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Advice on how to clean a Victorian Minton tiled floor.

Advice on how to clean a Victorian Minton tiled floor.

Victorian floor tiles are fairly robust and are pretty hard wearing but by modern standards are not that tough, they will still need to be treated with respect when any cleaning process is carried out. Over the last 100 – 150 years they will have become dirty especially the ones 'found' under carpets or in high traffic areas. Some of the issues with the colour of old Victorian floor tiles is due to cloudiness or speckling within the tile and is not really a cleaning issue. Its easy for a restorer to know what to expect from a cleaning process but educating the client on what can be achieved is important. It never ceases to amaze that some customers are worried about creating a floor which is too perfect and equally a number of customers who are trying to obtain a finish on the floor which is 'as new'. 

Common cleaning 'issues' we encounter are:

  • Dirty speckled appearance due to 150 years of foot traffic.
  • Paint and other coatings i.e. bitumen, carpet adhesive and topical sealants.
  • Grease, oils, rust, and carpet underlay staining.
  • Coatings of wax and linseed oil which have been absorbed into the tiles and turned black.
  • Discoloured grout.
  • Dull or cloudy tiles.

Clean up required and completed!



Cleaning treatments.

Cleaning historic floors is not the same as cleaning modern floors, old quarry tiles do not behave in the same way. It is important to try not to over wet the floor as tiles could become loosened or efflorescence could be triggered. When the floor is cleaned some tiles can become cloudy (normally the buff) and the floor often looses any sheen (often from ground in dirt and domestic cleaning products). The floor can look very dull and almost have a pastel coloured effect – this can be corrected later. Generally mild alkaline solutions work best in conjuction with certain types of floor pads fitted under a slow speed rotary machine. The slow methodical approach usually pays off with a lot of work being carried out by hand.

Ultimately the best method of cleaning is by working in small areas using alkaline solutions. A soft to medium nylon brush attached to a slow speed rotary machine is a good place to start and a wet pick up vacuum is essential. There are other brushes and floor pads that can be very effective but we tend to keep these a secret for commercial reasons. Ultimately you must remember that these old floor tiles are not that hard so a gentle cleaning system is imperative.

Generally alkaline cleaning products work best we prefer a good dwell time of around 20 minutes. Acidic products generally do not make good cleaning products except for lime or cement residue removal - they can attack the lime that the floor is grouted with and laid onto so best avoided. Old sealants can be 'in' the tile and not 'on' the tile so cannot always be cleaned off totally. Always expect some discolouration to the tiles as they are very absorbant and can change colour over the years.

Diamond grinding systems are not recommended as the kiln fired 'skin' on the tile can be broken and the tile may degrade rapidly after that. There is a point where 'kind' cleaning for conservation is more desirable to trying to clean the tile back to a 'new' condition which may well cause damage to the tiles. Its worth noting that these old tiles were only fired at around 800 degrees centigrade and as such are very soft - they have more in common with a soft terracotta than a modern Quarry tile. A modern reproduction tile is a lot harder as they are fired at 1200 degrees centigrade - in other words they are quite different to the original except in colour.

Lumps and substances sitting on the surface of the tile can be removed with a Stanley knife blade in a holder. Sometimes just warm water and a neutral cleaner is sufficient or there are some synthetic solvents which are non-flammable that can be useful. We find we do a lot of scraping work on old floor tiles - this kind of work is again quite slow.

After cleaning, re-grouting is recommended. This protects the tiles keeping them firmly bedded in and it also protects the exposed edges - New grout will also improve the aesthetics of the floor as a whole.. The old grout may need raking out by hand or there are some small power tools which can be used with care. Slow drying cement grout is preferable to lime mortar grout as lime can stain the tiles we often use rapid set grouts on domestic hall floors. When removing old lime grout we have found it often can be wet vacuumed away as it is so soft.

It is worth noting that old Victorian floors were laid with the tile almost edge to edge so there is not a substantial gap/grout line. Rather a tiny amount of old lime or portland cement. We have never found using machines to remove old grout that effective unless there happens to be a slightly wider than normal gap on that part of the floor.

The best method for sealing is a sub-surface impregnating sealant. Some floors suffer from vapour transmission due to general damp and most floors laid on lime need to be able to breathe. If the floor cannot breathe the lime substrate shrinks back over time -This shrink back causes 'tenting' which will at first make the floor feel hollow - the next stage is that the tiles crack, break or just become loose as they have no support underneath.

We use a pad system to create a natural shine on the floor which is breathable and also does not require a stripping and re-sealing procedure every few years (if not months). The picture below shows a nice late Victorian tiled floor which has been polished using a pad system not a topical seal from a bottle!! Its totally breathable and maintains the character of the floor. Remember these floors were never super shiny/glossy, they would only have a had a low sheen created by a new flat tile, they all dulled off eventually. The trick is to restoring or conserving them without creating damage.

For any enquiries, information and a no obligation chat please phone Renew on 01484 686270 or alternatively click here.