Cleaning and Sealing Tile and Grout

Cleaning and Sealing Tile and Grout

Posted by Dave Belliveau on Oct 20th 2018

Cleaning & Sealing Tile and Grout

Whether you are brand new to hard surface cleaning, or you have been doing it a while, this article is for you. We will discuss some chemistry basics of hard surface cleaning and sealing, in addition to some specific details on various products we carry so that you can be more prepared on your next hard surface cleaning inquiry.

Choosing your primary cleaning agent:

The very basic rule in hard surface cleaning is to ALWAYS use an Alkaline pre-spray first. This means the pH is 7 or higher. The reason why we always start with alkaline is because it will cut through grease, grime, and other soiling which is acidic in nature in most cases. So essentially the alkaline breaks down the acidic soil. A prime example of this is food grease in a commercial kitchen. 

Since most cleaning agents are in concentrate form, liquids tend to mix the easiest, but powders will work great too, just make sure the powders are fully dissolved according to the directions prior to use. There are some products that will instruct a dilution range depending on soil conditions, however there are others that specify a specific dilution ratio. For these, be sure to stick to the directions as using too much will make it harder to rinse properly and will simply waste product. Using too little may not have enough power to get the results you want.

Most hard surface cleaners will fall around a pH of 12(ish). Our most popular two cleaners in this range which are also safe to use on polished stone are Prochem Professional Alkaline Tile and Grout Cleaner - pH 11.9 and ShoreBest 2180 Hard Surface Cleaner Concentrate (Stone Safe) - Gallon. Some of our customers will sometimes use carpet prespray in a pinch, and if that produces the results they want, great! However sometimes a restorative cleaner may be needed for applications with severe soiling, grease, etc. That's where our number one seller comes to bat a home run every time. With a pH of 14, CPS Liquid Gold 14 pH Hard Surface Cleaner Degreaser will work wonders on concrete, grout, vinyl, plastic, and more.  It also contains potassium hydroxide, which if you look at the picture above, is listed on the far right of the pH scale.

When and how to use acid:

Now that you have removed all the soiling with your alkaline cleaning agent, you may find a variety of stubborn stains which the alkaline simply would not remove. This is common in bathrooms around toilets/urinals, in kitchens near  sinks or dishwashers, around pools or fountains, etc. Now would be the time to use acid as a spotter.

There are many different kinds of acids, usually designed for specific types of scenarios, just like the spotting kit you have for carpet cleaning. We suggest having a few things handy to tackle rust stains, mineral buildup, efflorescence, etc. We carry a few different product lines for these, our most popular is F9, with ShoreBest next in line with popularity. A few keyword searches on our website will bring up exactly what you will need for each of these.

For general acid washing, etching, our most popular product is CPS Quake Hard Surface Acid Cleaner and Restorer. This is what we use for those random stains in the grout around urinals and kitchen appliances. The acid etch is essentially removing a thin top layer of cementicious material, kind of like a "chemical sandpaper."

One reason why we use an alkaline before an acid is to simply remove all the surface soil so that if acid is needed, there is nothing blocking it from the surface to be cleaned. Think of it like this, in order to get to the corn, we need to husk it first. Another reason is acid will not cut grease and dirt because they are on the same side of the pH scale. If you ever get asked to acid wash a bar/restaurant floor, educate the customer that an acid wash really wont be any better than using just water until all the grease is cleaned first, then you can follow with an acid wash if that's what they want. Just be sure to neutralize after using acid. Also, when mixing acidic cleaners, be sure to wear proper PPE and add the acid into the water, not the other way around, this will minimize splashing of the acid out of the bucket.

How to choose the proper sealer:

Once the surface has been cleaned, you should have a like new surface that may have exposed pores that will be very susceptible to staining. We highly suggest sealing all porous surfaces after professional cleaning for the best stain resistance and to make regular maintenance cleaning extremely easy for the client. If they regularly hire you, it will also make your future cleanings easier. 

A few tips when sealing after you finish cleaning. Fan dry all surfaces the best you can, sometimes coming back the following day may be necessary. Sometimes after cleaning, it may appear and feel dry, but there may be dark spots that appear to be stains, but in reality this is trapped moisture. This generally happens with older floors that have never been properly cleaned and/or sealed. If acid etching wont fix, try waiting until the following day, more than likely when you return, the grout will look amazing. Educating your clients of this up front is very important, so if it looks spotty when you finish cleaning, you know it may not mean its still dirty, but rather just contains trapped moisture and over the next 12-24 hours it should look much better. One way to test is to use a torch to heat the area and see if it gets lighter. Be VERY careful when using this method to prevent damaging the surface or surrounding materials. It is much safer to come back the next day for review.

Topical Sealers
These are generally used over resilient floors, concrete, or any other sedimentary material such as Saltillo Mexican Tile. In most cases, we do not suggest using topical sealers over nonporous surfaces like porcelain or ceramic tile because there is nothing for the sealer to bond to, and over time, it will delaminate, crack, and peal away which leaves a horrible mess. There are some products out there which claim to bond to these surfaces, but do your due diligence and research these claims before using.

Penetrating Sealers
When a natural look is desired, meaning you want the floor to look the same after sealing as it does prior to sealing, this is generally what will be used. Most commonly used for sealing grout, or natural stone finishes. Our number one selling product in this category is CPS Clean Advantage Solvent Sealer, which is a ready to use product, no mixing required.

Enhancer Sealers
These are most commonly used on stone to create a wet look" which will draw out the colors in the stone and make them really pop! Available in water based or solvent based solutions, these are best applied in very thin coats, less is more. If applied too thick, a sticky or slippery residue film may reside on the surface. Always use water based enhancer sealers on floors indoors in low humidity environments for best results. Outdoors applications can use either option. If you happen to get he residue from applying too thick, simply apply an alkaline cleaner or stripper, agitate and extract, and repeat with a thinner application coat of the sealer. Our most popular enhancer sealer is ShoreBest 2447 Stone and Masonry Color Enhancer Water Base.

Choosing the proper tools:

Many cleaners in our industry use the conventional method which includes high pressure and some type of "spinner" or "surface cleaner" type of tool, most of which reclaim the water by vacuum. For most tile and grout cleaning, our most popular tool in this category is the Turboforce TH40 12" Turbo Spinner Tool. This is generally used between 800-1500 psi, but some cleaners will push up to 2500 psi if their machines have these pumps.

However, you do not NEED a spinner tool or high pressure to clean tile and grout, but you may need more agitation. If you have a low pressure system, portable extractor, etc, you can still clean at 400-500 psi using a 4-jet hard surface wand such as the Westpak Blaster II Squeegee Wand. More aggressive agitation with a grout brush, CRB machine, or bristle brush on a 175 buffer machine may be needed, and be sure to rinse thoroughly to avoid any residue when done. 

Regardless of your method, you can achieve great results if you apply the proper fundamentals of professional cleaning using proper chemistry, dwell time, agitation, rinsing, and extraction.

So what's the actual process? Check out this video....