There are a variety of tiles on the market such as stone, ceramic, porcelain, and terracotta. Each has different properties and needs. Ceramic is a favorite due to its classic look and variety of patterns. However, do you need still need to seal ceramic tiles?
Yes, I always suggest at least sealing the grout on your ceramic tile to protect the subfloor and keep the tiles from detaching from the surface.
What is Ceramic Tile?
Ceramic tile is a tile that is made from white or red clay. It has been fired in a kiln, like a piece of pottery. The tile is then glazed and fired a second time. The glaze is what gives the tile its’ color and pattern. This glaze also protects the tile from damage and seals it. Unsealed clay has a high absorption rate, but the glaze used in manufacturing is waterproof.
Do You Need to Seal Ceramic Tile?
Even though Ceramic tiles are glazed, and thus nonporous, they should always be sealed. This is for two main reasons.
Unlike a clear sealant, the glaze on ceramic tiles is what gives them their color and beauty. As time goes on, the top layer of any surface is prone to minor scuffs, scratches, and chips. If your tiles are going to be a high traffic area, this is doubly true. When this happens, you do not want the damage to affect the glaze layer, as this will damage the look of the tile and be a pain to fix. If the tiles were sealed post installation, this incidental damage will only affect the clear coat, leaving the tiles pristine underneath. A clear coat is much easier to fix.
Sealing your ceramic surface will provide an additional barrier between the decorative portion of the tile, and any staining substances. This clear coat is designed to be resistant to dyes and can be stripped and replaced in the case that it is stained. Overall, a sealed tile surface is much easier to clean and keep looking new.
What Can Happen if Your Ceramic Tiles are Not Sealed?
If your Ceramic Tiles are not sealed, you should expect that they will have a much shorter lifespan. Chips in the pattern, staining, or water damage are all much bigger risks if the tile was not sealed after installation. Chips and staining will obviously damage the finish of the tile, although this can be fixed with floor repair kits.
However, the real disaster is the water damage. Water that seeps through the grout will cause the unsealed underneath of the tile to swell and change size. This will not be uniform and will cause cracking in the tiles. The water can also destroy the adhesive, causing the tile to come free from the surface completely.
How Do You Know if Your Ceramic Tiles Are Sealed?
A simple test can be preformed to determine whether your tile surface is sealed. This is known as the beading test.
- First, fill an eye dropper or syringe with a small amount of water.
- Next, choose a section of the floor to preform the test. I suggest a section of grout since the glaze on the tile face will react like any other sealant.
- Slowly drop two to three drops of water onto the surface. Wait to see how the water acts without touching it.
If your tile is sealed, you will notice that the water “beads” like raindrops on a window. If it is not, then the water will flatten out and puddle. You can repeat the test in a different location if you are unsure.
Do You Need to Seal Ceramic Tile Grout?
While I always recommend sealing the entire surface of ceramic tiles after installation, sealing the grout is the absolute minimum. The factory glaze is only on the top of the tile, leaving the underside and grout exposed. A watertight seal is only effective if there are no holes, so unsealed grout effectively makes the glaze useless.
Water can seep into the grout between tiles and damage the tile and adhesive from underneath. Sealing the grout after installation ensures that there are no porous cracks between tiles.
Now that you have decided to seal your Ceramic tile, here is how to accomplish it with most common products:
1. Remove any old sealant (other than the glaze) from the floor or roughen it so the new seal will bond correctly. This can be done with a floor stripper or sanding. However, be careful that your method will not hurt the glaze. You can test a small section of tile in an inconspicuous place.
2. Clean the floor. Do not be afraid to be fussy, anything you leave on the floor will be stuck there for the next decade under the sealant. Use a high PH cleaner to bleach the grout and remove as much dust and dirt from the floor as you can.
3. Remove all important items. Do not have anything you will be sad to lose around while doing this, everything the sealant touches will be impossible to clean once it is cured. Honestly, plan to toss all your supplies and the clothes you are wearing afterward.
4. Mix the sealant. Most sealants come as a two-part system to keep them shelf stable. Follow product directions to mix parts one and two in correct ratios. It is okay and suggested not to mix everything at once. Your work time once the product is mixed is limited.
5. Pour the sealant into a paint tray and get your rollers. I find that one large roller and a sponge for the edges works best.
6. Work with purpose. Now that the sealant has been mixed, do not dally too much. Most products have a 60-minute pot life, meaning you have 60 minutes of work time before it starts to cure. Any product left after the pot time is over must be thrown away, because it will not work correctly. The pot time will be listed somewhere on the packaging or in the manual for your product.
7. Coat the floor evenly and thoroughly. It is important to use enough product, and not to skimp. If you do, you will see streaking after its’ cured. This is invisible while the product is wet though, so take your time and play it safe. Being in a well-lit area will help you see any spots you have missed.
8. Allow the floor to cure thoroughly before putting any weight on it. This can take between 10 and 30 hours depending on the product, so read the directions to find the correct waiting time in your situation.
How Often Should You Seal Your Ceramic Tiles?
Depending on how high traffic the area is, you will need to reseal your tile every 5 to 10 years. The sealant with naturally wear away and/or become damaged in that time. To check the integrity of your seal, you can preform the beading test, although this will not catch any chips or dents that may exist. Luckily, you can simply put another coat of sealant down just like you did the first time, so its not too much of a hassle to reseal tile.
GlazeGuard by CoverTec Satin Ceramic and Porcelain Tile and Grout Sealer is an excellent product to seal your Ceramic tiles. It comes in one gallon, four gallon, or quart sized bottles. The quart size appears to cover about a ten-by-ten ft. area. Having plenty of product is important for sealant, do not attempt to stretch the amount! This will cause visible streaking and make the seal ineffective at protecting the floor.
Rest assured that proper application is worth the time. The seller of this product has an easily accessible phone number to answer project specific questions and give advice. Do not hesitate to use these numbers when DIYing, as it is in the companies’ best interest for you to get the best possible results with their product.
Read our 10 Best Sealers for Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles here!
Ceramic Tile Sealing FAQs
Do I Need to Seal Ceramic Tile in Shower?
Of all places in your home, sealing tiles in the shower is the most important. Water damages tiles and can cause cracking and/or loosening over time. A shower, by its nature, will have a lot of water exposure. To prevent the shower from disintegrating from this exposure, it MUST be sealed.
Do I Need to Seal Ceramic Tile Backsplash?
A backsplash is not prone to water damage or chipping; however, I would still seal it because it will help protect the tiles from stains. Without a seal, any food that hits the backsplash is likely to leave discoloration behind, and we do not want that.
Does Sealing Ceramic Tiles Make It Easier to Clean?
Sealing Ceramic Tile makes it easier to clean. Sealants are tolerant of far more household chemicals than bare grout. Additionally, sealants are often stain resistant, so you can wipe the mess right off.
Is Ceramic Different than Porcelain?
Ceramic and Porcelain are dissimilar materials. In their unsealed form porcelain is smoother and more durable. However, when sealing there is trivial difference. If this area, you can treat them the same. Read here to learn if you need to seal porcelain tiles.
Even though Ceramic tiles are technically pre-sealed, its still important to protect them with a clear coat after installation. This will make the grout waterproof as well as protecting the tiles from stains and chips. Sealant typically needs to be reapplied every five to ten years, but you can check with a water beading test. There are a variety of products on the market to seal Ceramic tile, and most are used similarly. Make sure you clean up before you start and apply the sealant carefully for best results.
Jamie is the Founder of My Home Dwelling. He is a homeowner and enjoys sharing his homeowner tips with others. He has real estate experience working as a new home construction Realtor. Jamie has worked on numerous residential construction sites helping with interior and exterior renovations. He loves refinishing furniture, DIY home projects, and sharing his knowledge online.