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Ask Martha: The Pros and Cons of Choosing Cement Tile for Your Home

From the kitchen to the bathroom, cement tile can make a bold statement. Here's how to ensure they go the distance.

cement tile backsplash
Photography by: Jess/SAAC/Amber Interiors

"I love the look of cement tiles. What are the pros and cons of using them?" asks Sandra Carlotson, a reader from Austin, Texas. Known for their chic matte finish and intricate patterns, these beauties are darlings of the décor world, often seen on floors and backlashes. They're made from pigmented cement and powdered marble, and their production, sans glaze, makes them a more eco-friendly option than the ceramic kind (no hot kiln required) and more resistant to chipping. While comparable in price to other types, they require some special care because they're porous.

 

To prevent stains, your tile installer will apply a sealer before grouting, and you'll need to reapply it every two or three years afterward, says Youssef Diouri, manager at New York City tile manufacturer Mosaic House. (Try Tenax Protex Impregnating Stone Sealer.) Here, our best tips for caring for your brand-new cement tiles.

 

Related: Choosing a Kitchen Backsplash: 10 Things You Need to Know

 

Clean Them Often

Wipe backsplash or floor tiles weekly with water and a neutral-pH cleaner, like mild dish soap; acidic options can break through the sealer and cause damage, Diouri says. Repeat with just water, then blot with a towel. To lift grime out of grout, use hot water, a stiff brush, and lots of elbow grease—and if spots remain, try the same method with an alkaline cleaner (such as baking soda or borax), testing first in an inconspicuous spot to ensure that it does the job without causing discoloration. 

 

Protect Them Well

Each spring, place a drop of water on a tile in a discreet spot to determine if the surface needs to be resealed, says Diouri. If the shade shifts slightly, the liquid has been absorbed, and it's time for a new coat. Apply sealer generously on clean, dry tiles with a large paintbrush; wear protective gloves and glasses, and keep the area well ventilated. Wait five minutes to let it seep in, then remove residue with a cloth. (And in the case of a floor, keep off of it for 24 hours after application.)