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Why are tiles soaked in water before use?

Updated: Oct 17, 2022


With so many different types of tiles available to choose from, it is easy to forget that each of them has its own nuances and subtilities that are imperative to installation, even the smallest variable requiring a change in technique. One of the major questions that arise during installation is whether tiles should be soaked before use.

Whatever kind of tile is being used, usually the bases of tiles are porous and this means that there is a lot of air inside. Tiles are to be laid on cement, and if dry tiles are laid directly onto the cement, they could be damaged easily. Although the tile may stick initially, it will most likely fall off sooner than expected. This is because of the air pockets in dry tiles. Soaking the tiles in water will replace the air in these pockets with water, ensuring the cement or adhesive that is laid as a base for the tile will form a proper bond with the tile.


Soaking Tiles To Dispel Air

While soaking the tile, the air pockets that are under the tiles need to be filled. Air bubbles will rise to the surface once the tiles have been submerged. The tile can then be safely applied once the air bubbles stop rising.

If a dry tile is applied directly on top cement, the tile tends to soak up all the water and absorb the water into its interior. What it does is dries out the cement or adhesive much quicker, which makes it lose its adhesive properties.


When Should You Not Soak Tiles?

While soaking tiles are good for cement or adhesive, there are also instances in which tiles should not be soaked. More modern applications like silicone adhesive, epoxy, mastic, or any other liquid-based adhesive do not take kindly to tiles that have been soaked. Stone-based tiles also do not require soaking prior to being installed.

If the tiles that are to be soaked have to be cut, this needs to be done before soaking the tiles. Cutting after soaking tends to heighten the risk of breaking the blade or experiencing jagged ends. This could also mean that you have chipped tiles. These could break or crack even after installation.


Factors To Consider

One factor to take into consideration is what the tile is made of. For example, stone-based tiles don’t require soaking. If the tiles are either made of red or white clay, the soaking process is important, specifically for the red clay tiles.

Soaking of red clay tiles is important not just for proper bonding, but also to increase the strength of these tiles. Soaking of white clay tiles has nothing to do with the strength of the tile, but it is also required to ensure good bonding properties with the surface it is laid on.

Porcelain and ceramic tiles are easier, they can either be sprinkled with water or a brush can be used to wet the clay layer underneath the top layer. Ceramic tiles can also be used without wetting the portion underneath the tile, but this process has to be done with porcelain tiles.


Type of tile

Soak

Rinse/ Sprinkle

Do not soak

Stone- based

​-

-

Red clay

-

-

White clay

-

-

Porcelain

-

-

Ceramic

-

✓ (Only a few Steps)

-

Another factor to consider is the thickness of the tile being used. Tiles that are less than 1 cm thick can just be washed, and soaking is not necessary. Tiles that are thicker than this will need soaking and a bit of drying after, as the tile will start slipping if it is installed while dripping wet.

Tiles that have been in the warehouse for some time may come with a layer of dust on them or under them. In this scenario, it is best to clean the tile before soaking. Alternatively, they can be soaked and cleaned. Either way, a dirty tile doesn’t make for a clean install. Granite tiles require that they be moistened and wiped for dust. A damp sponge will do a good enough job. The sponge has to be rinsed after use on each tile.


Water Quality For Tile Soaking

The water is used for soaking the tiles will also have a bearing on how well they soak. Tiles tend to soak up any sort of water they are added to. The quality of water used is imperative in the case of soaking tiles. Freshwater is the best one to use. Other water from places like a lake might seem cost effective but may lead to a bacteria or fungi infestation.

The germs start spreading underneath the tiles. After soaking a batch, the water has to be changed. No detergents are to be used in the water, dry or liquid; though they might seem to be the best way to get the tiles clean. Detergents will form an oily layer on top, which might prevent the adhesive from working as it should.

In typical cases, glazed wall or floor tiles only soak up 10% of water, while porcelain tiles absorb less than 0.5%. Ceramic soaks under 0.1% of water, which is why ceramic tiles need not be soaked before installation if so required.

The actual process of soaking or wetting the tile can be done in many different ways depending on how much soaking is required. One of the ways is to use a paintbrush and just paint the water onto the surface of the tile. This method can be done with tiles like porcelain or ceramic, which do not require much soaking. Others can be done with a sponge, by wetting the sponge and going over the tile until the required amount of wetting is achieved.


For Best Results

The best way to achieve soaking, and especially for clay tiles is to get a large bucket or tub and fill it up with fresh water and soak the tiles in batches, submerging them completely. By doing this, you can get the optimum performance out of the tile in terms of strength and longevity.

It is recommended that the water is changed after each batch is soaked. Once all the air bubbles are cleared from the surface of the water, it means that the bucket is ready for the next batch of tiles.

In conclusion, take care that the right method and time for soaking is followed for the tile that you choose to finally install in your home. Making sure that the tile is correctly soaked and installed will ensure longevity, strength, and bang for your buck in the long run.

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