Easy Tile Grout Cleaning
DEAR TIM: I’ve tried tile grout cleaning on the floors of my home with little success. The grout just doesn’t come clean. The tiles themselves don’t look like they used to even though I’m using those newer pad-cleaner contraptions. Is there a miracle method that you know of for cleaning ceramic tile grout? Have you had this problem in your own home? Judith P., Forest Park, IL
DEAR JUDITH: Tile and grout cleaning was the bane of my existence for years at the last house I lived in. When I built that home, my lovely wife selected a pure-white tile for our kitchen with a light gray grout. I warned her that the grout would turn black, but my pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears. To this day, she says it was my idea. As it turns out, the grout did turn nearly black, especially around the refrigerator and sink, no matter how hard I tried to clean it.
It became crystal clear what the issue was one day when I decided to really scrub the grout. Small particles of dirt on the floor were getting dissolved in water that was spilled on the tile. This dirty water then soaked into the grout just out of reach of the bristles of the scrub brush. This was compounded by spills of liquids like red wine, cranberry juice, deep-purple grape juice, etc. Any colored liquid that came into contact with the grout soaked into the sanded grout just like it would a sponge.
Regular soaps seemed powerless as well as tile and grout cleaning equipment that I rented. I can see why you’re having trouble with the pad cleaning tools as I’m convinced that these get up some of the dirt, but they leave dirt behind if the pads are not changed with great regularity. The smooth pads are powerless to remove dirt from the grout because in most cases they never even touch the grout. Look closely at a tile floor and you’ll quickly see the grout is almost always recessed lower than the surface of the tile.
My tile & grout cleaning problems disappeared about 15 years ago while I was researching how to properly seal and clean a deck. I interviewed a chemist who exposed me to a product I had never heard of - oxygen bleach. This product is a powder mixed with water. The instant this happens, billions of oxygen ions attack dirt and stain molecules blasting them apart. When this happens, they lose their ability to absorb light and the stains disappear. Not only do they do this on wood decks, it happens on anything that’s water washable.
I tried some of this product and couldn’t believe what I saw. Following the instructions given to me by the chemist, I mixed the powder with hot water and stirred it until it dissolved. I then poured this solution on the tile floor in my kitchen making sure the grout was completely saturated and covered with the clear solution. Then I walked away for 15 minutes allowing the oxygen ions to work on their own.
After the wait period, I had to add some additional solution where it had soaked into the tile grout. I then used a stiff scrub brush and ran the brush along the grout lines between the tiles. With almost no effort, the tile grout looked like new. When the chemist told me this would happen on the phone, I didn’t believe him. It sure pays to have an open mind!
You can get nearly the same results using chlorine bleach, but there are some disadvantages using this chemical. First and foremost, the fumes are powerful and make many feel uneasy. The chlorine bleach is so strong that it can ruin the pigments in some colored floor grouts. If you splash the chlorine bleach on adjacent surfaces like cabinets or carpeting, it can take the color out of them. It’s a tough cleaner to work with.
Once my tile and grout were clean, I discovered a way to keep them looking that way. I hated getting on my knees to scrub and didn’t want to do that ever again. One day, I decided to use the oxygen bleach powder in the mop water. I mopped the floor like normal, but instead of rinsing the floor right away, I let the cleaning solution dry on the floor.
What I discovered is that when the dirt has not yet soaked into the grout, the solution readily broke it apart and kept the grout perfectly clean. After about 30 minutes of waiting, I would then rinse the floor with clean clear water. My kitchen floor looked like new every week. The best part is the squabbles with my wife stopped and both of us had smiles on our faces. It doesn’t get much better than a happy wife and a clean floor!
You can buy oxygen bleach at stores and online. However, there is a vast difference in quality. Some products contain ingredients from offshore that may not be as pure as that made here in the USA. Not all of the products have the same amount of active ingredient. You’ll discover products that may have more filler in them than oxygen bleach. It pays to do research to get a product you can trust and really works well.