Tiles are a popular choice for flooring because they are easy to clean, come in a wide variety of colors and materials, and are durable with minimal maintenance.
However, while the tile itself is pretty desirable, the grout between them can become unsightly due to the buildup of dirt, grime, mold, and mildew over time.
The good news is many inexpensive cleaners will work quite well on most grout.
So, you can restore the original brightness of the grout if you have the right cleaning products and use the proper techniques.
In this post, I will discuss what products are best for cleaning unsealed grout and what precautions you must take to avoid damaging your expensive tiles.
So, if you are ready, let’s get started.
Why Grout Becomes Dingy and Dirty?
Grout is typically unsealed dense fluid which hardens to fill the spaces between the tiles.
The reason why it becomes dingy and discolored far faster compared to the tile is that unsealed grout is highly porous.
This allows dirt, oil, grease, and other contaminants to penetrate the surface, making grout discolored and darker with time.
Also, mold and mildew can grow in the damp environment created by grout in the shower or bathroom, leading to further staining.
To help prevent your grout from getting dirty, be sure to seal it regularly. This will create a barrier that will make it more difficult for dirt and other materials to become trapped in the pores.
In addition, a regular cleaning with a mild detergent can help remove any dirt or debris embedded in the grout.
What Do You Need to Clean the Grout?
To clean the unsealed tile grout, you may find more than one of these cleaning products in your home. All of them are pretty cheap and easily obtainable…
- Baking Soda
- Warm water
In addition, you will need a bucket, grout brush, or sponge, a wet vacuum, and dry towels to complete the inventory of cleaning items.
As part of this process, it helps to know what is causing the grout to be discolored—the reasons why will help you choose the right cleaning product.
For a regular cleanup of dirty tile grout, for example, you can use a solution of white vinegar and water with a 1:1 ratio. This is what even professionals recommend to whiten old dirty grout.
But ammonia and baking soda are much more robust for heavily scummed grouts. If you need to use them, you must work carefully in a well-ventilated area.
How to Clean Dirty Grout Between Floor Tiles?
Now that you have the right cleaning supplies, the next step is to prepare the surface.
1- Clean the surface
Floor and tile cleaning can be done by sweeping away the loose dirt or using a vacuum.
Once the floor is clean, mop the surface with warm water and mild dish soap to help loosen the dirt in the grout.
2- Mix & apply the cleaning solution
Mix ¼ cup ammonia, 1/3 cup vinegar, and ½ cup baking soda into 7 cups water.
Stir the solution until it is ready for use, then pour it into a spray bottle.
3- Start with a small area of grout that is dirty
Spray the prepared solution. Let it sit for about five minutes, then wipe the solution away with a sponge or clean cloth.
If that does not work, spray the solution again and then work it into the grout using a grout brush. This should allow you to scrub out the stains that are present.
Finally, use a wet vacuum cleaner to extract the remaining dirt, residues, mold, or mildew that the cleaning solution has removed.
What if the above cleaning solution does not work on floor grout?
If the mixture of ammonia, vinegar, and baking soda does not work, you can always apply oxygen bleach, such as OxiClean.
It’s recommended that you mix the bleach with water, although if the stains are adamant, you can try straight bleach instead.
- Prep the surface as you would with the standard cleaning solution, but instead, apply the bleach.
- Let the bleach soak in, then scrub with a grout brush.
- Once completed, rinse and lift the solution out using a wet vac.
Be sure to wear gloves along with eye protection. Also, ensure the windows are open to allow fresh air into the room.
Steam Cleaning the Dirty Floor Tile Grout – Is It Safe?
If bleach also does not work, the most effective method is steam extraction which is usually performed by a commercial-quality steam extraction machine or a floor steamer machine that can be rented easily – although you can purchase one if you feel the cost is worth it.
With its high temperatures and deep-cleaning power, steam is an ideal tool for tackling grout stains.
Just hold the steam cleaner’s nozzle close to the grout line and let the machine do its work. In most cases, the grout will start to lighten up after a few minutes of treatment.
Plus, there’s no need to worry about damaging your tiles — as long as you keep the steam cleaner moving, you should be able to clean your grout without any problems.
Other than that, steam cleaning is also beneficial because:
- It uses less water with minimal rinsing
- Unlike regular mopping, it offers longer-lasting, cleaner grout results
- It’s a versatile method that can be used on different types of tile floors
- It’s physically easier as it doesn’t require much scrubbing on your hands and knees
- Lastly, it requires no harsh chemicals or acids, so your grout won’t degrade fast with time
But wait – before you proceed, you need to know a few more things, such as the ideal temperature, pressure, and distance from the grout.
a) Use the right cleaner
First, you’ll need to ensure that you’re using the right steam cleaner. For grout cleaning, use a handheld steamer rather than a larger, floor-mounted model.
Handheld steamers are less likely to damage grout, allowing you to apply the steam directly to the grout line and avoid spraying tiles with too much water.
b) Use the correct settings
In addition, pay attention to the pressure and temperature of the steamer. For most types of grout, a setting of medium pressure and temperature should be sufficient.
If you’re unsure what settings to use, starting with lower settings is always best, and then increasing the pressure or temperature if needed.
c) Hold the steamer correctly
Hold the steamer close to the grout — about 1-2 inches away is usually recommended.
If you hold it too far away, the steam will dissipate before it has a chance to penetrate the grout and break up the dirt and stains.
Conversely, holding it too close can damage the grout or even cause it to break down completely.
With the above things in mind, let’s look at the steps to steam-clean tile floors and grout…
Step 1. Vacuum the floor to remove any loose dirt or debris. Pay special attention to the area around the baseboards and corners, where dirt accumulates.
Step 2. Fill your steamer with distilled water according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Step 3. Set the steamer to medium pressure and temperature settings.
Step 4. Hold the steamer close to the grout line — about 1-2 inches away — and move it back and forth across the area.
Step 5. Continue until the entire area has been treated.
Step 6. Allow the area to dry completely before walking on it or replacing furniture.
A Few Additional Tips for Regular Maintenance of the Grout Color
Once you have cleaned your grout, you’ll want to take steps to prevent it from becoming stained again in the future.
First and foremost, it’s better to get at the unsealed, dirty grout when the discoloration begins than to wait until it has become pretty dark and challenging to clean.
The sooner you apply the cleaning solution, the easier it will be to lift the dirt and brighten the grout color.
- Sweep the floors to remove any loose dirt 2-3 times a week
- Then schedule regular cleaning sessions with a mild detergent (at least once a week) to help keep the grout in like-new condition.
- Avoid harsh cleaning products and chemicals that can damage the grout and make it more susceptible to staining.
- Avoid excessive moisture and standing water in kitchen and bathroom tiled floor areas – it can lead to mold and mildew growth, which can discolor the grout.
If your grout is significantly stained or damaged, it may be time to replace it. The cost of replacing grout will vary depending on the size of the area and the type of grout you choose.
But in general, you should expect to pay between $0.50 and $5.00 per square foot for grout replacement.
The Bottom Line
While standard mopping can help to remove surface dirt and debris, it isn’t always effective at getting deep into the pores of tile and grout. This can lead to a build-up of dirt and stains over time.
A floor steamer is arguably the easiest way to clean and lift dirt from grout, but it’s also the most expensive.
Using vinegar solution or bleach is more budget-friendly, so you can use it to clean the unsealed grout occasionally when needed. This will help maintain its like-new for quite some time.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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