When in Doubt Clean Your Grout

Tile and grout are one of the most abundant residential and commercial flooring types, especially here in Wilmington, NC. It is often chosen as the flooring type of choice for its durability, price, and ability to maintain cooler temperatures to the touch. You may have noticed that I didn’t list “ease of maintenance” as a primary reason for a tile & grout flooring choice. In reality, that is usually at the top of the buyer’s list, but the realization for most homeowners after a year or two is that tile and grout take more maintenance to keep it looking good than originally expected. I’ve had numerous clients tell me that they were ready to rip out all the tile and replace it with carpet or wood! With a few simple tips, that won’t be necessary.

Looking at how tile is installed will shed a little more light on why it can easily become a maintenance nightmare. After the tile is installed in a bed of mortar, it is then grouted with a cement-type product to fill in the spaces between the tiles. Grout, by nature, is very porous. For that reason, debris, contaminants, oils, and anything small can make it into the pores and imbed in the grout (or even stain it). As you clean the tile and grout with a mop, you are forcing more debris into the pores over time. Because of this, the grout becomes dirty and stained beyond the ability to clean with conventional methods, leaving most homeowners frustrated and not sure what to do.

Proper grout installation calls for an application or two of clear sealer, generally 30-90 days after the tile and grout are installed. Most installers never take the time to explain this to the client, so homeowners are left with a “partially-completed” grout installation, never the wiser that something else should have been done (and that something is very important). Clear Sealer is a liquid product that is applied to the grout, allowed to penetrate, then dries, creating a barrier as it seals the pores in the grout, making it harder for debris and liquids to penetrate. Clear Sealer application is recommended every few years, depending on traffic and soil loads over the surface.

To properly clean tile and grout, we recommend using a microfiber mop, not a standard rag mop. A rag mop tends to “push” debris around rather than actually clean it up. It also requires a heavy amount of water, which acts as a carrier for dirt and debris into the grout. Note that grout lines are usually concave and recessed from the tile. Because of this, they act as a holding channel for liquid, giving it the ability to soak into the pores, taking dirt and debris with it. By using a microfiber mop, much less liquid is used, and the ability to direct where the debris is moved is easier. I recommend using either a neutral stone & tile cleaner (you can find this at Walmart or Home Depot) or warm water and a very small amount of Dawn liquid dish soap. Use large side-to-side strokes, drawing the debris toward you by starting at one end of the room and working backward out of the room. Once you have cleaned the entire room, repeat the pattern with a warm water rinse (again using the microfiber mop) to remove any cleaner (it’s the residual cleaner that attracts dirt and debris).

In addition to regularly cleaning your floors, tile and grout should be professionally cleaned every year or two.