In bathrooms and kitchens, millions of homes have wall and floor tiles, which are typically square or rectangular ceramic or porcelain panels sealed with grout. While tiles are designed to last for years, they can crack or become discolored and damaged over time. Even if the tiles themselves remain intact, sealant or grout can become loose or deteriorate. Regardless of the problem, you’ll need to occasionally repair, replace, or restore your tiles for cosmetic and functional reasons. Cracked, chipped, and misaligned tiles can pose an increased risk of an accident or an environment where mold can grow if moisture becomes trapped. For the safety of everyone in the household, damaged tiles should be replaced as soon as possible.
Tile Restoration Tools
To correctly restore damaged or soiled tiles, there are several essential tools you need:
- Tile cutters or tile nippers to shape your tiles to fit
- Grout floats to force grout between the tile joins
- Notched trowels for applying tile adhesive or epoxy
- Rubber mallets to gently tap tiles into position
- Bubble levels to ensure correct alignment for wall tiles
- Tile spacers to keep an even distance between tiles
- A grout sponge to remove excess grout
- An electric drill with a non-abrasive microfiber brush attachment for quick deep cleaning
Understanding Tile Grades
When replacing or restoring tiles, you should be aware of the tile grade you need. Tiles are graded on a linear scale, 1 being the weakest and 5 being the strongest. Grade 1 tiles are typically placed on walls, where they don’t need to withstand high impact or pressure. Grade 5 tiles are designed for areas with high foot traffic.
Depending on the grade of the tiles you plan to restore, you may need to use different cleaning and repair techniques to avoid damaging the surrounding tiles. Mild cleaners and non-abrasive sponges and brushes should be used on lower-grade indoor tiles, whereas most outdoor tiles and pavers are rugged enough to cope with heavy-duty cleaning products and power washers.
If you prefer to fix chips in your tile floor as they occur, you can do so using epoxy putty. The modeler’s epoxy putty you’ll use typically consists of two sticks or rods. Taking equal amounts from both, roll and combine them, and press the putty into the chipped area. Flatten the putty using either your finger or a cloth, but make sure the weave is tight.
Repair Cracked Tiles
Ceramic and porcelain tiles can crack for many reasons. A forceful impact is one of the most common causes, often from dropping a hard or heavy object. Improper carpet installation beneath the tiles can lead to the tiles eventually beginning to lift off, creating cracks or tenting. If your tile is in the basement of your home, you may experience tiles lifting and cracking due to moisture seeping in from the subfloor or seasonal changes causing the building to contract and expand. Repairing the damage requires an epoxy or polyester filler. You’ll need to match the color of the filler to the floor tile color to avoid inconsistencies. Stone tiles may be repairable using a clear sealer.
Address Loose Tiles
As part of the restoration process, identify and address tiles that have become loose from regular wear. Be careful when attempting to pry loose tiles free. This can cause damage to adjacent tiles due to the way they’re arranged on the floor. You may need to use a paint scraper or saw blade to loosen the tile further before removing it. Clean the underside of the tile and the bed below with a damp cloth.
If you notice that the bedding beneath the tile has begun to crumble or deteriorate, you’ll need to apply new tile adhesive to the underside of the flooring. First, dampen the underside of the tile and the bedding. Next, prime both surfaces with diluted PVA made from one part PVA dissolved in four or five parts water. Then, after allowing the diluted PVA layer to dry, apply concentrated PVA to both surfaces and press them together. Add weight to this tile for faster, more even adhesion. Leave the tile to bond for 24 hours.
Ensure Correct Alignment
When laying flooring tiles, ensure the surface on which the tiles are laid is flat and even. Laying tiles on an uneven surface can cause lippage. This misalignment of floor tiles causes raised edges, or lips, to form. If you notice that your floor tiles are misaligned, correct this as soon as possible. Allowing the tiles to set may mean you need to tear up and replace the entire floor. Lippage can cause a tripping and falling hazard.
Repair or Replace Grout
Grout is a highly viscous fluid composed of water, silica sand, and cement that fills gaps, reinforces structures, and acts as a sealant. Grout can be considered a type of mortar with the sand helping it bond to the tile material.
If grout becomes unstable and damaged, you can remove the affected parts and apply a new layer of grout to fill in the gaps. The process of replacing damaged grout is called regrouting. While your tile grout could last anywhere from 10-20 years, eventually you may need to reapply or touch up areas that become damaged or stained.
If you decide at any point that you don’t like the original grout color, you can simply apply a different grout color over the original layer to mask it. To prepare your own concrete grout, you can mix by hand, but investing in a high-quality concrete mixer will make the task easier.
Cleaning and Sealing Tiles
Tiles, grout, and natural stone must be periodically cleaned to maintain their luster and color. Stains, mineral deposits (particularly calcium), and mold or mildew can ruin a beautiful finish.
Before proceeding to industrial-grade cleaning products and tools, determine if you can clean the area using a mop and soapy water. Fill a bucket with hot water, add a few drops of dish detergent, and mop the tiles using short, consistent strokes. Once you’re finished mopping, buff the tiles using a microfiber cloth.
Cleaning grout is more challenging, as the porosity collects dirt and mold spores. Household cleaning supplies are usually sufficient for grout, such as a paste of baking soda, salt, and warm water or cream of tartar and lemon juice. These solutions bleach the grout, returning it to its white color. For a cement-based gray grout, invest in a product like grout colorant, which you’ll apply to the floor and scrub on the grout, using a bristle brush to restore its natural hue.
If you need a more heavy-duty cleaning solution, there are several options available. Cleaning products for ceramic and porcelain tiles have high pH levels, typically 11+, which indicates a high degree of alkalinity. For cleaning natural stone, however, cleaning products typically contain a more balanced pH level to avoid damaging the material.
You can also use high-temperature rotary jet extraction for a more thorough process. In those areas requiring particularly aggressive cleaning, you can agitate the surface. If your tiles show signs of lime or calcium deposits, consider using a mild acid rinse to remove them. These mineral deposits are especially common on shower tiles, building up over time due to hard water in the home.
Mold and Mildew
Molds tend to be green, black, red, or yellow, whereas mildew is white. Regardless of which type of fungus you notice, part of restoring tiles and bathroom fixtures is removing any traces of these growths. Fungi tend to grow more readily in highly humid environments, specifically bathtubs and showers.
Fungus collects on caulking, the material used to seal joints and seams. If this occurs, it’s often necessary to remove the caulking. You can remove caulk in various ways. Applying a caulk remover can soften the caulk, allowing you to extract it. If that’s not an option, you can use a caulk remover tool or utility knife. If you decide to use a knife, be careful not to scratch the adjacent material. When you replace the caulking, apply a caulk designed to resist fungal growth to prevent the issue from recurring.
During renovation or interior decorating work, small paint splatters may land on the floor or wall tiles. If you’re planning to paint your bathroom or kitchen, lay plastic sheeting over the tiles and use painter’s tape around light fixtures and trim to prevent spillage.
However, accidents can happen despite your precautions, so it’s important to know how to remove paint from these surfaces. Once the paint dries, you can use a scraper, but you should ensure that the scraper has an acute angle to the blade to avoid damaging the tile’s surface. To reduce the risk of surface damage, you can use a plastic scraper or scouring pad to abrade the paint. As the plastic is relatively soft, it will be kinder to the ceramic. Don’t use a steel scouring pad or steel wood; this can scratch the surface finish, damaging the glazing and exposing the ceramic to moisture.
The process of polishing natural stone, such as marble or limestone, requires finesse. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you risk permanently damaging the stone. For this reason, it’s essential that you educate yourself on the proper way of doing this. Once you’ve cleaned the tile in preparation for polishing, mix filler, per the manufacturer’s instructions, and fill in any cracks or holes you find in the natural stone surface, allowing the material to cure. Pack the filler compound tightly into every crevice, leaving enough that it extends upward from the flat surface of the tile. You want a surplus.
Using a buffing machine, install a diamond polishing pad with a 100-grit texture. With long, even strokes, use the buffing machine to smooth out uneven surfaces in the floors. You’ll make subsequent passes using polishing pads of progressively finer grit ratings (200, 400, etc.) until the surface is polished to your liking.
Enhancing the color of the stone tile allows you to bring out its true tones, adding to the vibrancy of the room. You’ll perform this using a special type of sealant. The finish depends on whether you prefer a matte, non-reflective surface or a high-gloss look.
Pay careful attention to natural stone tile countertops. Natural stone is porous and, when incorrectly sealed, it can absorb liquids spilled on the surface. The effects of these liquids differ depending on their acidity or alkalinity. Acidic liquids can cause a process known as etching, whereby a chemical reaction causes the surface to become discolored or dull. Consider using coasters to prevent colors in liquids from staining a stone counter, even if the counter is sealed.
One of the most important parts of any restoration program is prevention before and after restoring your tiles. If you track dirt in from outside, you can contribute to the soiling and discoloration of the tiles and grout. To prevent this from happening in the first place, consider placing floor mats at all entrances and exits. Even entering your home with a stone stuck in one of the treads of your shoes or boots can scratch the glaze of your ceramic tiles. As the glazing wears away from abrasion, it exposes the porous surface underneath to the ingress of moisture and other contaminants. Ceramic is only water-resistant when glazed.
Tackling Your Tile Restoration
Restoring, repairing, and replacing tiles and grouting is part of general home maintenance. It’s important to choose the right tools and supplies for the job, so you avoid causing damage to the surrounding flooring while restoring your tiles’ luster and water resistance.
If you’re considering repairing or replacing tiles in your home, Contractors Direct has the materials and tools you need to get the job done right. A trusted provider for home renovations and repairs since 1993, we offer affordable prices so homeowners can perform DIY projects while sticking to their budget. Explore our online store and contact us if you have any questions about your products.