One of the questions that we have been regularly asked over the past 16 years is about sealing terracotta tiles or brick tiles. In fact only today I have had to give out advice to a trade customer that has asked this question.
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The Old Method
Sixteen odd years ago, when we first started, the advice was to apply liberal coatings of boiled linseed oil until the tiles were saturated (things have drastically changed since then). It is worth noting at this point that boiled linseed oil must be used. If raw linseed oil had been applied, it would have attracted mould. This process would have to be repeated every couple of years to maintain the saturation level.
Of course, this was a fairly labour intensive job and could actually be quite risky as boiled linseed oil is flammable and there have even been cases of rags and sponges self-combusting.
This process also darkened the tiles and gave them a glossy finish, a style that has diminished over the years. Below is an example of one of the first (reclaimed) floors we ever laid back during the spring of 2003 in Appledore, Kent.
Old method of sealing a brick floor
Thankfully this laborious task is no longer necessary. However, it is still sometimes desirable to use boiled linseed oil prior to a modern-day sealant, to achieve a look that is timeless. The following is a floor that was laid only a few years ago, using such a method. Boiled linseed oil was applied in 2 coats, prior to 2 coats of our Satin Floor Sealer from ‘Go Protect’.
Today’s Floor sealants
The fashion now is for a dusty, Georgian look and this is very easily achieved. We have worked alongside our sealant supplier ‘Go-Protect’ to achieve a sealer that is nigh-on invisible and does not change the appearance of the original (reclaimed) brick or terracotta tile. We also supply a more traditional looking sealer that enriches the colour and leaves a Satin Finish. Below are 2 photographs of the same tile that depict this very effectively.
Our sealant is best applied with a spray, though a brush can be used. This allows for a very even coverage of the floor and it’s always nice, not to be on your hands and knees. It is vital that the tiles are completely covered and as the sealer is a liquid, it will darken the tiles on application but as it dries the tiles will return to their original shade.
How to seal your terracotta tiles or brick floor tiles
For best results, the sealer should be applied after the tiles have been laid but prior to grouting. This means that not only are the tiles easier to grout but also the tile ceases to be porous and the grout will not penetrate the surface of the tile. Once the tiles are grouted, a second application should be made. The reasons for this are twofold:
a/. One can be confident that the tiles are fully sealed.
b/. The grout will now be fully sealed.
It is worthwhile considering adding sealer to the grout mix in the proportions of 1 part sealer to 10 parts water. This also effectively seals the grout.
Now that the above task has been undertaken correctly, it will be easy to maintain the look of the floor. This can easily be achieved with a non-abrasive floor detergent and a string mop. We recommend a string mop as we have found that reclaimed floor tiles tend to tear a squeegee style of mop and it will deteriorate rather quickly. We have also found that a steam cleaner is a worthwhile investment as it will lift any stubborn stains. However, to avoid any stains appearing in the first place, all spills should be immediately cleaned up after occurring.
The way our floor sealer works is that it allows the floor to still breathe. It blocks liquids from passing through by going into the pores at the surface of the terracotta or brick floor tile and reducing them in size so that droplets can’t enter but moisture and vapour can escape and penetrate. Therefore the steam cleaner works effectively. It also means that if the tiles are sealed whilst still damp, they will dry.
In most circumstances, a reclaimed floor is laid on a modern screed but sometimes it may be necessary or desirable to lay reclaimed tiles on a limecrete floor.
These floors continually breathe and with our sealants, this is not a problem and in effect rather simple as the same process as detailed above can be followed.
Many reclaimed brick or terracotta floors are laid on underfloor heating and here the sealers are just as effective.
All said and done, sealing terracotta tiles has moved leap and bounds in the last few decades. The choices are out there to have the style one wants. It is just a matter of choice.