How And When To Use A Flooring Sealer

A flooring sealer will protect your tile floors against stains, moisture, and mildew. It is even easy to apply if you follow these tips and instructions.

The tile is laid; the joints are grouted. It's tempting to call the project finished, but if your tiles are slate, marble, terra cotta, or unglazed ceramic, or if you used a regular cement-based grout, you still have one step left--you need to finish your project with a sealer.

When To Use a Sealer

Tile floors are a thing of beauty, and are costly enough to warrant careful protection. Almost all tile projects will benefit from the use of a sealer, either on the grout or on the tile itself. The sealer should be applied when the project is completed, then again every three years for low-traffic areas and every year for high-traffic areas. It may sound like a lot of work, but applying a sealer is one of the easiest steps in a tile project. Sealers protect porous tiles and cement-based grout from absorbing water and stains. They make your tiled areas easier to clean because dirt does not penetrate, and they prevent mildew from growing. In moist areas like bathrooms, a good sealer will keep water from soaking into porous tile or cement-based grout and causing damage to wallboards or sub floors.

All porous tiles, including natural stone and unglazed ceramic, should be sealed. To test if your tile is porous or not, touch a wet sponge to the tile. If the water makes a dark spot, you know that it has soaked into the tile and the tile is porous. Tile can be pre-sealed before it's adhered to the floor, a good idea if you'll use dark colored grout. You can also seal tile after you apply grout, but make sure to clean the tiles thoroughly. Once you seal the floor, you won't be able to clean any residue that's underneath the sealer.

Most grouts need to be sealed. The cement base that makes up most grouts is highly absorbent, and will soak up water and stains. Applying and maintaining a high-quality sealer on cement grouts will extend the life and look of your grout by preventing waterlogged grout from deteriorating and by keeping stains on the surface. Check the manufacturer's recommendations to determine how long to let fresh grout dry before applying sealer; some sealers seal moisture in, and require completely cured grout, while other sealers can be applied as little as 72 hours after grout.

How To Use a Sealer

First, determine which type of sealer is right for your project. Two basic types of sealers are available: petroleum based sealers, and water based sealers. Choose based on how porous a material you're sealing, what you want to keep out of the tile or grout, the density of the tile or grout, and where the tile is. The choice is complicated enough that many contractors recommend purchasing sealers only from tile stores, where employees are more knowledgeable about the different products and what they do.

Once you've chosen a sealer, read the instructions carefully to find out when to apply the product. You may need to wait up to a month for your grout to cure. If you're applying sealer to a large area, like an entire tile floor, use a wide paintbrush or a rag. If you're only sealing the grout joints, you can use a specially designed applicator bottle with a brush tip. Children's paintbrushes also work well, as do inexpensive foam paintbrushes with chiseled tips. Be sure to wipe the excess sealer off of your glazed ceramic tiles. If you don't, the extra sealer could affect the look of the tiles.

Happily, applying sealer to tiles or grout goes quickly, and, after a 24-hour drying time, you should be able to call your project completely finished. Walk with confidence across your floors, knowing that even your teenager's muddy shoes can't hurt a thing.

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