Once the last pieces of tile are set, you can begin cleaning up the slate portion of your installation. Here a few key tips about clean up. (This is Part 3 of a 3 part series. To return to Part 2, click here.)
1. Clean the wet saw very well. Most rental companies will charge you an additional cleaning fee if you bring the saw back covered with muck and dust.
2. Dispose of your cut pieces carefully; we already discussed that they can be dangerously sharp.
3. If you have leftover tile, keep at least one box in a safe place. This is just in case you should ever drop a piano on your floor and have to replace a few tiles.
4. If you have leftover tile and you want to return it to the store and get some money back, do your best to pack it in full cases. Most places won't take back individual tiles, but will have no problem giving you credit for full cases.
5. If you did get any Thinset on the face of the slate, clean it up immediately. Unlike many tile adhesives, this does not clean off with solvents and it can be a real nightmare to get off after it has set up.
Grouting and Sealing the Floor
Now that your slate has been installed and the Thinset mortar has been allowed to dry for the amount of time recommended by the manufacturer, it is time to grout and seal the floor. Make sure that the grout that you have selected is sanded. You will need the additional strength that is provided by the sand in the grout because you have fairly wide gaps in between your slate tiles.
Mix the grout as specified on the package and begin spreading it over the slate using the grout float. Use the float to make sure there are no low spots between the tiles, and then use a damp rag to wipe any excess grout from the face of the tile.
In this process, we find one of the major differences between installing slate and installing traditional ceramic tile. With ceramic tiles, it is generally acceptable to allow a hazy film of to dry on the face of the tile between applications. Since the ceramic usually has a slick surface, this haze can be buffed right off with a damp rag. This is not the case with slate. Since the surface is porous, you need to make sure that the excess grout is cleaned up as soon as the grout is applied. Don't let it set up thinking that you can come back later and buff it off. Use your commercial sponge to wipe up as much of the wet grout as you possibly can. Once you are sure you've gotten it all, let the grout dry.
As the grout dries, you will begin to see a slight haze develop over the slate. Don't panic. As long as you got all of the grout paste up off of the tile, you should be able to wipe off any residual haze that forms as it dries. Make sure you use a dry towel to wipe off this residual film, as a wet rag or sponge will just smear it around more.
If, after your first coat of grout has dried, you see that there are some low spots, go ahead and give it a second application. This will ensure a uniform appearance once the floor has been sealed.
With most ceramic tiles, it is sufficient to seal just the grout. With slate, you are going to want to seal the entire floor. Check with your tile supplier about what stone sealers are recommended for your type of slate. This sealer can usually be applied with a paint roller or a handheld paint pad.
Keep in mind that the floor will require a bit of maintenance, as it will need to be recoated with stone sealer every so often.
No doubt about it, doing your own slate tile work is a big project. However, it is one that will pay huge benefits if you go ahead and do it yourself. Labor costs for tile professionals are extremely high and by putting in the muscle and time, you can save the money that would have been spent on a contractor and put it towards your next project.
Brian Simkins is a freelance writer living in Chicago. He enjoys using his 14 years of home improvement experience to educate and equip new home owners.