Choosing the best grout sealer is a slightly different process for each person, since a lot depends on the specifics of your situation and the sort of tile you’re dealing with. The first thing to do is to make sure that you know the specifics of your tile and, if it’s not yet installed, have at least a basic sense of how it’s going to be used. Flooring in bathrooms often needs a different sort of treatment than splashboards in kitchens or decorative wall paneling in office buildings, for example. From there you should understand your options, paying special attention to what each product is designed to do. Some penetrating sealers are intended to cover both the tile and the grout, for instance, which may or may not be what you need. Knowing the pros and cons of surface sealants made of water, silicone, and acrylic can also help you identify the best product. If you find yourself at a loss, though, the best advice may be to get a professional opinion; career tile workers and tradesmen often have good recommendations and can help you better understand your options.
Assess Your Situation
It’s really important to spend some time planning and thinking before you start shopping. If the tile hasn’t been set or grouted yet, you’ll probably want a slightly different approach than if you’re trying to re-seal something that’s existed for months or years already. In these cases, it’s important to find out — if possible — how the grout was sealed originally, since this can have a bearing on what will work best in the present. It’s also a good idea to keep in mind that most types of sealant will require a fresh application after a set number of years, though the longevity of the product is typically dependent upon its chemical construction.
Once you have some sense of your situation, try to get a basic understanding of the types of products that are available. In general, all sealants are used to prevent the porous surface of tiles and cement grout from absorbing water after the tile job has been completed. There are a few choices, though. A penetrating sealant soaks through the pores of the grout to form an impenetrable barrier against water and other potentially damaging substances. Other types of sealants form barriers on top of the grout. These are sometimes easier to work with, but can become less effective with age and may require more reapplications. They are usually available as water-based, silicone-based or acrylic-based solutions. Each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.
Penetrating grout sealer, sometimes called “impregnator sealer,” is the best option for most general uses, and is one of the most highly recommended products for the majority of tiling projects. It’s usually the best at preventing stains and mildew growth, and is also usually very good when it comes to maintaining and preserving grout and tile color. It can be more intensive to apply and may be more costly at the outset, however.
This type of sealer soaks through the upper porous layers of the project materials and bonds to form an impenetrable barrier. It is typically long lasting, and often doesn’t need any attention or care aside from general upkeep for as long as 10 to 15 years in most cases. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that penetrating sealer typically can’t be used over grout that has been previously sealed with this same type of barrier technology. Once the pores of the grout have been clogged or impregnated with a chemical compound they are generally filled and can’t absorb anything more. In this case you’ll either need to choose a surface-based sealant or strip the grout and start again, which can be expensive and time consuming.
Water and Silicone Products
Two of the most popular surface sealants are made with water or silicone, and are designed to form a barrier that rests on top of the tiles and grout. This barrier can become chipped with age and may allow moisture to seep through to the underlying surfaces which makes it less desirable in many cases than a penetrating sealant, but it can often still get good results, at least in the short term. Water and silicone products also tend to be relatively inexpensive, and most people find them to be more or less easy to apply, too. They don’t usually leave any sort of residue, and mistakes can be corrected pretty easily while the sealant is still wet. Most of these will last between three and five years, though a lot depends on their location and usage patterns.
Water-based products aren’t usually the best choice for areas that see a lot of moisture, particularly bathrooms and spas. While they’ll generally do fine at first, constant dampness means that they have to be applied more frequently, which can be burdensome. Silicone sealants are usually better in these settings since their chemistry is based on oil rather than water. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll resist moisture better, but their structure is different on a molecular level, which means that water will react differently with it.
Sealers made from acrylic, a synthetic fiber, are often considered to be the most durable of the surface sealants; most of these can go anywhere from six to 10 years between applications. Their residue can sometimes be more difficult to remove when it’s time to reseal, though, and it tends to be a bit more costly at the outset. You may also choose to wear protective eyewear and work in a well-ventilated space with this product to avoid inhaling any sort of fumes; unlike water and silicone products, acrylic can be toxic to people and animals.
Many home improvement stores and tile distributors have experts on staff who are trained to answer customer questions, so if you aren’t sure or the options confuse you it might be a good idea to get a more professional opinion. People working with new construction particularly can benefit from the tips and advice of someone who works with grout on a more regular basis. Professionals can talk to you about your specific needs, can explain the choices in more detail, and in many cases can also give pointers about application.