Caring for Tiled Floors

This is guidance on the problems you may meet with tiled floors, how to repair them, and on-going care. There is help elsewhere for glazed tiles. To reinstate a Victorian tiled floor, look at the range from Original Style.


Typical problems are:

  • Missing floor; the tiles have been removed and replaced with, for example, vinyl tiles on a new concrete screed.
  • Major cracks across the floor; there has been a settlement problem and the floor has 'folded' slightly.
  • Individual tiles loose, chipped or missing.
  • General shabbiness, with paint spots, dirt etc.

Modern tile adhesives only appeared in about 1950. Prior to this, tiles were generally fixed using a mix of sand and lime or Portland cement.


Missing Floor

This usually needs a professional to lay, but you can plan the design. Visit your neighbours and copy the design. For small areas, you may find sufficient salvaged tiles or there are companies who supply modern encaustic and geometric tiles. Our Directory has companies with tiles.

Tiles can be laid over a wood floor, provided it is sufficiently strong. Otherwise joists may have to be strengthened and the boards covered with 15mm plywood.

Major Cracks

If you have just one main crack, you can:

  • ignore it
  • fill it
  • try to take up the tiles along and either side of the crack, clean them up and re-lay

Damaged Tiles

Broken earthenware tiles can be stuck together with PVA glue. Moisten the edges of each piece and then apply PVA. Use adhesive tape to hold the pieces together, wiping off surplus glue.

Minor chips missing from tiles are best ignored; your floor is old and you may cause more damage by attempting a repair. Just clean the floor thoroughly.

If a tile is missing, look for a replacement. Try your neighbours - who may have taken up their floor, and architectural salvage yards. Alternatively, buy a modern tile. Our Directory has companies with tiles.

If you are removing damaged tiles, record the pattern if necessary. Dig out the tiles, using a knife or scraper.

Cut the tiles to fit; they normally fit tightly with minimal grouting. Use a heavy-duty tile-cutting tool.

To re-lay an existing tile, you can use PVA if the floor is indoors. Otherwise, scratch out the mortar to a depth of 5mm. Use a vacuum to remove any dust. Use a little lime mortar to stick the replacements, tamping them down with a hammer and a flat piece of wood. Grout the tiles after the mortar has set.

General Shabbiness

First, sweep thoroughly to remove all grit and dust.

Then remove carpet and gripper rod glues and paint.

To remove glue, first try a hot air stripper or heated scraper. Some glues can be softened with acetone (nail varnish remover). White spirit will soften epoxy adhesives. You can also try proprietary products such as 'Dr Schutz glue and stain remover'.

To remove paint splashes from encaustic tiles, try methylated spirits with a nylon scourer; be gentle. If that does not work, use a chemical stripper. Because the tiles may be porous you want to apply, scrub and wipe fairly quickly. Try to use a less aggressive stripper that does not contain methylene chloride or caustic soda. Scrub gently with a medium grade wire wool. Then wash with plenty of water to remove as much of the residue as possible. Some stripping chemicals have an associated neutraliser although if it is acidic this should be used sparingly; otherwise it will damage the tiles, grout and mortar underneath.

Remove cement stains with diluted hydrochloric acid, scrubbing with wire wool, ensuring that you use protective clothing. Then wash the tiles immediately to dilute the residue.

The next step is to use a proprietary tile cleaner or restorer to clean all the tiles, with a plastic scouring pad or a hired scrubbing machine. Rinse off all the dirt with plenty of water, removing the dirt with a cloth or sponge. Repeat until clean.

Allow the floor to dry. In colder weather, this may take several days, in which case protect it with old but clean sheets or blankets. Do not use newspaper as this will stain the tiles.

If the tiles are laid on the bare earth or a layer of mortar, you must not seal them. Instead, you use a polish made from 3:8 beeswax and turpentine. Gentle heating in a double boiler will help to dissolve the wax so it can penetrate rather than sit on the surface. Do not saturate the tiles - you don't want to seal them totally, and too much polish will collect dirt and may become slippery. Subsequent coats can be applied annually.

One traditional recipe uses boiled linseed oil, sometimes with three parts white spirit, but linseed oil does tend to yellow and is therefore best avoided.

Use a colourless oil such as slate dressing to preserve the result.

If your floor is over timber, you can use a sealer such as HG Golvpolish.


Floor tiles need to be swept and wiped regularly to remove abrasive dirt.

For cleaning, use a mop but avoid strong or abrasive domestic floor cleaners such as Flash as they can damage the surface of the tiles.

Once a year, re-wax or re-seal.