Proper Expectations and Applications
In Tile and Stone Sealers Part 1 I explained how sealers work. If you haven’t yet read that please do so. It will give you a base understanding of how they get into your tile and what they protect against. It will help you understand what you’re looking for and also help decode some of the terms you may find here.
When choosing a sealer the first decision you should make is what you are trying to protect against. Silicone-based sealers protect against water-based stains – coffee, tea,
beer Pepsi, stuff like that. Fluoropolymer-based sealers protect against oil-based stains – cooking oil, body oil, shampoo, stuff like that.
Easy enough so far?
One thing to keep in mind is Fluoropolymer sealers will protect against water-based stains to an extent but silicone sealers will not protect against oil-based staining. So you get both types of protection with fluoropolymers, but only water-based protection with silicones. 95% of my residential installations receive fluoropolyer-based sealer.
Although these different sealers will protect against different types of stains there is one thing that they will not protect against – etching. Etching is caused by an acid eating away at the molecular surface of your calcium-based stone. It is caused by things like lemons. Throwing lemon slices onto your marble countertop will etch away the surface of the marble – sealed or not. So there is nothing you can use to prevent etching from acids short of simply taking care not to get any types of acid on your tile.
Okay, time for a little reality check – send away the squeamish! One of the main sources of acid which will ruin any type of calcium-based natural stone is from your pet. You know, the dog that bursts into flames when you don’t properly waterproof your shower? (If you don’t know – you should read my blog more often – just sayin’…) Urine contains Uric acid. Uric acid will etch stone (and grout) and slowly eat away the surface of the stone. This is only on the molecular level, but continued etching will eventually become a macro problem. If you have pets and continue to have a mysterious problem with the surface of your stone in certain areas – that may be the cause. Sealer will not stop this.
Strangely enough this problem may show up around your toilet or on your shower floor. This normally happens when you have males in the house between the ages of five and ninety-five. We don’t aim well – unfortunately sealer will not solve this problem either.
In part one I also discussed the different types of carriers in sealers. The carrier is the vehicle which drives the sealer into the pores of the tile then dissipates. Once the carrier dissipates the sealer is left behind. This is how the sealer cures. The two base types are water and solvent. Solvent carrier-based sealers are better for tile and stone with smaller pores.
To determine which type would be best for your stone you can splash some water onto the surface of your (unsealed) tile. If the water is absorbed quickly then a water-based sealer should work fine for your installation. Stones like travertine, limestone, unpolished marble, unglazed ceramic and all cementitious grouts are suitable for water-based sealers.
Solvent-based sealers are best for tile and stone with smaller pores such as granite, polished marble and other polished stones, glazed ceramic and porcelains. Solvent-based sealers work on porous materials as well as materials with smaller pores!
You may have noticed the word porcelain up there. Yes, porcelains. While porcelain tile is less porous than ceramic (it will absorb less than 0.5% by weight) it still has pores in it. The pores in porcelain, however, are not simply test-tube shaped pits in the surface, they are shaped like little pyramids. They are very tiny at the top and get larger down into the body of the tile, beneath the glaze. It will only absorb that percentage of water, but oil-based substances have smaller molecular structures and will get into the porcelain more easily. So porcelain will still benefit from sealer, although it’s not normally necessary in a residential setting.
Nearly every tile product will benefit to some degree with a good sealer, provided the proper one is used. For the greater part of my time as a tile contractor I have used Miracle Sealant’s products. There are, however, a great many very good sealers available. DuPont and StoneTech are two brands that I’ve used, and still use periodically.
Sealer is another product where you will get what you pay for. So if you choose to seal your tile or stone you need to spend the extra money for a good one! Cheaper sealers, for instance, may not be UV stable (UV transparent), which means they may get a yellow tint to them over time. Seriously, spend the money for the good stuff.
The Good Stuff
As I stated I like Miracle Sealant’s sealers. Here are the ones I use based on what I’m sealing.
My go to sealer is Miracle Sealant’s 511 Impregnator. It is a fluoropolymer-based (polymerized silicone) impregnating sealer (solvent carrier) which works well for most any application.
If you have an extremely porous stone, like tumbled travertine, I prefer the 511 Porous Plus.
If you need or prefer a water-based sealer you want the 511 H2O Plus.
If you want to enhance your stone installation so it has a deeper, richer color (like when it’s wet – but not as ‘shiny’) you want the Seal & Enhance.
They also have basic grout sealer and a few other types of specialty sealers. Most really good sealer companies carry a sealer with comparable abilities, just call the company’s tech support line and tell them what you’re looking for. They’ll know what you’re talking about – and now you do too!
When sealing your tile installation put some thought into it, figure out what you really need and what benefits you are looking for and decide on one with realistic expectations. They are not a magic product, there is a LOT of research behind tile and stone sealers and they have specific benefits based on specific needs. As long as you know what to expect and choose the proper product for your application a good sealer will make your maintenance chores much easier.
They DO NOT, nor are they designed to, waterproof your installation! They do not waterproof your tile and stone. They are not an acceptable fix or magic cure for improper or non-existent waterproof substrates for your shower or other wet areas. They will, however, prevent cherry Kool-Aid from ruining your marble countertop – as long as you clean it up quickly enough. They will help keep nasty stuff from staining your beautiful tile and stone.
And who doesn’t want that?