The popularity of natural stone floors and countertops, and ceramic tile floors continues to grow each year. These beautiful surfaces can be expensive, and it is important to understand the proper sealing and cleaning procedures needed to protect your investment and avoid damaging the surface.
One of the questions I hear most frequently is “Do I really need to seal my stone/grout?” The answer is yes. Your natural stone or your ceramic tile surfaces should be sealed with an impregnating sealer shortly after installation. Most sealers last for a few years if properly maintained, but like everything else; they eventually break down and should be reapplied periodically. Sealer is necessary because your grout lines and natural stone surfaces are porous and will absorb spills and oily soils. It can be very difficult to clean or extract these soils once they have deeply penetrated the surface of your grout or stone. The sealing process fills these pores with a clear impregnating sealer, but does not change the appearance of the surface. The sealer will make it easier for you to properly clean the surface, and will protect the surface from becoming deeply, permanently stained. Another type of sealer is an “enhancing” sealer which will change the appearance of the stone surface and give it a wet glossy look.
Most grout is cement-based (i.e. comprised primarily of Portland cement). Cement-based grout lines are porous and should be sealed. Another type of grout is epoxy grout. Epoxy grout is used much less frequently, but it is not porous and does not need to be sealed. Stonetech, a division of DuPont, makes a stone and tile cleaner called “Revitalizer” which not only cleans, but also contains an impregnating sealer. So each time you use this product to clean, you are also putting a little bit of sealer back into the surface. It’s not necessary to use this product every time you clean, but I do recommend using it periodically. You can learn more about sealers on Stonetech’s website: http://www2.dupont.com/Stone_Tech_Professional/en_US/products/product_index.html
It is also important to use the proper cleaning products on your stone or tile. General use cleaning products, ammonia, bleach, or acidic cleaners can damage stone and prematurely degrade your sealer. Even “natural” cleaning products like vinegar and lemon juice will damage certain stone surfaces and degrade your sealer prematurely. Always use a neutral pH tile or stone cleaning product. “Neutral” means that the compound is a “7” on the pH scale. The pH scale runs from “1” to “14.” The lower numbers correspond to highly acidic compounds, while the higher numbers correspond to highly alkaline compounds like bleach. Look for a specialty stone/tile cleaner that is neutral, or a “7” on the pH scale. The pH of the cleaner is usually noted on the label. Specialty stone and tile cleaners can be found at most home centers, or purchased on line. Aqua Mix makes a line of specialty stone and tile cleaners, and you can learn more at the Aqua Mix website: http://www.custombuildingproducts.com/products/aqua-mix.aspx
It is especially important to avoid using acidic cleaning products, or vinegar, or lemon juice, on calcium-based stones like marble, limestone, or travertine. Acids will react with the calcium in the stone and etch, or dull the surface. Etching can be reversed, but requires re-polishing, which can be pricey.
Even if you do everything correctly, you will reach a point where you can no longer get your grout lines, or your stone surfaces clean. At this point, you will require a professional cleaning to restore the surface to its original beauty. Your surfaces should be re-sealed after an aggressive professional cleaning, as the cleaning process will degrade your sealer. If you have any questions, please feel free to call me at (203) 245-4427, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.