LESLIE: Sherry in Georgia is on the line with a question about how to clean old bathroom tile. What’s going on?
SHERRY: I bought a condo and the bathroom tiles are really, really pretty but they’re old. And they have lost their luster. And I think it – you know, I went looking for a solution that didn’t involve demolition.
TOM: Well, that sounds like a possibility. Let’s see what we can do to help you.
So you say the tiles have lost their luster. Is it really the grout or is it the tiles themselves?
SHERRY: Oh, no, it’s the tiles. They have absolutely no shine to them whatsoever. They’re very, very matte and it’s sort – it should have that luster, like the subway tiles.
TOM: Well, maybe. No, not necessarily. There’s a lot of tiles that have lost – that have matte finishes, right, Leslie?
LESLIE: There are tiles that have matte finishes that tend to get the dirt stuck to them a little bit more easily because the gloss is there, really, to protect that tile. And sometimes, tiles that are purposely meant to have a matte finish will have a coating on them that will help keep the dirt away. So it’s really – the goal here is do we want to clean old bathroom tile that you have? Do we want to change the tile? What’s your goal?
SHERRY: In a perfect world, I would like to clean it and it stay clean and shiny. I would rather end up with a shiny.
TOM: See, I don’t think she’s going to be able to bring it back to shiny if it’s a matte finish. It may not have ever been designed for that.
LESLIE: Well, it might never have been shiny to begin with. And cleaning a matte-finish tile, it’s a different approach than cleaning a glossy-finish tile. Because you can use different things on one than on the other, because the matte is more porous. And you don’t want to put something on it that’s more aggressive in its cleaning style that you could use on something with a gloss finish.
I think the issue with the unglazed tile is because the glaze isn’t on it, everything just sticks to it: the dirt sticks to it, the mold and mildew stick to it. So cleaning it, you can’t just pick up a commercial cleanser. It just might be too rough for the unglazed porcelain.
So, generally, what we would recommend to clean old bathroom tile is using more natural ingredients. You can use vinegar and dish detergent and water. Simple mix of that. I would use about a cup of vinegar – a white vinegar; don’t use anything else – a teaspoon of the dish detergent and a gallon of warm water. And mix it around. It’s not going to hurt your hands, so you don’t have to worry about gloves. And then what you would do is you can scrub the dry tile – start with the dry tile with a stiff-bristle brush, not a metal bristle but a plastic-bristle brush, one meant for cleaning surfaces.
LESLIE: And that will just sort of loosen up whatever dried adhesive, dirt, mildew, whatever is on there, whatever dirt has adhered to that surface. And then once you’ve sort of, I guess, loosened it up with that stiff-bristle brush, then take a wet rag. Dip a rag into that vinegar solution and then clean the tile with that. And you should see that the vinegar will start to dissolve whatever mold or salts or product, whatever is on there. And the dish detergent just helps to loosen that up.
And just do it. Keep cleaning out your rag, going back into the solution. And then once you’re kind of satisfied with the cleanliness of it, then rinse everything with clear water. And now that should do the trick to clean old bathroom tile.
Now, I don’t think you can put anything on it to give it a glazed surface, because that glaze is done in the baking process of the tiles.
SHERRY: Oh. Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. OK. Well, that sounds like a good plan, actually. I’ll give that a try. Thank you.
LESLIE: You’re so welcome.