Tile Grout: to Seal or not to Seal

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dirty tile groutThat is the question. Nearly every contractor or installer who handles tile grout will recommend sealing the grout in order to protect from staining and soiling. Seals come in either a membrane variety, which forms a protective layer over the top of the grout, or a penetrant variety, which enters the grout and makes it less porous. Tile is clean, stays clean, and saves you time. Right?

Not quite.

Seals can be effective, provided they are maintained. Something contractors don’t usually tell you, a seal only lasts so long. In particularly wet areas or places that get mopped frequently, like your kitchen, you may need to reseal the tile as often as every six months. If you’re willing to pay a contractor that often to keep your floors sealed, or have the DIY skills and time on your hands, by all means do it. If you don’t, sealing can cause nightmares when cleaning.

Imagine there’s a spot on your grout. You have your nylon brush, your baking soda mix, your lemon juice, all the things people recommend you use when scrubbing grout. You scrub the spot for ten minutes and realize nothing has happened. So you up the ante, and bring out some bleach. Ten minutes later, still nothing. You go further, and begin steaming the spot, hoping to shoot the dirt out of the spot. Another ten minutes of labor and there are still no results. Finally, you take out a metal brush and just scrape off the top layer of grout and call it a day. Not very healthy for your grout.
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This is a situation I’ve found on more tile cleanings than I’d care to mention. Seals are responsible, specifically seals that wear off. The same dirty mop water that will cause unsealed grout to discolor can penetrate a spot where a seal has worn off, and wick under the place where the seal remains. Then you have dirty grout with a protective layer above it. On top of that, grout discoloration can be due to soap residue, dirty mop water, grease spills, biological spills, mildew, any number of things that all require different materials and chemicals to clean.

As Mike Holmes of HGTV writes, “In my opinion, grout needs to be able to breathe, so that any moisture that gets in behind your tile is able to escape. If you seal the grout, that can’t happen. No matter what, moisture – steam and water – eventually will get through the grout, or through a crack in your tile. So, if your grout is sealed, how will that water evaporate back out? It can’t. And that will lead to problems. I’ve seen it hundreds of times.”

As a general rule, I don’t suggest sealing grout if you’re able to maintain your tile properly. Change your mop water often when cleaning, use either the suggested amount of soap or a vinegar mix instead, vacuum your tile before mopping, damp mop weekly and wet mop monthly, all these things will help keep your grout clean without sealing it. Please check out our care card: http://bit.ly/1LeX3S7

If you are going to seal your grout, make sure you have all the information available to you. Find out what type of seal is being used, how long it lasts in both high and low moisture areas, and how often you need to reseal. If you’re told sealing is required for a healthy grout, remember the ancient Romans and all the work they did with concrete; none of it is sealed, and much of it is still standing thousands of years later.

Andrew Mongeau
Field Manager
InstaDry Carpet and Tile Cleaning

Source: Seal your tiles, not your grout