How to repair original tiled floors

DIY expert Helaine Clare offers a step-by-step guide to repairing old tiled floors in Victorian and Edwardian homes. The project includes a full list of tools and equipment required, plus advice on sourcing geometric and encaustic tiles

TODO alt text

Tiled floors in Victorian and Edwardian homes often need simple fixes to keep them well preserved. You can repair original tiled floors on a DIY basis, but if yours is in very poor condition, seek specialist advice.

Traditionally, tile schemes were laid without grouting, butted hard against each other on a bedding layer. Over time, dirt and grit can become ground down between the tiles, or they can become loose or chipped.

If one tile becomes dislodged, deal with it as soon as possible. As the tiles hold each other together, even a single missing element can cause the collapse of an entire area.



Related articles: How to clean stone floor tiles | How to maintain terracotta floor tiles How to revive a wooden floor | How to restore a pine staircase

To repair a tiled floor, you will need…

How to repair original tiled floors steps 1 and 2

1. Carefully remove any loose tiles: In the hallway of an Edwardian home c1909, this border tile is loose, but as the tiles were laid by being butted up hard against each other it can be difficult to prise them out without risking damage to the edges. Run a hacksaw blade or paint scraper around the tile to loosen it further, and gently ease it out.

Tip: If a large patch is in need of repair, mark each tile and use a photo or drawing to ensure each is returned to its proper place.

2. Clean up area before starting: Use a bristle brush or vacuum cleaner to remove dirt and grit beneath the loose tile. With a damp cloth, thoroughly clean the bed and back of tile. If the bedding has crumbled you will need to re-bed the tile in adhesive. Remove some of the old bedding evenly and apply tile adhesive to back of tile. In order to provide a good base for the adhesive, remove at least 6mm of the old bedding.

How to repair original tiled floors steps 3 and 4

3. Re-affix the loose tile using glue: Dampen the floor bed and back of tile. Prime both with one part PVA diluted with five parts water. Allow this layer to dry. Next apply neat PVA to the floor bed and back of tile and press firmly back in place. Wipe away surplus glue with a damp sponge and place a weight on top. Leave for 24 hours until fully bonded.

4. Repair chips with epoxy putty: Repair small chips with modeller’s epoxy putty Milliput, available in various colours. Clean the chipped area first, then knead and roll equal amounts from both Milliput sticks for six minutes. Press the resulting putty into the chips. Smooth with a wet finger or finely woven moist cloth. Clean tools immediately.

How to repair original tiled floors steps 5 and 6

5. Scrape away paint splashes: Dried-on paint splashes can be removed with a scraper. Choose one that keeps the blade at an acute angle to the tile to avoid scratching or gouging it. Alternatively, use a plastic scraper or plastic scouring pad. Do not use metal scourers, wire brushes or steel wool to repair original tiled floors, as they can damage the surfaces.

6. Remove ingrained dirt from tiles: Give the floor a thorough clean with hot water and mild detergent such as conservation grade Vulpex Spirit Soap. Don’t allow water to pool on the surface as it may find its way down between the tiles. Sponge off the surplus as you scrub away. Finally wipe over the tiles with clean water, rinsing the mop frequently.

How to repair original tiled floors steps 7 and 8

7. Apply a natural beeswax finish: These unglazed tiles were traditionally left unfinished. Don’t apply a sealant or impregnator, particularly on a ground floor with no damp proof membrane, or you will trap moisture. If you like to see a slight sheen, apply Liberon Liquid Beeswax sparingly to the tiles, using a soft cotton cloth.

8. Buff up floor to a soft sheen: After applying a scant layer of Liberon Liquid Beeswax, wait 24 hours for it to dry then buff the floor using a cloth or electric polisher. Sweep or vacuum regularly to prevent dirt and grit from being trodden in. Occasionally wipe over with a damp mop, rather than washing, which may allow water to seep underneath. A rubber doormat outside and a coir one inside will help capture dirt.

Where it is not possible to repair original tiled floors 

To source replacement geometric and encaustic tiles, contact Craven Dunnill Jackfield for handmade examples in authentic period patterns.

Short history of encaustic tiled floors

  • In medieval times encaustic or inlaid motif tiles were handcrafted by Cistercian monks for the great monasteries.
  • Public interest was renewed in the 19th century as medieval sites underwent archaeological excavations.
  • By 1835, Herbert Minton had produced a catalogue of designs based on the originals.
  • As the Gothic Revival spread, these fashionable and ornate floors were installed in churches and grand buildings. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert commissioned a Minton ‘pavement’ at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
  • Soon, manufacturing advances plus a large, low-paid workforce enabled mass production of floor tiles for the homes of the aspiring middle classes.
  • Decorative tiles were often teamed with various plain geometric tiles, all based on subdivisions of a six-inch square tile.