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:

Liz

Hi Roger, I had ceramic tile 12″x 12″ installed in my small bathroom, looks great, I think handyman used sanded grout, white, because you can feel the roughness of the grout, and when I clean the floor with a microfiber rag it ‘catches’ on the grout. is there anything I can do to make the grout smooth to the touch? I was thinking of silicone, the type one uses around a tub, sink, etc. thanks so much, your advice is appreciated.
Liz

Reply

Roger

Hi Liz,

If the grout lines are 1/8″ or larger he had to use sanded grout. There isn’t really anything you can do to make it less rough. Maybe try sanding it down a bit with a drywall sanding sponge? It may work.

Reply

Missy

Roger,

We just grouted our stone backsplash with very DARK grout (in an attempt to have it blend with our dark cabinets in the kitchen). The grout is NOT wiping clean off of the stones because of the uneven surfaces/ variety of colors on the stones. After following directions for clean-up, our stones have a black hew over their color. Please help…we are ready to rip the whole thing down!

Reply

Roger

Hi Missy,

Try microfiber towels with a 1 part white vinegar to three parts warm water. It will likely take a couple of times, but it should come off.

Reply

Valerie

Thank you for letting us know how to clean our tile/grout properly without spending a fortune. I have dark blue floor grout in our bathroom. I have tried all kinds of stuff on it to no avail. I am going to try your methods, I don’t mind working hard as long as it works. I will never put dark grout in a an area that gets heavy use.

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Alex

Hi Roger,

We have dark grout in our mudroom. Due to the high volume of snow lately, most stores were out of ice melt so we decided to use kitty litter for traction. However, this litter turned into a muddy, clay-like mess and has gotten into our grout. The grout has turned white in many areas. Any suggestions of how to get this mess out of the dark grout and what product to use? Thank you.

Reply

Roger

Hi Alex,

I honestly have no idea, I’ve never had to get kitty litter out of grout. I would try a 1/2 and 1/2 mix of white vinegar and hot water and try to scrub it out.

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Chuck

Hello roger

I have dark chocolate colored grout and there some white streaks and stains in some spots. I don’t think the floor was ever sealed with grout sealer. How can I clean this color grout in the bunch of spots and should I use sealer on the whole floor?

Reply

Roger

Hi Chuck,

Yes, you should seal the whole floor. As far as the white streaks – I’m assuming these are in the grout lines? If so it indicates that the grout was not mixed very well. If you scratch a little of the white part off does it get down to the correct color of grout? If so you may be able to go over those spots lightly with a drywall sanding sponge to remove them.

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shirley

hi my problem is my new black porcelain tiles look dull where the grout has been applied , i do believe the grout has soaked/bled into the tile has i did not seal them before grouting , is there any thing i can do to remove it , ive tried cement remover but not made any difference thanks

Reply

Roger

Hi Shirley,

You did not mention if they were glazed or unglazed porcelain tile. I’m assuming unglazed as the glazed porcelain can normally just be buffed with a dry cloth. The absolutely needed to be sealed before grouting. You can try either grout haze remover or a 1/3 white vinegar – 2/3 hot water mixture, those may remove it. If not your last resort would be something like a muriatric acid solution you can pick up in the tile aisle at a big box store.

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Kerry

Hi Roger,

I would like to know your thoughts on using a steam cleaner on tiles and grout. Many thanks

Reply

Roger

Hi Kerry,

As long as it isn’t natural stone it usually works very well. Provided the installation is correct it doesn’t lead to any problems at all.

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Nick

I recently had a toilet leak and leave some water on the floor over night. After cleaning up / drying, I noticed that my “black” grout started showing white spots/lines where the water had been. Did some reading and seems like it has to do with the whole effluorescing process.

What are your recommendations in this situation?

FYI: using dark grey textured porcelain tiles with sanded charcoal grout (polyblend brand)

Thanks again

Reply

Roger

Hi Nick,

Try a solution of 1/3 white vinegar and 2/3 hot water and scrub it with a stiff brush, rinse well. It should come out for you.

Reply

Porky

Hello Roger,
When grouting you get that haze. Iv’e gone over it several times and you still have that pesky miniskuel haze. Do you keep at it, or once the grout dries go over it with a soft cloth with a little more pressure? Thanks

Reply

Roger

Regular grout haze can be removed with a damp microfiber cloth. It may take two or three times depending on your tile.

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Meagan

Hi-

We just finished remodeling our newly built home. We have flat shaped black stone with black grout in the basement shower floor. The plumber shaved off part of a pipe under the toilet and somehow now we have a redish/rust looking stain? on the whole floor. I looked at some CLR and the like and they all say do not use on colored grout. HELP! Please!

Reply

Roger

Hi Meagan,

I don’t quite understand what you’re asking me or what the plumber actually cut. Do you have any idea at all where the stain originated? Is it from the toilet or around the shower. And is it really the WHOLE floor that’s stained? The tile and grout, or just the grout?

Reply

Meagan

Rodger-

On my mobile can’t see how to respond- the stain appeared after the plumber cut the pipe although they say they are not aware. I’m just wondering what product/cleaning agent you suggest on black grout. It doesn’t seem as though it’s seeped into the grout more on the surface. I haven’t tried anything for fear of discoloration. About 90% of the floor had this reddish color.

Meagan :shades:

Reply

Roger

Try oxy-clean. The oxygen bleach will pull any organic stains out of the grout and tile. Even though it’s called bleach – it isn’t.

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Karen Franson

I have travertine ceramic tile with a beautiful dark brown grout in the bathroom. What can I use to clean it well without destroying the color and bleaching it?

Reply

Roger

Hi Karen,

Soft scrub works well.

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Janice

Hello, we just moved into a rental home and the entrance and kitchen floors are large white tiles with a little less than 1/4 inch recessed grout lines that are dark mud coloured and rough. I seem to be sweeping the floor about 5 times a day, because dirt gets trapped in the grout and as people walk on the floor, the dirt lifts. Is this normal or should the grout have been sealed or something?
Thanks.

Reply

Roger

Hi Janice,

Sealing the grout greatly assists in keeping them clean, but they really shouldn’t be depressed that much. Grout should be nearly flush with the face of the tile. They will be depressed a bit toward the middle of the grout line, but not enough as to collect dirt that much.

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Margi

I have light beige sanded grout on my kitchen floor. My husband installed the floor and we sealed it with a product from the tile distributor where we bought the tile. The grout lines are a little recessed and about 1/4″. The problem is that the swiffer mop just pushed dirt from our heavily used floor into the grout and, despite the sealing, has caused our once light grout to look charcoal gray. Will a steam mop with a suction feature clean this up? I called a couple of grout cleaning companies and they want $600-800 to clean my tile. I’m hoping I can do it myself with elbow grease. Once clean, how can I keep the grout from getting that way again? Thank you for your help.

Reply

Roger

Hey Margi,

Sealer does not make grout repel dirt, it simply prevents it from soaking it in as quickly as it normally would without it. If it is dirt that was pushed around you can clean it with a vacuum cleaner. If it needs scrubbing get some oxy-clean, that usually pulls dirt right out of it.

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Strider

Hey I have a large area of wall tiles to be cleaned ~ 100 m2 in a hotel foyer.

The surface is white with dark flecks, what can I use to clean these, I was pondering wiping a gentle cleaning agent on it wiping it dry then using teh buffer to buff the surface.

Im pretty sure its tile but there is a chance that it is marble.

Can you tell me
1. if its safe to use a car buffer
2. what cleaning product can I use that wont damage the surface if its tile or marble?

Reply

Roger

Hi Strider,

Yes, it is safe to use a car buffer. They actually work really well.

Tile and stone supply shops will have several different marble polishing compounds, explain to them that you are only buffing it and they should point you to the correct one. If you order something online make sure you do not get one made for ‘polishing’ marble, those are oftentimes systems available with different grits in the powder, they are professional systems, not just a buffing compound. They may call is marble polisher, but make sure it isn’t one with a listed grit content.

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Rye

HI!
Found out too late that I’ve “downsized” into a two bedroom place that is a cleaning nightmare. When I looked to buy, it was perfect. Dazzling view. Dazzling appliances. Dazzling white floors and grout. WAIT… why did I think that was a good thing?

I’m 75 years old, and, instead of less cleaning than my old place, my reason for moving, I’m after that :censored: floor all the time. I bought an inexpensive SHARK steam mop, hoping it would help remove the patchy film that makes the floor never look to be completely clean. Instructions said not to put anything but pure water into the tiny SHARK tank. The thing heated up some, removed surface dirt, but so does a rag mop.

Desperate, I poured a little ammonia into the tank with the water. And it seems to be working. Once over to loosen the crud, the second time actually removed a lot of it. Now the question :?: : Will the ammonia damage the tile? It is not super shiny, like some, but has a minor sheen when clean. I know ammonia will kill the SHARK eventually, but if this operation continues to be successful, I’ll get a new one.

NOW, if I can manage to spend one day a week squirting bleach onto and scrubbing my white sanded grout, sigh…
-Rye

Reply

Roger

Hi Rye,

The ammonia will not harm the tile at all. It’ll be just fine.

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Tanya

Roger,
While searching the ways to clean my kitchen grout which is an oyster color,
I came upon an interesting blog page. On this page the blogger post the before and after pictures of the floor that had been cleaned. the blogger provided the following formula:

7 cups warm water
1/2 cup baking soda
1/3 cup ammonia
1/4 cup vinegar

I would like to know what you think about this formula. The blog pictures are impressive but then again they are pictures. Below is the blog address if you care to check it out.
http://aprrilsopinion.blogspot.com/2012/06/amazing-grout-cleaner.html

Thanks

Reply

Roger

Hi Tanya,

I think it would work well. Never tried it myself but there isn’t anything there that will damage anything. Be sure to test it first in an area it won’t be noticed.

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Mary

The term sanded (as opposed to unsanded ?) when used for grout is a little misleading to a novice, but you explained it well. My husband in our bathroom used the white , sanded grout with glaze (6×6) tile. This is murder to get, and/or appear clean. First of all the grout looks dirty due to sand particles from outdoors imbedded in it. Then this darn tile, I scrub the heck out of it yet immediately after drying every little tennis shoe leaves an impression of the soles on it.?. What’s the best way to get this to look bright and clean???

Reply

Roger

Hi Mary,

The best way is to not walk on it. :D Try oxygen bleach, It’s in products like oxy-clean. It will normally take all the stuff right out of your grout. A good sealer like Miracle Sealant’s 511 will help the grime to wipe off much easier. If you get a tennis ball (seriously) it will normally erase those tennis shoe scuffs right off of the tile.

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Joan

Roger,
I have new ceramic tile, that had a nice luster, but not a big shine to it. I sealed the grout with a grout spray, wiped the tile as instructed. Felt the tile had a haze after that, so de-hazed with white vinegar & water. Still looked dull to me, so I used the sharks duo new polish for tile. Streaked everywhere!! Decided to remove the polish, and used ammonia & vinegar to do that. Polish is gone but floor looks dull to me. Is there some way to bring the luster back to the tile, without polish? Would buffing this floor help. I have about 1900sq. ft. in tile.

Reply

Roger

Hi Joan,

Well, that escalated quickly. :D

You should be able to dry-buff the floor with something like a car buffer and that should bring back the luster to the tile surface. It’ll take a bit of work, so don’t get discouraged. But that will take off all the stuff you’ve put on it. Make sure to keep the buffer head clean and unclogged, just check it every now and then to ensure it isn’t covered with gunk.

Reply

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