A tile shower can be a beautiful addition to any bathroom. One common question asked with regard to tiling a shower is “should I seal the tile?” First, a distinction needs to be made between tile and grout.
Grout is the mixture used to fill in the gaps between the tiles. Grout needs to be sealed. Sealing it will make it easier to clean, protect it from mold and mildew, and keep it looking new. Since grout needs to set for about one day before sealing, most installers don’t seal the grout- it’s something you might have to do yourself. Grout should generally be re-sealed every few years. Failure to seal the grout will result in water leaking behind the tiles, which can cause mold problems and then you might end up having to re-tile the whole shower.
Sealing the tile is usually optional, and depends on the kind of tile being used. Marble, natural stone, slate, limestone, terra cotta, and matte tiles should be sealed to protect them from water, mold, mildew, and stains. Since stone is naturally porous, it absorbs any water washed over it, breeding mildew. Plus it stains fairly easily. Ceramic tile generally doesn’t need to be sealed. The benefit of sealing tiles is that they will require less cleaning and won’t absorb any moisture.
Sealing the whole tile does have its drawbacks. For example, some kinds of sealers can darken or stain the tiles, altering the natural color. It is also extremely time consuming to seal the entire shower, rather than just the grout. Tiles also need to be re-sealed every few years to maintain quality. Past sealers needed to be re-applied every year, but now you can find some that are professed to last up to fifteen years.
Before a shower can be sealed, it needs to be completely dry. If the shower isn’t brand new, this can take up to five days, as the moisture behind the tiles needs to completely evaporate before being locked in. If you decide to seal your new shower, make sure you do so before using it, or you will have to find another means of bathing while the shower dries out. If you’re sealing your old shower for the first time, you may have to wait several weeks for the tiles to completely dry, in which case sealing the whole floor might not be the best option.