Grout Maintenance and Cleaning Guide: Tips and Tricks for Great Results
Nearly all homeowners have to deal with grout in some form or another. Whether it's on the backsplash in their kitchen, on the countertops in their bathroom, or on the floors of their hallway, grout can be found all over the home.
When grout is new, it's both functional and attractive. If it's older and poorly maintained, grout can be a germ wielding eyesore. What nearly all homeowners seem to know about grout is that it's notoriously difficult to clean. Knowing how to maintain your grout and what you can do to keep it in good condition can help you take care of your home. Here's what you need to know.
Table of Contents
- What is Grout?
- Grout Cleaning Tips and Techniques
- Common Cleaning Solutions
- Natural & DIY Grout Cleaners
- Grout Maintenance
- What to Avoid
What is Grout?
Grout is the filler found between tiles. Its surface is relatively porous, with a rough, sandpaper-like texture. Grout is a mixture of cement, colorant, water and sometimes sand. Unsanded grout can be found in spaces less than ⅛ of an inch, sanded grout is found in spaces larger than ⅛ of an inch. Grout is used to reinforce the bond between tiles while filling in gaps.
Grout Cleaning Tips and Techniques
Grout is unlike other substances and surfaces found in the home. Homeowners must use special techniques to keep their grout in good condition. Grout is easily damaged, so take care to ensure that your technique is not wearing away your grout or the surrounding tiles.
Prep Before Scrubbing
Before scrubbing, prepare the surface by removing all loose dirt and grime.
1. Dry mop.
Start by sweeping, dry mopping or wiping the area with a microfiber cloth. This is an effective tool for cleaning grout because dirt clings to microfiber. This material is an effective product for removing dirt from small cracks and crevices, like the spaces between tiles.
2. Wipe with hot water.
Wipe down the surface with a sponge and hot water. This will help collect any remaining dirt on the surface before you get started scrubbing.
3. Dry standing water.
Remove any pools of water on the surface of the tile. Use a dry rag. The tile does not need to be completely dry, but should be at least mostly dry before applying grout cleaner.
Scrubbing Best Practices
Once the grout surface has been swept, rinsed off and dried, it's time to apply the grout cleaner of your choice. When using a commercially available product, follow all manufacturer instructions and safety precautions. Below are some of the best practices for scrubbing:
- Suit up. Wear gloves and eye protection, if the cleaning product being used is caustic or acidic.
- Let the cleaner do the work. Allow the cleaning product to sit for at least 10-15 minutes before attempting to scrub the grout.
- Scrub in a circular motion. Use a gentle scrub brush, like a soft-bristle toothbrush, to scrub along the grout lines.
Use an electric toothbrush, if you have one to use for grout specifically. No matter what process or method you use, be prepared to put effort and a little elbow grease into your process.
Common Cleaning Solutions
Some traditional grout-cleaning methods can be very harsh. Though it looks strong, grout is not very durable. Cleaning with products that are too harsh can result in erosion of its surface. To ensure that your cleaning products are just suitable clean your grout (not too harsh and not too mild), start with the mildest products first and work up to stronger chemicals as needed. It's a good idea to test areas hidden under appliances or behind the toilet, if in doubt.
Use caution when mixing chemicals, and work in well-ventilated areas. Read all instructions before using a new cleaning product on your grout, and check the manufacturer's information to ensure that the product you choose is safe to use on grout.
There are many cleaning products that are safe to use on grout and available for sale in home improvement centers.
OxiClean is primarily used as an additive to laundry detergent, but it can also be used to clean hard surfaces like grout. To use OxiClean on your grout, fill the product to line four on the measuring device and mix with a gallon of water. Apply the solution with a sponge, then leave it to sit on the grout for about 10 minutes. Scrub more and rinse.
Clorox is a bleach product that, like OxiClean, is often used in the laundry room. Bleach is known to lighten dark colors and disinfect surfaces. It's a corrosive product that can burn holes through cloth, and dry out or damage skin. Bleach is safe to use on grout in a limited capacity, due to corrosive properties it's best when used sparingly. It's a caustic cleaner that can erode grout over time, making it more prone to chip, crumble or break away. Only use bleach in small amounts and on rare occasions.
To use bleach on grout, mix it with baking soda until it forms a thick paste. Apply it to the grout and leave it to sit for half an hour before scrubbing it away.
Be careful about mixing bleach with different cleaning products, as it can react violently with some other chemicals. For example, never mix bleach and ammonia, as this combination can create a toxic gas.
Zep is a company that produces a variety of cleaning products including several multipurpose and floor cleaners. Zep also makes an acidic grout cleaner. Always read instructions before applying Zep to your floors. Apply it to the grout and leave it in place for 2 or 3 minutes, then use a soft scrub brush to scrub the grout clean. Rinse thoroughly and reapply if necessary.
Goo Gone Grout
Like Zep, Goo Gone Grout is made by a company that produces a variety of cleaning products. Always read instructions before applying Goo Gone to your floors. Apply it to the grout and leave it in place for 2 or 3 minutes. Use a soft scrub brush to scrub the grout clean. Rinse thoroughly and reapply if necessary.
Grout-Eez is designed for ease of use. To use this product, spray it on and then wipe it away 10 minutes later, after letting it sit on the grout. Grout-Eez is well-reviewed by people who have purchased this product.
Home Armor is a bleach-based cleaning product that is said to require no scrubbing. Just apply and wait for the recommended period of time, then rinse. This is an excellent product for people who have limited physical ability and are not able to use force when cleaning.
TECH Grout Cleaner
This biodegradable, odorless product is said to be especially useful for cleaning floors. Spray it on, scrub it down, then mop it away.
Professional Cleaning Services
In addition to the money wasted trying different products, cleaning grout takes time and a lot of effort. For some homeowners, it's better to hire a professional. Most cleaning companies will guarantee their work, which makes this an ideal solution for some people. Other pros to consider:
- A good professional will know the most effective ways to clean grout without damaging it.
- Specialized cleaning professionals are generally more efficient cleaners than homeowners.
- Professionals have the products that will get grout the cleanest, possibly commercial-grade cleaners that homeowners don't have.
If you're on a budget or a passionate DIYer, hiring a professional may not be right for you. Then again - if some serious cleaning is necessary, consistent failed DIY attempts may become more expensive than this option.
Sometimes grout becomes so discolored that even the best efforts to clean it just aren't sufficient. One way to fix this problem is to apply a colorant or grout stain to darken or lighten the grout and make it a uniform color once again. Grout colorants are almost like paint. They are applied to grout using a specialized brush or a toothbrush.
To apply colorant or stain to your grout lines, start by cleaning them. Once the grout lines have been cleaned and dried, apply product with the brush you've chosen for the job. Work in small sections at a time and wipe away any colorant that gets on the tiles before it dries. If the colorant is allowed to dry on the tile, it could stain permanently.
Natural & DIY Grout Cleaners
Many effective cleaning products can be found in your own pantry. Before buying expensive specialty products, start with solutions that you already have available in your own home.
As with commercially available cleaning products, it's important to test your homemade cleaning products first, before using it on a wide area. This will prevent you from leaving behind toxic residues that can be harmful to your family and the environment.
Before you can make your own cleaning products at home, it's good to know why some ingredients work and what they do. Having this information can help you create and personalize cleaning products that will effectively clean your grout.
This product is prized for its ability to absorb smells. It's also mildly abrasive, so it's very good for scrubbing. Baking soda is slightly alkaline, so when dissolved into water, it helps lift dirt away from messy surfaces. People love to use baking soda in their home because it's gentle, natural, non-toxic and can be used safely on a variety of surfaces, including tile and grout.
Vinegar is mildly acidic, so when applied to dirty surfaces, it can dissolve caked on grime. Vinegar is commonly used to clean porcelain and glass. It's effective against soap scum, calcium buildup and hard water stains. There are many types of vinegar available in stores, but the best vinegar for cleaning grout is usually white vinegar.
Salt is a gentle abrasive that can also kill germs. Its unique chemistry allows it to be safely mixed with a variety of other household products. And since it's a food-grade product, it's 100% safe to use around the house. It's an excellent product to use when you're trying to remove dark stains from grout.
Like vinegar, lemon juice is mildly acidic and can help lift stains from certain surfaces. Lemons also have a bleaching effect that can lighten grout. It's said that lemon juice bleaches best when exposed to sunlight, so this may not be effective in dark corners. It also requires consistent reapplication to make a difference. In addition to being an effective cleaner, lemon juice has a refreshing and pleasant scent that can make any room a more pleasant place to spend time.
Borax converts water molecules to hydrogen peroxide while maintaining a stable basic pH. These qualities allow Borax to boost the effectiveness of certain other types of cleaners. You can mix Borax with a variety of cleaning agents. Borax can be toxic in high doses, so keep your Borax stored away from pets and out of reach from children.
Hydrogen peroxide is used to clean, disinfect and deodorize a variety of household surfaces. It's very effective at removing toxins and breaking down grime. Hydrogen peroxide is usually kept in the bathroom for disinfecting wounds, but when combined with other household products can be a very effective cleaner.
Recipes and Methods
To find the best DIY solution for your home's grout, start by trying products and ingredients by themselves or with water. All products above can be used on grout and a variety of other household surfaces, so try your hand with them around the house. Below are some common recipes that can be used to effectively clean grout.
Recipe 1: Hydrogen Peroxide and Baking Soda
Sprinkle your grout with baking soda, then spray the powder with hydrogen peroxide. The combination will bubble. Allow the mixture to sit on the grout for several minutes. Scrub, then wipe away with a damp rag.
As an alternative, mix baking soda and hydrogen peroxide into a thick paste and then apply the paste to the grout. Allow the mixture to sit and then scrub the grout with a gentle scrub brush or old toothbrush. Rinse and wipe away.
Recipe 2: Hydrogen Peroxide, Baking Soda and Dish Soap
Mix the hydrogen peroxide and baking soda together into a thin paste. Add dish soap and spoon the mixture onto the grout. Allow the combination to sit on the grout for several minutes, then scrub the mixture with a soft brush. Rinse clean.
Clean Early and Often
Grout gets dirty over time, not all at once. You can keep your grout looking its best by cleaning it early, as soon as you see a spill or stain, and often with an effective solution that works for you. Waiting until it can't be further ignored can lead to a more permanent discoloration of the grout, and can also lead to a lot of back-breaking labor for you.
Add Essential Oils for Pleasant Scent
Once you find a mixture that works, add essential oils for a long-lasting clean scent and added antibacterial properties.
The best way to keep grout clean is through routine maintenance and preventative measures. Grout is very porous and easily absorbs moisture and dirt from the environment. Homeowners must be diligent to keep their grout looking its best and from harboring germs.
Keep Grout Dry
Mold and mildew will grow easily if the grout is often wet. You can prevent mold and mildew by paying special attention to keeping grout dry.
- Run the vent in the bathroom after showering.
- Squeegee your shower walls.
- Wash rugs & towels that touch tiled surfaces regularly.
- Don't put off fixing leaks
- Seal the grout.
Develop a Maintenance Routine
Whether you're drying your walls or spraying them with vinegar, your grout will still need to be cleaned on a regular basis, especially in high traffic areas on the floor. Use a microfiber cloth to sweep daily, mop the area weekly and scrub grout regularly to keep it in good condition. High traffic areas on the floor may need to be scrubbed with cleaner once per month, while low-traffic areas may need scrubbing only once or twice per year.
Some people recommend spraying the walls of your shower with a 1:1 vinegar and water solution. Vinegar has a drying effect and also kills bacteria. Spraying your shower with vinegar on a regular basis can help prevent the growth of mold and mildew.
Seal Your Grout
Sealing grout closes the pores and prevents it from absorbing dirt. Grout sealer can be applied by a professional or by a DIY homeowner, but some may be more comfortable with a pro taking care of this task. Grout needs to be re-sealed periodically, as sealer only lasts for so long, check the label on your specific product.
To seal your grout, buy sealant that is specifically designed for your type of grout, whichever it may be, and apply the sealant following all manufacturer's instructions. Re-apply sealant according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Most sealants need to be reapplied every one to two years. You'll be able to tell when sealant needs to be applied again because the grout will start to absorb dirt.
What to Avoid
Grout might be made from cement, but it can be surprisingly delicate. Using the wrong tools or the wrong type of cleaner on your grout can lead to a degradation of the material. Knowing what not to do can help you keep your grout in good condition.
Steel Wool and Metal Brushes
Abrasive tools like steel wool or a metal brush will quickly loosen grout, leading to gaps, cracks and gouges. These tools can also scratch certain types of tiles, rubbing away the ceramic coating on top and revealing the porous clay or stone underneath. Extended use of these tools could lead to staining of the tiles around the grout, and could potentially ruin your floors.
Some people recommend using sandpaper to clean your grout. While this may be an effective short-term spot treatment in some cases, sandpaper is not much safer than steel wool or metal brushes on your grout. It can scratch tile, especially soft stones like marble. Sandpaper can also excessively wear down the grout itself.
Vacuum with Beater Bar
Vacuum beater bars can be too rough on tiled surfaces. With great speed they can impact tile corners and grout which could wear down or chip off over time. If you're going to use a vacuum on your grout, stick to attachments that suck out debris but do not scrub the floor.
Colored cleaners can dye your grout a slightly different color. Discoloration will happen slowly over time, so don't assume that just because a colored cleaner worked once that it's safe to continue using. If you are using a cleaner that has a distinct color, check the manufacturer instructions to find out if it is safe to use on grout, and discontinue use if it doesn't specifically state so.
Use Best Practices and Enjoy Your Grout
Maintaining grout takes time, practice and experimentation. When your tile is first being installed, talk to your contractor for maintenance suggestions. If you have a friend who has clean and attractive grout in their home, ask them what their secret is. Bear in mind that not all cleaning products are safe for grout. If your friends seem to be using products that could damage grout over time, keep searching for an effective method.
What works on one type of grout may not work on another, since some types are more durable or easier to clean than others. Follow these tips as you're searching for the right method:
- Start with mild cleaner and work your way up.
- Always test cleaner on a small, out-of-the-way section of grout before cleaning your entire floor.
- Avoid using materials that could scratch away your grout.
- Clean your grout early and often, as well as dry mop daily to prevent dirt buildup.
Finally, if you're not up to the task of maintaining your grout on a regular basis, choose dark colored grout over light grout. Gray or black grout shows far less dirt and will continue to look its best no matter what cleaning practices you use. Though remember, it can still grow mold and mildew. If you choose to install white or light colored grout, be prepared to clean it frequently and diligently.