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How to Clean Pool Tile

Categories: How To Guides, Maintenance & Upkeep
Tile is not only for function, it adds visual interest to your pool or spa and brings harmony to your setting. It sets the style and mood to your pool, spa, and landscaping. Pool tile is not just for use around your pool, it can be used to accent entertainment area, trim and facias on planters, fountains and water features. We offer an amazing selection of tile from the traditional, basic powder blue to the exotic glass tiles that are becoming more popular today; and an extensive selection from NPT tile. A question that arises often is, how to clean and keep tile looking good. The two problems pool owners typically face are oil and grime and calcium deposits along the waterline. Below we will cover the best process and products to use when tackling either of these issues.
Oil and Grime
I've found the best method to resolve your problem is with diligent attention and a little muscle. A good tile cleaner with a sponge or a lightly abrasive Scotch-Brite pad is usually all that is needed. Purity's Tile Scrubber makes it easier because the 5-foot pole keeps you from having to get down on your hands and knees. The two tile cleaners I suggest are Arrow Tile Soap and SeaKlear Tile Cleaner which is a heavy bodied cleaner that clings to tile while it cleans. Alternatively, you can use a household cleaner that you already have around. CLR should be your first choice. Be advised that many products if spilled on your deck or coping will leave a clean etched mark. For best results, drop your water level down until it is at the bottom of your tile before you begin. Always test the cleaner first in an inconspicuous area. I've found that inside the skimmer opening is a good place to test.
If you have grunge on your tile that looks like oil but it doesn’t come off easily with detergents, then you may need to skip to our section below on chemical tile cleaners.
If you have read any of my other blogs you will know that I am a huge believer in both Ozone and UV. Either of these sanitation systems installed on your pool or spa will reduce your chemicals easily by 50% to 70%. They break down sweat, body oils and sunscreen, reducing the need for tile cleaning.
Calcium and Waterline Deposits
How to remove calcium deposits from swimming pool tiles is the question we receive most often when it comes to cleaning tile. There are several ways to deal with calcium, starting with prevention!
The adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure really applies to tile. Balancing the water chemistry is your first weapon. Paying attention to your chemistry, especially pH, alkalinity and calcium hardness is paramount. Calcium hardness levels rising over 400, along with constantly high pH and alkalinity readings, help create an environment that is calcium forming. 
There are specialty chemicals that when added to your pool as a preventative measure instead of reactionary treatment, help remove, control or eliminate calcium buildup. Use them when you do your spring start-up or after adding fresh water. I like both Orenda and Easy Care products:
  • Orenda’s Scale & Metal Control is a stain and calcium remover as well as a chelant which helps keep calcium and metals in solution. It works well with salt water pools and helps keep electrodes cleaner longer which reduces the need to clean them with strong acid solutions. This product contains no orthophosphates which adds potential food for algae.
  • The Easy Care products work in much the same way as Orenda’s, just with a different chemical technology. Scaletec will loosen and remove calcium from tile lines in 2 to 4 weeks. To do this, raise your water level to the top of the tile and allow the product to do the work. Beautec stain, scale and scum controller works exceptionally well with salt water pools and water with high concentrations of chlorine. 
For independent fountains and water features away from the pool, Easy Care has two products, a Fountain Scale and Stain Remover and a non-toxic Fountain Algaecide, which is important if you have pets and wildlife drinking from them.
Decades ago, the fastening of strong magnets to your pool plumbing was theorized as a method of changing the molecular structure of calcium. Many claims were made and some perceived it as a scam. Advancement in the science and technology around this concept has lead to the development of the MPulse Calcium Treatment System from Deep Blue Water Technologies. The system sends high frequency impulses at 3,000 to 5,000 per second between an anode and cathode, much like a magnet on steroids. This physically changes calcium bicarbonate by releasing hydrogen and turning it into a more soluble form called aragonite. For rockscapes, both natural and artificial, this may be the ideal method for eliminating the white calcium deposits.
Removal with Abrasives
This pertains to several products and methods to remove calcium forcefully. Consider the fact that calcium has been developing on your tile slowly much like a stalactite in a cave. Now, all at once, you want to remove it, which will likely take some time and dedication. 
  • Pumice stones - This product has been used for decades. Pumice is a volcanic formation and it has many degrees of density and hardness. In its softer form it comes in blocks, the harder form in sticks, usually on a handle. Because it is an abrasive it will scratch your tile. I compare this with washing your Mercedes with sandpaper. Yes, it will remove the calcium, and fairly quickly, but why would you do this. The finer, harder form will do the same damage except it will give you smaller scratches.
  • Wet sandpaper - There is often the assumption that if the sandpaper is wet, it is lubricated and therefore okay to use. It’s still an abrasive that will scratch the glaze.
  • Stain erasers - These are a very good product for specific applications. The simplest way to describe stain erasers is as an abrasive impregnated into a hard rubber type matrix. The stain eraser works well on pool finishes like fiberglass and plaster to remove rust stains. There is even a version for vinyl liners and above ground pools. The rubberized composition gives it a quality much like a pencil eraser rubbing off deposits. While not as detrimental to tile finishes as many other abrasives, it still scratches as it cleans. 
  • Scotch-Brite pads - These are a lot less abrasive than pumice stones. I like the ones with handles because you can actually get a grip and some leverage on the scrubber. There is also the kitchen variety that has a sponge laminated to the scrubber. You probably have one in your kitchen sink. With the right cleaner, you can get much of the oil scum and calcium off your tile. 
  • Glass bead blasting - This is sandblasting your tile with small glass beads. This process has come a long way over the years and the results are dramatic when you watch a YouTube video. Of all the soaps, chemicals and abrasives mentioned, this is the best method when performed by a talented technician. Yes, it really is poof it’s gone! 
Removal with Chemical Tile Cleaners
Get out the googles, gloves and knee-pads! There are several chemical tile cleaners on the market and they do a remarkable job of cleaning tile. The strength of some of these cleaners is amazing, though beware - some use an acidic formula that will etch glass. When you're ready to start scrubbing, drop your water level to the bottom of the tile. Be aware that many of these cleaners will drip down the tile, as the product comes into contact with your cement finish, even underwater, it can leave drip marks. For vinyl liners, be careful as some of these cleaners can remove the pattern off of your liner. Always test first in an inconspicuous area. Work in small increments. Some of these products are as liquid as water and can be applied by a spray bottle while others are a heavy gel that cling to the tile.
  • CLR (Calcium Lime and Rust) and Scalemaster can be applied with a spray bottle. 
  • Scale Off and Bio-Dex #300 are great cleaners for hard scum and light calcium deposits. Both will leave a dull haze on your tile if left on too long or after many applications. This indicates it is etching the glazing, apply and rinse thoroughly. 
  • Blue Wave Tile and Vinyl Cleaner and ClearView Tile and Vinyl Cleaner are good for vinyl liners and also plastic furniture. 
  • An old time favorite of mine as a pool tech is HASA Geyser F Tile Brite. On its own it is thick and tackles oils and sunscreen. With the addition of a bit of muriatic acid it thickens to a hard paste that can be spread onto a Scotch-Brite pad to tackle oils and light deposits of scale. This is a good product for maintenance of dark colored tile. 
Good decisions are based on knowledge and we're here to help you make good decisions! Many of our staff have decades of experience. Call us, ask questions, we’re here to help.
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