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:

Andy

Hi Roger,
I have a porcelain tile with a bone colored grout. I just used straight vinegar to clean out some dirt and let it soak for a good five minutes and then scrubbed. However I noticed the color looks darker then the rest of the grout in the places where ghetto vinegar soaked. It’s a sanded grout and it’s been about 10 hours. How long does it take for the grout to dry or did I mess it up?

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jo evelyn

I did the same thing with much scrubbing energy applied. SOS for some help with white spots :bonk: and uneven color

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Roger

Hi Andy,

The vinegar has soaked into the grout, it will take several weeks for it to dissipate. If you have any of the grout left over you can actually scrub over those areas with the grout powder (no water, just rubbing the grout into it). That will help it dissipate and pull some of the vinegar out of it.

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