How to Clean Tile Floors of All Types, According to Experts
With a reputation for being durable and easy to maintain, tile still tops the list of go-to flooring choices for homes. Beyond endless colors, shapes and sizes, tile flooring comes in an increasing range of materials, making it easy to find the look and feel that’s right for your space. But home housekeepers beware: When you customize your design, you have to also customize your cleaning methods. For example, ceramic and marble require very different cleaners, as do slate and linoleum, porcelain and granite, travertine and terracotta… the list goes on.
No matter what type of tile floors you have at home, this tile cleaning guide from our experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab has the tips you need to keep them squeaky clean and looking like new for the long haul. And if you’re dealing with dirty, dingy grout, we’ve been there, too. We’ll help you clean and whiten those tile grout lines when you’re ready.
How to Clean Ceramic and Porcelain Tile Floors
Both ceramic and porcelain (a type of ceramic) tiles are clay-based and kiln-fired, making them durable, moisture-resistant flooring materials that can be cleaned quickly and easily with the right tools.
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What You’ll Need:
- Soft-bristle broom or vacuum attachment
- Microfiber mop or cloth or spray mop
- Water bucket
- Mild detergent
- Clean, dry microfiber cloth
- Get rid of loose dirt. All tile floors need to be vacuumed or swept before they’re washed. Because many tile materials can scratch easily, we recommend using a vacuum attachment with soft bristles or a soft-bristle broom to remove dirt, dust, hair and debris. If your vacuum doesn’t have a bare floor attachment, check if the brush roll can be turned off, a feature we look for in the best vacuums we test. Use a handheld broom in tight corners and along the edges of the room to help maintain tile floors between washing.
- Mix a mild detergent and water in a large bucket. Less is more when adding detergent to your water as too much can make rinsing difficult. For the right ratio, mix ¼ cup of a mild detergent, like Mr. Clean Multi-Surface Cleaner (a GH Seal star and one of our top-tested multi-purpose cleaners), into 1 gallon of water.
- Submerge a microfiber mop or cloth in the solution. While it’s tempting to grab a sponge to quickly wash your bathroom tile floor by hand, you could end up with unsightly streaks or water spots if you’re using too much water. Since sponges naturally retain water, it’s best to use a microfiber cloth or microfiber mop and a bucket so you can squeeze out excess water or a spray mop where you dispense the cleaning solution as you work. For larger floors, work in sections to reduce the amount of water you need to get the job done.
- Rinse thoroughly. To help make your floors shine, change the water in the bucket frequently and wipe away any leftover cleaning solution. Rinse your mop or cloth completely then use it to wipe a section clean. Repeat until the whole floor looks squeaky clean.
- Dry to avoid spots. Unglazed tiles can be left to air dry, but we recommend wiping glazed tiles with a clean, dry microfiber cloth to prevent water spots.
Expert Tip: Ceramic tiles with texture can be harder to clean than smooth or glazed tiles, especially if dirt and spills aren’t addressed quickly. If your tiles and grout are sealed, you can use a steam cleaner without any cleaning solution, like one of our Lab-tested steam cleaner picks, to moisten and lift stuck-on spills so you don’t have to get on your hands and knees to scrub.
How to Clean Vinyl Tile Floors
Made from PVC, vinyl tile flooring is a low-maintenance, durable option that is often waterproof and therefore is very easy to clean. Simply follow the same floor cleaning steps above. To remove scuff marks, use a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol or baking soda, then rinse off.
How to Clean Linoleum Tile Floors
Linoleum tile floors can also be cleaned following the same step-by-step instructions above, with one small tip. Linoleum is a synthetic material that’s not meant for high moisture, so definitely skip the steam mop on these tiles.
Water can quickly seep under the tiles if it’s not sealed properly, causing deterioration. Instead, try a convenient spray mop, like GH seal star Swiffer Wet Jet, that lets you control how wet the surface gets. Have a stubborn mark on your hands? Very gently rub it away with a dampened delicate, non-scratch scrub pad, but note that this will likely also remove any wax finish from the tile too.
How to Clean Natural Stone Tile Floors
Natural stones are particularly porous and can scratch easily, so they require more maintenance and care than other tiles. Follow the step-by-step instructions above, but pay careful attention to the type of cleaner we recommend below for your specific flooring type. Not all cleaners are safe for all types of natural stone tile floors. (Steam mops are also not recommended!) And remember, never use any abrasive cleaners or tools that might scratch the surface.
Marble Tile Floors
To keep your marble floor looking its best, always wipe up spills quickly to prevent staining, and be very careful not to use acidic cleaners like vinegar and lemon which will etch the stone. Instead, use a solution of mild liquid dishwashing detergent and warm water.
To prevent stains, use a marble sealer at least once a year. If staining does occur, look for a marble polishing powder like tin oxide at your local hardware or home-improvement store and apply according to the package directions.
Other Natural Stone Tile Floors
To wash slate, granite, limestone and travertine, you must use a neutral pH cleaner, so carefully check the labels and avoid any acidic cleaners. These stones are also susceptible to stains, scratches and cracks, so frequent cleaning and occasional sealing with a resin sealant are necessary to maintain their look and feel. To remove grease or oil, choose a proprietary spot-treatment stain remover that’s specific to the type of stone.
Terracotta Tile Floors
Like other natural stones, terracotta is very porous so you should always avoid acidic cleaners and be careful not to let water sit on the surface or along grout lines while you’re washing. Unglazed terracotta tiles can also attract dust. Applying a water-based sealant can help protect the surface from stains and make routine cleaning easier. If you notice a color change in the first year, it’s likely the terracotta stone maturing.
Expert Tip: Address spills with a damp microfiber cloth or mop as soon as you notice them to avoid stains and copious amounts of scrubbing on cleaning day. Find a Lab-tested mop that’s right for your floors.
How often should you clean tile floors?
Your cleaning needs depend largely on your household’s habits and foot traffic, but regular tile cleaning is essential to maintaining your tile flooring and keeping the work light on cleaning day. If you vacuum or sweep a few times a week — or at the first signs of dirt and debris — then you should really only need to mop every one to two weeks. The longer you wait between cleanings, the longer it’ll take to remove stuck-on grime and restore shine the next time.
Why is my floor sticky after I mop?
This is likely because the cleaning solution has not been properly rinsed from your floors. To avoid leaving residue behind on tile floors after cleaning, don’t skip the rinsing step. You’ll need to thoroughly rinse your bucket and microfiber cloth or mophead as you work across the floor in sections. It also helps to dry the floor with a soft, clean cloth versus letting it air dry.
How do you keep tile floors shiny and clean between washes?
One word: Prevention! You want to stop dirt and debris from coming into your home in the first place. Putting door mats at entry points and taking shoes off before you walk through the house is a quick and easy way to limit the amount of cleaning you’ll have to do later. Wiping up spills as they happen and vacuuming regularly helps keep tile floors cleaner too.
Taryn Mohrman is a freelance writer with over 15 years of experience writing for major consumer magazines, retailers and digital outlets, including buybuyBABY, Woman’s Day, Parents and Redbook. She also specializes in content strategy and business development for B2Cs and startups, and has served as a consultant for companies in the home, fashion, beauty, tech, kids and gifts industries.