Inside the Lines: How to Clean Grout

by Jon Nunan

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Tile itself is relatively easy to clean. Often the surface is so smooth that dirt and grime wipe right off. To clean tile grout is, however, a different story all together.

Clean Tile Grout with Household Items
There are many products on the market designed specifically to clean tile grout, and each works to a varying degree. However, there are a few things you already have around the house that could do the job just as well.

Before using any cleaner at all, wipe down the wall with plain old water and let it dry. This will remove any loose dirt and debris. You can use a regular floor cleaner (like Lysol) and scrub in circles with a stiff (but not metal) bristled brush. You can also use a mixture of water and vinegar, or a paste of water and baking soda. A diluted mixture of chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide can be used to clean tile grout that is more heavily discolored.

Professional Strength Grout Cleaning
People who have access to a steam cleaner might try using it to clean tile grout. This method is very effective, and is used by some professionals.

At some hardware stores and home improvement centers, you can purchase very heavy-duty products designed for commercial use. These chemicals are very strong; they should never be mixed with another cleaner, and the directions on the back should be followed exactly. Your results might be a little less than professional, even with the heavy duty cleaners, because the pros have special agitating grout brushes that you will most likely not have access to.

How to Clean Grout Like New
Some grout is so discolored that no type of cleaner, homemade or commercial, will do the job. "How to clean grout" is, in these cases, more like "how to resurface grout". The process here is pretty straight forward, though you'll need more than just a brush and spray bottle to resurface and clean tile grout that is severely stained.

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The first thing you'll need is a grout saw. Don't let the name fool you; a grout saw is an almost trowel like tool that's about the size of a screwdriver. They are quite sharp, though, so be careful not to scratch the tile or yourself when using one. Scrape off the top layer of discolored grout with the grout saw, and wipe away or vacuum the excess dust.

Next you'll need some premixed grout and a grout float, easily found at any home improvement store. Spread the grout all over the tile and cracks with the float, then wipe away all of the excess grout from the tile. This will leave a bright new layer of grout in the cracks. Use a damp sponge to further remove grout on the surface of the tiles.

Once everything dries, there will be a thin, pale film of grout left on the tile; this can be removed using a dry towel or paper towel. To keep the grout looking as good as new, apply a grout sealant once everything is completely dry.
Jon Nunan is a freelance writer who draws on his experience in construction, ranging from landscaping to log home building, for his articles on home improvement.