Monday, December 17, 2007

Is that a ladder in your bathtub or are you just happy to see me?

My husband complained about the bathroom yesterday - actually suggested that we may need to gut it. My husband doesn't complain much so when he does it gets my attention. Gut the bathroom? Oh, perish the thought!

What drove him to conclude that we need to gut the bathroom is his disgust with the condition of the tiles. The wonderful original subway tiles that our home inspector warned us we'd better like because they're sunk into solid concrete. I say wonderful because they're original and they're subway tiles. Who doesn't like subway tiles???

Unfortunately they are badly crazed and in the tub area the crazing is badly soiled. They look moldy - but, they're not. Dirt, body oils, etc has become embedded BEHIND the glazing. I understand my husbands feeling of defeat - I really do. I've seen the look of doubt pass across our house guests faces when I try to convince them that the shower is not dirty - it just looks dirty.
In the six months we've been here I've tried to address the problem. I've googled "subway tile restoration", "crazed tile" into the wee hours looking for suggestions. I've tried every bathroom cleaner known to man - and some unconventional products as well. Below is a photo of just some of the "losers" in the battle of the stained crazing. I've even given some thought to professional steam cleaning or perhaps resurfacing as a last ditch effort.

Well, no more! No fakey paint type "semi-permanent" solution for these tiles. Today I tried my last idea. I thought I'd better quit stalling before I come home to find hubby sledgehammering out the walls. You wouldn't believe how EASY this is going!
And the winner - in the war on bathroom tile sludge is..... drum roll please..... 30% Hydrogen Peroxide Solution!
I knew that soaking old pottery in salon quality peroxide would clean the grime out of crazing - but the challenge here was that a) it was a vertical surface and b) keeping it moist. You can put a piece of pottery into a tupperware container full of peroxide and forget about it till it's done it's job - which can sometimes take weeks. Not so practical when the item you want to "soak" is the wall of the shower you need to use every day. And - did I mention? It's vertical!

Turns out the secret is applying some heat. It really speeds up the process. I'm using a disposable paint pad to apply the creme peroxide to a small section of tile at a time (about 2 squares of paper towels) - laying paper towel over the peroxide as if I were wallpapering with it - then using the pad to kind of "pounce" some more peroxide on top of the paper towel. The jabbing/pouncing motion seems to keep the paper towel from lifting, shifting, and tearing. I'm then applying a sheet of 3 mil plastic over the paper towel/peroxide mess and taping it into place with what else? Duct tape!

Then I'm positioning a space heater right in front of it to really heat it up. Most of the sections I've done today have come remarkably cleaner in about an hour. Some places are going to need a second or third application but overall I'm quite pleased with how it's going. And greatly relieved!

Now I guess I should do some research on finding a product to seal the tiles once I get them all cleaned up. Woo Hoo - it's been a very good day!


Sandy said...

You are one smart cookie!

Josh @ Bungalow '23 said...

What a process! I'm struck by the simplicity of the cleaning agent and your clever management of the vertical surface challenge. This is definitely something for my idea file. Thanks.

Jonathan said...

Holy cow. That's an awesome idea! You should take that and sell it to some company that makes overpriced products for house cleaning. :) I have some tile in a third floor bathroom that is going to need some serious help, and I think I'm going to give this a shot to see what happens. Thanks!

LH said...

Wow! I'm impressed!

Two years ago I finally ripped out a disgusting plastic shower surround (which I not-so-fondly referred to as the "crack motel" shower) and replaced it with white subway tile - which looks good, at least for now... Your tile cleaning "breakthough" is worth filing away for the future.

We are in said...

Thanks, everyone, for the positive comments and encouragement. If this didn't do the trick I didn't have any more ideas waiting in the wings - so I'm really glad it's working!

LH, if your tiles are only two years old this probably something you'll have to worry about again in your lifetime. By the time your tile crazes it'll be your great-grandchildren's problem! :o)

chadandali said...

What an idea! I have been dying to find a remedy for the same problem in our subway bathroom. Thank you so much for this - I might actually be proud of my subway bathroom! I'll be trying it as soon as I have some time. Thank you!!!

Cathy said...

Awesome! It just makes me wonder what kind of damage it does to my hair if it'll penetrate the surface of tile! --and I love your radiator bench. Good work!

Amelia said...

Great to read this! My 1926 bathroom has the same subway tile problem. How long do you keep the heat aimed at the tiles for each section? I've never shopped for a heater like this, so tips about brand and wattage would help. Thanks!

We are in said...

Amelia, I used a "Presto Parabolic Heat Dish". I found a link to one with a full description on Amazon. I bought ours at Costco for $58.00.


This heater has turned out to be pretty handy on cold winter days for a lot more than cleaning tile, but if you don't want to invest in something like that I think our shop lights would have worked just as well. You know the ones I mean? I think they're halogen, rectangular,yellow and mounted on a tripod? It seems everyone has one of those lights so I'm sorry if I'm
not describing it well.

I kept the heat on each section for about an hour, then I would move the heater, peel back the tape and paper towel to check on the progress. Most sections were clean in one hour. Some I had to put more peroxide on and leave for up to two or two and a half hours. After that I started getting nervous that I might be causing some kind of damage so I'd move on to another section and then go back and re-treat the really yucky spots after they got a "rest" and I could soak them down with water.

I didn't have a thermometer to measure the temp, but I'd estimate that the tiles got as hot as a warm oven. Like maybe 200 degrees.

I hope that helps. If anyone reading this blog tries this method I'd love to hear about your experience and maybe see some pics.

Ragnar said...

Sounds interesting... I've got some salvaged floor tile that spent it's past life in an apartment house stairway and that shows. They're cement tiles with glazing thick enough to be sanded (I almost couldn't believe that when I read it on the manufacturer's web site) but I'd like to be less aggressive. I did try a mild solution of laundry bleach but that didn't do anything (not that I mixed it for that purpose - I had it left over after cleaning a pair of work jeans). So I might give the hydrogen peroxide a shot before I install them.

Thanks for the good idea!

Side note: those new heat dishes sure have more safety features than the old ones... mine only has the element itself covered.

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

That's great to hear! My better half hates the old bathroom sink in the House of Our Dreams (which is not yet purchased) because of all the crack lines in it. This should solve that issue. Awesome.

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Vanessa said...

I am so glad to find your blog! I live in Pittsburgh too (Observatory Hill) and have the same exact bathroom situation. Where can I get the 30% peroxide? Also what did you end up sealing the tiles with to protect them?
Thanks so much for posting this!

Amie said...

I have the same problem in Morningside, and I would love answers to Vanessa's questions!

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I've been getting hundreds of nonsensical messages forwarded to me from this blog. The sender is "Anonymous" with the subject line "[American Foursquare] Is that a ladder in your bathtub..." A few years ago, I commented on this blog's discussion about bleaching old bath tiles. Anyone know how to stop messages from this blog from being delivered to my inbox? I tried blacklisting but it doesn't work. Thanks.

Brian said...

I'm about to try this method tonight on my NYC shower stall from 1928. I'm wondering if this method worked because of the hydrogen peroxide, or if is the phosphoric acid. Thanks for the tip!

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