Cleaning and Removing Grout Stains
Grout stains are hidden behind many a fancy shower curtain.
It reminds me of the Wizard of OZ…"pay no attention to the man...er mold... behind the curtain" (That's a house cleaner joke, of course!)
I’ve noticed dirt, grime, mold or mildew stains in my grout and did not relish the idea of what my future might hold for me. Removing stains from grout is a tedious job at best and requires time, elbow grease and strength. It's hard physically- knees, backs, necks, you name it. (Thank goodness I have older kids that can help me too!)
So, what do you do when your grout has seen better days? Don’t worry, we’ve got cleaning tips to help you clean your grout regardless of what room it is in and what type of stain you are dealing with.
So let's get busy cleaning!
Cleaning grout means you will be working close to the grout and your cleaning solution, so make sure you wear safety goggles, especially when using an old toothbrush or soft bristle brush to clean. Cleaning solutions splatter, and that's not good for your eyes!
First Things First
Let's start with two important basics to make sure you treat the stains and the tile properly:
- The type of grout you have
- The type of tile you have
The cleaning methods can be different for different types of tile and grout. Using the wrong cleaning method can damage the grout or tile permanently, so knowing the cleaning solutions to use are really important!
- Check the manufacturers cleaning instructions and always follow them first and foremost.
- If you are still not sure what type of grout or tile you’re dealing with, find a small area that’s out of the way to test the product and cleaning method.
Types of Grout:
Grout is the gritty stuff you find between the tiles in your bathroom or kitchen floor.
Grout is made of water, cement, sand, other binders and often times something to tint the color. Putting it in between the cracks in a tile floor will help strengthen the tile.
Cement based grouts can contain sand (or not) and are porous and prone to staining. Cement or sand type grout needs to be sealed every 6 months to repel water and resist stains.
Epoxy grout repels liquid, which inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew. Epoxy grout is a resin and does not require sealing. Epoxy grout is most often used in bathrooms and kitchens.
Types of Tile:
I have never been able to "stay within the lines" when I am cleaning grout. The cleaning solution always gets on the tile. The problem is the cleaner you are using to clean the grout can damage the tile permanently.
Most tiles (ceramic and stone) can be cleaned completely and safely with a mild solution of water and dishwashing liquid;
- 1 Tbs. mild dishwashing liquid (like dawn)
- 1 gallon of warm water
- Rinse completely
- Buff lightly to shine
Ceramic tiles are made from either red or white clay that is painted and glazed with liquid glass, and then heated to high temperatures in a kiln.
Ceramic tiles are most often used in bathrooms; ceramic tile walls, shower floors, shower walls and bathtub walls, and in kitchens on counter-tops and back splashes.
Ceramic tiles are sturdy, and can withstand many types of cleaners like bleach or vinegar. Long term or improper use of harsh cleaners can dull the shine of glazed tiles and abrasives or stiff bristle brushes can scratch the glossy surface. Always remember to rinse all cleaning solutions completely from tile after using. Recommended cleaning solutions can vary by manufacturer or type of ceramic, so consult with the manufacturer if you have any doubt.
Natural stone or marble
Natural stone like marble usually cannot handle strong cleaning solutions. For example, vinegar, acids or bleach are used to clean grout but those same solutions can etch certain kinds of natural tile.
The problems are all related to the pH level of the cleaner reacting in a negative way to the solution you are using to clean the grout.
I'd be extremely careful with marble. Slate, granite and other types of stone might handle strong cleaners for a short period of time, but check with the manufacturer to see if the product you choose is compatible with the material you're cleaning.
White Vinegar is an excellent cleaning product. It disinfects, deodorizes and kills bacteria. Many ceramic tiles can be cleaned with vinegar. If you even think your shower is made from a natural stone, marble or granite then do not use vinegar.
If you have colored or white grout, make a simple mixture in a spray bottle of:
- 1 cup vinegar
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 Tbs. dishwashing liquid (about 1 squirt)
Apply the vinegar/water mixture with your spray bottle and let it sit for 15 minutes, without allowing the cleaning solution to dry on the grout and tile. Grab a used toothbrush or soft bristle scrub brush and scrub the grout in a circular motion, cleaning in all directions.
Vinegar is a really good cleaner to use to break up surface stains and soap scum. Oh, and don't worry about the smell-it will be gone once it dries!
Many people swear by the cleaning power of bleach to get grout clean. It will get rid of unsightly stains, sanitize and prevent mold and mildew.
Only use bleach if your grout is white. Bleach can also lighten colored grout and that could be a problem.
To apply bleach you can use a spray bottle, or dip a toothbrush in the cleaning solution hitting all the problem areas on the grout.
- 1 cup of bleach
- 3 cups of water
- 1 tsp. dishwashing liquid
Here's where the eye goggles really come in handy. DO NOT clean using bleach without ventilation. Open up a window, leave the shower door and bathroom door open AND turn on the fan.
Clean with a circular motion to avoid chipping or loosening the grout.
After cleaning, rinse the tiles completely. Take the time to refill your cup or bucket with clean water and rinse again. The cleaning solution is very slippery. It will cling to the tile and must be rinsed completely to be removed.
Warning: Never combine bleach with other cleaners like ammonia because hazardous gasses will result. If the cleaning solution is not rinsed thoroughly from the tile this can happen by simply using another product directly after using bleach.
Covering Up Grout Stains
If you can’t get the grout stains out, there are products that you can paint on the lines to recolor the grout and cover the stain permanently.
After the tiles are cleaned, the color is brushed on the grout and left dry for about a day. Then you can use a nylon mesh pad to remove any colorant from the surrounding tiles.
The lines can be colored a brighter white or an entirely new color. Results should last up to 15 years, according to the manufacturer.
You can find these kits at home improvement stores like Lowe's or Home Depot.
If the do-it-yourself approach seems unapproachable you can always turn to professional help. You can call any tile company or even the company that installed your tile.
Ceramic Tile Wall image courtesy of Anya Quinn, CC BY-SA.