FAQs and Facts on Tile Grout Cleaning, Color Sealing and Repair

What is Tile Grout?

Grout is a combination of cement, sand and rock that is often dyed a specific color to match different shades and patterns of tile. When tile is applied to a floor or wall it is set in place using an adhesive. It is necessary to leave joints in between the tiles to allow the adhesive to dry and the moisture to escape. This drying process can take up to 30 days to completely cure, which requires the use of a porous grout to fill the joints and strengthen the floor while preventing the tile from buckling.

Why Does Grout Get Dirty?

You have to imagine tile grout as a sponge with thousands of little holes in it. The same porous properties that allow moisture to escape after installation will cause the grout to stain and discolor by absorbing dirt, stains and spills. Tile itself is very easy to clean and maintain using a mop and a basic solution of water and a mild detergent. During the process of mopping the tile, the mop water gets dirty which results in the spreading of dirty water throughout the floor. This dirty water is immediately soaked up into the grout lines like a sponge. Every time a tile floor is mopped the grout will turn a shade darker. It is typical for homeowners who mop their floor often to have dirtier, darker grout lines. More often than not the harder you try to clean the grout the dirtier it becomes.

How to Clean Tile Grout Lines

Unfortunately, there is not a method to clean grout lines because the stains and discoloration are embedded deep throughout the grout lines. Using a store bought grout cleaner, steam cleaner, magic eraser, etc. are viable options for a short term solution to dirty grout. These techniques will allow you to remove the surface dirt and possibly brighten the grout up several shades. The problem with most grout cleaners and steam cleaners is that they are so aggressive that they actually break the grout down, making it more porous and allowing the stains and discoloration to come back faster. The National Tile and Stone Association of Arizona released a report saying that steam cleaning and strong chemicals are an improper grout cleaning method and will void grout manufacturer’s warranties.

Cleaning the Grout without Sealing the Grout

After cleaning tile grout, it is very important to follow with a sealer. A sealer will act as a defense by filling up the pores in the grout lines and providing a protective layer between the surface of the grout and the spills, stains and dirty mop water.

Grout Clear Sealers

There are many types of grout clear sealers available at home improvement and tile stores. These sealers are made from one of four different compounds: Acrylic, Epoxy, Urethane or Silicone (as well as penetrating agents). Clear sealers range in price from $5.00 to over $300.00 a bottle and can last from a couple weeks to couple years before having to be reapplied. The difference in price is determined by the amount of purity used in the specific sealing compound. More expensive sealers will generally last longer.

Grout color sealers are then tinted with pigments or dyes and are available in thousands of shades and colors. Color sealing grout lines not only gives your grout a perfect, flawless appearance but it can also be custom color-matched to the tile and/or decor of your home, which allows for endless color possibilities.

Clear Grout Sealer vs Grout Color Sealer

There are two major reasons why a grout color sealer should be used in place of a clear sealer.
1. Whether the grout is brand new or has just been cleaned, it will never be perfect and always have some discoloration. Applying a clear sealer will not change the appearance of the grout but will simply seal what is already there. It is impossible to remove deep embedded stains from grout without actually removing and replacing the grout. Even brand new grout tends to have stains and discoloration due to the dirt in the air and water. When grout is being applied to a new tile floor it typically takes several different batches to finish. Every time a different batch is made the color can vary slightly causing an uneven look. Using a grout color sealer allows the grout to be completely re-colored to a brand new, consistent look. It does not matter how discolored or stained the grout is prior to color sealing, color sealers will cover the discoloration – much like painting a wall.
2. Any and all clear sealers, regardless of which chemical it is, will turn yellow over time. Some sealers will last longer than others but all clear sealers will have to be periodically reapplied. Reapplying the clear sealer is not as simple as putting on a second coat every couple years. The original coat of sealer that has turned yellow has to be completely stripped from the grout prior to applying the new coat of sealer. Grout color sealers will not turn yellow over time because of the pigments and dyes that are used to color them. If a grout color sealer begins to break down or deteriorate over time, it can be reapplied directly over the old color sealer without having to strip the floor.

Is Grout Stain the Same Thing as Grout Color Sealer?

No! Grout stains are simply products that will recolor the grout lines by dying the grout. Grout stains do not have sealing properties which results in the grout lines remaining porous and allowing the grout to stain and absorb spills, soil and dirty mop water.

Can My Grout be Repaired?

Over time, unsealed grout can deteriorate from a number of causes including moisture, settling or movement, chemicals, aggressive cleaning tactics and so on. Just because there are places in your tile that have missing, cracked or deteriorating grout does not necessarily mean all the grout has to be repaired.

Grout repair can be done using several different methods and products depending on the issue and condition of the grout. If the majority of the grout is good and solid but there are sections that are cracking or crumbling, those sections can be repaired with additional grout or grout caulk. Good solid grout should never be removed or replaced.

Should I Replace My Grout Lines?

No! Replacing the grout in a tile floor is something that should never be considered unless the grout is badly deteriorated or falling out. Removing solid grout lines is very tedious and messy work that often results in the breaking or scratching of tiles. If someone is successful in removing all the grout lines and replacing them with new grout you will still be in the exact same predicament a month later with dirty, discolored grout lines.

Tile Replacement

Often tile floors and walls have one or more tiles that have become scratched, chipped or cracked. Replacing a tile is something that should only be performed by a professional. The entire contents of the “bad” tile must be removed including all of the old adhesive to prevent the new tile from sitting up high above the rest of the floor. Replacing tile without the proper training and knowledge will result in several additional broken or chipped tiles.

Complete Shower Restorations

Complete shower restorations includes fixing all leaks, cleaning the tile, cleaning and color sealing the grout and sealing joints with silicone. A complete shower restoration will result in a “brand new” shower or tub surround.

Shower Mold and Mildew

Mold and Mildew is very common in every shower or tub surround. The mildew is caused by excessive moisture that does not dry. Although mildew can grow in any wet environment it is most often a result of a poorly ventilated area or cracks, holes or voids that trap water.

​How Do I Remove Mold and Mildew from My Shower or Bathtub?

Mildew can easily be removed by spraying a mildew remover (bleach) solution and allowing it to sit on the mildew until it is gone or cutting out and removing the mildew. Once the mildew is removed the cause should be determined and fixed to prevent the mildew from coming back.

​Soap Scum

Soap scum is present in every shower and bathtub that has soap being used in it. Soap scum is a light film of soap that builds up on the tile and grout as it is being rinsed from your body. Soap scum typically appears as a dull white film but can be different colors determined by the soap. Soap scum can be removed in most cases but may need a professional in very heavy instances.

How Do I Remove Soap Scum?

Soap scum can be removed by a number of different products and techniques. You will want to liberally spray the affected areas with a soap scum cleaner and allow it to sit and soften the soap scum. Once softened, apply another round of cleaner and scrub the area with a scour pad. To prevent soap scum build up, spray the shower walls down at least once a week with a soap scum remover after you are done showering and allow it to dry with the shower.

Shower and Bathtub Caulking and Silicone

Many showers and bathtubs require a bead of silicone around joints and edges to waterproof the area. Caulk should never be used in a shower or bathtub. Caulk is intended for windows and doors and silicone is intended for showers and tubs. If mildew is present in the silicone it means that water is penetrating in or behind the silicone and it needs to be completely removed and reapplied.