care and maintenance of your cement tile

now you have an amazing cement tile installation. here are some great tips on how to keep it that way!

like many unglazed tile products such as natural stone tiles, quarry tiles and porcelain tiles, cement tiles are porous in nature and can be sealed in order to maintain their natural good looks and to help avoid staining. 

our european clients shy away from sealing tiles preferring their installation to meld with their environment. this is called patina, and is a highly favored finish in the world, but in North America clients are not familiar with patina in general and particularly with the specific stage that develops just after installation and prior to a complete patina in their unglazed tiles and therefore we recommend a sealing procedure to assist them to this stage with minimal fuss.

wall or floor- your moroccan handmade encaustic cement tile surfaces can be cared for to last many, many generations.

 

PART I

general sealing tips

if you’ve read our encaustic cement installation tips and shared them with your installer, you will know that your tiles have arrived to you pre-polished and pre-sealed. 

but what does that mean?

 after the curing process, the top pigment layer of all cement tiles are left with a “tooth” to the surface that feels slightly rough to the touch. but unlike most cement tiles offered, clé hand rubs each of our cement tiles with a penetrating sealant that polishes and seals the tiles so that this rough surface is removed.

this hand-rubbed finish is typically an expensive add-on for most other cement tiles (a 30% increase in fees) as it takes time and care to remove this rough surface and start your tiles toward their lifelong natural and smooth patina. you will be able to see the difference just in comparing clé cement tiles against other cement tiles.

in most countries, this finish would be enough for any project, residential or commercial. however, as noted earlier -in north america, clients are not familiar with the natural qualities of cement tiles as they are not accustomed to this newly popular surface. and for these clients the pre-polish and pre-seal that clé provides is a very necessary FIRST STEP in a successful installation and development of patina. HOWEVER, it only serves to allow tiles to endure the travel from studio to jobsite as well as through the first stages of installation.

 this means that prior to grouting your installation, a grout release is required to insure that heavily tinted or bleached grouts will not affect your tiles. additionally, your tiles must be sealed again after the installation has been completed and cleaned. by doing this next stage of sealing, your tiles now are further protected against a moderate traffic area for at least a year or even many years depending on usage. (be sure to always follow the instructions of the sealer’s manufacturer for reapplying).

 clé recommends the Miracle Sealant product- Miracle 511 Porous Plus for this final seal, and it can also be used for the grout release. however, there are other sealants that might be preferred, depending on your contractors preference. if your contractor opts to use a different sealer, we will not be able to give advice on its application or support after use.

 here is a review of our top tips for sealing after installation 

  1. after your tiles have been installed, allow all the moisture in the tiles to evaporate, or it will be trapped under the sealant resulting in dark moisture patches, or hairline cracks will develop.
  2. prior to sealing, your cement tile surfaces must be cleaned, free of grease, oil, dirt, wax or any other foreign matter.
  3. after cleaning process has been completed and accepted, it is recommended to re-seal the tiles and grout lines for extra protection, especially in water areas to avoid excess moisture.
  4. select the correct sealant for the look you would like to have for your particular project. (*see below)
  5. be sure to always test sealer in a small area to ensure it gives the finish you prefer.
  6. do not put anything on the sealer until it has completely dried as per manufacturer’s instructions. 
  1. ( critical ) For installations outdoors it is highly important to protect your tiles with a penetrating sealer containing UV protection in order to avoid direct sunlight. This will help the tile to preserve its color and natural patina. check with your sealant manufacturers for more specific information.
  2. ( critical ) Additionally, for outdoor areas with issues with freeze/thaw please be sure to use a waterproof sealer to render the cement tiles waterproof. Please be sure to comply 100% with the manufacturer’s instructions in order to render your tiles waterproof. If after your tiles have been properly sealed according to manufacturer’s instructions, water does not bead up on the surface of the tile, your tiles are not properly sealed. Other general tips for outdoor installations are -
  • For outdoor floor installations, do not install cement tiles (waterproofed or otherwise) below grade. The tiles will still absorb ground moisture and present freeze/thaw and/or efflorescent issues.
  • For outdoor wall installations, do not install cement tiles without a weather flashing at the top of the installation. Your outdoor wall installations will always require waterproof support at the top of a wall installation to prevent moisture from forming behind your installation.
  1. ( critical ) For installations in pools or water spaces, use a penetrating sealer to make your tile waterproof and additionally apply an acrylic concrete surface sealer on top. check with your sealant manufacturers for more specific information.

 

what is the right sealant for you? 

penetrating sealers (impregnating)

penetrating sealers coat the cement particles inside of the tiles, making it less likely to retain stains. this sealant is a natural and invisible finish. most cement tile clients prefer this sealant because it makes the tiles waterproof (when using Miracle 511 Porous Plus) and allows the tiles to look uncoated.

 

enhancing sealers

want to intensify your colors- both in depth and boldness- then choose an enhancing sealer. probably the most expensive of all sealers, enhancing sealers will leave your tiles the same colors as if they were wet.

  

matte sealers

topical sealers create a barrier on the surface of the tile so that stains have a longer reaction time before they reach the actual surface. available in shiny and matte,  topical sealers are not generally recommended for exterior applications as the sun may deteriorate them quickly. matte topical sealers are produced by adding a chemical that cuts the shine, but also weakens the seal.

 

gloss sealers

please refer to the information about regarding topical sealers. additionally, using a gloss topical sealer will leave your tiles shiny and opposite to their typical cement matte finish.

 

topical sealants ( matte or gloss )

topical sealants are often used in commercial applications or installations that do not mind having an altered surface (similar to varnish on wood). the chief reason clients select a topical sealant is because they do not prefer a patina finish on their cement tiles.

 as mentioned, it is important to remember that topical sealants are like a varnish and will leave a noticeable surface on the tiles. additionally, they will require stripping and reapplication as they will have wear and tear with traffic.

 

PART II

general maintenance tips

  1. cement tiles should be regularly mopped with clear water and when necessary, a neutral cleaner.
  2. tiles can be buffed with a soft white pad (only tiles without topical sealants)
  3. a capful of liquid wax may be added to the water to improve the tiles’ natural sheen.
  4. extremely heavy foot traffic or outdoor installations may require additional maintenance. in this case, cement tiles may be refinished, much the same as hardwood floors. this occasional refinishing will restore the tiles to their like-new finish. *please note refinishing tips below.
  5. never use acids to clean the tiles as they will damage them. (includes bleach, vinegar, epoxy grout removers, citrus soaps, solvent green etc)
  6. use walk-off mats near entries to avoid entry abrasion.
  1. sweep regularly.
  2. periodic buffing of tiles with a white pad may be necessary or preferred.
  3. do not allow water to accumulate in areas. excess moisture left on the tile surface can stain, pit and crack.
  4. over time, a natural patina will occur as the floor is maintained and naturally wears.
  5. if using topical sealants, your tiles will require periodic stripping and resealing. please refer to a profession for this maintenance schedule.

 

stain removal

  1. most stains can be removed using all-purpose cleaners.
  2. difficult stains will need to be removed using oxalic acid.
  3. wet stained area and rub in circular motions using a white pad and oxalic acid crystals until stain disappears.
  4. rinse and remove any acid or residue.

 

you’ve followed all our guidelines- but not sure what your tiles should look like now?

many clients are unfamiliar with what their tiles should look like after installation and sealing. your tiles will not look exactly like your tiles did out-of-the-box. your tiles should have natural variation (no two tiles should be alike) and the finished installation is ONLY PERFECT, when it is IMPERFECT. 

 

we hope you enjoy all the handmade beauty of your encaustic cement tiles, and we trust that if you and your contractors have completed your installation, sealing and maintenance as outlined in this maintenance guide, then your installation is set to patina and provide protective beauty for generations.

 

refinishing tips

cement tiles top color layer is extremely hard and can withstand refinishing from time to time, much like hardwood floors. when followed correctly, the process below allows for a gentle removal of a micro-layer exposing a new pigment surface.

  • create a test area. the best location is in a closet or in an area that is covered by a cabinet or fixture.
  • using an orbital sander and a 400 grit wet/sandpaper, apply enough water to the tile surface to act as a lubricant for the sanding procedure and sand the test area until you have successfully removed a micro-layer of the top surface.
  • if all goes well with your test, then proceed to sand the rest of the floor using the same equipment and procedure. if your installation area is large, you may want to invest in a large floor sander with a 400 grit pad. this equipment is best used by a proficient handyman or professional floor refinisher.
  • WHILE DOING THE ABOVE REPAIR, YOUR CONTRACTOR MUST CLEAN THE RESULTING SLURRY, IMMEDIATELY. FAILURE TO DO THIS WHILE SANDING THE FLOORS CAN RESULT IN STAINING THE TILES WITH THE SLURRY.

once you have successfully stripped the top surface, well enough- you should reseal your installation using the same procedures as your original seal.

 

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