There are a couple of different methods for cleaning grout, and choosing the best one is usually a matter of figuring out why the grout is so dirty in the first place and thinking about both what the tiles are made of and where they’re located. Experts usually recommend starting with the gentlest solution, often little more than soap and water. Steam cleaning is often really effective, too, particularly for tiles that see a lot of traffic and are generally clean to start with. Grout stains that are resistant or really tough might need a stronger approach, and oxygen-based chemicals are often a good choice in these cases. Professional cleaning companies often have some of the strongest products, and can also be an efficient choice for people with a lot of grout to get through. Anyone who decides to tackle the problem independently should usually take a number of safety precautions, including wearing gloves and making sure that the area is well ventilated.
Assess the Probable Cause
Stains in tile grout can develop in different ways. On bathroom tiles, mold and mildew may be the main cause, while on kitchen tile floors, grout stains may be the result of a combination of factors like heavy foot traffic, dirt, food spills, and mildew. In some cases, stains may also occur over time if the grout is either not sealed or is deteriorating. The best methods usually depend, at least in part, on the degree of staining and its cause. Spills and dirt will often lift with a mild cleanser and a scrub brush, whereas mold and mildew that have deeply penetrated the tile may need something stronger. Stains that are fresh are often also a lot easier to lift than those that have been sitting for weeks or more.
Tile type is also an important consideration when cleaning grout. Sealed tiles are usually the most durable and can resist staining, even staining that has penetrated into cracks and crevices. Depending on what the core material is, though, extra care may be required. Very porous tiles can absorb chemical cleansers, and fragile or thin materials might break or chip with excessive pressure.
Most tile experts recommend starting any grout cleaning project with the simplest cleanser possible. There are a number of reasons to begin small, but gentleness is often important to avoid damaging the tiles or degrading the integrity of the grout. It’s also usually a good idea generally to reserve strong chemicals for instances in which they’re really necessary.
For small stains on bathroom tiles, floors, or backsplashes, people are often advised to first use mild cleaning solutions. Basic dish soap and warm water often works well, particularly for “maintenance” cleanings — cleanings when there isn’t any real problem but may be some dirt or grime to lift. Spraying a small section of the stained grout with a solution of equal parts of vinegar and water and then scrubbing in a circular pattern with a stiff brush is another option. Likewise, forming a paste by adding water to a bit of baking soda and then using this mixture with a brush can also yield results. Afterward, it is important for people to completely rinse the area with clean water and allow it to air dry.
Steam cleaners can also be a good choice. These are devices, often electrically powered, that use hot water steam to loosen dirt and penetrate cracks and crevices. Steam is usually best for tile floors. Depending on how bad the staining or discoloration is, users may need to either repeat the treatment or follow it up with a scrub or other topical cleanser.
For stubborn stains, people often have the best luck using a commercial grout cleaner or an oxygen bleach powder. Oxygen-based cleaners are usually highly concentrated and are able to attack the stain on a chemical level. Similar alternatives include hydrogen peroxide and chlorine bleach. Once the grout has been cleaned completely, re-sealing the grout is often the best way to keep new discoloration from appearing and to prevent future stains.
Tips and Precautions
People who elect to use a grout cleaner are usually wise to follow the instructions carefully to ensure good results. A number of common-sense precautions should also be followed. First, experts usually recommend testing the grout cleaner on a small area, preferably in an out-of-the-way spot, to ensure that it will not do damage or cause discoloration. Second, it’s important for people to work in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves and masks. Even chemicals that are generally safe can be harmful if breathed in, particularly when people are near the floor or working hard scrubbing, elevating their heart rates and increasing the frequency of their breaths. Making sure that doors and windows stay open is often enough.
For grout cleaning jobs that are too difficult or large for a homeowner to handle independently, hiring a professional cleaning service may be the best solution. A professional service can use special grout cleaning machines and steamers that can achieve more effective results, and most are really quick, too. They can be expensive, but if their work is thorough it’s often worth it — at least in areas that see a lot of abuse.