How to Clean your Tile Grout

by Roger

When I started this site it was intended to only focus on issues of installation. Through research I discovered a greater demand for information related to existing flooring. This particular subject was at the top of the list.

So, like every politician has promised and failed to deliver, I will give the people what they want! Well, as much as I can, anyway.

Out of curiosity I typed “how to clean grout” and “tile” into Google. I only made it through two pages of sites before I was fed up with all the crap from so-called “experts”. Ninety percent of what I discovered was bull!

Common sense dictates that you do not use bleach or hydrogen-peroxide (same effect) on any type of colored grout at all – ever. Yet this was the suggestion of most “experts”.  If you happen to have white sanded grout in your tile, you’re set. If not, you’re gonna screw it up more.

What’s “sanded” have to do with it, you may ask. Exactly. Without knowing the product you’re cleaning, it will be difficult to clean it properly. That being said typed, let’s start there.

Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout

For something that confuses some so much, this is actually relatively simple. The difference? Drum roll please . . . sanded grout has sand in it. Fairly anti-climactic, yes?  The implications are greater, though.

Sanded grout is used for grout lines (the space between the tiles) greater than 1/8 of an inch. I use it for grout lines 1/16 and larger. The reason sand is added is to prevent the grout from shrinking as it cures. If you attempt to use unsanded or non-sanded grout for larger grout lines it will shrink (sometimes as much as 50%) and look like hell.

Sanded grout is also much more stable and durable. Unsanded grout is used in smaller grout lines because sanded is difficult to force into the space. Because of this using sanded grout in smaller grout lines leaves open the possibility of not completely filling them which will, in time, lead to grout cracking, chipping out, and a number of other things that make an otherwise perfect tile job look sub-par.

Do I have sanded or unsanded grout in my tile?

I dunno, I can’t see it from here.

Sorry, I’m a bit warped, I stare at floors all day. There are several ways to determine this (the type of grout, not whether or not I’m warped). If you have large grout lines chances are it’s sanded grout. If it’s a shower with 4 X 4 or 6 X 6 inch tiles chances are it’s unsanded.

Run your finger across your grout, if it’s rough you have sanded grout. If you run your thumbnail along the grout line and you scrape a bit of grout out of it, you probably have non-sanded. If your grout is smooth, it is non-sanded.

Okay, what does that have to do with cleaning it?

The methods below describe how to clean grout in tile that is not natural stone – granite, marble, travertine, etc. You do not want to scrub these with a stiff brush as you risk scratching the stone. If you have natural stone the best solution is to either try the method below using a cotton cloth rather than a stiff brush, or purchasing a commercial stone cleaner. Not a grocery store bathroom cleaner, a specialized stone cleaner available at places like Home Depot and follow the instructions. Seriously, follow the instructions.

As with anything you do to your tile, or flooring in general, make sure to test the method in an inconspicuous spot to ensure it won’t harm your tile or grout.

Let’s deal with sanded grout first. After it cures, sanded grout is actually less dense than unsanded. This means more “stuff” permeates further into the grout itself. Anything you use to clean sanded grout will completely saturate into the grout, all the way to the floor beneath.

You can use bleach on sanded white grout. With a bleach/water ratio of 1/10 (umm, 1 bleach, 10 water, but you knew that) and a stiff brush you can scrub the grout lines. The grout is already white (or used to be) so bleach will not discolor it. Spray or dab the solution onto the stain and let it sit for about two minutes. Then take the stiff brush and scrub.  Scrub hard, you’re not going to hurt it. Then rinse it with clean water. Repeat as necessary, as they say.

Hey moron, you may say, I don’t have white grout in my floor! That’s all right, no one else does either. The same method applies. Use white vinegar rather than bleach. Start with a 50/50 ratio of white vinegar and water, spray or dab it onto the area, let it sit, then rinse.

You can gradually make the mixture stronger as needed. Start with 50/50 . If that isn’t strong enough simply add  additional vinegar. You can use straight white vinegar as well, it shouldn’t harm your tile or grout at all. Just scrub it until the grout gives up and you’ve scrubbed it into submission.

Unsanded grout, because it is more dense, is less apt to let stains in much farther than the initial top layer of the grout. So you just have to scrub that. Using the above method should work well.

The problem most people have is that they think if they scrub some of the actual grout out of the tile it will somehow compromise the tile itself – it will not. Grout has absolutely nothing to do with holding the tiles in place, stabilizing the tile, or any number of other things people are led to believe by the aforementioned “experts”. Absolutely nothing. So scrub away.

That’s it. This method should take care of most stains and discolorations in your grout. But, you say, all you’ve told me is to scrub the grout. Well, mostly. I do not claim to be an expert on the easy way. I am, however, well versed on the correct way. The above is the correct way. Sorry.

There is no magical solution that will gather up a stain and pull it out of the grout (unless it’s blood, hydrogen-peroxide will do that. Don’t ask me how I know that). While the grout does not make a difference with the stability of the tile itself, a lot of on the market cleaners will eventually compromise the integrity of the grout. The solutions above will not. Stains do not come out of cement-based products easily. Ever try to get oil off of your driveway? Grout is a cement-based product.

Sometimes once it’s stained, you will not be able to remove it. Don’t spend hundreds of dollars trying all the magical formulas, they don’t work. Think about it like this: if you spill cherry kool-aid on your white grout, do you really think that stuff in that bottle you just bought for $30.00 will remove it? It won’t. You’re stuck scrubbing. But that actually works better (and it’s less expensive).

If doing this does not remove your stain or discoloration to your satisfaction you may be better off just replacing the grout. Don’t let that scare you at all. It’s fairly easy and you can do it, believe it or not, for about $25.00. Less than a bottle of “magic”.

But that is a whole different post. Until then stop changing your oil on the kitchen floor.

Next post:

TV

We were affected by the flood in LA this past August. We have ceramic tile throughout our home. Sheet rock dust has accumulated in grout. We have gotten a commercial cleaning company to come in and clean twice which has removed a good bit up but there is still white sheet rock dust in much of the grout lines. What would you recommend for removing sheet rock dust out of grout? We have also tried using a brass brush which removed it but also discolored it.

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Brooke

Hi there! I have tec power grout in my shower. Despite the fact that I am conscientious about spraying daily cleaner and scrubbing with vinegar/dawn mixture, I still have some small stubbon stains. No matter how much i scrub with toothbrush and magic erasers. So a few questions… Can i stain this grout? (cause im tired of looking at them) How hard is it to do (I’m fairly handy)? If i can stain it, should i seal it after? Or should i just seal it and live with the little spots?

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Roger

Hi Brooke,

It can be stained, but the stain is actually a coating, like a paint. So it doesn’t need to be sealed, but I’m never happy with the way it comes out. Have you tried oxygen bleach? Products like oxy-clean will usually do wonders pulling stains out of tile and grout.

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kristi

ok. I have been using a metal scraper to scrape the grout lines clean. Its the only thing that works. I painted them years ago and the paint is chipped and half gone. I know, terrible idea! Is scraping them a terrible idea also? Do I need to re-seal after I spend the next month scraping my entire house? Thank you!

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Roger

Hi Kristi,

Yes, you do need to reseal it. However, I don’t think you’ll have enough grout filling your grout lines once you finish scraping them. You may be better off just regrouting the entire installation.

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Jen Anderson

I could have sworn I posted here before, and subscribed to the thread so I’d see any answers to my question, but I can’t find my post… So either gremlins ate it, or I didn’t actually post.

Anyways…
We had large wood plank look tiles done in June. We chose a dark chocolate color grout, in the hopes that the grout lines wouldn’t be obvious.

The installer insisted on a sealed mixed in with the grout (Mapei grout, but used a Stainmaster sealer). Well, the grout looked amazing wet, but dried a light brown, and very splotchy/uneven. There were grout lines where it was literally white, then gray, then light brown. Absolutely awful. The installer figured it was defective sealer, so Lowes paid to have them come out, grind out all the grout (700sf of floors), and redo it.

The day AFTER they finished, I mentioned how it still looked lighter than we wanted, and the installer told me using the built in sealer tends to make grout dry several shades lighter than the swatch. 😠 Why he didn’t tell me this BEFORE the second time, I have no clue.

The built in sealer, coupled with what I assume is too much water used to clean up the haze (thanks to something I read here about that), left us with light cocoa colored grout. When it’s WET, it’s perfect. But dry, it’s way too light. I am not willing to disrupt our home to have them redo it a 3rd time, but I’ve seen a few people mention vinegar or efflorescence cleaner to darken grout. Would either of these possibly make my grout the dark brown I want it to be? I really don’t want to try and paint on a stain, but I guess that’s an option too, right? But do those soak in, or are they topical and wear off over time?

If vinegar would work, what’s the best ratio of vinegar:water to use and can I just spray it on and mop up the excess? Will vinegar eat away at the grout?

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Roger

Hi Jen,

The elves were probably drunk. :D

If he mixed an actual sealer in with your grout then that is the issue – there is no actual sealer made to be mixed into wet grout. If he mixed the grout with a grout additive then that is correct, but may have done it incorrectly and/or the additive was not specifically for that brand and type of grout. If an additive is used it needs to be the specific manufacturers additive, it is made to chemically work with that specific grout.

That said, I hate the damn things. I don’t use them due to the reasons you’ve mentioned above, they are common problems. A correct grout additive WILL NOT change the color or shade of your grout – that’s BS. You can try a 3-1 (1 part vinegar) mix to see if it’s efflorescence, but I highly doubt it given what you’ve described. Unfortunately my recommendation would be to replace the grout with your chosen grout color – without the additive – and get someone who knows how to properly grout.

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Jen Anderson

Thanks for the reply. I think it was an additive. I guess I used the wrong term :)

Do you think a stain would darken it, or is removing and replacing it our only hope at this point?

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Roger

A grout colorant is a topical product (but durable so it won’t wear off under normal use) so yes, if you get a grout colorant it will make it any color you want.

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Lisa

I put wood grain porcelain floor tiles on the walls of my shower. The grout is supposed to be a rust color, but it appears it’s coming off and showing the white stuff that holds the tile to the wall. I asked the installer to make the spaces between the tiles small. I think it didn’t leave enough room for the grout and pushed the white stuff too close to the surface. Can the white stuff take a colorant? I will clean with the vinegar, but I’m thinking that any amount of scrubbing will remove what little grout there is and leave my spaces white. Oh great one. What should I do?

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Roger

Hi Lisa,

If the ‘white stuff’ is thinset then yes, it will take a colorant. If the ‘white stuff’ is mastic then no – and it all needs to be removed. What specific type of grout was used?

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Lisa

The grout was Pro Spec – sanded – canyon sunset. It was lovely wet, and then dried pink. It was applied with thin set multi purpose. The pink would be ok, but now it seems to be washing off to white. We’ve only recently moved into the new house, so there has been no scrubbing done as yet and with the color washing off with just water, I’m not inclined to put any muscle to it until I know what my next step will be after I am left with white grout lines.

Thanks for the quick reply.

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Roger

Applied with thinset multi-purpose??? Do you mean that is the thinset beneath the tile? Or…?

Pro-spec grout is normally fine, but it is VERY sensitive to overwashing. Which means that if too much water was used to clean it (as it was being installed) you can end up with pigment washing out as well as efflorescence.

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Lisa

I believe the Pro Spec is coming off and showing the white thin set under it. I could send you a photo. But yes. At one point the plumber turned on the water to test the lines when the grout was still fresh and washed the color RIGHT OUT on the shower floor. It was redone several times to “fix it”… but I still think the thinset on the walls was too close to the surface and there was no room for the pro spec to be placed so it would hold. So… back to my question. Can I dye the thinset and with what product that would be a rust color like teak woodgrain. Again, if I can send a photo, you’ll see what I’m dealing with. It could be a lovely shower if I can fix it. I’m a glass artist on the side and I handmade glass tiles in a kiln for the accent border. It was supposed to be my legacy to the world. Luckily, my cancer was recently removed in its early stages allowing me to live long enough to fix my legacy. If I’m gonna leave a legacy – it needs to be right! Darn it!

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Roger

Yes, the thinset can be stained. Aquamix (as well as a few other companies) makes a grout colorant. It will color both the grout and thinset to a uniform color. You can also get a grout saw and remove the thinset down to at least 2/3 the depth of the tile and regrout it. Read through this: Regrout your tile

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Lisa

I’m also wondering if the white that I’m seeing hints of might be the side of the porcelain tile itself??? What’s the chance that the Aquamix would color the white edge of porcelain tile?

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Roger

It will color anything in your floor unless what you’re trying to color is darker than the colorant. So you couldn’t color gray thinset beige, but everything white won’t be an issue.

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Susan Hunter

New grey porcelain tiles have a grey shine on them after every wash. How do I get them clean

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Roger

Hi Susan,

I don’t really understand what you mean by a ‘grey shine’??? What are you using to clean the floor?

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Mark

Roger
We installed wood looking porcelain tile throughout our home. I think the grout used was unsanded. The floor was acid washed upon completion. Many times after we swept and cleaned the floor and grout with water, we carefully and with no pressure placed a damp paper towel over grout areas and the towel generally came up dark (our grout is a charcoal color). Is this normal or does this indicate a possible problem with the grout or its application?

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Roger

Hi Mark,

It’s normal, it’ll do that for quite a few months after being grouted.

Stop doing that. :D

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Alan

We spilled some bleach on brown colored bathroom floor grout. Is it possible to scrub out the discoloration or are we stuck with regrouting?

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Roger

Hi Alan,

Scrubbing it out isn’t going to work – the bleach is not what you see – it’s the absence of color the bleach has eliminated. If you ‘scrub out’ all the bleach the color is still gone. See if you can find a grout colorant that matches your grout, you can just go over that area with it.

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Susan

When using the vinegar solution, is it important to rinse? Or can I let the solution evaporate? Thanks so much!!

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Roger

Hi Susan,

It is important to do a final wipe with clean water.

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Marinda

Good day I have tiled my entire floors in my house with very rough non slip tiles what type of mop can i use to wash it with all the fluff of normal mops sticks in the tiles can you help else tks

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Roger

Hi Marinda,

Sorry, I have no idea. Call the tile manufacturer and find out what they recommend.

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Marinda

tks for your advice

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Kelly

I have the same tile and found that Norwex has a flat mopping pad that is part microfiber and part scratchy nylon loops. It work like a charm, the microfiber get in the crevices and gets out dust and the nylon loops scrub in between the texture and deeply clean the tiles!

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Roger

Thanks Kelly! :)

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