Tuesday, June 16, 2015

5 Steps to Successfully Applying Penetrating Sealer to Cement Tile


Sealers for cement tile should be applied to protect the tile from water and staining; but, they can also be used to enhance or restore color. A color-enhancing sealer was used on this exterior cement tile walk, stair risers, and treads to protect them and brighten the colors.

Color enhancing impregnating sealers are used to brighten cement tile color
Color-enhancing impregnating sealers are used to brighten cement tile colors,
especially exterior tiles subject to fading from the sun.

Sealers remain one of the most misunderstood and confusing steps of installing cement tile. The confusion comes from the different types of sealers (impregnating, topical, color enhancing), the nomenclature used (impregnating is the same as penetrating), and the dizzying number of manufacturers and specialized products offered.

With so many sealer options available, including finishing effects (gloss, satin, matte) and applications (outside sidewalk, inside bath, or pool sideboard), you are sure to get a different procedure from different people each time you ask. So, it's easy to understand why people get confused. It doesn't have to be confusing though. The goal of today's post and short video is to demystify the use of sealers when it comes to installing cement tile,

Step #1. Select a high-quality penetrating or impregnating sealer. You may use either a water-based or solvent-based sealer. Water-based sealers are slightly easier to apply and may provide better coverage protection because they aren't as deeply absorbed into the tile. Solvent-based sealers have a strong odor when applied and may provide longer protection, especially against water. I explain this thoroughly in a previous post, Sealing Cement Tile.

When selecting a sealer, make sure it's rated for where you are using the tile. Specifically ask if the sealer can be used for:
  1. Indoor or outdoor applications
  2. Floor or wall applications
  3. Wet locations (pool or bath) or dry location (bedroom)
Step #2. Select a topical sealer if you want to provide additional finish effects to the tile. Penetrating sealers usually do not effect the finish of the tile because they work by impregnating the tile below the surface. Topical sealers create a barrier on the surface of the tile so that stains do not reach the cement. Topical sealers have different finishes that include shiny, satin and matte. Often, matte topical sealers are produced by adding a chemical that cuts the shine, but also weakens the sealer. Topical sealers are not generally recommended for exterior applications as radiant energy from the sun deteriorates them quickly. Topical sealers will wear over time and generally need to be reapplied more frequently that penetrating sealers.

Color-enhancing penetrating sealers can be used to enhance (brighten or darken) the colors of the cement tile. This is a good choice for exterior applications that are subject to fading from the sun.

Step #3. Test your sealer/sealer combination. Always test the final choice of your sealer or sealer combination. Simply apply to a test tile and make sure the desired finish is achieved without any adverse reactions.

Step #4. Clean the area to be sealed. Make sure the tiles to be sealed have been cleaned, all grout has been removed and the tiles are thoroughly dry. Start with a physical cleaning with a blower or broom. Then clean with a tile cleaner or mild detergent and rinse with water and a grout sponge. If the tile looks hazy or cloudy, clean again.

Step #5. Apply the sealer. Use a lamb's wool applicator, lint-free rag or paint brush. Generally, you'll want to apply three coats allowing the sealer to dry between each application. Make sure to apply generously; but, do not allow the sealer to pool, streak, or run.

Tile immediately after applying a color enhancing sealer. No pools or streaks in the sheen.
Tile immediately after applying a color-enhancing sealer. As you can see, there are no pools of sealer or streaks in the sheen.

Cement Tile Crazing
Cement tile often exhibit "crazing" or fine, hairline cracks over time. This is not a defect and does represent any problem with the tile; however, it will be more apparent when the tiles are wet or when applying a sealer. The small cracks or branches show more on dark tiles and plain tiles. Don't panic or think you've done something wrong if you see this after applying a sealer or if the tiles get wet.

Cement tile crazing can be seen in the plain red stair tread
Cement tile crazing can be seen in the plain red stair tread.


Small fissures or crazing is more apparent on dark colors and when the tile is wet
Small fissures, or crazing, are more apparent on dark colors and when the tile is wet.

How to Apply a Penetrating Sealer to Cement Tile Video
This short video shows how to apply a penetrating sealer to unsealed and previously sealed cement tiles. This important part of the installation process protects cement tile from water and staining. I show how easy it is to apply a color-enhancing impregnating or penetrating sealer to a tile walk and patio. I also recommend products to use and where to get them. You can see for yourself, just how easy it is to apply a sealer.



These five simple steps will ensure success for every cement tile project you do. If you aren't sure about which sealer to choose or if you should apply a grout release. We can help! These handy guides will give you all the information you need to know!


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