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Different types of floor sealer

Very often when purchasing a new tile floor, whether terracotta, encaustic, marble, or any other type of floor you will often have to seal. This is especially true for porous materials such as terracotta or certain stone. Sealing the floor protects it from any liquid, oil, or fat spills; this is expected to occur in kitchens and high foot traffic areas.

In the past sealing a floor has been time-consuming and difficult, using waxes and boiled linseed oil – which we go into further detail below – would have to be used on a regular basis. The old methods of using wax and oils are no longer the preferred method – although this is still used today depending on the preference of the individual. Mediterranean interiors still use this method.

sealed and unsealed terracotta tile

These days a more modern approach is preferred where a matte finish and no alteration to the colour and patina is used. Below we go through the different options. We’d like to point out this is a general method of sealing your floor and each material may differ slightly and this would be dependent on porosity and look.

Water-Based Sealer

Water-based sealers are becoming more and more popular over-time. This seems to be the preferred choice for many people these days. Often, they don’t change the look or feel of the tile or and leave a matte finish.

water based floor sealer

Another benefit to using these types of sealers is they are usually safe, non-toxic and non-flammable with very low VOC* content. No special precautions need to be taken and it can be easily applied with a brush or high-pressure spray. No professional help is needed.

*VOC stands for “Volatile Organic Compounds and contribute to atmospheric pollution.

Of course, there are good and bad water-based sealers on the market. A good indication would be to look at prices (the more expensive usually the better), but also to look at data sheets. This will show you how long the sealer is effective for. Any website should have data sheets available for their sealers. Below is an example of our own one which provides information on the sealer.

https://goprotect.co/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/TDS-R01-Natural-Sealer.pdf

How it works?

When looking at our own GoProtect natural sealer it works by impregnating the tile. It is not a coating that sits on top and thus doesn’t change the look.

The active component is highly hydrophobic and effectively forms an impenetrable but breathable barrier against surface contaminants without affecting the surface colour. By protecting capillaries on the surface, contaminants will sit on the top allowing basic cleaning to remove otherwise problematic stains.

This means that oils, water, wine, grime, grease, and all other contaminants are easily cleaned and keep your floor looking fresh.

Advantages

  • Doesn’t change the look or feel of the tile
  • Easy to apply
  • Lasts over 10 years (when using GoProtect).
  • Non-toxic and negligible VOC content

Disadvantages

  • Can be expensive

Boiled Linseed Oil

Boiled linseed oil has been a method used for decades and one of the traditional methods we discuss.

It is only recently have we seen more modern methods. This type of look and feel will darken the material and leave a gloss finish. It is often used in conjunction with waxing the floor to finish the seal, which we discuss below.

With this method boiled linseed oil will be liberally applied to the tiles until saturated, this can be a laborious task and needs to be re-applied every few years.

A note worth mentioning is boiled linseed oil is flammable; rags and sponges used have been known to self-combust. You must dispose of these carefully.

Boiled linseed oil on terracotta tiles
Boiled linseed oil before and after

Advantages

  • If you want to a deeper rich colour and a sheen finish, this finish will provide this

Disadvantages

  • Needs to be reapplied every few years
  • Laborious tasks
  • Not a look that’s “in-vogue” at the moment
  • Boiled linseed oil is highly flammable, care must be taken when applying

Wax

Wax has been used for centuries. This old age method can be seen in historical buildings, old houses and goes all the way back to ancient Rome and Greece where traditional beeswax was used.

Wax is used as a surface protector that coats the top of the tile making it impenetrable. This can be effective at keeping your floor clean and free of any stains as the wax protects the surface. However the floor is not breathable like a water-based sealer and any moisture cannot pass through and up out of the tile. This may not be suitable for houses that suffer with damp.  

A wax sealer enhances the colour of the floor and provides a deeper colour and satin finish.

Cleaning and maintenance – Sweep or vacuum. Do not wash with water. Any spillages should be wiped up immediately, long exposure to moisture may damage and stain the floor.

To remove the wax, use white spirit and this can be re-applied every few years.

Advantages

  • Cheaper alternative
  • Deepends the colour of the tile and leaves a shine

Disadvantages

  • Deepens colour of tile and provides a shine.
  • Needs to be removed and re-applied every few years.
  • Look not in vogue at the moment.
  • High VOC content and can be toxic when applying.

Ethanol impregnating sealer

Very recently, we have come across a new type of sealer which is like the water-based sealer in that it impregnates the material and the tiles become super hydrophobic. This type of sealer is effective even on dense materials like granite or marble. It repels oil and water while maintaining the natural colour and finish while still being breathable.

This type of sealer works by impregnating the porous material and filling the capillaries with the active solution. This sealer becomes is longer lasting, more resistant to impregnation.

There are some downsides to this sealer though – it is toxic (once impregnated this isn’t an issue), flammable and has a high VOC. It is also quite expensive averaging around £50-£60/ 1 litre. It also needs to be applied carefully and correctly – preferably by a professional.

In conclusion this type of sealer is very effective and does not change the look or feel of the tile as it impregnates the floor but there are a few downsides.

Advantages

  • Very effective
  • Doesn’t change the look or feel of the tile
  • Lasts a long time

Disadvantages

  • Expensive
  • Toxic, High VOC content and needs to be applied with care.

Conclusion

Sealing your floor has changed drastically in the last 10-20 years with a number of different options available. Modern techniques allow floor tiles to still be breathable and unchanged the surface look and feel.

Although old methods may still be preferable, we think using the new water-based sealer or ethanol impregnating sealers is the better option. These last longer, are easier to maintain and leave the floor breathable.

Whatever method you choose, trying a small amount on a tile first before applying it to your whole floor is advised.

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