The old tile is gone, the shower was stripped to bare studs and new cement-based backer board was installed. On top of that some new tile was set and grouted. So you think you're done, right?
Well — you’re almost done. The final step that will help keep things cleaner and free of mold is the application of a grout and tile sealer. After all, why invest in new backer board and new tile if it will get damaged by water and mold? Protect your home by sealing your grout and tiles.
Types of Grout and Tile Sealers
Grout and tile sealers fall into two basic types: penetrating and surface types. Nearly all commonly available sealers are penetrating types, and are usually water-based. The “active ingredient” in these sealers most often is a glycol ether solvent and copolymer compounds. These polymers are what give a sealer its resistance to stains and discoloration.
Another product that is often used as a sealer is a stone enhancer. This product is silicone-based and is often used to add depth of color or provide a “wet” look to some natural stone. As a side benefit, these silicones are highly water-repellant. I have used these enhancers on natural granites and marble with some very pleasing results. These enhancers are more likely to darken grout, so if you chose to use this type of product, I recommend that you test it out first in an inconspicuous area.
Since application techniques vary by manufacturer, check the application guidelines on the product you are using. Apply the grout and tile sealer to clean, dry surfaces only. In the case of new construction, grout should “cure” for 48 to 72 hours before the sealer is applied. Even if you are sealing old work, be sure that the surface has been dry for 48 to 72 hours (as in, wait to seal for that period of time after using the shower). Most ceramic or porcelain tiles are glazed so the tile itself is pretty robust and waterproof. The exception here may lie in primitive hand made “art” tiles, or natural Saltillo tile.
Freshly applied sealer will penetrate grout readily, and after a few minutes be sure to wipe away excess sealer. Excess sealer that dries on the tile edges can lead to a sticky mess, and the only real cure is to use an aggressive stripper to remove it. This cleaning action then removes sealer from the grout line, so the whole process needs to be performed again.
Long Term Care
Most sealers are applied once a year to every couple of years, though some manufacturers claim life-spans on their products of 15 to 20 years. Daily maintenance of your tiled surfaces, especially in the bathroom, extends the life span of your grout and sealer. In most homes, the most troublesome area for moldy or dirty grout is in the shower. Here the constant bombardment with water, combined with the “food” of soaps and shed skin cells, provide a fertile ground for mold growth. I know many folks who will squeegee or dry their showers after every use. By doing this simple but dedicated task, they remove the water from the growth equation and their showers look brand new year after year.
When cleaning your shower, it is best to use cleaners that are pH neutral. The acidic nature of vinegar and other common cleaners will erode the cement base of grout over time, which weakens it and may cause its early demise.
An Insider Hint
For tile floors, choosing a grout color that matches the dirt of your neighborhood is one of the best ways to keep grout “looking” clean.
Kevin Stevens is a Hometalk - http://www.hometalk.com - writer. Read more articles like this one - http://www.networx.com/article/sealing-your-tiles-right - or get help with your home projects on Hometalk.com.