Picture this: you’ve just cleaned your bathroom and you’re looking at your handwork. You’ve cleaned the tub, washed the tile floors and wiped down the mirror. You’re proud, but somehow your bathroom still doesn’t look quite clean. Why is that? Probably because you didn’t get to the grout cleaning.
What is Grout?
Grout is the hard material that fills the joints, or grooves, between the tiles. There are several types of tile grout, but the most common are cement-based, epoxy-based, and urethane-based grouts. They are non-compressible and relatively non-elastic, so if the tile is not firmly set, the grout will crack. Cracks quickly fill with fine dirt and grease, which may make them hard to detect until the grout is throughly cleaned. In wet areas, cracks are likely to lead to water infiltration and damage to the installation. Wherever they are located, they are likely to lead to loosening and debonding of the tile.
Proper grout cleaning methods and cleaners will vary with the type of grout; the location and proximity to other surfaces, and the nature of those adjacent surfaces; and the nature of the stains and contaminants that we are trying to remove.
DIY Grout Cleaning Tips
WARNING: Unless you are a PROFESSIONAL chemist, NEVER mix different cleaners or chemicals to prepare your own DIY cleaner. There are many dangerous and/or misleading online videos posted by “amateur chemists” about how to clean grout. Some of these methods are likely to produce deadly gases, such as chlorine or phosgene. These gases can kill people with a single whiff! And it can happen far too rapidly for any life-saving techniques. If you are lucky enough to survive, you may spend a week or more in the hospital and suffer permanent lung damage, blindness, or severe burns.
Others DIY cleaners are simply a waste of effort, e.g. mixing lemon juice or vinegar with baking soda. Lemon juice and vinegar are acidic, and by themselves may provide minimal benefit by dissolving the stained surface of the grout, but can also severely damage marble and other acid-sensitive stone. Baking soda is an acid neutralizer and a mild abrasive powder which, by itself or in water may provide mild benefit, but not without a lot of physical effort. When combined, the baking soda neutralizes the acids in the lemon juice or vinegar to produce carbon dioxide gas, water, and salt. It creates an impressive foaming action—that has virtually no effect on whatever contaminants you are trying to remove. If you think this method actually works, compare the result with that of water and dish detergent—or just plain water!
Note that most readily available commercial grout cleaning products contain special hazard warnings on the labels about protective measures the user should take. It is vitally important to read the entire label and follow the directions explicitly.
Grout Cleaning Before and After Images
Why do I Need to Clean it?
Grout comes in an infinite variety of colors and varies from very light to very dark. Regardless of the color, grout does get dirty like everything else in yours house, and over time the appearance can change drastically. If your grout is a cement product, stains may be absorbed into the grout through microscopic pores in the surface, which is where sealing comes in.
Sealers, whether clear or colored, penetrating or coating, help prevent staining by filling the pores with a water-repellant material.
How is Grout Cleaned?
For residential projects, where high-pressure cleaning may not be practical, we have found that there is no substitute for applying a cleaning agent and scrubbing. The choice of cleaners depends upon the chemistry of the contaminants and the degree of staining. We use a wet vac with a squeegee wand to extract the dirty cleaner, then triple rinse and extract the rinsate with the wet vac. This process cleans the tile as well as the grout.
For commercial projects with large open areas, we often use our propane-fire steam pressure washer and a wet vac to clean the tile and grout rapidly.