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Scrubbing Grout Back to White: Tricks from the Pros

March 3, 2024
Scrubbing Grout Back to White: Tricks from the Pros

Why Grout Discolors Over Time

Grout is the material that fills the spaces between tiles. It is porous and will absorb dirt, grime, and moisture over time, leading to discoloration. There are a few reasons why grout changes color:

  • Moisture – Grout is porous, so it absorbs water easily. Moisture causes the color pigments in grout to fade or change hue. Frequent exposure to water can make white grout turn gray or yellow.

  • Dirt and Grime – As we walk on tiles, dirt and grime gets trapped in the grout. Oils, grease, soap scum and hard water mineral deposits also build up over time. This staining leads to dingy and discolored grout.

  • Mold and Mildew – Grout that stays damp for too long can develop mold and mildew growth. This appears as black spots or staining on grout. Bathrooms with poor ventilation are prone to this issue.

  • Sun Exposure – In outdoor areas, sun exposure can also bleach and fade grout over the years. The UV rays break down the grout’s pigments.

  • Improper Cleaning – Using harsh cleaners on grout or scrubbing too aggressively can strip away the color and finish. Grout sealers also wear off eventually, exposing the pores again.

Cleaning vs. Re-Coloring Grout

There are two main approaches to restoring discolored grout back to its original white color:

1. Cleaning the Existing Grout

This involves using cleaning solutions and tools to scrub away dirt, grime and stains from the grout’s surface. Cleaning can whiten grout to a certain extent, but is unlikely to restore it to the original uniform color.

Pros:

  • Less expensive than re-coloring grout
  • Does not require re-sealing

Cons:

  • May not fully remove stains or discoloration
  • Results are temporary as grout will re-stain over time

2. Re-Coloring the Grout

This option involves applying a new coat of grout colorant or epoxy-based sealant over the existing grout. The new coating adheres to the grout and provides uniform, long-lasting color.

Pros:

  • Provides a like-new white color
  • Color lasts 3-5 years with periodic sealing
  • Protects against future staining

Cons:

  • More expensive than cleaning alone
  • Requires sealing every 1-2 years
  • Existing grout must be cleaned thoroughly first

For best results, it’s advisable to use a combination of cleaning and re-coloring when tackling badly stained or discolored grout.

Supplies Needed

Here are some recommended supplies to have on hand for DIY grout cleaning and re-coloring:

  • Grout brush or toothbrush
  • Grout steam cleaner
  • Bucket and scrubs
  • Grout haze remover
  • Grout sealer
  • Grout colorant kit
  • Rags, sponges, foam paintbrush
  • Safety gear (gloves, goggles, mask)

Professional tip: Use an enzymatic cleaner for biological stains from mold or mildew. An oxygen bleach powder can also help whiten grout.

Step-by-Step Guide

Follow these steps to thoroughly clean and re-color grout:

Cleaning the Grout

  1. Sweep or vacuum the tiled floor to remove loose debris and dirt.

  2. Mix a general purpose tile and grout cleaner solution as directed on the label. Apply it liberally to the grout lines and scrub with a stiff grout brush.

  3. For tougher stains, use a targeted spot treatment and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before scrubbing. Rinse thoroughly.

  4. Optional: Use a grout steam cleaner to deep clean and sanitize the grout lines.

  5. Allow the grout to fully dry for at least 24 hours. Check for any remaining haze and clean it off with grout haze remover.

Re-Coloring the Grout

  1. Make sure the grout lines are clean and dry first. Vacuum and wipe down with a damp sponge.

  2. Apply painter’s tape along the edges of the tile to protect from over-spray.

  3. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to correctly mix the grout colorant solution.

  4. Use a foam brush to apply the colorant in smooth, thin coats. Let it soak in for 10-15 minutes.

  5. Wipe off any excess sealer with a damp sponge. Avoid overlapping coats.

  6. Apply 2-3 coats for full coverage. Allow each coat to dry completely before adding the next.

  7. Once dry, seal the grout according to package directions to lock in the color.

  8. Remove the painter’s tape and enjoy your freshly whitened grout!

Tips for Keeping Grout White

Here are some professional tips to maintaining that new grout color:

  • Use walk-off mats and area rugs to reduce dirt tracking on tile.

  • Sweep and mop tiles 1-2 times per week using a pH-neutral cleaner.

  • Spot clean spills promptly to prevent staining.

  • Re-seal grout every 1-2 years with a penetrating sealer.

  • Consider applying a grout release agent before laying new grout lines. This makes future cleaning easier.

  • Routinely inspect all grout lines and re-clean or touch up color as needed.

When to Hire a Pro?

For large floor areas or severely stained grout, it may be worth hiring a professional grout cleaning and color sealing service. They have industrial equipment and experience with tricky stains. This is advisable for:

  • Grout that is cracking or crumbling
  • Bathroom floors with mold growth
  • Outdoor tile patios or pool decks
  • Large commercial spaces like restaurants

The pros can completely remove the old grout and re-grout the area for a permanent fix. Although hiring a contractor costs more upfront, it saves time and hassle.

Conclusion

With some elbow grease and the right products, I can restore my dingy grout to look bright white again. Combining intensive cleaning and re-coloring yields the best results. The secret is regular maintenance to keep grout looking its best long-term. Paying special attention to high-traffic and wet areas helps avoid major staining issues down the road.

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