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How to clean old tile

Updated February 21, 2017

Tile is a durable material that can have a long life. It is not uncommon to find tiles that were installed in the 1920s or earlier still in use today. When older tile in the home gets dirty, dingy or stained, you may fear that cleaning it can do more harm than good. Additionally, you may not be able to tell what the tile was made of, or what its surface contains. Thus, it is always best to err on the side of caution and use a neutral-pH cleaner.

Sweep old floor tiles with a soft-bristled broom to remove dirt and surface debris from the tiles that may have settled. Do not use hard-bristled brooms or sweeping devices with metal bars, as they can scratch the finish of the tiles. In the case of asbestos tiles, the surface should not be disturbed in any way for fear of releasing fibres into the air.

Apply a neutral-pH cleanser that contains no acids or alkalines, a sponge and some water to wash the tiles by hand. Old tiles that have a lot of surface debris will clean up easier the first time if washed by hand, since additional force can be applied with the sponge where needed.

Scrub with a soft-bristled brush only when necessary to clean the edges of tiles, or stubborn dirt stains. Use plenty of water with the brush to act as a lubricant and help minimise scratches.

Rinse the tiles well with fresh water and dry them with a soft, absorbent cloth.

Sweep and damp-mop the tiles with a neutral cleanser frequently on an ongoing basis to help maintain their beauty.

Things You'll Need

  • Broom
  • Neutral-pH cleanser
  • Water
  • Sponges
  • Soft-bristled scrub brush
  • Absorbent cloths
  • Mop
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About the Author

Sarabeth Asaff has worked in and has written about the home improvement industry since 1995. She has written numerous articles on art, interior design and home improvements, specializing in kitchen and bathroom design. A member in good standing with the National Kitchen and Bath Association, Asaff has working knowledge of all areas of home design.