Q&A / 

Change Tile Grout Color

DEAR TIM: The grout on the wall and floor ceramic tile in the master bathroom of our new home was supposed to be the same color. The floor grout is much lighter than the walls. The builder and tile company agree it is a manufacturing defect as the batch of dry grout was mixed wrong at the factory. The tile company wants to stain the floor grout to match. What is the best way to stain tile grout? What could have been done to prevent this problem? Jennifer H., Virginia Beach, VA

DEAR JENNIFER: Years ago, I had the same thing happen to me. When I left the tile store I made sure the batch numbers on the grout bags were identical and even from the same pallet. I assumed that since the bags were next to one another on the pallet the contents had to be from the same giant mixing hopper at the factory. Well, don't ask me what went wrong, but I ended up with two totally different colors once the grout dried. It was a huge problem.

Grout colors can be changed successfully and permanently. I had to do it in my own home on my Entrance Hall slate floor. When I built my home, the salesperson at the tile store sold me a super-duper grout additive that was supposed to make the grout stronger and more stain resistant. The additive was a milky latex product that was mixed with the dry grout. I added it exactly as was told by the additive and grout manufacturers and the end result was a splotchy mottled deep gray grout instead of the jet black color I was supposed to get.

A great brush with the right stain allows you to make grout lines look fantastic.

A great brush with the right stain allows you to make grout lines look fantastic.

Once the grout was dry and cured, I use a special oil-based grout stain I purchased from the tile company. The stain looked just like a can of stain you might use on woodwork. It worked perfectly and the color of the grout is the jet black I wanted in the first place. Even after repeated floor cleanings, the color is as rich and deep as the day I put it down.

Oil stains, in my opinion, work better than water-based ones because the oil solvents allow the pigments to penetrate deeper into the hard cement-based grout. Be sure your contractor gets an oil based grout if at all possible. The neat thing about oil-based grout stains is they can be applied to grout of any age. You can stain grout 30 days or 30 years old with the same fantastic results.

For the staining job to be a stunning success, your contractor needs to follow a few simple steps. The grout must be completely clean and dry. New grout should cure at least 30 days before staining. Verify this with the product you buy. The label instructions always mention minimum cure times. You can deep clean dirty grout using an oxygen bleach solution. Oxygen bleach will not remove any of the grout's existing color, but it will get rid of all dirt and grime. This non-toxic solution works best if you allow it to soak for one or two hours before lightly scrubbing the floor.

Restore the "clean" to your grout. Just go to CLEANGROUTNOW to see the beautiful, quick results.

The hardest part of the job is applying the stain. You must do it carefully with certain flooring materials. Tiles that have a high-gloss glaze are the easiest to stain. If a little stain gets on the tile, it can usually be wiped off the tile with little effort. But tiles with little or no glaze and slate can be a nightmare to stain. You must slowly and carefully apply the stain to just the grout. I find that a stiff artist's brush with a square tip and 1/4 inch wide bristles works best. You do not want a brush that has limp bristles. You need a stiff bristle brush that will give you excellent control.

Once the grout is dry, you may choose to seal it. It is not necessary, but it does help keep the grout clean. The sealers minimize the amount of liquid that can penetrate the grout.

Your problem could have been easily avoided. After my nightmare years ago, I always bought one extra bag of colored grout. Before I started grouting, I took all of the bags and emptied them into a clean wheel barrow. I blended the dry powdered grouts together until they were well mixed. The grout was then transferred to clean dry plastic buckets with tight fitting lids. This method produces grout that is absolutely uniform in color when it dries.

Grout stains really work and work well. For some reason they are not talked about very much. All too often people re-grout to get rid of ugly grout when many times a simple stain will rejuvenate a ceramic tile job.

The best part is that colored grouts can enhance colored ceramic tile. Frequently tile setters or architects specify white grout when a colored grout actually makes the colored tile look better.

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to make a dark grout appear lighter. Keep in mind that grout stains are not paints. In fact, you would never want to apply a paint to grout as they are films and will peel over time. Grout stains penetrate into the grout and carry the color pigments with them. Some stay at the surface so you can see the new color. But never will enough light pigments stay at the surface to mask a dark colored grout.

Message from Tim:

Years ago while researching a column about cleaning decks, I discovered the wonders of Oxygen Bleach. It is perhaps the 'greenest' cleaner I know of as it uses oxygen ions to break apart stains, dirt and odor molecules. There are no harsh chemicals, and it works on just about anything that is water washable.

I decided to create my own special blend using ingredients made in the USA. In fact, the raw materials in the active ingredient are food-grade quality registered with the FDA. I call my product Stain Solver. I urge you to use it to help with cleaning your ceramic tile grout. You will be amazed at the results!


8 Responses to Change Tile Grout Color

  1. Approximately two months ago I had a kitchen backsplash installed in my home that included travertine and glass tile inserts every so many feet. A week later the installer returned to put one coat of sealer on the tile.

    Unfortunately, I am not happy with the grout lines that show between the 4 small glass tile pieces used. The installer used the same grout for both the travertine and glass tiles which was a lighter grout and did not blend with the glass tiles. Our glass tiles now appear to have a checkered board look. I am considering staining the grout lines between the glass tiles and was wondering what procedures I should follow since the wall was already sealed? I am concerned about trying this and possibly making a bigger mess. Thanks.

    • I have the same problem with small glass tiles just installed in my kitchen - the white grout creates a checkerboard effect and detracts from the beauty of the tiles. Did you manage to solve your problem? A sealant has not yet been applied. Thank you.

  2. When my shower walls were tiled, they ended up very light with periodic dark mottled patches....UGLY and not what it was suppose to be.

    Oddly enough, when the grout is wet,the color darkens to the correct color, evens out, and looks like it is suppose to look. I am thinking that grout stain is my fix but am not sure since the grout is light colored and uneven when dry....darker and okay when wet.

    Can you give me any ideas or suggestions? I am also curious as to what could of caused it, I have my own educated guess, but do not know for sure.

    When I had the individual that did the work return to look at it, he simply shook his head and said "I've never seen or had that happen before"

    Thanks in advance for any professional advice you might be able to share.

    • I know exactly what's going on. Water is seeping under the clear glaze. When most objects soak up water, it changes the objects ability to capture and reflect light. The tile glaze should have extended down a little farther onto the edges of the tile. Mystery solved!

  3. Be careful with additives to grout!! Read the grout bag carefully and follow all instructions.
    1.) Additives to colored grout can:
    a.) cause mottling
    b.) negate the warranty of the grout
    2.) Match batch and lot numbers. THEN, dry mix bags that are going to be used in the same space to ensure a uniform color.
    3.) Too much water in the clean-up phase can cause mottling in colored grout. Make sure your sponge is as dry as you can wring it out before dressing the joints otherwise you run the risk of washing out colorant.
    4.) Grout ONLY when the tiles are well set. You shouldn't tile one afternoon and expect to grout the next morning. Give tile a good 24 hours to cure before grouting.

  4. Dear Tim
    Your article on grout stains was extremely helpful and it turns out I am looking for the color raven as well. Could you tell me the name of the oil based stain you used? I do not like any of the water based colorants, they look look like poo!!

    Thank You

  5. I have been looking out for coloured grout and realised very few brands offer this and I did not have the patience to colour it, thankfully my friend told me about Roff and they have 22 shades of grout which is great. Those of you in India, make a note.

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