How to Scrub a Tile Floor

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
I was looking on your site for information on the best (and hopefully most efficient) way to scrub floors.  I found posts on your site about linoleum and mopping, but the only thing I found on scrubbing was a sentence saying that scrubbing floors required significantly more water.  I have tile floors in my kitchen and bathroom and 3 young children.  They are always dirty, and I have a baby who is crawling on them.

Thanks so much!
Tiled-In Toddler Town

scrub a tile floor

Heather says:

When scrubbing tile, you want to avoid harsh cleaners. Acids usually won’t affect the tile, but they can damage the seal protecting the grout and if the grout is unsealed, they can damage the grout itself. Strongly alkaline cleaners (like bleach) can also damage the sealant.

Before starting, check to see if your grout is sealed. Don’t worry, there’s a very simple test for this. Just sprinkle a drop of water on the grout, if it beads, the grout is sealed and you are on easy street -well as easy as life with three young kids ever is. If the grout darkens where the water was applied, the grout needs to be sealed, pronto. The grout has to be cleaned first and then stained.

You should NOT need to scrub your flooring often. This should only happen a couple of times a year at most or if you’ve slacked for a while and the dirt has had a chance to get comfortable with help from sticky friends like hair spray or spilled food. I have a steam cleaner I use for routine cleaning.

Before starting, sweep or vacuum the room thoroughly. You’ll save a lot of work getting rid of the loose dirt, first.

To scrub a tile floor, you’ll need:

  • at least one bucket -I like having a second for rinse water, or I just use the sink or tub in a small bathroom
  • mild detergent, preferably pH neutral, but something like the plain plain original Dawn dish soap will do
  • warm water
  • a scrub brush
  • several old towels
  • two rags
  • something to kneel on, unless you truly hate your knees and have no plans to wear shorts or skirts in the next week or so

Fill your bucket with warm water, add just a squirt or two of detergent. You don’t want it sudsy, when you are scrubbing, you’re mostly relying on the steam cleaner.

Dip one of your rags in the bucket and wring it well, this is to address smudges on the baseboard and everything else you notice while on your hands and knees (it’s amazing what a different perspective can reveal sometimes). Keep this in easy reach.

Mentally divide the room into smallish squares, no more than a couple of feet across. Dip your scrub brush into the soapy water and gently scrub in circular motions, be sure to try to pull dirt away from the corners rather than pushing into them. Rinse your brush often to prevent just transferring dirt from one area to another. The bristles of the scrub brush sweep up and trap the dirt which is then rinsed away. (This is why I have a separate bucket for rinse water, you don’t want to just keep dipping your scrub brush back into dirty water and potentially picking up the same dirt to reapply it to the floor)

Wet your other rag with plain water and squeeze to remove most of the water. Use this to wipe / rinse your finished square.  Wipe up any excess water with one of your old towels and move on to your next area. Don’t skip the rinsing step, soap can leave a sticky film behind that attracts dirt. Your freshly scrubbed floor will look dirty even faster with that invisible accessory.

Keep moving from one section to another. Usually, I work from one corner toward the door, but I have an exception for the bathrooms because I have boys. When it comes to the bathroom, I always save around the toilet for last, as the idea of spreading even very dilute urine around skeeves me out a bit.

guide to clean floors
Click the picture for more tips!

Remember that while your tile floor shouldn’t be damaged by water that your baseboards and cabinetry may not be as durable. Work quickly along the baseboards to prevent water from damaging the wood or cabinetry and wipe up any excess water quickly.

It’s not rocket science, but it is work. Again, this is not how you should clean your flooring on a weekly basis, scrubbing should be reserved only for very deep cleaning as scrub brushes themselves can damage the sealant protecting your grout.

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4 thoughts on “How to Scrub a Tile Floor”

  1. Heather’s advice is great for ordinary dirt. But if you are dealing with a really nasty floor (like I’ve seen in some rent houses) where grease and dirt and acrylic floor polish has accumulated between tiles for many years and has hardened like plastic, you will need to use more aggressive strategies. This comment addresses what to do if you are dealing with a dirty tile floor that shrugs off more reasonable cleaning approaches.

    If the goo is really thick and hard, you may need to pre-scrape it before scrubbing. Obviously, you will want to use care in this step not to scratch or chip the tile, but I have had two floors that required this to make even a dent. A flat blade screwdriver or old butter knife works. You only want to remove the hardened top, don’t gouge into the grout.

    Your next go-to will be trisodium phosphate (TSP) and a small, still-bristled brush. An old toothbrush will do, but really is too small for anything but corners…you’ll wear yourself out. Look for a grill brush with nylon bristles. I’ve used brass bristles safely, but I don’t want to recommend that because they can scratch and not all tile is as hard as the tile I was working with. Be safe and stick to nylon. You’ll also need 2 buckets (or plastic storage tubs that will hold water), 2 sponges, an old towel, a pair of rubber gloves in very good condition, and a fan.

    Mix the TSP with water to make a very strong solution. You MUST wear rubber gloves when handling TSP, as it will eat your skin. You also should open a window and put a fan blowing across your work area because scrubbing will create an aerosol that you don’t want to breathe. Put the solution down over about a 1 foot square area using a sponge, then go drink a cup of coffee while the solution works. Come back, put down another area of solution adjacent to the first and start scrubbing on the first area. Work that section, then use a clean sponge and clean water to rinse. You’ll need to change the rinse water often, so leave yourself a path to the sink. Dry as you go with the rinse sponge and the towel, and always keep an area soaking next to where you are scrubbing so that it will be soft by the time you get to it.

    When you are finished scrubbing, mop the whole floor again with plain water to get up any lingering TSP solution and apply grout/tile sealer. Plan to close off the room at least overnight to let the sealer set. Leave the fan on to remove fumes and encourage drying. Sealer is good stuff, but remember to strip and re-seal periodically (yearly in high traffic and wet areas, every couple of years elsewhere) because it will wear away.

  2. I recently had new kitchen counter tops installed along with a mosaic tile backsplash. My tile guy recommended using a spray on grout sealer. I had not heard of that before and must say I loved it. SOOOO much easier.

    Also, my all time favorite cleaning tool is an electric toothbrush. Makes cleaning grimey, small areas a snap.

    Thanks for the tip on how to test is grout is properly sealed!

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  4. I have textured tile through my house. I would prefer to use a pug in scrubber mop of some type to get the job done. Could you recommend one


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