Based or Solvent Based. The distinction lies in the carrier of the actual sealing agent – water based sealers use water as the carrier, solvent based sealers use a solvent as the carrier. Arguments exist for and against the use of both types of sealer but in our experience and opinion, there exists a need for both types of sealer. As a general rule, Solvent based sealers work better that Water based sealers on dense products like polished marble, granite and porcelain tiles. There are a number of reasons why this is so. The reasoning though is highly scientific and involves molecule size and surface tension / energy. Anyone interested in a technical explanation can do further research.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. The quality of the sealers available on the market varies hugely. Good quality sealers come with a life expectancy of up to 15 years depending on the quality of the tile, traffic levels, maintenance procedures and so forth. Cheaper products may seem attractive initially but they are invariably inferior and can often cause more problems than they solve. When comparing sealing products and quotes, do make sure you are comparing apples with apples!

Does Sealing Mean No Maintenance?

No, tiled floors and grout require regular maintenance and anyone that tells you otherwise is either lying or misinformed! If you were to have your carpet Scotchguarded™ you would not assume that you have to vacuum less frequently. Likewise, if you have your tiles or grout sealed do not assume that you have to clean & maintain them less frequently!

Sealers prevent staining, NOT dirt / grime build up. A penetrating sealer sits just below the surface of the tile and prevents spills from penetrating and hence staining the tile. They provide reaction time to deal with spills. An unsealed floor can stain immediately, whereas a sealed floor is stain resistant. Sealers can provide a reaction time of up to 4-5 hours. With natural stone tiles, sealers will not prevent acid based spills (eg red wine, vinegar, urine, fruit juice etc) from etching / burning the surface of the tile. Spills of this nature should be cleaned immediately to prevent permanent damage to the tile surface. Etching will create a permanent dull or frosty appearance on the surface of the tile which cannot be removed without polishing or re-honing.

Clients often ask whether sealing textured tiles will make them easier to clean. It won’t. As explained above, sealing will help to protect from “staining” but textured tiles, by their very nature, have a rough and uneven surface. While providing non-slip features, the textured surface also attracts dirt and grime build-up. Often a simple mop will not be sufficient for maintaining tiles of this type. A scouring pad and doodlebug may be beneficial and periodic professional cleaning may well be recommended.

Finally, let’s look at grout. Grout is often the lowest point on the floor which often results in dirt, grime and other contaminants collecting there – particularly in high traffic areas / walk ways. Grout will certainly benefit from sealing to prevent staining but regular and thorough cleaning with the correct products and equipment will also be required to keep grout looking good.

Do All Tiles Need Sealing?

The short answer is No. Not all tiles are porous. It is not necessary (or in fact possible) to seal a non-porous tile. Many people mistake textured tiles for porous tiles, because they can be very difficult to keep clean. You can use the following simple test for porosity. It will indicate moderate-high porosity levels. Tiles with a lower porosity may require alternate testing on a spare or sample tile.

  1. Pour a small puddle of water onto a single tile in an inconspicuous area.
  2. Leave the water to sit for a couple of hours.
  3. Mop up the puddle of water with a clean rag.

If the exposed tile has changed colour (looks wet) or there is a “tide-line” or “witness mark” where the puddle had been, this indicates that the tile is porous and requires sealing. Tiles with medium to high levels of porosity should be sealed immediately so that the area gains the full benefit of the protection. Sealing provides the following benefits

  1. Prevent unsightly stains.
  2. Prevent discolouration.
  3. Keep your tiled floors looking better for longer.

Most natural stone tiles are porous.

Examples of porous tiles include:- Polished Porcelain, Terracotta, Limestone, Travertine, Bluestone, Slate, Sandstone, Granite, plus some Vitrified Tiles. Examples of non-porous tiles include:- Ceramic, Glazed, plus some Vitrified Tiles. Please note that in most circumstances, grout is porous and will benefit from sealing.