How to Clean 1920s Ceramic Fireplace Tile


Janet asked:  How do I clean ceramic fireplace tile from the 1920s? It is a craftsman style tile with a rough feeling surface and embossed pattern in the tile. There are a few small chips at the corners of the hearth tiles which show white ceramic beneath the glaze. The tile is soot stained and not at all shiny, There are a few small areas where the grout has cracked and fallen away.

Old ceramic tile, particularly textured and/or embossed tiles, can be difficult to clean. The textured surface requires more frequent cleaning and relatively more effort to do so, but in the case of older tiles, the odds of existing damage can complicate things. While this general cleaning technique should work, some judgment will be required based on the condition of your 1920s era tile.

You Will Need:

Steps to Clean the Tile:

  1. Begin by brushing away all loose dirt and debris from the tile surface. Use extra care around cracks or crumbling tiles. A vacuum with a brush attachment can work well for this, but do not allow the suction to seal on any weak or damaged areas.
  2. To make minor repairs, use epoxy. Follow all label directions for use. If you’re not sure how to do this, or your fireplace requires extensive repair, stop and call a professional.
  3. Allow the epoxy time to cure.
  4. Use a heavy duty ceramic tile cleaner to clean and restore the tile. Follow label directions for the product of your choice, and always spot check before you clean.
  5. Use the stiff bristled brush to scrub away tough dirt and soot stains. For older/more fragile tile, utilize a softer scrub brush, such as a toothbrush or baby hairbrush.
  6. Once clean, polish the tiles with a clean, soft cloth.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Never use acid on ceramic tile unless they are specifically indicated for your purpose. It can etch and/or stain the tile.
  • Hydrogen peroxide and a scouring pad will work on many cleaning projects. NEVER mix peroxide with bleach.
  • For gentle scrubbing or to reach into small cracks, crevices, or design areas, use a soft bristled toothbrush.
  • Start at the bottom and work your way up while cleaning to avoid streaking.
  • Follow all directions for safety, use, and storage of products you use on your tile.
  • Depending on the cleaning product chosen, it may be wise to wear protective eyewear and gloves. Cleaning with a scrub brush can often produce splatters, and harsh chemicals are never good for skin.

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