Floor tile, A.W.N. Pugin

Floor tile, A.W.N. Pugin

Victorian floor tiles

Floor tiles are common in the hallways and paths of Victorian and Edwardian houses.
These are usually of two different types described as encaustic tiles or quarry tiles. Encaustic tiles are decorated with coloured clay inlays. The leather-hard clay was stamped with an impression of the design, which was then filled with a contrasting colour liquid clay 'slip'. Once dried, the excess fill was scraped away to reveal the design. Encaustic tiles may be glazed or unglazed. Quarry tiles are unglazed and often laid in a geometric pattern of contrasting colours.

Unglazed tiles have a matt surface that tends to hold the dirt. They have often accumulated a variety of floor polishes, wax, varnish, paint or lino adhesive. Over time, the rich bright colours on the tiles become obscured by such layers.


1. Remove loose dirt and dust by brushing or vacuuming.

2. Use a scalpel to carefully remove hard deposits, paint spots or very thick varnish layers. Take care not to scratch the tile with a scalpel - you will need to judge the safest angle and pressure required. 

 3. Add a little detergent (one drop of detergent per litre of water) to bowl of warm water. Use a stencil brush or nail brush with natural bristles to apply the water to a small area about 10 sq cm. Using a circular motion, blot the surface with a paper towel to remove the dirt. Repeat this process, then blot dry before moving on to the next area.

It may be possible to remove waxy deposits with solvents such as white spirit, methylated spirits or a 50:50 mixture of white spirit and water with a drop or two of detergent. Use the solvent on a small swab and apply to an area about 2 sq cm at a time. Work on one tile at a time and blot clean and dry before you move on. It may seem a bit fussy to work on such a small scale in a large tiled area, but it allows you to limit your exposure to solvent fumes and work in a controllable way. Although it is often easier and quicker to use more aggressive methods, these may damage the tiles, particularly if used repeatedly over the long life of the floor.

Proprietary paint stripper can be used to remove paint or varnish. Test a small area first and follow the manufacturer's guidelines for safe usage. This should also be applied following a controlled approach as described above.

As a general rule it is best to avoid applying a sealant because they don't allow tiles to 'breathe', thus trapping damp below and encouraging mould growth. A build-up of silicone sealant can be almost impossible to remove. For housekeeping, use a mat at the doorway and vacuum or sweep regularly.