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:

Bravedasher

Hi Roger,
We are having a new house built and last week the porcelain floor tile was put in with the grout. The grout color was not what we ordered and we complained. The fix they came up with is to use a stain/sealer product and “paint” it on all the grout making it the right color. What do you think of this fix? Will it last? How long? Secondly, we have a floor steam/vapor cleaner that we will be using periodically. Is this safe on this grout paint or any grout for that matter?

Reply

Roger

Hi Bravedasher,

It will last, it works well. I don’t know about the steam cleaner. They work fine, I’m not a fan. You are injecting steam through the grout (which is porous) and into the substrate. It may work just fine over the colorant, but I would definitely contact the manufacturer and get their take on it.

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Susan

Hi,
I recently purchased a house. In the bathrooms, the grout is unsealed (sanded grout) and is a very dark color. In some places there is a white film on the grout that appears to be left behind by cleaning products. What is the most efficient way to clean this off before sealing the grout? Also, is there a sealant you recommend? Thanks so much for this resource!

Susan

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Roger

Hi Susan,

The efflorescence can be removed using a product specifically to remove it. It’s called efflorescence cleaner (or some iteration of it). You can find a version of it in nearly any tile aisle. I prefer miracle sealant’s 511 impregnator.

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Joyce

Sorry, my question was not about grout. If you can answer it, many thanks. If not, appreciate all your information about grout.

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Joyce

I have a kitchen floor with linoleum and I am going to have tile put down. Can the tile be put directly on the linoleum or do I need something else put down first? The linoleum is in good shape as it is fairly new. Just don’t like it. Thanks for your help.

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Roger

Hi Joyce,

You need a proper substrate for your tile, linoleum is not. It either needs to be removed and a proper substrate installed first, or you can go over the linoleum with thinset and backerboard, then tile.

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Gina

Just had new tile floor installed and Antique Linen sanded grout was used in larger than 1/8th joints. However standing over it, I can see dark specs of the sand through out the whole floor making the grout look like it is dirty. Why would it look like this…my other floor doesn’t and I’m sick about it. Thx for any info

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Roger

Hi Gina,

Polyblend? It shouldn’t look like that, you can take a drywall sanding sponge and go over the grout lines to even them out – that may help.

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Dante

We just moved into a brand-new house, that has tile in the garage entry hall & adjacent laundry room floor, the “master” bathroom floor and walls and floor of its shower, and the floor of the second bathroom.

I used Miracle Sealant on the entry/laundry grout with no problems. Both the 12″ tile and the grout are a slightly reddish tan.

Ran out of the single small bottle my son had picked up at Lowe’s, went to Home Depot, which is a lot closer, but doesn’t seem to carry the Miracle brand, but has a sealer from TILELab in an almost identical bottle. It smells less plastic-y and seems more watery when applied.

I moved onto the big bathroom floor, 18″ dappled tile with a base that is close to white, grout is somewhat off-white and definitely sanded. When I applied the TILELab product, black lines appeared suddenly and randomly in a few (but noticeable) stretches where the grout meets the tile.

There is NO evidence of these lines on any of the tile/grout interfaces that I have not applied this sealer to. I can scrape away some of it in some of the places it appears, but would have to mar the grout by going too deep on others (not to mention the greater chance of leaving my own black marks). This suggests whatever the black is is in the grout.

Before I go to Lowe’s to try some more Miracle sealer, or call the builder (the house is warrantied for a year), do you have any suggestions?

By the way, even if you don’t, I’d like to compliment you on the quality of both your articles and your answers.

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Roger

Hi Dante,

That’s strange. :D Is there any indication of separation of the grout from the tile? Like, is the sealer seeping into a microcrack where the grout is not bonded to the tile?

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Christen

Just a couple of quick questions we moved into a house that someone had either cats or dogs in and they must of never cleaned anything and there is a urine odor coming from the grout when it is humid out. It is so frustrating I don’t believe it was ever sealed up to begin with but I don’t want to seal it I’d it has that smell please help :?:

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Roger

Hi Chrisen,

Try scrubbing it with oxygen bleach (oxy-clean), rinse it really well then seal the grout.

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john

hey roger,

I’m wrapping up my new shower install (kerdi system). I have a natural stone flat pebble floor and was not able to get it as clean as I would have liked after grouting due to all the little fissures and indentations in the stone.

So how can I clean the remaining haze? Scotch brite hasn’t touched it. I know muratic acid will do a good job, but it will likely destroy my nickel plated shower drain. I can remove the drain cover, but the outer housing is plated and there is no way to protect it.

Can you recommend a product that should be readily availabel at home depot or the like ?

thanks
-john

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Roger

Hi John,

And grout haze remover should work for you. You can find it in the tile section.

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Kim

How long after either the bleach or vinegar method should you wait before
resealing the grout?
thanks

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Roger

Hi Kim,

Great question! (That means it’s new and no one has asked it before :D )

24 hours.

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Michelle

Just wondering how you feel about steam cleaning grout? My husband and I just bought a new house that has original tile from 1937 in the front and back entries and we have no idea what color the grout is suppose to be or how we should clean and then protect it from our kids and dogs. a friend recommended steam cleaning it and we tried a test spot and we really can’t tell a difference.

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Roger

Hi Michelle,

I normally don’t have issues with it, but it’s not always effective. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But it normally doesn’t compromise your tile or grout in any manner.

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Ashley

Roger,
I was so glad to find your posts and info about tile and grout. I am currently building a house and using tile as the flooring in my bathrooms and utility room. I’ve never had tile flooring and know little to nothing about it or maintaining it. However, after looking at my grout 5 days later and comparing it to my grout sample, the grout has dried much lighter. The tile guy says it’s the correct color but I assure you, it looks completely different. :( I’ve had our contractor & tile company rep out to look at it and they have recommended that we do an “acid wash” on it to darken the grout. Is this a good idea? Will it damage my tile? I’ve hard there are different types of acid that can be used, but everything I’ve found shows that an acid wash is for cleaning grout because it’s dirty. I’m so confused and just want it to be perfect! I would appreciate any feedback/advice you could provide to my grout issue.

Reply

Roger

Hi Ashley,

An acid wash is an extreme measure for an existing problem, dirty grout is only one. Normally when grout ‘dries’ lighter than the sample it’s due to efflorescence – salt deposits left behind on the surface after the water evaporates. Take a little piece of sandpaper in an inconspicuous area and sand the grout down a little bit to see if you get the correct shade a little deeper into the grout line. If you do that’s the problem. While an acid wash will fix that, there are efflorescence specific cleaners on the market to deal with that exact issue.

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Jim

Hi, we bought a house from some diys, who didnt seem to know what they were doing. They did the master shower in a variety of dark grey tiles and primarily used a grout that looks like it is either black, or has been painted black on top. Before we moved in they must have run water on it without sealing it, because there are streaks of black on the gray tile, is there anyway to remove this- Iwe’ve tried scrubbing, with some mild cleaners, it does nothing. Also the water here is very hard, full of calcium, and none of the cleaners we have found that remove hard water deposits are recommended for colored grout.

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Roger

Hi Jim,

Black is the absolute worst color of grout to try and maintain. I would try a cleaner made specifically to clean efflorescence. It would be your best bet.

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linda

I’m having wood-look rectified edge tile installed and want to use 1/16″ grout lines – dark tile, dark grout. How will I seal it because I don’t want a sheen on the tile? Shall I use one of the products that are mixed in with grout to seal? Will that put a sheen on the tile? Do I just wash tile as usual afterwards and forget about dirt on the grout? Thanks!

Reply

Roger

Hi Linda,

Any good sealer will not change the appearance of your tile (sheen). You can also use a good grout like tec power grout, which has polymers which seal it once it’s cured. I would not use one of the products that you mix with grout rather than water.

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Charmain Bartlett

Hi. I just had a new house built. For The bathrooms I chose chocolate brown on the floors with midnight grout. The walls are white on white. The builder handed over my house after a “builders clean” and the floors were terrible. Stained with white dust all over my lovely midnight grout etc. He said it will mop off. Well I’ve got down on hands a k eyes and it isn’t getting any better. So upset looking at how horrible it looks. It’s a brand new home and the floors look 20 years old. Do you have any idea how to get them back to midnight. Thanks. Charmain.

Reply

Roger

Hi Charmain,

It sounds like you may have efflorescence on the surface of your grout. That is the minerals in the water being left behind after the water evaporates. Scrape off the very top layer of grout in an inconspicuous area and see if it’s the correct color beneath. If it is you can get some efflorescence remover in the tile department of any big box store.

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Gabriel

This is a great & very informative post!

I’m remodeling a bathroom and installed a 24×24 GREY porcelain, the spaces were almost “none” and used a no-sanded grey grout (since I want the lines to be unnoticeable. Around 30 min after the grout was applied I cleaned the whole floor with pure vinegar (didn’t mix with water) but the following morning a “disaster for breakfast”… All lines were almost white, making them super noticeable.

Did I screwed up the entire work by applying vinegar? Or do you thing it may recover the grey color after some time…?

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Roger

Hi Gabriel,

Why would you do that? :D Take some sandpaper and sand down the grout line a little bit to see if it goes back to the proper color. If it does not then the vinegar has fully penetrated your grout and it needs to be replaced. If it does then it’s simply efflorescence sitting on top of your grout, a good scrubbing should get rid of it.

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Claire

Roger,

Thank you for this site. I feel like I should be given an honorary research certificate for all the hours I have been searching for answers. What do you recommend as the best grout for 425 square feet of porcelain tile to be installed on a slab? It is replacing 20+ year old white, polished tile that has been a cleaning nightmare – especially the grout!!!! I want the best grout to hold up long term as waterproof and stain proof as possible. I have read about epoxy and Fusion Pro which I understand has not been around long enough to see long term performance. If you have a particular brand(s) to recommend, that would be very helpful. Also, I have two bathrooms with tile that needs to be sealed (sanded). What do you think of Gold Seal Sealer? Again, I am looking for the longest possible protection. I was told that it should last a minimum of 7 years up to 15 or more.

Claire

Reply

Roger

Hi Claire,

I always recommend laticrete spectralock epoxy for your situation. Another really good option is TEC Technicolor, which is an acrylic grout and actually easier than the epoxy to install. Gold seal is a good sealer, I also like miracle sealants sealers. Both will last at least 15 years with regular cleaning.

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Rye

It’s me again, Roger. Still fighting my white tile/white grout nightmare. I found a way to clean that grout. It’s labor intensive and you’ll need knee pads, a small brush,and toilet bowl cleaner, the thick kind. With the tip of the bottle, lay down liquid lines of cleaner into the grout over a small area of the floor. Let it stand about 10 mins, scrub each line, wipe off with a wet cloth. Rinse floor well, especially if you have pets. I have no idea how it would work with colored grout, but it’s very effective on the white grout. Now I need to know the very best way to seal the grout. I have abt 800 sq feet of this floor, and I’m old & tired! :evil:

Reply

Roger

Hi Rye,

Get a good grout sealer, spray it onto the entire installation and buff it off your tile. It will seal the grout as well as any needed areas on the tile.

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Amanda

Roger, I have I unsanded white grout inbetween white carrera marble. Will the vinegar affect the seal on the marble or should I reveal after the grout is clean. :dance:

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Roger

Hi Amanda,

Properly diluted vinegar solution will not affect the seal on your marble. It will be fine.

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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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