How to Clean Outdoor Porcelain Pavers: The Ultimate Guide
Porcelain has a long history that dates back to ancient Chinese culture more than a thousand years ago. When you think of porcelain today, it’s typical to associate it with decorative figurines and delicate kitchenware. However, porcelain comes in many different types and styles. It’s one of the most versatile and durable materials that you can use for building various surfaces inside and outside of the home. It’s so versatile, in fact, that the ancient Chinese used it to build a 260-foot tower of Nanjing in 1431 – a structure that stood for over four centuries.
The durability, availability, and beauty of porcelain became overshadowed by other natural and manufactured stone surfaces for building and decorating homes over the years. Today, porcelain is making a comeback due to its many favorable characteristics.
Porcelain pavers are becoming widely popular in recent times, especially for outdoor use. Demand is soaring for this chameleon-like product that can take on the appearance of everything from natural stone to concrete and even wood. It can be made to look like any elegant natural surface comprised of travertine, bluestone, limestone, slate, or sandstone, and often at a lower cost. Even in the cases in which the price is higher, its easy maintenance and ability to withstand any amount of pressure, temperature, and climate, make it an ideal choice for many projects.
Whether you’ve just built a new porcelain patio, are considering constructing an outdoor area using porcelain, or need to clean up an existing outdoor surface made of porcelain pavers, this is the ultimate guide for you. Read on to learn all about what porcelain pavers are, their various styles, the benefits of choosing them for outdoor use, and detailed instructions on cleaning and maintaining them.
What Are Porcelain Pavers?
You know what porcelain is, but do you really know what it is?
Porcelain tile is part of the ceramic family, which is why you probably think of bone china and other delicate dishware or delicate figurines when you hear the name. However, a significant factor in what makes porcelain so unique is the process by which it’s manufactured.
Porcelain tile is manufactured according to higher standards than other common ceramic products. It’s made of purified and highly refined clay that undergoes a longer firing process at much higher temperatures than any other ceramic product. This unique manufacturing process results in a highly durable and customizable material that can be used to build everything from walls to floors, both indoors and out.
Porcelain pavers are explicitly made from the highest grade of porcelain, making them a worthy counterpart to natural stone and concrete products. Their exemplary combination of quality engineering and aesthetic appeal allows them to achieve superior density and unmatched performance while remaining uniform throughout each slab. Porcelain pavers are made with a variety of recycled materials and kiln-fired clay. They have been used for decades in some of the most challenging and climatically extreme environments around the globe.
Myths Surrounding Porcelain Pavers
Despite its durability and versatility, it took porcelain pavers a while to become a popular product for building outdoors. A significant reason for this is the widespread myth that porcelain is delicate and fragile, which came about due to the material’s primary use for making dolls and dishware for thousands of years. Porcelain is also thought to be extremely expensive and limited in its applications – both of which are myths.
Due to the various myths surrounding porcelain, it took advocates of porcelain pavers a while to debunk them and start spreading the word about the material’s exceptional potential. While the pavers caught on throughout the West Coast, it wasn’t as easy to convince the folks in New England to give them a chance. It took some education and a broadened variety of styles to win the hearts of homeowners, builders, and architects to turn their eyes away from natural stone like bluestone and fieldstone – the hallmarks of New England’s unique landscape style – and give porcelain a try. But once they finally did, the pavers began soaring in popularity.
Benefits of Using Porcelain Pavers
While porcelain immediately brings up images of dolls and dishware for most people, it has also been a popular option for a wide range of indoor surfaces for decades. Around the world, people have been using porcelain to outfit and decorate bathrooms, kitchens, entryways, mudrooms, and other similar areas of the home. As porcelain can easily be adapted to suit various design styles, it eventually found its way into various outdoor applications, most frequently for patios and pools.
One of the porcelain’s most captivating features is its ability to be made into pretty much any custom pattern a person could desire. Porcelain’s unique ability to suit both sophisticated and casual environments coupled with its adaptability coming in any color, shape, and size makes it the perfect material for a modern farmhouse style as well as an array of contemporary design styles.
As far as outdoor use goes, porcelain pavers are one of the most underrated options out there, though they are starting to gain the recognition they deserve. They can be used to build everything from terraces and balconies to roof decks, walkways, and pool deck areas.
In addition to their outstanding functionality, they’re non-slip, stronger than natural stone, and easy to clean. They also resist mold, mildew, and moss, and they’re not susceptible to freezing. Here are all the benefits of choosing porcelain tiles and pavers for outdoor applications:
- Porcelain tiles and pavers have a water absorption rate of less than 0.5 percent, which makes them naturally stain- and weather-resistant
- Because they absorb almost no water, porcelain tiles and pavers won’t crack in freezing temperatures like many other materials
- Even when exposed to direct sunlight, porcelain tiles and pavers are highly resistant to UV fading
- The manufacturing process that porcelain pavers go through makes them stronger and more durable than any other ceramic material used in high-traffic areas
- They’re naturally non-porous and sealed
- They’re resistant to harsh weather conditions and don’t crack like natural stone
- Porcelain pavers can be treated with ice melt without getting damaged or ruined
- They’re non-staining, which makes them an excellent choice for high-traffic areas that will be exposed to pets, children, parties, or natural debris
- They’re non-slip, which is another feature that makes them ideal for entertainment spaces that get a lot of use, especially from children, such as pool decks and patios
- Porcelain pavers are easy to clean – brushing with warm soapy water is often all that’s required to keep them looking new.
- They stay cool in the summer
- They’re made with high-definition finishes that won’t fade – even when exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods
Many designers and homeowners are drawn to natural stone options, such as bluestone and flagstone, for outdoor projects like pool decks and patios. These stones are usually chosen for their colors, beauty, and classic appeal. However, advocates of porcelain pavers and tiles are convinced that the main reason someone wouldn’t choose porcelain instead is simply that they’re unaware of its adaptability and features. Porcelain tiles and pavers can be made to take on the look of any natural stone and are more durable and versatile than any of them as well.
While porcelain pavers have a high price point compared with some other outdoor options, the quality is well worth it. You can also count on it being in regular supply, unlike natural stone, whose availability depends on the current events of the natural environments it’s sourced from. Porcelain pavers are made in independent United States factories dedicated to manufacturing them, so you can always be sure that there’s a steady supply to meet the growing demand.
The goal of any designer is to achieve harmony in form and function. For most people, that means taking into account a busy, sometimes messy lifestyle while choosing a material that looks good and works for them. Porcelain pavers are one option that generally ticks every box on anyone’s features list.
Porcelain Paver Types and Styles
As mentioned above, one of the most favorable features of porcelain pavers is that they can be made to perfectly mimic the look of any natural stone out there. They come in a wide range of colors, textures, sizes, and finishes to suit any design style or project type. Below are the basic and most common types and styles of porcelain pavers. In most instances, they are customized to take on the most unique features that a person could dream up.
Bluestone is one of the most common options for walkways, patios, pool decks, entrance paths, and even driveways and exterior walls. It’s a naturally textured stone that’s available in smooth, tumbled, or cobblestone finishes. Porcelain pavers made to look like bluestone generally come in square or multi-size cube patterns.
Travertine is a more elegant-looking option that’s similar to marble. It’s a common choice for outdoor floors and walls, courtyards, patios, pool decks, walkways, paths, and stairs. Porcelain pavers made to look like travertine comes in crosscut patterns and is available in natural colors ranging from silver and cream to tan.
Porcelain pavers can be made to mimic the look of just about any natural stone in a variety of colors, making it one of the only truly customizable materials available for outdoor use.
Porcelain pavers can even be made to look like wood and can be customized in light and dark shades, making it perfect for landscaping in a wooded area where you want some extra durability, long life, and low maintenance.
Unglazed Porcelain Tiles and Pavers
Unglazed porcelain tiles and pavers don’t have an outer finish, which gives every tile a unique pattern. Though they lack a protective coating, unglazed porcelain pavers don’t really require one as they’re naturally wear- and weather-resistant. Unglazed porcelain pavers can be made with any texture and can be polished for a glossy appearance as well.
Unglazed porcelain pavers come under one of two categories:
- Through or full-bodied tiles and pavers are made with no added color. The grain and vein patterns run through the entire thickness of each piece.
- Double-loaded tiles are made of two layers of clay pressed together. These have exceptional durability and are ideal for high-traffic areas. For an added touch of unique appeal, two layers of varying colors can be combined to form a patterned stone appearance.
Glazed Porcelain Tiles and Pavers
Glazed porcelain tiles and pavers have a protective sealed coating. They come in a wide range of solid colors and patterns and can have a matte, gloss, or semi-polished finish.
Glazed porcelain pavers come under one of two categories:
- Printed tiles and pavers undergo a unique glazing process in which a digital image is printed on the tile. This process makes it possible for porcelain pavers to take on the look of wood, natural stones, and just about any other type of flooring.
- Color-bodied tiles and pavers are made by adding color throughout the entire thickness of the slab and are finished with a surface glaze that adds extra protection and aesthetic value.
The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) distinguishes porcelain tiles and pavers into five grades: grade one being the least durable and grade five being the most durable.
Installing Porcelain Pavers
Like any outdoor paving or tiling project, installing porcelain pavers and tiles is a time-consuming task that requires technical knowledge to be done correctly. While the incredible density of porcelain pavers is what gives them their characteristic element of durability, it also means that specialized equipment is required to cut them. Unless you’re a very experienced DIY-er with the proper tools for the job, you’ll need to hire a professional to lay them out.
For an experienced professional, many porcelain pavers are designed for easy installation over various base environments, including grass, gravel, concrete, pedestals, compacted sand, and Gator Base. Porcelain paving stones are also sized precisely for uniformity, which further facilitates the installation process. While they’re super thick and durable, they’re actually much lighter in weight compared to natural stone pavers. This feature helps make both the installation, removal, and service of the pavers much easier.
The modular design and array of porcelain paver sizes allow multiple-sized slabs to be combined during the installation process. Porcelain pavers are also available in a range of contemporary styles and a rainbow of colors, which will enable you to further customize the appearance of the surface during installation by using multiple patterns and colors.
Standard porcelain pavers are typically about three-quarters of an inch thick and come in three different sizes: 12” x 24”, 24” x 24”, and 24” x 36”. In most cases, it’s also easy to find, or special-order stair treads and edge trims in 12” x 24” or 12” x 48” sizes.
First Floor Deep Cleaning After Installation
Porcelain pavers require a special deep cleaning process after they’re installed over concrete.
You must remove excess grout with a sponge and clear water immediately after grouting the joints. Then, wait 12-48 hours and do a deep cleaning. By this time, the grout in the joints will have hardened significantly (or “set up”). When this happens, a residual “haze” appears, which is noticeable. You can use a soft scrubbing pad and a diluted acid cleaner that’s made specifically for removing grout haze (refer to the cleaning chemical company’s suggested methods and dilution rates) to remove all or most of this “haze” from the porcelain. For best results, change the acid solution frequently and keep a container of clean water near you to remove the acid solution after cleaning the “haze.” Always use clean and dry towels and don’t leave the surface area wet. Dry it as much as possible.
Further cleaning with an acid and water solution may be required for areas with grout that adhered to the tile or excess grout. Since all acids and cleaning chemicals are not made equally, remember to refer to the instructions that come with whichever cleaning chemical company’s product you’re using. Any excess grout residue needs to be removed. Otherwise, it will dry and stick on the surface. Always change the cleaning water frequently throughout the process and rinse the surface well while drying it immediately.
Special care must be taken on polished, inlaid, and especially anti-slip products. You may want to use a floor-washing machine combined with a diluted acid detergent to reach all the spaces between adjacent tiles for the most thorough clean.
If these cleaning procedures aren’t done or are done too late after installation, the grout residue will create an absorbent film that holds dirt, making the surface difficult to clean in the future.
One of the most favorable characteristics of porcelain pavers is their easy maintenance. You can keep them clean simply by wiping them down with water and a mild detergent. When you need to do a deeper cleaning, make up a vinegar and water solution or use a tile cleaner made for porcelain and a soft-bristle brush. Please note that you should avoid using brushes on glazed or polished tiles. You should also never use steel wool, hard-bristle brushes, oil-based detergents, ammonia-based cleaners, or cleaners with dye on porcelain pavers.
Regular maintenance can be carried out with specialized stain-removing detergents. However, be sure that these won’t leave behind a film, wax, or membrane residue. The most fundamental part of the cleaning procedure is rinsing well with clean water. Therefore, you should never use products that state they don’t need rinsing.
If you’ve installed white, extra-white, or bright-colored porcelain pavers, these are more delicate and can get dirty more easily than darker pavers. These pavers require more careful regular maintenance. Sealers aren’t necessary and will only result in a more slippery surface by changing the dynamic coefficient of friction. Porcelain also has a low absorption rate, which is a natural characteristic that lends its non-slip quality. However, this also means that sealer isn’t likely to stick to the surface properly and will flake off over time.
How to Clean Outdoor Porcelain Pavers
Now that you know what porcelain is, its various styles, types, finishes, textures, the installation process, and the basic maintenance requirements for porcelain pavers, you can dive into all the specifics on cleaning this extraordinary surface. From cleaning up general dirt to getting stains, rust, and much more off the surface, your ultimate porcelain paver cleaning guide is here.
Please note that the suggested cleaning performance of materials can vary depending on the nature and location of the installation, the conditions of use, and the surface finish. It should be remembered as a general rule that porcelain pavers with higher anti-slip properties are more challenging to clean than those with smooth surfaces.
General Dirt and Debris
General dirt and debris can be removed from porcelain surfaces simply by way of regular brushing. If the color somehow becomes masked, you can use a solution of acid-free detergent and warm water to scrub it by hand or with a domestic cleaner.
Although it’s very rare for weeds to grow through the edge joints of porcelain pavers, it can happen in some cases. Fortunately, weeds can easily be pulled out of the joints by hand. Please note that if some of the sand gets removed with the weeds, you should replace it as soon as the cleaning process is done.
Placing porcelain pavers in areas that receive regular foot and wheel traffic will naturally keep weeds under control. However, if weeds become an issue in less visited areas, you can control them by cutting the grass regularly or using herbicides developed for use with paving or in gardens.
The correct use of power washers can help preserve porcelain pavers and keep them in good condition. When you spray onto porcelain pavers, be sure to hold the power lance at a narrow angle as you move it over the surface. Don’t point the power lance directly at the joints while spraying.
If your porcelain pavers get stained by something that you can’t remove through one of the methods above, you may need to try specific acid cleaning treatments to remove them. However, such chemical cleaners need to be handled and applied with great care. Read the instructions and fine print and consider the percentage of acid concentration. Applying too much acid to the porcelain surface will cause damage.
Depending on the climate where you live, you may experience extreme temperature and climate changes throughout the year. To keep your porcelain pavers in top condition, you must maintain them correctly according to the different seasons.
In spring, when the snow has stopped from the winter season, give your porcelain pavers a thorough cleaning and check all the joints to make sure they’re still intact. If you find any damage, repair it as soon as possible so that it doesn’t spread or become more difficult to repair.
In summer, there’s likely to be an increase in traffic over the surface, so you should check the pavers regularly for damage. Perform regular cleaning and maintenance as needed.
As trees and shrubbery begin to lose their leaves in the autumn or fall, be diligent in keeping leaves, fruit, and berries off the porcelain surface by sweeping, blowing, or vacuuming. The longer those types of natural debris rest on the surface, they can leave stains behind, especially if they’re wet.
As the pavers receive minimal use throughout the winter months, remove snow and ice whenever possible to keep the surface safe should someone walk over it. It’s perfectly fine to use de-icing salts on porcelain surfaces without damaging them. Other de-icing materials, such as pure marine salt, can be used on porcelain pavers but may leave a white residue on the pavement. It should also be noted that such materials are corrosive to aluminum and steel and can harm vegetation.
While porcelain pavers have exceptional stain resistance and can generally be maintained by a simple water wash or a diluted solution of neutral detergent with water, some stubborn stains may occur and require some extra effort to be removed.
Before you try to remove the stains on your own, it’s essential to know what can damage the surface of a porcelain paver. Never use abrasive products like steel wool pads, scouring pads, or solutions that contain substantial levels of acids or alkalis.
Difficult stains and dirt can typically be removed using a mild alkaline detergent and then rinsed well with clean water. Large surfaces can be cleaned easily with commercial washer-dryer machines. Rust and other particularly tough stains can be removed with specialized porcelain paver cleaning products, which you can read more about below.
Please note that sand and more abrasive types of dirt can have a scratching effect on the porcelain paver surface, which is exacerbated with foot traffic. If your porcelain pavers are located in such areas, you should be diligent about sweeping, blowing, or vacuuming such debris off the surface regularly.
Solutions for Inorganic and Organic Stains
Depending on the type of stain, various solutions can get them out of the porcelain paver surface. You can use the following guide to determine which type of solution to try depending on the type of stain.
Acid Solutions – Deterdek, Keranet, or Similar
These solutions are effective in removing inorganic stains, such as:
- Calcium efflorescence
- Metallic residues
- Cement-based grout
- Colored grout
- Wall paint
Alkaline and Neutral Solutions – PS87, Filacleaner, or Ammonium
These solutions are effective in removing organic stains, such as:
- Ice cream
- Coffee or wine
- Animal fats
- Vegetable fats
- Mustard or mayonnaise
- Jam or linseed oil
Other Types of Stains
For all other types of stains not covered above, check out the following list of stains with their respective cleaning solutions.
Iron rust stains are distinguishable by a characteristic brownish-rust red color, and of course, by close proximity to steel or iron materials. A solution of lemon juice or white vinegar may be enough to remove iron rust. Squeeze the juice of a lemon or pour the white vinegar directly onto the stain and let it sit for about five minutes before scrubbing it with a soft-bristle brush. Be sure to wash the surface well with clean water when you’re done cleaning.
Residual Rings of Organic Nature
Residual rings of an organic nature, such as those caused by leaves, fruit, berries, oil, soft drinks, beer, and wine should come off easily with hot water and mild detergent.
Take care not to scratch the surface when scraping discarded chewing gum off with a mechanical scraper. Hardened gum can also be removed by freezing and chiseling or with hot water.
Concrete, Cement, and Mortar
These types of stains are generally insoluble and are caused by contamination from other sources. Proper removal of these stains requires a suitable acid cleaner. Be sure to follow the directions of the cleaner as well as the tips in the above guide.
Tire marks are easy to remove through steam cleaning with a commercial cleaner.
Ink and Paint
Dried paint can be scraped off and finished with a paint remover. If the paint is still wet, don’t wipe it – use an absorbent material to absorb it, and then apply a suitable solvent to the area. After you clean the paint off, wash the surface with a de-greasing agent.
Allow the fresh bitumen substance to cool down. Use ice if necessary. Once it’s brittle, use a paint scraper or similar tool to scrape it off. Then, use an abrasive powder to remove residue and rinse the surface with clean water. Never use solvents to remove bitumen – doing so will actually increase the size of the stain on the surface.
Epoxy and Polyester
Use a solvent to remove areas with solidified polyester or epoxy. Be sure to test a small area before undertaking a large-scale operation.
Copper, Aluminum, and Bronze
Stains caused by any of these materials will be brown or green. You can remove them from the porcelain paver surface by using a solution of one part ammonium chloride and four parts whiting. Add ammonium hydroxide to form a thick paste and use that to scrub the surface clean. A simple acid solution wash can remove aluminum stains.
Lime Deposits and Atmospheric Dust
To remove stains caused by limescale, use a proper acid-free cleaning product or a standard limescale remover solution.
Whether you’ve recently installed porcelain pavers outdoors and are looking for cleaning solutions and advice, or are considering installing porcelain pavers and are looking for someone to help, we’ve got answers for you. Contact us to discuss your situation and see how we can help you with any of your porcelain-related queries.