Keeping unglazed hex tile clean?

junicbApril 10, 2009

Hi all! I posted a similar message this morning over at John Bridge, but I thought some folks here would be kind enough to share their thoughts...

We are in the midst of redoing our bathroom. The house was built in 1911, and the bathroom originally had 1" unglazed hex tiles with a blue flower pattern. The tile was in too bad of shape to save, but we wanted to put something similar down. We are again using 1" white unglazed hex tiles - the kind with completely squared edges.

Our contractor (who will also be our tile guy) came by this morning, saw the tile, and immediately began talking about how difficult it is to keep clean. He told us to return it and get something with a matte glaze. He went as far as to tell us we will want it torn out in a few years because it will always looks so dirty.

So, I was hoping to hear others' experiences with unglazed hex tile. Is it a bear to keep clean? Should I request he apply a penetrating sealer before grouting? After grouting? Use a grout release? Any special tips I should be aware of?

Anyone out there deeply regretting their unglazed hex choice because of chronic dirt issues?

Thanks for your help!

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We put a couple to three coats of sealer on our unglazed tile. The entire tile, not just the grout. I'm surprised your tile guy didn't mention that option. With the sealer on all the tile, staining should not be a problem and cleaning will be much easier. Photo included.

I'm sure Bill can add to this conversation.

I don't know the name of the product DH used, but can find out for you.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2009 at 2:05PM
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Gosh, not sure what he's talking about. We have the 1" white hex, unglazed, squared edges in my son's bathroom. 2 1/2 years and it's easy to keep clean. We used mapei's silver grout, which is pretty dark, but boy does toothpaste show up! Anyway, very simple to keep clean and white with simple floor cleaner or the Seventh Generation bathroom cleaner I use.

No regrets.

I didn't think you could seal porcelain. Isn't it supposed to be pretty much impervious?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2009 at 2:05PM
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barging here, but brutuses yes, would you mind finding out which sealer your dh used and post it for us? thanks very much! ...and can you use it on other surfaces besides ceramic? TIA again.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2009 at 3:11PM
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The only thing you should need to keep unglazed hex tile clean is hot water. End of story. It's porcelain, and therefore doesn't allow dirt to embed in its pores. Quite frankly, your contractor doesn't know what he's talking about. Here-- the homeowner who had me do this master bath for his own home, before he retired was a bigtime architect with a national reputation:

    Bookmark   April 10, 2009 at 6:15PM
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Bill, a quick question about that master bath you just did:

1. Was the tile matte glaze or unglazed?
2. What color and width was the grout?
3. Does this architect usually do his own housecleaning? (that's not meant as snark -- it's an actual question. Some designers and architects value aesthetics over everything else, and it's not always what the little people on our knees will be scrubbing to keep clean).

PS: I'm especially interested in the surface friction coefficient number (or whatever it is -- you probably know what I'm talking about) for this hex tile -- ADA says it should be greater than .6 when wet or dry. I've got to do an entire curbless shower for my disabled husband, who uses a walker, and I'm losing sleep trying to find something that fits the bill, doesn't look institutional, but will quiet my lust for basketweave carrara with ming dots, which will be too slippery!!!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2009 at 10:31PM
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Those are some beautiful bathrooms. It's hard to imagine ours with walls right now, let alone lovely tile...

Thank you all for the encouragement. We will forge ahead with our historically-accurate unglazed hexes, even if our contractor continues his tirades.

Here's our bathroom floor after we began demolition. Like I mentioned before, we were hoping we'd get up the ugly top layer of tile (then vinyl) and be able to salvage the hex, but that wasn't possible.

Bill - another question for you: did you seal the tiles at all before or after grouting? Sounds like I don't need to, perhaps?

Brutuses - you mentioned sealing after grouting, but did you have any problems cleaning the grout off of the tile before sealing?


    Bookmark   April 10, 2009 at 11:53PM
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1. Was the tile matte glaze or unglazed?


2. What color and width was the grout?

On that one, the grout was white, and the spacing was the normal spacing for sheets of ceramic mosaics-- a shy 1/8", and the grout was white sanded.

3. Does this architect usually do his own housecleaning? (that's not meant as snark -- it's an actual question. Some designers and architects value aesthetics over everything else, and it's not always what the little people on our knees will be scrubbing to keep clean).

He doesn't, but his wife does (IOW, they don't have a housekeeper or maid service). And whether or not it was a snark, it was a valid question for exactly the reason you stated. I would've been surprised if the question DIDN'T come up.

Bill - another question for you: did you seal the tiles at all before or after grouting?

Neither. Nor did the owner (I've done more work for him since then-- with some art historical tiles!)

    Bookmark   April 11, 2009 at 5:34PM
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We uncovered the same type of unglazed hex in our bathroom with the blue daisy, and finally decided to replace the floor because of a crack and severe slope. We replaced with matte glazed hex, and a black flower instead of the blue.

The main reason I went with the matte glaze was that another poster, Jonmari, had said she regretted choosing the unglazed floor because dirt seemed to stick right to it. I believe that the original unglazed hex we had and the matte glazed both get equally 'dirty' and both cleaned up equally easily. So I don't think it matters having had both myself. We used grey grout, and it always looks good.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2009 at 9:51PM
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For what it's worth, I have 80-year-old white, 2-inch unglazed hex in one of my bathrooms. I don't find it at all difficult to keep clean. On the other hand, I also have green (!) glazed 2-inch hex in my master bathroom. After 80-some years of use, the glaze is worn through in the traffic pattern and although I'm partial to it, it definitely shows its age.

I'm planning to use the unglazed hex in the new house we're building. I ordered samples of 2-inch unglazed hex from Bungalow Tile and laid it next to our old floor. They are identical. The 80-year old stuff looks just as good as the brand new. That confirmed my choice for me. Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 12:20AM
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Jeez. how do you tell if it's glazed or unglazed? I put down some matte-looking hex tile in my son's bathroom, and I have no idea which it is - my contractor supplied it.

The white grout is the thing I have trouble keeping clean, though!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 1:18AM
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I just got back to see your question about cleaning the grout off. DH laid tile, applied first coat of sealer, grouted, then applied another coat.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 2:21AM
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Jeez. how do you tell if it's glazed or unglazed? I put down some matte-looking hex tile in my son's bathroom, and I have no idea which it is - my contractor supplied it.

By looking at the back of the tile, vs. the front. If they both look the same, it's unglazed.

The white grout is the thing I have trouble keeping clean, though!

This is why over the last year or two, I've advocated using a very light grey grout (or beige, or pastel, depending on the look you're going for, but grey for period specific rooms) instead of white.

Although it won't bring it back completely, try mixing Oxyclean at twice the concentration they recommend on the side of the container, and scrub the joints with a brush. I think you'll notice an improvement.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 8:05AM
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unglazed porcelain has microscopic imperfections that will, over time, accumulate gunk and cause your floor to always look dirty. you can not stop it from happening. i have seen many old house owners try in vain to get there floors clean and finally give up and consider it part of the charm of living in an old house. someones housecleaning is also going to determine how long before it gets dirty looking. if your the type who puts cleaning off as long as possible, but expects it to look spotless when you do clean, then unglazed may not be for you.
glazing fills in these microscopic imperfections, and gives a nice, smooth as glass surface that is much easier to clean. but as someone else already stated, glazing can show wear over time also.
a few things to keep in mind if you go with the unglazed porcelain. porcelain is almost stain proof, not 100%, but pretty darn close. it is also harder than granite. you can scrub the crap out of it with a scoth brite scrubbie and your not going to hurt it. you can use pretty much any cleaner on it that you want, along with that scrubbie. I know some old house owners who have used muriatic acid to clean their old floors with really good results. (that is some pretty dangerous stuff, not sure if i would use it.) also, these were people with old tile floors set in mud and the mud was smushed up through the joints to be the grout. don't really know if that would be ok to do with modern grouts. maybe the tile guys could answer that one.

sealing the tile will help out the cleaning thing for a little while. but you have to keep it up regularly for it to continue working, and i don't know anyone who has EVER done that. ;)

    Bookmark   April 13, 2009 at 6:14PM
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In my previous house we put unglazed black & white mosaics in the kids bathroom at the suggestion of the tile supplier. He said things like it'll wear beautifully, easy to clean, no maintenance, they've been using it in houses forever and it still looks good, etc. Well, it got dirty pretty quickly. I mean, you could see that the white tiles were definitely dingy, and regular damp mopping didn't take that away. When we put the house on the market I figured I should try to spruce it up, so I washed it with my trusty standby: baking soda in warm water, using a scrub-brush, then rinsed with a half cup of vinegar in a bucket of water, using a sponge. It sparkled like new. Since I was on my hands & knees, I'm just lucky it was a small bathroom!

Hope this helps, fwiw.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 10:48PM
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When we were building our house last year, I was on this forum everyday researching the materials I wanted to use. It informed my choices as much as any other resource. I therefore wanted to put in my two cents about our white unglazed porcelain hex tile that I installed in my children's Jack and Jill bath: I absolutely hate it. Beyond measure. It is a cleaning nightmare. It's been a year now and I am on my knees every night at bath time (my children are 1 and 3) heartsick at how dirty it looks and wiping up footprints with their used, wet, monkey washcloth. The tiles in our OTHER bathrooms (black and white glazed porcelain, crema marfil marble, travertine and white ceramic in the basement) are all champions in spite of seeing the same feet - and A LOT more traffic. None of them show dirt like the unglazed hex tile. Not even close. It's like a dirt magnet. And, no, it's not just the grout that's dirty, it's the tile. We don't wear shoes in our house and the Jack and Jill is only used at night right now due to the ages of my children. My suggestion if you like the classic hex tile look: go matte glazed with a light gray caulk. I am saving up to replace ours as soon as possible.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 3:25PM
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sansonic71, I can't believe you posted this just as I am re-visiting the same issue! And I could not agree more with your assessment.

About 14 years ago, after a lengthy search for historically appropriate tile, I chose a flat unglazed hex. I made my peace with the larger grout lines (original floors have close-set individual tiles) & chose appropriate grout. I had lived with hex for years in an old Manhattan apartment & found it charming.

As soon as it was installed I wanted that tile out as it seemed to suck dirt from air. As much as I wanted to stay true to our nearly intact Craftsman bungalow, unglazed tile has not been worth the resulting grunge & marital discord. I'm not living in a museum, just a gentle restoration; in the interests of hygiene & inner peace, I absolutely wish I had gone with a matte finish.

If anyone out there is contemplating unglazed hex, contemplate this:

1) Going unglazed, even with a square edge, isn't going to look like a true vintage floor unless you set those tiles individually & in a pattern you've seen in your historic neighborhood.

2) You're not getting any younger or running out of fun things to scrub in your free time. Should you sell, the next owner will be no more enthused about scrubbing your old bathroom tiles on hands & knees; your improvement may not seem such.

3) Modern bathrooms are getting easier & easier to clean while an unglazed hex tile floor just gets tougher & grosser. Even if you have professional cleaning help, your cleaning staff may not be on hand every time someone exits the room.

For anyone wistfully pondering the merits of unglazed tile -- you've been warned!

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 11:18PM
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Hear, Hear, athomein1914! I too lived in Manhattan and was nostalgic for that look. To make matters worse, when I decided on the unglazed porcelain - influenced largely by this thread - I couldn't find it anywhere here in New Jersey. I actually had to special order the stuff from Seattle, pay top dollar, and delay construction while we waited for it to cross the country on a truck. I did all this confident in my superior choice. Well, there's nothing like being on your hands and knees in your brand new home (I started hating it within weeks) scrubbing a floor with bleach, trying to get it to stop looking like the floor of a public restroom at a gas station to knock all of the smugness out of you. And I do my own cleaning - so I get to experience that particular blend of humility, disbelief, regret and rage on a very regular basis.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 11:08AM
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I'm highly discouraged by the three most recent posts on this forum. I just had unglazed Daltile white hex installed yesterday, largely on the advice on this forum. My reasoning was that I wanted something that wouldn't look worn in a few decades. It was my understanding that glaze will wear out faster and show scratches right away.

I'm not a super great cleaner, but because of this, I also am not super anal about things looking perfectly clean all the time. As long as I know something is clean, it doesn't bother me that it might not look perfect. That's a skill I had to develop living in an old house in which nothing is perfect.

Perhaps whether or not you are happy with your unglazed hex boils down to your personality type and whether you can live with a little patina?

Please encourage me that I didn't make a huge mistake and that there are those out there who don't daily walk in their unglazed hex bathroom and hate it.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 9:55AM
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Janieful-I just cleaned up my unglazed hex tile bathrooms. Two of them which withstood regular mom cleaning for 20 years, which I finally had a tile guy come and "freshen up" a little yesterday. They look perfect! Placed in the mid 1940's. I don't believe in sealing unglazed grout. Once the seal is on, you can't easily get it off and it becomes more slick which is not good around water.

So yes, there is someone who finds unglazed hex tile very satisfying and fairly easy to clean with warm water or other cleaner. Enjoy your tile!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 3:27PM
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I have unglazed hex in all 4 bathrooms and Mr. Clean Magic Eraser will clean it but you still have to get on your hands and knees. Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is found at any big box store as well as local supermarkets. Use the bath or strong versions as those are a bit more rugged. Make sure you rinse out the eraser frequently. Mr. Clean also makes a mop of the Magic Eraser. It works but it's easier to see what you are doing if you clean by hand.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2012 at 7:55PM
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