This article describes how to strip, clean and seal a Terracotta floor.
Terracotta floor tiles can be one of the most difficult floors to clean and maintain. This article describes how to clean dirt from Terracotta floor tiles and how to seal the floor once cleaned.
It may be that the Terracotta has had an impregnating seal applied when first laid in which case the floor may appear matt and dirty, or it may have had a topical seal applied such as Linseed oil or wax in which case the floor may appear slightly shiny or have a sheen. Another more modern type of seal is a topical Polymer seal which also gives the floor a slightly shiny appearance.
The first thing to do when deciding to clean the Terracotta floor tiles is choosing which floor cleaner or stripper to use to remove the old floor coating or dirt.
Q – Whats the best way to clean Terracotta floor tiles?
A – The answer is to test the floor to establish what type of seal is on the floor.
To remove dirt from Terracotta we need to find out the best type of floor cleaner. If the floor looks matt it has most probably been sealed with an impregnating seal. An impregnating sealer when appied, is absorbed into the floor and leaves the floor looking natural without any sheen.
In the picture opposite we have established that the floor (which had a matt finish) has been treated with an impregnating seal, the floor tile is being cleaned and tested with a generic floor stripper. This is a common type of floor stripper found at many types of stores and suppliers. These types of floor stripper are usually high PH or high alkaline – around PH13. These floor strippers will not only remove dirt and grime but will also remove many types of topical seals.
As seen in the picture, the tile has become clean while the area around it is quite grubby.
Q – How do you remove wax from Terracotta floor tiles?
A – The answer is to find out which is the best type of cleaning product to remove the wax.
If the floor has a topical seal, it may well have been sealed with either Linseed oil, wax or a polymer seal and may still have a shiny or slight sheen. If the floor seal has worn off, there should still be a shiny finish around the edges of the room where the seal has not been affected by wear.
The floor opposite had initially been sealed with Linseed oil. Over the years the floor had may coats of Terracotta floor wax applied. As the floor was never cleaned properly before the wax was applied, dirt had become trapped in the wax and the floor appeared quite dark as a result.
Because this floor had a thick build up of Wax, the only suitable stripper that would remove it was Tile Doctor Remove & Go which is a specialist stripper.
Getting started – cleaning the Terracotta floor
If you are deciding to clean your Terracotta floor, it is best to hire a rotary floor cleaning machine with a floor scrubbing brush attachment. If your floor is in not too bad a condition, you could clean it using a stiff hand brush – but it would very time consuming and laborious.
You will also need to take any safety precautions as advised by the chemical manufactures. Remove any base boards where possible and mask off any areas that may be affected by stripper.
First of all it will be necessary to strip clean the edges of the floor with a hand scrubbing brush where the machine cannot reach.
You will need to allow the floor stripper to dwell for some time to break down the dirt or seal according to the instructions. Where there is a lot of seal, it may be necessary to let the stripper dwell for up to an hour. It may also be necessary to repeat the stripping several times to get a satisfactory result.
Stripping the Terracotta floor with a rotary scrubbing machine
The picture opposite shows the floor cleaning machine stripping the floor and the slurry has turned pink – so we know that we have gotten down to the the stone and the seal is being removed.
The floor stripper was allowed to dwell for 45 minutes before using the machine. Only around 3 to 4 meteres of terracotta was cleaned at one time because the floor tiles dry very quickly when the seal is removed.
Note the guard on the floor machine to stop the slurry splashing.
Rinsing the Terracotta floor with water
Immediately after using the machine, the floor needs to be rinsed with fresh water. It will be necessary to add vinegar to the rinse water to neutralize any alkalinity caused by the floor stripper. I usually use around 250ml for each 10m litres of water.
As seen in the picture, I am using a floor cleaning wand attached to a hot water extraction machine. The jet of water from the wand rinses the slurry which is vacuumed into the machine. If you do not have this equipment, it is best to rinse to floor liberally with water and remove the slurry with a wet vacuum.
A section of floor is now partly cleaned and the effort is now paying off. It’s starting to look very good!
Floor cleaning finished and allow to dry
Now the floor is finished, it will need to dry for several days. Terracotta floor tiles absorb a lot of moisture when being cleaned and rinsed so it is essential to allow the floor to dry before applying any seal.
How to seal a Terracotta Floor
Using a topical seal for Terracotta floors
The floor which we have cleaned above, we are using a topical polymer satin finish seal. This sits on top of the floor tiles and dries to a hard wearing finish. These floor seals come in either high gloss finish or satin finish. Dirt and spillages will not be able to penetrate to the floor tiles and the floor will be easy to clean and mop. This is the most used method of sealing floors nowadays as not only is the floor easy to maintain, but it looks great too.
The floor seal is applied in thin coats brushing out any excess and avoiding the seal to pool in the grout. Three coats is usually adequate. The more coats that are applied, the more reflective the finish will become. Drying time is around half an hour between coats.
Using an impregnating seal for Terracotta floors
An impregnating seal is a solvent that soaks into the floor. Several coats are usually necessary on Terracotta floors.
This type of floor seal is usually used when a natural matt finish is desired as the seal leaves no shine or evidence that a seal has been applied. This type of seal repels water and spillages and gives a little resistance to re-soiling.
When a Terracotta floor is sealed in this way, I find that the tiles are more difficult to mop clean and soil is more difficult to remove as it does not offer the dirt risistance that a topical seal has.
Terracotta sealed with satin topical seal
This is the floor as cleaned above with a satin finish seal. This type of seal will also enhance the colour of the Terracotta tiles.
Terracotta sealed with impregnating seal
As you can see, this floor which has an impregnator seal applied has a nice natural matt finish.
Terracotta floor cleaned and sealed in Cheshire
So here is a before and after picture of the floor which was stripped clean and sealed here in Cheshire. Although this floor measured only around 16 feet by 10 feet, it took one whole day to remove the Linseed oil and wax coating. Then around a further 4 hours to seal the floor with a polymer. The customer was very happy indeed as the floor looks just about new again and will be easy to maintain for many years to come. Also they will not have to apply a wax coating year after year as they had previously done.