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REAL ESTATE

How to Clean Ceramic Tile to Make Your Kitchen or Bathroom Shine

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cleaning grout with sponge (Cameron Carlson)

Ceramic tiles have made the world a more beautiful place since around 4,000 B.C., when they were first used as a handsome and durable way of facing the surface of buildings. Today, they're popular in kitchens and bathrooms not only because they're gorgeous, but also because they wear well and they're easy to clean. Yet tile does have its downside. Its surface is typically porous, which means that it may absorb whatever comes in contact with it, from dirt to soap scum to spilled makeup. And while glazed ceramic tile -- which has a top layer of liquid glass -- is stain-resistant, it is definitely not stain proof.

So face facts: Whatever kind you have, you will eventually have to clean it. And you'll want to do so carefully, since using the wrong products or materials may damage it further. Read on to learn how to clean ceramic tile -- the right way.

How to clean natural ceramic tile

Natural ceramic tile (meaning the type without the glossy glaze) tends to soak up any liquids, powders, or oils that come into contact with its surface. So your first strategy in tile tidiness is to immediately wipe up any dirt and spills, so they don't have time to seep in.

If you have an existing spot, clean it with warm, soapy water, says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman. For stains that are sticky -- like hairspray -- dampen with rubbing alcohol and wipe up.

How to clean glazed ceramic tile

Glazed ceramic tiles have a bit more protection than their natural counterparts. But they also scratch, so cleaning with a light touch is key.

Start by vacuuming to remove any dust. Then wash the tiles with either plain water or an all-purpose cleaning solution. A homemade option is one-quarter cup of white vinegar mixed into two gallons of warm water (vinegar cuts through grime and leaves a shine).

Never clean glazed tile with abrasive cleaners, which can dull the finish. And always use a soft cotton cloth or a sponge mop, free of metallic parts that could damage the glaze. If a stubborn stain demands scrubbing, use a soft bristle brush only.

How to clean tile grout

Grout -- the filler between tiles that prevents water from seeping into the subflooring -- can easily get dirty or discolored. While you're ostensibly cleaning your grout whenever you clean tile, every once in a while you need to pull out the big guns.

To remove oils, mildew, and soap scum, use a professional-strength tile and grout cleaner, or fill a spray bottle with a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar and water. Then spray it directly on the grout, let stand for five minutes and finish by scrubbing with a soft-bristled brush. If stains remain, put a little baking soda or white toothpaste on a toothbrush, wet the grout and brush. But be aware of the pressure of your elbow grease; you want to remove dirt, but not the grout itself.

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