Is it really necessary to seal your tile?
Not all tile needs to be sealed, but for certain tile types, this step is crucial if you’re interested in protecting your investment! After spending a fortune on high-quality tile and professional installation, sealing the tile ensures it maintains its quality.
Sealing tile strengthens its defenses and prevents stains, but it’s important to remember that sealer doesn’t last forever. Sealing your tile isn’t a one-and-done project; it’s part of long-term maintenance and needs to be redone at regular intervals.
Read on to learn more about when and why to seal your tile and grout.
What Happens If You Don’t Seal Your Tile?
Choosing not to seal your tile decreases its lifespan and makes cleaning and maintenance more difficult and labor-intensive.
If you have porous tile, like natural stone or unglazed ceramic, a variety of stains are bound to accumulate on its surface. Dirt, bacteria, and water are likely to soak into the surface of the tile, and it may not be possible to remove them. Not only will this negatively impact the appearance of your tile, but it can also contribute to faster deterioration.
Aside from sealing porous tile, it’s also vital to seal your grout, particularly in areas like kitchens and bathrooms that are prone to moisture. Mold and mildew can quickly develop and often come with an unpleasant odor. Sealing your grout regularly can prevent this and keep the grout looking brand-new.
What Types of Tile Need to Be Sealed?
Most types of tile don’t need to be sealed. The majority of porcelain and ceramic tiles on the market are glazed and don’t require sealing, and glass tile doesn’t need to be sealed unless it has an uneven or beveled surface.
When we talk about sealing tile, we’re usually referring to natural stone. Since it’s typically porous, it’s crucial to seal the surface of the tile to protect it and increase its durability.
Ideally, you would seal the tiles before installing them. While this isn’t necessarily required, it can protect your tile from being stained by mortar during the installation process. If it’s not possible or convenient to do so, make sure to seal your natural stone before grouting.
After you’ve sealed your tile and grouted it, wait for the grout to fully cure, and then add another coat of sealer to seal both the tile and the grout.
Be sure to use a penetrating or impregnating sealer rather than a topical sealer. Topical sealers form a film over the tile’s surface, can make the tile slippery, and usually don’t last longer than a few months, whereas penetrating sealers go deep inside the tile to repel water and prevent stains. They last longer and don’t change the tile’s appearance–and if you paid for beautiful natural stone tile, you definitely don’t want to ruin its look.
Anytime the sealer wears down, you’ll need to reseal your tile. A simple way to know whether your sealer has worn down is to use the water test. Put some water on the tile and watch to see whether it soaks in or forms a droplet and rolls around on the tile’s surface. If the water soaks in, it’s time for another application of sealer.
In general, you’ll need to reseal your natural stone tile about once a year, but this can vary. High-traffic areas may need to be sealed more frequently, whereas low- or no-traffic areas, like decorative wall tile, for instance, probably won’t need to be sealed as often.
Although most tile types don’t need to be sealed, all grout should be sealed. In general, grout is porous and prone to stains and water damage. Note that even professionally installed grout probably hasn’t been sealed. This is because grout needs to be fully cured before sealing, and curing can take a few days. It’s rare for professionals to come back a few days after installation to apply sealer.
Sealing your grout may seem like just another annoying maintenance task to do around the house. However, sealed grout is a lot easier to keep clean than unsealed grout and doesn’t need to be replaced as frequently, so taking on this project will save you time and effort in the long run.
You can use the water test mentioned above to see whether your grout needs to be resealed. Simply spread a few drops of water onto your grout. If the grout darkens or otherwise changes color, that indicates that it needs to be sealed, as the water is able to soak into its surface.
Here are a few other situations in which it’s likely best to seal or reseal your tile and/or grout:
- A tile job was completed several years ago and hasn’t been sealed since (or ever)
- Grout is beginning to flake off, especially in unventilated areas with lots of moisture and humidity
- Tiles are loose or showing wear
- The tile is located outdoors and exposed to the elements
Grout usually doesn't need to be resealed as often as natural stone tile. If you use a good penetrating sealer, then you’ll likely only need to reseal your grout every three to five years.
When In Doubt, Follow the Manufacturer’s Instructions
If you’re not sure whether your tile or grout requires sealing, always refer back to the manufacturer’s instructions.
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