Stone, ceramic and porcelain care: The benefits of specifying a bespoke solution.
By Lisa Breakspear Sales & Technical Director FILA UK.
Stone, porcelain and ceramic are all fabulous surface materials, and great care goes into their specification. Their individual aesthetics and formats are carefully compared, along with their performance features. However, when it comes to maintenance, they are all too often collectively viewed as ‘tiles’ and treated in the same way.
Care and maintenance regimes for ‘man-made’ ceramic and porcelain, and for natural stone should be viewed differently. In terms of the actual regime, both will follow a similar route, starting with the vitally important ‘builders clean’ but the products specified in each case may well differ.
Stone care essentials
An initial post installation clean, or ‘builders clean’ as it is often referred to, removes manufacturing debris and installation dirt, including grout and adhesive. It is a very important step and should always be carried out before a sealer is applied. If you try to apply a sealer onto a dirty surface, it won’t be properly absorbed; this will affect the performance of the sealer, the tile’s aesthetic and ongoing maintenance will be more difficult.
To ensure that the correct cleaning product is used, it is essential to determine the acid sensitivity of the stone specified. If the tile isn’t acid sensitive, and if you have to use an acid detergent, choose a safe ‘buffered’ acid like FILA DETERDEK, as opposed to a muriatic acid-based substance. Muriatic acid releases fumes that can be damaging to human health and to the environment. They can cause substantial damage to stainless steel and aluminium profiles, as the fumes erode the surface. Buffered acids, on the other hand, do not emit fumes or cause erosion.
Certain materials, including polished marbles, limestones and travertines, won’t withstand an acid wash, and a pH-neutral or alkaline product should always be used. Alkaline products are effective at removing organic dirt and polymers from grouts and adhesives but aren’t suitable for polished stone tiles. A safe option in all cases is a pH-neutral cleaner. Look out for a quality concentrated product that can be used at various dilutions, as this will cater for most cleaning needs. Once the tiles have been thoroughly cleaned, the surface is then ready to be sealed.
Stone sealer application
Most natural stone surfaces will need to be sealed, to protect them from water, oil and other contaminants. Some very porous stone surfaces may also need to be sealed before grouting. Treatments come in many forms, both water-based and solvent-based:
Water-based products offer a host of advantages and, in terms of their comparison with solvents, there are now products available that perform equally, some better. Water-based treatments can also normally be applied over residual moisture and have faster drying times, which will obviously cut project time-scales considerably.
Solvent treatments have a different molecular structure to water-based products. Application methods are different and drying times are extended; a surface will have to be completely dry before a solvent is applied and, externally, they should only be applied in dry conditions. Ventilation may also be required to extract fumes.
In terms of eco choice, water-based sealers win hands-down. High performance sealers are available to protect tiles and grout joints from stains, to repel water, to ‘enhance’ surfaces and even block efflorescence.
Ongoing maintenance tackles everyday dirt, grime and atmospheric agents. Some installations may also need a periodic deep clean to remove dirt build-up. Unsuitable maintenance products will undo everything achieved to this point. They will affect the performance of the sealer and could also potentially damage the tile surface. For example, if an acidic cleaning product is used on an acid-sensitive stone, the acid will etch the surface. Likewise, an alkaline cleaning product used on a polished limestone will, over time, damage the factory polish and dull the surface. Most ‘household’ cleaners are either too acidic or too alkaline. So-called ‘natural’ treatments containing lemon and vinegar have a very low pH-level, so are acidic, whilst bleach-based products are at the alkaline end of the pH scale.
Inferior products often leave residues behind too, and a lot of flooring treatments will contain a “maintainer” which will create a shine on the surface. This will build up and become a key to dirt; in a very short period of time, the floor will become stained by organic foot traffic and, in some cases, a slip hazard will be created.
So, what happens if the stone surface is just cleaned with water? Surprisingly, this is a common issue; many people fear the use of a detergent, so they don’t use anything at all. The surface is ‘cleaned’ by mopping with water; this swishes the dirt around, which builds up and becomes trapped in the porosity of the stone. This then creates a key for dirt and the tiles become more difficult to clean. Once again, the safest option is to use a pH-neutral cleaner. Many products, like FILA CLEANER, don’t need rinsing at high dilutions and will not leave a residue. They can also be used at a lower dilution to deep clean natural stone tiles which are very dirty.
Porcelain and ceramic care essentials
Porcelain and ceramics are both man-made products and their care regimes are very similar. Just like stone, an initial post installation or ‘builders clean’ should be carried out to remove debris from factory finishing processes and installation dirt. Generally, buffered acid and alkaline detergents will be suitable.
With regards to sealers, there is a host of conflicting views. Many people assume that porcelain and ceramic tiles don’t need sealing. However, regarding polished porcelain, micro-pores are opened up during the polishing process. Many polished porcelains are factory sealed ‘in line’, following the manufacturing process but, in some cases, the ‘in line’ sealer is only sufficient to protect the surface during installation. A further seal – after a thorough initial clean – is recommended, to protect the tile and grout joint. In addition, some very porous man-made tiles, like cement-based encaustics, will require sealing before and after grout is applied.
There are now water-based sealers, like FILAMP90 ECO PLUS, which can be used on all stone and polished porcelain surfaces, and which offer other benefits including ‘food-safe’ certification.
Matt surfaces generally don’t require a sealer but ‘dirt barriers’ can be very effective, especially on textured tiles. A protector should also be applied to the grout joint. Pump-spray, VOC-free treatments, like FILA FUGAPROOF, offer safe, effective treatment.
Ongoing maintenance of porcelain and ceramics tackles the same issues seen in stone installations. Alkaline and pH-neutral detergents will be suitable but pH-neutral cleaners will offer the safest option across all surfaces.
Inferior cleaning products which contain ‘maintainers’ can be a big issue with porcelains and ceramics, especially those with textured finishes. They will leave a waxy shine on the surface and this will build up, attracting dirt. Very quickly, tiles will become stained by organic foot traffic and, in some cases, a slip hazard will be created. Also, on polished porcelain, the maintainer build up can cause the surface to dull, rather than enhance the polished finish. Use of the correct cleaning tools and a suitable cleaner will remove the residue from the ‘high-low’ surfaces and will restore the tile’s original characteristics, including anti-slip ratings.
Design-specific regimes and universal solutions
Recommended ‘care programmes’ are now available to cater for specific tile designs, providing a package of products for a tile’s entire lifecycle. For example, FILA’s care solution for large and extra-large formats includes products for a surface builders clean – and for cleaning of the tile back, and the tile face to remove possible suction cup marks – as well as treatments for ongoing maintenance. The new recommendation to pre-clean the tile back before installation ensures that any impurities are removed, so that good adhesion is achieved across the underface of the entire tile.
As a rule of thumb, if you want to clean all of your surfaces with one product, then stick to a pH-neutral cleaning product, like FILA CLEANER. This particular detergent can be used at different dilutions to care for different materials, from acid sensitive natural stone to glazed ceramics. Some deep cleaning alkaline solutions, like FILAPS87, can also be used on ceramics, porcelains and unpolished stone, but anything acidic should not be used on acid-sensitive surfaces. Seeking professional advice will really pay dividends, in terms of a simplified cleaning regime and a safe and successful installation.