Grout: it’s one of those things you don’t really think about. You don’t think about it, that is, until you see the difference between a tile framed by clean grout, making it even more apparent just how dirty your own grout is.
Frankly, you don’t know what clean is until you’ve cleaned, stained, or replaced the grout on your tile floor or walls. It just makes everything feel new again.
That said, cleaning and keeping grout clean is a pain in the butt. Luckily, there are some tips and tricks for getting even some of the most stubborn stains out of grout that will save you from having to replace it entirely. And for those of you who do have to replace your grout, we’ve outlined simple steps for doing so in this article too.
Let’s get started!
What is grout?
The best grout is unnoticeable (read: clean) — and only complements the tiles it surrounds.
Made up of cement, water and sand (and often color tint and fine gravel), grout is a structural paste similar to mortar but is most commonly used to fill the space between tiles — though it is used for other purposes too.
Its main purpose as a tile filler is to keep moisture out, and to ensure the tiles stay a certain distance apart. Some of its other uses include filling hollow concrete blocks after they’re set, and grout also works as a means for setting rebar for reinforcement of a block-based wall.
Though grout is similar to mortar, it is different in terms of its viscosity — which is thin so the substance can flow readily into gaps. Mortar, on the other hand, is thick enough to support its own weight and more.
There are many different types of grout, from tiling grout, to flooring grout, resin grout, non-shrink grout, structural grout, and thixotropic grout. Tile grout — which comes in sanded and unsanded varieties (as well as epoxy) — has water retentive properties that keep the grout moist until the cement properly cures (more on this in the next section).
And though it is water retentive before setting, once hardened, tile grout won’t absorb much water, has a highly compressive strength, is resistant to staining, and is easy to maintain. These properties are typically created through a mixture of epoxy resin, silica fillers, pigments, and a hardener, though this varies by form of grout.
What are the basic types of grout?
Grout goes underneath and on the sides of tiles, holding them in place, filling in gaps, and providing extra grip.
As mentioned, there are a few key types of grout. Here are the ones you need to know about:
A mixture of Portland cement, powdered pigments and water, this type of grout is used on grout joints 1/8+” wide or less. It features a smooth texture and clings particularly well to vertical surfaces.
Sanded grout is more commonly used on grout joints wider than ⅛ wide, and is the preferred grout type for wider-set flooring and wall tile joints due to its shrink- and crack-resistant properties.
Both grout and epoxy grout can come in sanded form. The only addition to this type of grout, logically, is sand, which thickens the substance to prevent it from shrinking between the joints.
Made of resin and hardener, epoxy grout is typically used when the installation is more challenging — like when acid or oil are incorporated.
Why use grout
Grout used in between shower tiles needs to be able to stand up to wet conditions.
Grout is used for a variety of purposes, but its main uses are three-fold.
- Fill spaces. Some types of tile — like ceramic and terra cotta — are cooked in a kiln. Like when cookies go in and come out of an oven, tiles in and out of the kiln are much the same: their shapes tend to be warped from shrinkage once they’re cooked. This means that they will probably not fit together like the puzzle pieces they had been intended to be. As such, grout is there to fill in the gaps.
- Bonding agent. Grout also helps tiles adhere to the surface — be it floor or wall — on both the bottom and sides of the surfaces.
- Increase slip resistance. Grout is often employed to give surfaces, such as shower floors, more grip.
Methods for cleaning grout
There are many different ways to clean your grout. Here are the most effective ones — including natural methods and with methods with chemicals.
Baking soda and soap grout cleaning method
Baking soda is dirty grout’s best friend.
- Baking soda — We like this Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
- Hydrogen peroxide — We like this Hydrogen Peroxide Topical Solution
- Dish soap — We like this Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid
Combine baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and dish soap in a bowl, and spoon onto grout. Allow to sit for five to 10 minutes before scrubbing as much as needed to lift the dirt and stains, and then rinse away.
Baking soda grout cleaning method
- 1 C baking soda
- 1 C hydrogen peroxide
- Spray bottle — We like these Uineko Plastic Spray Bottle
Sprinkle the baking soda atop the grout until its surface is covered. Next, pour hydrogen peroxide into a spray bottle, and squirt onto the baking soda-sprinkled grout until the surface is wet. Leave for 10 minutes before scrubbing until dirt and stains are removed, and rinse away with water.
Versatile grout cleaner for natural stones
- 3 parts baking soda
- 1 part water
Mix baking soda and water together to make a thick paste, and apply to grout lines with your fingertip. This cleaner works with all colors and types of grout, and won’t harm natural tiles like marble or limestone.
💡Tip: Always wear rubber gloves when working with baking soda (and bleach and vinegar, for that matter). These help prevent the abrasive substance from causing scratches and irritated skin.
(Step II) Versatile grout cleaning enhancer with vinegar
Fill up a spray bottle with a vinegar/water solution to get your grout nice and clean — and to keep it clean too.
- 1 part white vinegar — We like this Heinz All Natural Cleaning Vinegar
- 1 part water
- Spray bottle
- Nylon-bristled scrub brush — We like this Rubbermaid Professional Plus Scrub Brush
Pour equal parts vinegar and water into the spray bottle and shake well. Spray onto baking soda paste grout lines you made in the step above.
The paste will start bubbling, which is a chemical reaction between the baking soda and vinegar, and signals the start of the natural cleaning process. Wait until the paste is finished bubbling (usually no more than a few minutes) before you scrub with a nylon-bristled scrub brush — paying close attention to the edges and corners of the grout, where dirt is the most stubborn, and rinse away.
Mop the floor with clean water to completely remove all traces of baking soda and vinegar residue. Be sure to rinse the mop and change the water frequently to prevent spreading the powerful solution around on the floor.
This solution should not be used on natural stones like marble or limestone, as the vinegar can be harmful to natural surfaces.
Grout cleaning with a steam cleaner
Use the power of steam to lift stubborn dirt and stains from your grout.
- Tile Steam Cleaner — We like this Steam Mop Cleaner ThermaPro Elite
- Steam hose
- Small brush attachment
Borrow, rent (from your local home improvement store), or buy yourself a steam cleaner. This is the most effective method for cleaning (and sanitizing) your tiles — and the grout in between them — without having to use any harmful chemicals. Just ensure that the steam cleaner you’ll be using has the parts listed in the “optional” section above.
Put the steam cleaner together according to its instructions. Fill its tank with clean water (again, following the instructions for doing so), and then turn on the device, giving it time to heat up. Wait as long as the instructions specify to wait before using the steam cleaner.
When it’s ready, you can start steaming your tiles. Starting at one side of the room, you’ll want to move the steam cleaner’s cleaning brush slowly back and forth over the grout, as you work your way towards the other side of the room.
How the steam cleaner works to clean grout is that it lifts the dirt and grime from the grout, and also kills any mildew that may have been growing, leaving you with clean, sparkling tiles.
Once an area is clean, use a fresh towel or mop to absorb any excess moisture remaining on your tiles.
The floor may become slippery as the steam condenses into water — so tread carefully.
💡Tip: Since steam cleaning removes the sealant on your grout (if there was any to begin with), this method should only be used on either unsealed grout or old grout that needs to be resealed.
Renewing your grout (for stubborn or permanent stains)
Because some stains require more than elbow grease.
If the above cleaning methods don’t work — and be sure to try them all first, as this option is more labor-intensive — then you can try grout renewal. This is the last possible step before having to entirely change your grout.
- Grout refresher — We like this Grout Refresh
- Fine paint brush — We like this Model Paint Brush Set
- Microfibre towel — We like these Microfiber Towel Cleaning Cloths
- Scrub pad — We like these Scrub Sponges
💡Tip: You can also use a toothbrush for the applicator, if you don’t want to buy or don’t have a fine paint brush.
There are plenty of color options for the grout renewal product, which means you should be able to match your grout. If not, select a color that’s slightly darker than your original color for best results.
The great thing about this process is that not only will it make your grout look like new, but it adds an extra layer of protection onto your grout, preventing future stains, and extending your grout’s life by years.
You can even just use it to darken your grout to make it look cleaner (since stains are less visible on darker colors) — this looks particularly cool with light-colored tiles and dark grout.
Ensure your tiled surface is clean, dry, and free from oil, grease, dirt, paint, etc.. Shake the container well. Apply the grout refresh in a thin layer — a thick layer won’t bond properly. Do your best to avoid the tile surface.
Use your fine paint brush to spread the liquid evenly, working the substance into the grout with your brush using a back-and-forth motion that allows it to penetrate its surface.
Afterwards, if you’re working with a textured tile surface, use the “wet method” for cleaning. Wait 20 – 25 minutes for the grout refresh to dry, and then remove any stain from the tile surface by misting the tile lightly with a spray bottle, and allowing it to sit for a few minutes. Use a clean, damp, microfiber towel to remove any stain from the tiles. Buff dry with a new clean microfiber towel, and let sit for another 30 minutes. If necessary, repeat the process once again.
Buff the grout refresh with a microfiber towel along the grout line for best results.
If, however, you’re working with a non-textured tile surface, the “dry method” will do just fine. In this case, you’ll need only wait five minutes before wiping the tile (and grout) with a clean microfiber towel along the grout line. If any stain remains on the tile, mist with a water-filled spray bottle and let sit for a few minutes, before scrubbing with a scrub pad in a circular motion.
💡Tip: If you’ve darkened the color of your grout, it’s likely that you’ll need more than one coat of your grout refresher.
Changing your grout entirely
- Grout remover — we like this 8-Inch Angled Grout Hand Saw with Diamond Surface Blades
- Notched trowel — we like this 3/16-Inch
- Grout float — we like this Gum Rubber Grout Float
- Tile grout — we like this Quart Simple Premium Grout
- Microfiber towel
- Flathead screwdriver — We like this Black & Red Slotted Screwdriver
- Cordless oscillating tool — we like this PORTER CABLE Oscillating Tool
- Vacuum cleaner — we like this Eureka PowerSpeed Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaner
- Plastic bucket (for mixing dry grout) — we like this Encore Plastic mixing bucket
💡Tip: If you do plan to use a power tool for this job, ensure it’s cordless, as this will give you far more control.
Once in a while (hopefully not too often), you’ll need to swap your old grout out for some nice, clean, new paste. Keep an eye out for signs like flaking and breaking of the grout, and tiles coming loose, which signal that your grout needs replacing.
💡Tip: Take action quickly if you do see these signs of grout damage, because with such grout damage, water can seep through and cause damage to the floor or walls underneath — which would be much more work to replace.
The good news: though this job is quite labor intensive (you’ll get a good workout scraping out the grout!), it’s oh-so-worthwhile. Your entire surface will look brand new once you’re done!
To give you an idea of how much time to allot, you’ll spend about two hours removing grout from the area approximately the size of a kitchen backsplash (around 16 square feet with six-inch tiles). It then takes about 30 minutes to apply the new grout to the area.
1. Strip out the old grout
Use a grout remover to scrape out your old, dirty and stained grout, before replacing it with a nice, clean paste.
Get your grout remover and begin stripping back the grout that needs to go. If you’re using an oscillating tool, fit it with the grout remover blade and get to work, holding the blade perpendicular to the surface.
Pause frequently to wipe or vacuum up dust and debris as you go.
💡Tip: If using a power tool, take extra care not to chip or break the tile around the grout. On your first pass, just focus on getting the bulk of the grout out, and get more detailed on your second or third pass, angling the blade ever so slightly to get closer to the tiles.
Ensure the grout is completely removed — remove any remaining grout with a flat-head screwdriver — and thoroughly clean the area from all dust and debris with a cloth and/or a vacuum cleaner.
The area should be completely clean and dry before continuing on to the next step.
2. Mix your tile grout
Tile grout comes in pre-mixed and powder form — the powder form allows you to make it as thick or as watery as you prefer.
Before you’re ready to apply your grout, you’ll need to mix it together. Tile grout comes as a powder that needs to be mixed with water, or it’s also possible to get pre-mixed solutions.
For dry grout, pour into a plastic bucket, and add only half the water it calls for. Stir it together, gradually adding more water as you go, until all the water is mixed in. You should be left with a smooth, paste-like consistency.
3. Apply your grout
Now you’re ready for the final step: applying the grout. Using your grout trowel, liberally apply the grout between your tiles — but don’t stuff it in.
Next, hold your grout float at 60 degrees, and use it to softly press the grout between the seams of the tiles. Work in alternating directions until the seams are filled, and scrape away the excess grout.
💡Tip: For tiled walls, apply the grout in small amounts at a time, which is easier (and neater) to work with on vertical surfaces.
Allow grout to set for half an hour to an hour. Once set, use a damp microfiber towel (a sponge will work too) to gently remove and clean any excess grout from the tiles. Make sure the towel or sponge is barely wet, as excess water can pull grout from the seams.
Take your time with this process, but don’t worry about getting the tiles 100% clean. That comes with the next step.
4. Clean your tiles
Once your grout is completely dry, you’ll notice that the surface of your tiles is covered with a faint haze. You can get this off using a microfiber cloth to buff the area. It’s even possible to pick up a haze-removing product from your local DIY store.
How to keep your grout clean
Now that you’ve got your grout clean, you’ll want to keep it that way!
Now that your grout is nice and clean, you’ll want to start a daily and weekly grout cleaning regime to maintain and stretch out the results.
If you don’t already, start wiping and spraying your tiles and grout on a daily basis, after your bath or shower. This will keep your tiles clean, while also preventing premature staining and damage.
Get yourself a good squeegee, which is an ideal tool for this purpose. Run the squeegee over the tile and glass walls and doors of your bathroom after your shower/bath, and remove as much excess water as you can.
Keep a spray bottle filled with a vinegar/water solution in your shower for a quickly daily clean that will take you 30 seconds and save you hours down the line!
Next, spray your tiles with a mild daily shower cleaner — or make your own eco-friendly version with four parts vinegar, one part water.
Though it may seem slightly annoying, this daily tile cleaning routine will save you a lot of effort in the long run, significantly reducing the time you need to spend scrubbing stains that can build up.
For best effect, you’ll still want to do a weekly cleaning routine as well.
Weekly tile grout cleaning routine
Once a week (or at the very least, once every two weeks), deep clean your shower and/or bath to rid it of body oils and any soap scum build up.
Mix together a paste of baking soda and water, and work it into your grout with a grout brush or old toothbrush. Once you’ve scrubbed, rinse with clean water. For a more powerful cleaner to remove stubborn stains, use hydrogen peroxide in lieu of water.
💡Tip: If vinegar is part of your daily cleaning solution, ensure to remove all traces of vinegar before applying any hydrogen peroxide.