How to Clean Floor Grout

The grout lines are what stabilize the tiles. Grout is mainly made up of a mixture of cement, sand and water, and is available as colored or white.

Many homeowners don’t realize just how dirty their grout is until they give it a thorough clean. Some are even surprised to learn that they had white grout all along. How to clean floor grout depends on a few factors, such as color and sealant.

Table of Contents

    Why Cleaning Grout Is Important

    Although the tile that the grout holds together is resistant to stains, grout is another story. Because of the components grout is made of, it’s actually highly porous and will absorb dirt and spills. This will eventually stain your lines, making them look discolored and downright filthy.

    Dirty grout lines can make your floors look mucky as well, which is why it’s essential to clean them. Another reason why you should clean your grout is due to mold.

    Grout in areas with high moisture, such as a bathroom floors, can become a thriving spot for mold. Dark areas around the toilet, behind a sink or tight corners, are perfect places for mold to settle (1).

    There are multiple types of mold you can discover on your bathroom grout. These include pink, orange, and black mold.

    Unfortunately, getting rid of these potential health hazards isn’t an easy task. But one way you can help to keep mold at bay by keeping the room well-ventilated.

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    Colored vs. White Grout

    Many people think that grout is only available in cement-color and white. However, this is far from reality. Grout can actually be made in a range of colors to suit your taste and home style.

    1. Colored Grout

    Colored grout is generally made of a cement and sand combo, then mixed with water before application. This can be sanded or unsanded depending on the space it needs to fill and the desired texture.

    A powder is added to the grout mixture to make the color. Initially, there used to be only a few options available. Nowadays, however, manufacturers create amazing color schemes. A range of colors are available, such as teal blues and bright yellows — it all depends on the look you’re going for (2).

    For a subtle floor, choosing a grout similar in color to the tile will help it to blend more. On the other hand, if you want your floor to be a feature, choosing a bright color to contrast the tile is recommended.

    Avoid using bleach when cleaning colored grout. Bleach will discolor the grout and could damage the tile depending on the type (natural stone, for example).

    Some home remedies suggest the use of hydrogen peroxide. This may be a mild bleach, but it can still cause some damage. We highly recommend that you avoid bleaches all together to ensure your colored grout stays vibrant.

    You can find colored grout cleaners at any home improvement store and they’re relatively safe to use. However, you should still read the label to make sure it’s right for your needs.

    There are also special products you can use if your colored grout has stained beyond repair. Try a Grout Pen in a suitable color — these will restore the look of your grout.

    Do a Test

    Always test a new product or cleaner in an inconspicuous area before use. If you notice any discoloration or damage, avoid using that product and find a different one.

    2. White Grout

    Some people might wonder why anyone would choose white grout — and that’s true considering how stained and filthy it can become. However, white grout, if well-maintained, can also bring a luxurious look and feel to a room. A popular combo is pairing dark tiles with white grout for a nice contrast.

    Cleaning white grout can require some scrubbing, depending on how dirty it is. For this, you can use hydrogen peroxide to boost the process. A half and half mixture of white vinegar and water is also a very effective — and natural — way to clean white grout.

    Sealed vs. Unsealed Grout

    The decision to seal your grout or leave it unsealed is one every tile owner will face at some point. So what should you choose? Since the most commonly used grout is cement-based which is porous, it should be sealed. However, there are instances where it might be better to leave it unsealed.

    1. Sealed

    Sealing the grout is necessary after installation because of the porous nature of cement and sand. If you don’t seal your grout, moisture and other spills can soak into the grout and eventually settle under the tiles.

    After installing tiles and grout, you must wait until the grout is completely dry before sealing. There are three common types of sealant applications: brush-on, roller and spray.

    The sealer works by penetrating the grout and blocking the “pores.” This makes it impossible for fluids to penetrate later on.

    Cleaning sealed tiles is reasonably easy. Because it’s sealed, the grout won’t be as dirty as unsealed. If you’re deep cleaning your tiles, it may just be enough to clean the grout as well.

    There is some debate on whether or not vinegar can be used to clean sealed grout.

    However, making a diluted mix of vinegar and water in a spray bottle and applying it lightly should be just fine. Avoid leaving the vinegar on the grout for an extended time and repeat the process if necessary.

    If you have natural stone tiles, avoid using vinegar as it will etch the surface.

    2. Unsealed

    Leaving your grout unsealed depends on the type. The common cementitious grout is porous and should be sealed. However, other types of grout simply don’t need a sealant.

    Epoxy grout doesn’t contain Portland cement and doesn’t require water in the mixing process. Instead, epoxy is made up of epoxy resin, pigments, hardener and silica fillers. This grout hardens quickly and is, therefore, difficult to apply.

    Because there is no cement or sand, epoxy doesn’t need to be sealed. It can, however, become stained. An excellent way to remove grime and stains from epoxy grout is by using bleach and water or vinegar and water (3).

    On the other hand, if you have modified epoxy grout, it does need to be sealed. This grout uses Portland cement and is, therefore, porous. However, it’s also stronger and more stain-resistant compared to regular cementitious grout (4).

    If you have modified epoxy grout, you should avoid bleach as this can cause damage. Use vinegar with caution as you would with cementitious grout.

    Best Tools to Clean Grout

    You can clean grout lines effectively using a special grout brush. These brushes are usually made of nylon and small enough to fit the grout lines. Some are handheld while others come with a wand to make it easier on the back.

    Here are some other excellent tools you can use to clean grout lines:

    • A toothbrush: Using an old toothbrush is excellent for grout. The small size and soft bristles create the perfect scrubbing tool to remove gunk. If you have an old electric toothbrush, even better — less scrubbing for you.
    • A chisel tool: Using a chisel is an effective way to scrape away stuck grime. It can also be used to remove stubborn mold.
    • Steam: Cleaning grout with a steam cleaner is the easiest way to brighten the grout. Most steam cleaners or mops come with a special attachment for grout. If you’re struggling with mold, using a steam cleaner is an effective way to kill and remove stubborn mold (5).

    How to Clean Floor Grout

    Cleaning grout might involve a significant amount of scrubbing, but many methods and products can ease the process.

    Method #1: Hydrogen Peroxide, Baking Soda and Dish Soap

    For this method, start by making a paste using a quarter cup of hydrogen peroxide and three-quarters of a cup of baking soda. Combine it in a bowl or container and add a tablespoon of dish soap.

    As you mix hydrogen peroxide with baking soda, it creates oxygen ions — these act like a mild bleach that will remove stains efficiently (6). The baking soda is naturally abrasive and is effective at scrubbing grout (7). Additionally, dish soap will dissolve and loosen grease, dirt and gunk stuck in the grout.

    If you have colored grout, test an inconspicuous area first. Although hydrogen peroxide is a mild bleach, it can discolor the grout depending on the quality.

    After making sure it’s safe, apply to the grout using a nylon brush. The paste will likely begin to bubble as the components react to each other. This is normal and shouldn’t be cause for concern.

    Leave the paste on the grout for up to 15 minutes before giving it a final scrub and rinse with hot water. The hot water will help to remove the paste, and any loosen any leftover dirt. Finish off by wiping the entire area using a clean cloth or rag.

    Save Your Back

    Place a towel on the floor and use your feet to swipe it across the area. You can also wrap the towel around a floor squeegee to avoid having to bend.

    Method #2: Oxygenated Bleach

    If your white or light-colored grout is looking filthy, this next method is for you. Oxygenated bleach is an eco-friendly alternative to regular household bleach. This bleach is chlorine-free and so less toxic than your typical bleach.

    Oxygen bleach is often found in detergents, also known as sodium percarbonate. It is formed from a combination of soda crystals and hydrogen peroxide and usually comes in its solid, powdered form (8).

    When you need to use it, you dilute it with water according to the label. As you might’ve guessed by the name, oxygen bleach actually creates oxygen ions when in contact with water. The bubbles it creates is what makes it so effective at stain removal — it lifts and dissolves stains and can break down bad odors (9).

    For this method, dissolve two tablespoons of oxygen bleach in two cups of warm water. Avoid mixing the solution long before you plan on applying it as the power of the bleach can wear off after a while.

    If you have colored grout, remember to test the solution before applying it to a large area.

    This solution is a liquid and should, therefore, be poured onto the grout. You can also mix the components in a spray bottle to make application easier.

    Scrub the grout using a nylon brush — opt for a brush with a long wand if you have a bad back. After scrubbing, allow the bleach solution a couple of minutes to work. Scrub another time, starting by dipping the brush in the solution and then scrub back and forth on the grout.

    If you notice any darker spots or stubborn stains, dip the wet brush directly in the oxygen bleach and scrub. This will create a more potent solution.

    Finish off by pouring water onto the area and mop to rinse and remove excess solution.

    Method #3: Chlorine Bleach

    Chlorine bleach is one of the more traditional ways to clean grout and it’s also highly effective. However, you should take a few precautions when using this method. Chlorine bleach is caustic to the skin and can create fumes that may be toxic. So always wear safety gear such as rubber gloves, goggles and old clothes to avoid any damage (10).

    If you’re cleaning an enclosed room such as the bathroom, keep it well-ventilated by running a fan or opening a window or door.

    Dip a brush into the undiluted bleach and scrub the grout vigorously. Rinse the area thoroughly using clean water and wipe with a clean cloth to absorb excess bleach and moisture. Finish off by drying the area with a towel.

    If you have natural stone tiles, avoid leaving the bleach on the grout or tile for long. Try to keep it on the grout only to avoid damage. Chlorine bleach is also effective at killing mold on the grout surface (11).

    Method #4: Alkaline Cleaner

    Alkaline cleaners are effective at removing stains from grout. You can buy commercial products, such as washing soda, to easily clean the grout.

    Using an alkaline cleaner is the best option for people who don’t like the strong smell of chlorine bleach.

    Mix the product as directed on the label. Avoid exceeding the recommended amount since it won’t make the solution any more potent.

    Use a sponge to apply the recommended amount of solution to the grout and leave it for a few minutes. Scrub vigorously until the stains are gone and finish off by rinsing the area thoroughly with clean water. Use a clean sponge to remove excess water and solution, then dry the area with a clean towel or cloth.

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    Method #5: Steam Cleaner

    Cleaning grout with a steam cleaner is an easy and effective way to restore your grout lines. If you have back problems or experience difficulty bending to scrub, a steam cleaner is the best option for you.

    The hot temperature will also kill bacteria and mold while blasting away dirt and grime without chemicals (12). This makes a steam cleaner an excellent choice for families with young children where harsh chemicals can be extra harmful.

    Start by attaching a small nylon brush to the wand. Fill the reservoir with the recommended amount of water, plug the steamer into an outlet and allow it to heat. A steam mop might be ready in less than a minute while bigger steam cleaners will need eight or more minutes to heat fully.

    Press the trigger to pump steam into the grout. Then scrub vigorously with the brush. Repeat until dirt, grime or mold is loose.

    Use a clean rag, cloth or sponge to wipe away the gunk that comes out of the grout. If it’s extra dirty, use a mop and clean water to finish off the job.

    Steam cleaning grout shouldn’t remove the sealer unless the sealant is water-based. The steam will also not loosen or damage tiles. If you’re cleaning natural stone, make sure you keep the process as dry as possible by wiping each section as you finish.

    Method #6: Ammonia

    Ammonia is effective at disinfecting your tiles and grout while removing stubborn dirt and stains. However, you must always start by opening windows or doors — maybe even turn on a fan to create good ventilation in the room. Also, protect yourself by wearing rubber gloves and safety glasses (13).

    Start by mixing equal parts of ammonia and water in a bucket or container. Dip a nylon brush or sponge in the mixture and apply it to the grout. Then scrub vigorously until the original color of the grout is restored and stains are gone.

    Rinse the entire area using clean water and a sponge. Finish off by drying the floor using a clean towel.

    Danger

    Never mix bleach and ammonia. The combination will create highly toxic fumes which can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, causing coughing, chest pain, and other serious adverse effects (14).

    Method #7: Warm Water and a Stiff Brush

    A simple and easy way to clean slightly dirty grout is by using warm water and a stiff brush. The warm temperature of the water helps to loosen dirt so that you can easily scrub it away.

    Pour the warm water directly onto the grout and begin to scrub it immediately while it’s still warm. Wipe away excess dirt and water using a clean cloth or sponge. Finish off by drying the area with a towel.

    Homemade Grout Cleaners

    Method #1: Baking Soda and Vinegar

    The combination of the abrasiveness of the baking soda and acidic vinegar makes for an excellent grout cleaner. It’s also natural, which is good for those who want to avoid chemicals. It will also help to eliminate any odor that might be lingering in the lines.

    Combine three parts of baking soda with one part vinegar in a bowl. Mix until it forms a thick paste.

    Beware

    If you have natural stone tiles, avoid using this method. Vinegar will etch the surface and cause dullness (15).

    Apply the paste directly onto the grout using your finger or a dry sponge. You might want to wear rubber gloves for this if you have sensitive skin.

    Mix equal parts of vinegar and water in a spray bottle and apply it to the paste. There will be a bubbling reaction as the vinegar contacts the paste.

    Once the solution stops bubbling, it’s time to scrub. Get out a grout brush or one with nylon bristles and scrub the lines.

    Finish the process off by mopping with clean water to rinse the area. Rinse your mop throughout the last step to avoid spreading a residue.

    Although this method is highly effective, you should also be careful. If you have cementitious grout installed, the acid in the vinegar might dissolve the cement.

    Take Note

    The Tile Council of America advises against the use of vinegar on unsealed cementitious grout (16).

    Method #2: Lemon Juice

    Lemon is an effective natural cleaner that’s often taken for granted. The acid cuts through grease, dirt and grime while also bleaching the area slightly, restoring the grout color.

    Start by saturating the grout with lemon juice and allow it to sit for up to 15 minutes. Then scrub the grout using a small brush. Finally, rinse with clean water and wipe with a towel to dry.

    Final Tips

    Keeping your grout clean might seem like an immense job. However, by giving it an occasional deep clean, you can keep it stain-free. Follow these last few tips to maintain your grout:

    • Clean spills immediately: Even if you have sealed grout, it’s still essential to clean spills as they happen. This will prevent any liquids from soaking into the grout and leaving a stain.
    • Test new cleaners: If you’re using a new cleaner, whether commercial or homemade, always give it a test in an inconspicuous area first. Look out for any discoloration or signs of damage.
    • Consider your tiles: Natural stone is sensitive towards acidic products. You should, therefore, avoid using vinegar when cleaning the grout as it can damage the surface. Instead, opt for a pH-neutral cleaner.
    • Use a wand: Unfortunately, cleaning grout does involve a lot of scrubbing, and you often have to spend a significant amount of time down on your knees. If you find this difficult, choose a tool with a wand. Many grout brushes will come with an extendable wand to make the process easier.
    • Avoid hard tools: Don’t use tools such as steel wool or wire brushes as these can damage or even break the grout.
    • Seal the grout: The Tile Council of America recommends that you seal your grout using a high-quality sealant when it’s dry. There are three application styles available for grout sealants. These include brush-ons, rollers and sprays.
    • Use a grout pen: When all other methods don’t work or your grout is beyond repair, try a grout pen. These are available in various colors to suit your grout. If you have white grout, try the Clorox Bleach Pen to restore the bright grout.

    Finishing Off

    Cleaning grout lines can be a tedious job that involves chemicals and scrubbing. However, there are many methods to try out until you find what works best for you.

    Always consider your tiles and the type of grout you have installed. And avoid using oil- or wax-based cleaners as these can leave a filmy residue on the grout.

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