How to Clean Tile Floors, No Matter What Type (and Grout, Too!)

Take care of your tile floors with a gentle hand and a few smart cleaning techniques that will keep your tiles and grout looking like new.

Your kitchen or bathroom isn't fully clean until you've scrubbed the floors. Although you don't have to tackle this chore every time you wipe down the countertops, you should watch your tile floors for signs of dirt or grime. A hazy film or dirty grout are indicators that your floors need more than cursory sweeping. When cleaning your tile floors, use the proper technique for your type of tile, as the recommended cleaners and mops vary between materials. This guide explains how to clean tile floors no matter what the material.

using string mop on tile floor
Jason Donnelly

How to Clean Tile Floors of All Types

You wouldn't clean a stainless-steel refrigerator with a product meant for an enamel surface. The same concept applies to your tile. While tile floors are incredibly durable, specific tile needs special care. For example, ceramic and porcelain floor tiles are relatively low maintenance, while coarse tiles such as slate, marble, granite, or limestone require individualized care and often specific cleaners.

Bathroom with blue and white plaid wallpaper
Laura Moss

How to Clean Tile Floors Made of Ceramic and Porcelain

Ceramic and porcelain are incredibly durable, and a few easy cleaning tips for how to clean tile floors made of these substances can keep them sparkling. Follow this simple process to clean tile floors made of ceramic and porcelain:

  1. Clean up loose debris: Sweep or vacuum your tile floors regularly to keep them from getting dull. Ceramic tiles may be resistant to dirt, but sand and grit can dull the glazed surfaces.
  2. Choose the right floor mop: Clean tile with mild detergent and clean water using a rag or chamois-type mop ($33, Home Depot) rather than a sponge mop. These mops are best for cleaning tile because sponge mops push dirty water into the grout lines, making them harder to clean.
  3. Be on the look for tile stains: If you find discoloration, first try to determine what caused it. Then, use the appropriate cleaner for the stain for the most effective cleaning.
  4. Watch for soap residue: If your tiles look hazy after cleaning, you might be dealing with soapy residue. Remove the film with a nonabrasive all-purpose cleaner ($6, Walmart). You could also try a homemade cleaner with a mild acid (such as fresh lemon juice) on ceramic or porcelain tiles (but never on stone tiles).
  5. Dry the tiles: Don't let your glazed tile floors air-dry, as the sitting water will form water spots. Instead, take care of that by drying the floor with a clean, lint-free cloth immediately after washing.

Editor's Tip: Be kind to your knees and dry tiles the easy way: Use your foot to slide the cloth over the floor.

master bathroom with dual sink and white tub plus black tile flooring

How to Clean Tile Floors Made of Stone

Be careful when working with natural stone tile like slate, granite, or marble. Harsh substances in traditional cleaners can damage the surface of these materials. Instead, clean your stone tiles with cleaners made specifically for natural stone.

  • Slate Tile: You may also use a mild detergent on slate tiles, as long as it doesn't contain acidic properties, like lemon or vinegar. If your slate tile is coated, avoid water spots by drying the tile right away with a soft towel.
  • Marble Tile: Marble makes stunning tile but is also high maintenance. Avoid cleaning marble tile with anything that has an acidic PH level. Cleaners with lemon or vinegar shouldn't be used, as they can etch the tile's surface. Also, avoid anything that may scratch the marble, such as brushes with tough bristles or scouring powders.
  • Granite Tile: Granite tile should be cleaned with a mild pH-neutral detergent like slate and marble tile. A harsh cleaner risks leaving streaks or discoloration on the tile. You also may want to buff a polished granite floor to keep it looking shiny and clean.
black and white bathroom floor tiles
Adam Albright Photography Inc

How to Clean Resilient Tile Floors

Resilient tile, made from materials like linoleum, vinyl, cork, and rubber, is a great option if you want a surface that's easy on the feet and needs minimal maintenance. Keep these tips in mind when cleaning your resilient tile floor:

  • Vinyl Tile: This super resilient flooring type is also easy to maintain. Sweep or vacuum up debris and mop with a vinyl cleaning solution or water and vinegar. Never use an abrasive cleaner or scrubbing tool on vinyl, as it may scratch the surface.
  • Linoleum Tile: Though it's often mistaken for vinyl flooring, linoleum is a very different material with specific cleaning requirements. After sweeping or vacuuming, wash the linoleum tile with linoleum flooring cleaning solution or borax detergent ($6, Walmart) and water. Rinse clean and let the floor dry. To protect your linoleum floors, apply a coat of wax or liquid wax and buff to a shine every 3 to 6 months.
  • Cork Tile: How to clean tile floors made of cork will vary based on the finish on your tiles. If the cork surface is sealed with polyurethane (most cork floors are), clean with water and mild detergent or white vinegar, then rinse well. If the cork is unfinished or waxed, follow the cleaning instructions for polyurethane but apply solid or liquid wax once the tile is dry.

Editor's Tip: Never use a steam mop on these tile types. They aren't designed to stand up to extreme heat or excess moisture.

cleaning tile floor with blue cleaning brush

How to Clean Tile Grout

The real secret to a great-looking tile floor is clean grout. Because grout is porous and absorbs grease and other stains, it can be tricky to keep clean. Here's how to get your grout to look like new:

  1. Make a DIY grout cleaner: Skip commercial cleaners and instead make a paste of baking soda and water.
  2. Scrub grout: Rub it on the stain, let it sit overnight, then scrub it in the morning with a stiff nylon brush ($9, Walmart) (a metal brush will damage the grout). Repeat as necessary.
  3. Seal grout: Apply a silicone-based sealer ($35, Home Depot) to the grout to repel future stains. This technique works best 10-14 days after the grout is installed or renewed.

Note: There's a lot of debate about using a steam cleaner to "deep clean" your tile grout. Some say it's a great way to revive dingy tile, while other pros say it can damage your grout in the long run. A steam mop typically won't harm grout that's in good shape and sealed, but if your floor is older or the grout is damaged in any way, the steam could accelerate the damage and may cause pitting and discoloration over time. Frequent use could also increase your risk of damage.

How Often to Clean Tile Floors

To keep your tile looking clean and residue-free, we recommend a regular dry and wet cleaning schedule.

  • Dry clean: Vacuum or sweep at least once a week or whenever you can visibly see (or feel) debris. You can use a soft-bristle vacuum attachment on any type of tile floor, but fitting it into corners or tight spaces may not be easy. Use a hand broom and dustpan to finish the job.
  • Wet clean: Plan to mop the tile floor in your kitchen once every two weeks and your bathroom tile floor once a week (germs tend to build up in bathrooms). Take the time to spot-clean your grout once every few months or whenever it's looking dingy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are some pH-neutral cleaning options?

    The best option for a pH-neutral cleaner, at a rating of 7, is dish soap. Baking soda leans neutral on the alkaline side of the scale, with a pH of 8, while most acidic cleaners like vinegar or lemon juice are pH level 3.

  • How can I tell what type of tile floor I have?

    Porcelain tiles are smooth with a fine-grained finish. Ceramic tiles are bumpier and more coarse. If the tile is glazed, check the underside of an uninstalled piece. If you can see the sides of a piece of tile and it's a color other than white, red, or tan, it's definitely porcelain, which carries the color of the tile all the way through the piece. If a tile absorbs any water (turning darker in the process) it is likely stone or terra-cotta.

  • Why does my tile floor still look dirty after cleaning?

    The likely cause for dirty-looking tiles is not using clean enough water while cleaning the floor. The water in your bucket must be changed frequently to clean the floors. 

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