Grout Cleaning Tools and Tips
Glazed-ceramic tile is one of the most durable building products ever produced. It’s extremely wear- and stain-resistant, easy to clean, and impervious to water. When properly installed, a tiled surface can last for generations. However, tile does have an Achilles heel: The grout used to fill the joints between the individual tiles is, by comparison, porous, relatively soft and easily stained.
In most instances grout can be restored to like-new condition with a good cleaning. In more extreme cases, the only solution is to re-grout the tile. If the grout is stained with dirt, mold, mildew, or soap scum, try scrubbing it with a stiff-bristle nylon brush dipped in scouring powder. Then, rinse the surface with clean water.
If the stains remain, mix a 50/50 solution of liquid chlorine bleach and water, and apply it to the grout with a sponge or pump sprayer. (If using a sprayer, be sure it’s rated for use with bleach. Bleach is too caustic to use in ordinary sprayers and plant misters.) Wait 10 minutes, then soak the grout with more bleach solution. After 10 more minutes, rinse off the surface with clean water.
When grout is permanently stained, badly cracked or crumbling out of the joints, you have no choice but to re-grout the tiles. The first step is to remove the existing grout from between the tiles. Depending on the amount of damaged grout and the width of the grout joints, there are a few different tools to consider.
For smaller jobs with ¼-in. or narrower grout joints, you can get by with a grout rake, which is a small hand tool that has a steel blade covered with super-sharp carbide grit (shown below). Simply pull the tool along the joints to “rake” out the grout. In most cases you don’t have to remove every bit of grout. Removing about half of the grout is usually sufficient, as long as the remaining grout is in good condition.
For larger jobs—say, more than about 30 square feet—or for grout joints wider than ¼ inch, you need the speed and muscle of an electric grout-removal tool. There are several motorized tools available for removing grout, including grinders, rotary tools, even reciprocating saws. However, the best tool for DIYers is an oscillating multi-tool fitted with a carbide-grit grout-removal blade (shown below). Because the multi-tool blade oscillates back and forth, and doesn’t spin at high speeds, it’s much easier to control than most other tools. Plus, multi-tools are lightweight and feature compact, easy-grip handles.
Regardless of which tool you use to remove the grout, once the joints are cleaned out, use a stiff-bristle nylon brush to scrub the joints of all dust, grit and loose debris. Follow up with a wet/dry vacuum to ensure the joints are clean. Next, mix up a fresh batch of tile grout or buy a bucket of pre-mixed grout. Then, use a grout float to smear grout across the surface and deep into the joints. Wait about 20 minutes, then use a large grout sponge and clean water to wipe the surface clean of all grout residue. Read the label on the grout container to find out how long it takes for the grout to cure. (Usually 48 hours or longer.) Once it’s fully cured, apply a silicone-based sealer to the grout to increase its water- and stain-resistance.