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Tile and Stone Maintenance

Cleaning Slate – Expert Advice on Cleaning Slate and Slate Floors – Part 1

Cleaning slate isn’t too difficult. It’s vital, however,to know what kind of dirt or contaminant you are trying to remove before you can make a decision as to which cleaning product is best suitable.

Slate comes in many different colours and finishes. Some of these are smooth whereas others have a textured surface. Undoubtedly, slate is a very popular material for flooring right now.

Slate generally has good resistance to mild acids so this gives you a much wider choice of cleaning materials than you would have with more acid-sensitive stones like limestone or marble.

So, how do we go about cleaning our slate floor?

First, you need to check whether the contaminant is mineral based? e.g. grout staining, cement, rust or general dirt. If it is, you would be advised to use a mild acid cleaner such as one based on phosphoric acid. Beware though as any acid cleaner may etch the grout also.

In most other situations where you have, for example, general dirt and grime, wax, oil or a general build up of old polishes etc. I would recommend using a strong alkaline cleaner for periodic intensive cleaning. For everyday cleaning I’d recommend using a mild, neutral cleaner.

Here’s an Expert’s 6 – Step Guide to Cleaning Slate:

1. Ensure your slate is protected with a high quality sealer: either an impregnating sealer which will give you a natural look with a mat finish and below surface stain protection. Or, if you prefer the look of wet slate, in so far as the darker colours, but still want a natural, mat, no-sheen finish, then look a good quality enhancing sealer such as Enhance ‘N’ Seal. Alternatively you can use a coating sealer for a pleasant low sheen gloss which really helps any ongoing cleaning.

2. You must eliminate all grit – this is the major cause of all wear to slate floors. Ideally, place a dust mat both inside and outside the room which will help remove grit from shoes and prevent it from spreading to the slate floor.

3. Sweep and vacuum the slate floor regularly. This will also help remove grit from the surface of the floor.

4. Mop up and soak up isolated spillages as they happen. You shouldn’t leave strong contaminants such as coffee or wine to dwell on a slate floor.

5. Wash the slate regularly intervals using a mild, neutral cleaner. This will clean the slate but it won’t damage the stone, grout or the sealer used.

6. Less frequently, carry out a deep clean. For this, we recommend using a high alkaline cleaner. More in Part 2.

Update 22/01/13 – Check out this case study on cleaning slate

 

 

 

Copyright Ian Taylor and The Tile and Stone Blog.co.uk, 2013. See copyright notice above.

12 Comments

  1. Hi Ian – We moved into a house with a slate floor and a slate bench in the shower. It is really cloudy looking. I bought StoneTech soap scum remover, stone tech mold and mildew remover and sealant. I have used the soap scum and mold and mildew remover a couple of times. It still looks cloudy. Did I wait too long? Do I have to do it more times? Do I need to or can I seal it while it looks cloudy? There is also white “stuff” that I can’t scrub away with an OXO nylon brush on the grout. Any advise is appreciated.

    Thanks, Mindy

  2. Hi Mindy,

    OK, well the cloudy marks could be efflorescence or damaged sealer. Some sealers will go cloudy upon curing if there is too much moisture present in the stone at the time.

    If the cloudy haze ‘disappears’ when wet, only to reappear when dry then it can suggest efflorescence. If however, it stays visible through the water, then it might indicate a sealer or come kind of coating/deposit other than efflorescence.

    If the latter, then try a small amount of old fashioned nail varnish remover (the clear type with acetone). Just rub a little NVR on a cotton pad onto the affected area, see if it improves it, removes the haze. If it does, then this indicates that you need to get a sealer stripper.

    If not then eff is more likely, and for this you would need an acid based cleaner, not though one based on HCL/muriatic. Instead look for a proprietary grout haze remover based on phosphoric or similar.

    The white on the grout is also likely to be efflorescence

    I would certainly try to clean all white marks before sealing. Don’t forget to thoroughly rinse and allow to dry before attempting to seal also.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  3. I’ve recently bought a slate fire surround but it’s been painted in white gloss. What should I use to strip the paint off without ruining the slate?
    Cheers
    Rob

  4. Hi, the slate should be fairly resilient to chemicals like paint strippers so I would try one of those. You could also try a hot pain gun – You might find you can use heat and or a plastic scraper to remove the bulk and a paint stripper to remove the residue that is left after. I doubt any harm will come to the slate.

    What I cannot say however is why the slate was painted in the first place, you may uncover something that is not in great condition

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  5. Hi I have Chinese green slate tiles a number have developed central pale discolouration. Which we put down to a leaking central heating pipe. Well we have dug two up and cement dry😣. Could the heat from the pipe have created problem? Lyn

  6. Hi Lyn,

    Not heard this before, at least not heard about slate ‘changing’ it is normally pretty stable. One thought that I have is maybe the tiles were always like that but while wet (during installation and grouting etc) they looked more even, but upon drying out, they lost their moisture which was artificially darkening them – so not they are appearing as they really are? – It is worth a though, have any other of the slates change?

    Some Chinese material can lose its colour when washed – but this usually affects grey slate with autumn colours, where the reds and brows are formed due to h presence of r=free iron minerals and where the slate is quite porous and dusty and friable. Here the iron ‘rusts’ when exposed to the atmosphere and can be in the form of a surface powder/dust that is relatively easily wiped/washed away.

    I think this far less likely with a green slate, in fact the Chinese green slates I have seen are pretty stable but green also comes from iron so if you have a slate where the part of the stone that is coloured is not completely ‘fast’ in the stones matrix then there is in theory at least a possibility that water, chemical cleaning could remove them to some degree – unlikely I feel but possible.
    HOpe this helps Ian.

  7. Thanks Ian that is helpful. They have been down for 18 years and only started to discolour in last 6 months. No obvious change of cleaning so will just replace and do a grand strip and resell and see how it goeslyn

  8. Hi Ian

    I cleaned our textured slate floor with a steam mop. Unfortunately I left it to cool sitting on the tiles and there is now a large white mark on one of them.

    Any suggestions as to what I can do to get rid of it?

    Feeling stupid and would love your help!

  9. Hi Lorna,

    OK sounds like you have some kind of deposit – I can only guess but, normal use of a steam mop would spread minimal moisture over a large area, and as steam which would evaporate quickly. Where as keeping the mop in one place and allowing it to cool, means that a larger concentration of moisture will then have cooled, condensed, and then slowly evaporated. So much more moisture, if there was anything in the moisture (there almost always is, detergent residue, calcium from the water itself, dissolved dirt from the entire floor and whatever was on the mop etc) all this ‘stuff’ is carried by the water and the mop, all you have done is let it all collect in one spot and as the water has then slowly evaporated the ‘stuff’ has dropped out of solution and been deposited on the surface.

    There may be some mineral content or it could be largely grease base. IF mineral (calcium from hard water) you may need to try a MILD PHOSPHORIC acid based cleaner – you could try some white vinegar as a test.

    If it is manly grease based then a high alkaline degreaser should do it.

    Failing that you could try a cleaner with a mild abrasive in it

    Assuming of course scrubbing with water and or the steam mop does not remove it?

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  10. Hi Ian,
    Thanks for your reply. We have tried washing up detergent and alkaline floor cleaner with no success. I noticed in your reply to someone else that you mentioned ‘etching’ – as the marks disappear when they’re wet, I wondered if that’s the case with our slate? Would a fine emery paper followed by slate oil work in our case or should we try stronger cleaners first? Thanks very much for your advice.

  11. I do not think it deposit because it occurs under a bench where there is little cleaning and no wear and tear. It does however occur above a junction of underfloor central heating pipes, so I think the slate has become denatured due to constant heat over 20 years centralised by the fact that the main area is where everyone turns on their heels to go around a corner. We did dig the offending tiles up looking for what proved to be a non existent leak so can’t try any other solution. I will be replacing tiles with spares soon and will post if it happens again so that others can consider heat as a problem to slate tiles that discolour, loosing colour.
    Lyn

  12. Hi Sarah,

    It could be etching, although that is not typical with slate. Normally etching is associated with calcium based stones. However, there can be some slates with mineral content that is effected by acidic cleaners and so thqty can on occasion etch in much the same way.

    The other thing to consider might be that there was some kind of sealer/polish/oil/ coating on the slate that has been removed (from simply being kept wet, wioth steam or detergent or whatever)

    An etch wuld not only be white-ish in colour it would also be phyically diferent, duller, matt etc. If you can look at it under a mangifying glass, look for a difference in texture.

    It the surface has been etched then possibe rubbing with very fine wet & dry/emery paper with a little water may well be worth a go. Adding oil may help but it also may then look different tothe surrounding layers, but you might be able to blend this out over a few tiles.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

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