With a reputation for being durable and easy to care for, tile still tops the list of flooring options for homes. Beyond endless colors, shapes, and sizes, tile floors come in an increasing number of materials, making it easy to find the right look and feel for your space. But housekeepers beware: As you customize your design, you’ll also have to adjust your cleaning method. For example, ceramic and marble require very different cleanings, as do slate and linoleum, porcelain and granite, travertine and terracotta… the list goes on.
No matter what type of tile floor you have at home, this tile cleaning guide is from our experts in the field Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab has the tips you need to keep it clean and looking like new for the long term. And if you’re dealing with dirty, dirty grout, we’ve been there, too. We’ll help you clean and whiten those tile grout lines when you are ready.
How to Clean Ceramic and Porcelain Floors
Ceramic and porcelain (a type of ceramic) tile are clay-based and kiln-fired, making them durable, moisture-resistant flooring materials that can be cleaned quickly and easily with the right tools.
What do you need:
- Soft-bristled broom or vacuum attachment
- Microfiber mop or mop or spray mop
- A bucket of water
- Mild detergent
- Clean and dry microfiber cloth
- Remove loose dirt. All tile floors need to be vacuumed or swept before washing. Since many tile materials can easily be scratched, we recommend using a vacuum cleaner with soft bristles or a soft-bristled broom to remove dirt, dust, hair and debris. If your vacuum cleaner doesn’t have a bare floor attachment, check to see if the brush roll can be turned off, the feature we’re looking at the best vacuum cleaner we tested. Use a hand-held broom in tight corners and along room edges to help keep tile floors in between washes.
- Mix 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 in ¼ cup of a mild detergent, such as Mr. Clean Multi-Surface Cleaner (GH Seal star and one of our tested all-purpose cleaners), into 1 gallon of water.
- Dip a mop or microfiber cloth into the solution. While it’s tempting to grab a sponge to wash tile floors in a quick hand-wash bathroom, you can end up with unsightly streaks or water stains if you use too much water. Since sponges naturally retain water, it’s best to use a microfiber cloth or a microfiber mop and a bucket so you can wring out excess water or a spray mop where you dump the cleaning solution as you work. For larger floors, work in sections to reduce the amount of water you’ll need to finish the job.
- Rinse thoroughly. To help make your floors shine, change the water in the bucket frequently and wipe off any remaining cleaning solution. Rinse your mop or rag completely then use it to wipe the clean areas. Repeat until the entire floor looks clean.
- Dry to avoid spots. Unglazed tiles can be allowed to dry on their own, but we recommend wiping down glazed tiles with a clean, dry microfiber cloth to prevent water spots.
Expert Tips: Textured ceramic tiles are more difficult to clean than smooth or glossy tiles, especially if dirt and spills are not treated promptly. If your tiles and grout are sealed, you can use a steam cleaner without any cleaning solutions, such as one of our products Laboratory-tested steam cleaning picksto moisten and lift up stuck-on spills so you don’t have to get on your knees to scrub.
How to Clean Vinyl Tile Floors
Made of PVC, vinyl tile flooring is a low-maintenance, durable option that is often water-resistant and therefore very easy to clean. Just follow the same floor cleaning steps above. To remove scuff marks, use a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol or baking soda and rinse.
How to Clean Linoleum Tile Floors
Linoleum tile floors can also be cleaned by following the same step-by-step instructions above, with one small tip. Linoleum is a synthetic material that isn’t meant for high humidity, so skip the steam mop on this tile.
Water can quickly seep under the tiles if they are not properly sealed, causing damage. Instead, try a convenient spray mop, like the GH seal star Swiffer Wet Jet, which lets you control how wet the surface gets. Have stubborn marks on your hands? Rub very gently with a soft, non-scratching scouring pad, but note that this will most likely also remove the wax coating from the tile.
How to Clean Natural Stone Tile Floors
Natural stone is very porous and scratches easily, so it requires more care and maintenance than other tiles. Follow the step-by-step instructions above, but pay close attention to the types of cleaners we recommend below for your particular floor type. Not all cleaners are safe for all types of natural stone tile floors. (A steam mop isn’t recommended either!) And remember, never use any abrasive cleaners or tools that could scratch the surface.
Marble Tile Floor
To keep your marble floors looking their best, always clean up spills quickly to prevent staining, and be careful not to use acidic cleaners like vinegar and lemon which will scratch 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, find a marble polishing powder such as lead oxide at your local hardware or home improvement store and apply it according to package directions.
Other Natural Stone Tiles Flooring
To wash slate, granite, limestone, and travertine, you should use a neutral pH cleaner, so check the label carefully and avoid cleansers that are acidic. These stones are also prone to stains, scratches, and cracks, so frequent cleaning and occasional sealing with resin sealants is necessary to maintain their look and feel. To remove grease or oil, choose a stain remover specifically for the type of stone.
Terracotta Tile Floor
Like other natural stones, terracotta is highly porous so you should always avoid acid cleaners and be careful not to let water settle on the surface or along grout lines when you wash. 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 change in color in the first year, terracotta is most likely ripe.
Expert Tips: Treat spills with a damp microfiber cloth or mop as soon as you see them to avoid smudging and excessive scrubbing on cleaning day. Find the right Lab-tested mop for your floors.
How often should you clean tile floors?
Your cleaning needs depend a lot on household habits and foot traffic, but regular tile cleaning is essential to maintaining your tile floors and keeping the job light on cleaning day. If you vacuum or sweep a few times a week — or at the first sign of dirt and grime — then you should only need to mop every one to two weeks. The longer you wait between cleanings, the longer it will take to remove stubborn dirt and restore shine the next time.
Why is my floor sticky after I mop it?
This may be because the cleaning solution has not been properly rinsed off your floor. To avoid leaving residue on tile floors after cleaning, don’t skip the rinse step. You should really rinse out the bucket and the microfiber cloth or mophead when working on the floor. It also helps to dry the floor with a soft, clean cloth rather than 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 getting into your home in the first place. Putting a door mat at the entry point and removing your shoes before you walk through the house is a quick and easy way to limit the amount of cleaning you have to do later. Wiping up spills as they occur and vacuuming regularly also help keep tile floors clean.
Taryn Mohrman is a freelance writer with over 15 years of writing experience for major consumer magazines, retailers, and digital outlets, including buybuyBABY, Women’s Day, Parents And Red Book. He also specializes in content strategy and business development for B2C and startups, and has served as a consultant for companies in the home, fashion, beauty, technology, kids, and gifts industries.