Terracotta tile floor refinish

I laid this red French terracotta hexagonal tile kitchen floor in my mother’s NYC apartment when I was a foolish and cocky 21-year-old, in the mid-80s. Now that I have much more respect for craft and awareness of my jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none inadequacies, I wouldn’t dream of attempting something like this (especially not in Manhattan with its various extra difficulties). But thanks to an impeccable subfloor (1928 construction),  it’s actually held up pretty well. I initially grouted it, probably not very well, in  off-white–terrible choice!–and sometime in the 90s it was professionally regrouted in a dusty/dark pink. The sealer had long worn off except on the grout lines, which were grimy and discolored. Every time we visited, I would think “I’ve got to fix that floor,” and I finally did something about it! I was inspired by  Dusty Coyote’s blog post, tremendously helpful especially for the recommendation of Zep stripper, but modified the technique somewhat. I also have ideas about what to do better next time. (I’m also experimenting with Amazon affiliate links on this post.) The floor is small, under 200 sq ft., and there’s plenty of everything left over to do this several times again as needed.

Before

Stripped and scraped

Sealed

As Dusty Coyote recommends, I used the Zep stripper full-strength intially, but I found that 50% water worked too. I did two rounds of stripping, both times spreading the stripper around with a rubber broom (a genius tool with a squeegee on one edge) on 12-24 tiles at a time. The first time I only waited DC’s 30 seconds before starting to scrub with a brush, and then scraped up some of the gunk in the grout lines with a small screwdriver. The second time I used much more volume, mixed with water, let it sit at least 10 minutes, and went at the grout with a proper grout brush. Both times I squeegeed the debris-laden gunk into a line and sucked it up with a little wet-dry vac, then used a wet rag to get the remains. Wet-dry vacs take so much of the pain out of serious mopping!

Before

Stripped
 

Regrouted and sealed

A few of the tiles needed regrouting, as did the edge at the threshold into the kitchen. I couldn’t find a match to the pinkish color, so used Polyblend sanded grout in Nutmeg, which seems like a decent fit with the tile. It looked delicious when mixed!

Luckily there was only a bit of grouting needed, because I didn’t have enough time to let it properly dry before sealing and will have to catch it next time. For sealing I used Tilelab matte, but I made the first coat too thick and used a foam brush, so it was streaky. I did three more thinner coats with a rag which went much better but didn’t entirely even out that first coat. Should have re-stripped and started over!

Before

Stripped

Sealed

What I would do next time:

  1. Single stripping session, leave to soak for longer, use a power scrubbing tool to really get the grout clean
  2. Use a proper lambswool applicator for the sealant and do three or four thin coats (the half gallon would go a long, long way!)

One thought on “Terracotta tile floor refinish

  1. what an amazing text and photos and my goodness, that is MY KITCHEN FLOOR!!!!
    who knew, and now I can see the difference, like having been BLIND to something and then you SEE
    I am listening to a prof talking about Descartes and dream and reality, like the super-rational in dreams are still subject to rules!: there are rules in rules, I cannot dream or doubt of the rational… does something subject to reason , etc. can God be a trompeur? and the motivation du doute? it is hard to doubt, because of our habits, and so on… what about the mauvais genie?

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