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How to Remove Tile Sealer Without Damage

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If you have tile flooring, a sealant can be applied to keep the surface protected from scratches and stains. This sealer is durable and resistant to things like moisture and scuffs, making it a wise choice if you want to prolong the life of your tiles. Sometimes, however, you might need to remove tile sealer for a variety of reasons. In order to do this, it’s important that you understand more about sealers so that you can remove it safely without damaging the tile underneath.


Why Remove Tile Sealer?

There could be several reasons that you’d need or want to remove tile sealer. In some cases, the sealer was applied too thick, which can interfere with the beautiful look of your tiles. Certain sealers are made to absorb into the tile rather than to be laid directly over it, which can eliminate the thickness factor. There may be several reasons why your tile sealer is too thick, but in most cases, it’s because it was not applied correctly. The sealer needs time to absorb, and any excess should be cleaned off the surface so it doesn’t dry or settle.

If you have areas of the home with a lot of foot traffic, your sealer may become unevenly worn in spots. This is usually pretty obvious since you’ll notice patches where there’s sealer still remaining and other areas where it’s clearly worn down. It’s recommended that you remove tile sealer completely in this case and reapply it for an even finish. Some sealers can become streaky or powdery, creating a “dirty” look that you can’t seem to get rid of. In other cases, dirt and grime have become deeply embedded into the surface sealer, which can also create that constantly dirty appearance.

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Penetrating Sealer vs Surface Sealer

Before you decide to remove tile sealer, it’s important to know which type you currently have applied on your tile. There are two main types of sealers that are used: penetrating and surface and the difference between the two will determine what you’ll need for removal. A penetrating sealer works differently than a surface sealer since it must penetrate the tile for at least 15 to 20 minutes. This ensures that the sealer fully absorbs not only onto the surface of the tile but deeply in the tiles’ pores and into the grout. After the appropriate settling time, any remaining sealer must be wiped off. Otherwise, it can cause a streaky haze that is difficult to get rid of.

For a surface sealer, the material is applied as a coat on top of the tile and grout which forms a nonporous and stain-resistant layer. With this form of sealer, the natural colors of the tile are enhanced, and it typically gives a subtle sheen to the tiles. Any type of unglazed tile such as porcelain should be sealed before adding the grout to prevent it from staining the tile. The purpose of both types of sealers is to protect your tiles, prevent staining, and help them retain their beauty and luster.

How to Tell What Type of Sealer Was Used

At first glance, it can be a bit tricky to know exactly what type of tile sealer was applied to your tile. One good trick is to apply a lacquer thinner to a test area of the tile. If there is no change once you apply it, you likely have a penetrating sealer. If it seems to eat away at the sealer, then it’s probably a surface sealer. Penetrating sealers tend to make tile look a bit darker since they fully absorb into the tile itself. If you have a sample of the original tile, compare a piece of tile with the installed tile to see if you notice a difference in color. If the installed tile looks darker rather than shiny, it has probably been treated with a penetrating sealer.

Removing Sealer

Now that you know a bit more about the main types of sealer, how do you remove it? For a surface sealer, you’ll need to strip it off the surface using strong products designed to eat away at the sealer. You’ll also need to scrub the tile aggressively until the entire coating of sealer is removed. This can be a laborious process, and you should make sure that you have good ventilation in the room before applying any type of sealer stripping products.

Always test an inconspicuous area first and allow the stripper to sit for about 10 minutes. If the sealer starts to soften, you can continue applying it to the entire room. Make sure you thoroughly follow the manufacturer’s directions and wear safety gear including eye protection, rubber gloves, and a mask so you don’t breathe in the harsh chemicals. Proper ventilation when using sealer strippers is extremely important, so open every window and turn on fans to keep the air circulating.

For penetrating sealers, the process is a bit more rigorous. You might need to apply several rounds of stripper in order for it to be completely removed. Both types of tile sealer require a stripper solution, but the concentration and type of stripper will depend on the sealer that is applied. Always use a soft bristle brush to prevent damage to your tiles. Work the stripping solution deep into the tiles and pour more on as needed. If you have a large room, you may want to use a mechanical floor stripper with a soft-bristled brush attachment.

When applying stripper, leave it on your tiles until you notice it starting to bubble. Then, scrape the sealer off gently and discard it into a metal container or bucket. You can use a wire-bristled brush to get rid of stubborn spots but do so carefully so that you don’t scratch your tile. Once the removal is complete, vacuum any remaining residue using a wet-dry vac. Rinse your floors with warm water and repeat the vacuuming until everything is gone. Once the removal of sealer is complete, your tiles should look brighter or lighter in color.

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