How to clean grout and tile floors

How to clean grout and tile

Ever scrub and mop your tile floors or walls, step back, and realize it still looks grungy for some reason? The answer: it’s not your tile, it’s your grout. Grout can attract tiny dirt particles which can stain it and can leave it looking grimy and dingy over time. 

Cleaning grout and tile can be a really challenging and time-consuming effort often ending in frustration.  With these tried and true methods and the cleaning supplies described below, learn how to clean grout and what the best way to clean grout while saving time and energy.

The critical component in how to clean tile grout on floors is actually to clean the grout between them. Skipping this detail means your floors with still look dingy even after mopping. Because tiles are stain-resistant, they clean up rather easily. Grout is a whole other beast. Its porous nature means it absorbs dirt and spills showing stains easily. Luckily, with regular cleaning and maintenance, you can avoid these issues. Below we’ve laid out a comprehensive guide to tile, grout, and everything you need to know to clean and maintain it, extending the life of your tile.

Tile and grout cleaners: the basics

Builders use the porous material called grout to fill in the spaces between tiles. This seals the area against spills, and it also makes a smooth surface, allowing the tiles to stand out. There are three types of grout.

Epoxy grout is the most durable grout, being resistant to both stains and water damage. It is most commonly found in kitchen backsplashes and bathrooms.

Sanded grout is found most commonly in rooms with broader grout lines and with handmade tiles. It is more resistant to cracking and shrinking while also helping with slip resistance.

Non-sanded grout is used where tiles have very narrow grout lines. If used on wider lines it will crack and because of shrinkage and is unable to bond properly. This type of grout is found most commonly on vertical walls.

Tile floors are usually made of one of three substances: porcelain, ceramic, or stone like marble. For cleaning purposes, you need to know only a few key facts. 

Porcelain tile is the least porous and most durable of three. It is commonly found in kitchens, bathrooms, and other high-traffic areas. It can also be used outdoors. 

Ceramic tile is softer but is finished with a glazing process that makes it impervious to splashes and spills.

Stone tile is the most porous of the three. Because of this, they need to be refinished with a stone sealant every 2-3 years. These tiles also require gentler cleaning products due to their porous nature.

Daily cleaning for wall tile

For shower stalls and bathtubs, a daily cleaning routine will keep your grout and tile looking fresher for longer between deep cleaning sessions. Get a good squeegee with a wide head that is easy to hold. After every shower or bath remove water and wipe down the tile with the squeegee. Once a day just spray the area with a mild daily tile cleaner and wipe clean.

Weekly and as-needed cleaning for all tile surfaces

Even with daily cleaning of your wall tile, you’ll still need to do a more thorough cleaning once a week and/or as needed. This is especially true for floors as they are the most high-traffic areas.

Equipment needed

First, you’ll need some supplies. Below is the equipment list you’ll need to complete this task.

  • A soft cloth for wiping.
  • Cleaning solution spray (more on that below).
  • A soft brush for scrubbing the grout: an electric toothbrush, regular toothbrush or other small brush will do. Do not use a metal brush: you’ll risk damaging your tile.
  • Bucket for warm water.
  • A mop or another clean, soft cloth for a final finishing touch.

What do I use?

First, you’ll need to consider the type of tile or floor surface you’re looking to clean. This will determine what the best way to clean your tile floors is and what will be safest for your floor. 

For porous or coarse tile like marble, avoid vinegar, bleach, and acidic products because they can stain your tile. 

For most other tiles, vinegar-based products or other more acidic products are perfectly safe. Always test the cleaning solution on a tiny, inconspicuous place before applying to the entire area. If you use commercial cleaners, always follow the instructions carefully. Regular use of these caustic products will erode your grout so use sparingly.

Homemade cleaners

Easy to make, homemade grout and tile cleaners are probably the best grout cleaner in addition to being safer and gentler on your floors than commercial cleaners. Below are the top-rated homemade grout cleaner recipes that use few ingredients and are quick and inexpensive to make.

The first grout cleaner has three simple ingredients: dish soap, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda. Mix ½ cup baking soda, 1 tsp dish soap, and ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide together. 

One important note: if you use a regular tile spray for spot cleaning or wall tile, check the list of ingredients. If it contains vinegar, make sure to thoroughly rinse the area with warm water before applying any cleaning products. Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar should not be mixed and can potentially ruin your tile and grout.

Why these work

For even less hassle and a more minimalist approach use equal parts baking soda and hydrogen peroxide: sprinkle the baking soda directly onto the grout and then spritz with hydrogen peroxide.

Unlike commercial-grade products, baking soda acts as a gentle exfoliator on porous surfaces: gently remove dirt without causing damage to your tile or grout.

Hydrogen peroxide is a proven alternative to bleach: safer for your floors. It will eliminate toxins and germs while brightening your tile and grout. Hydrogen peroxide also has the added benefit of being non-toxic, and it breaks down into oxygen and water.

Add in the dish soap to cut through greasy grime found in kitchens and the like.

How to clean tile floors: the cleaning process

Quite a simple process once you have the right tools, follow these quick steps below.

  1. Wipe down the area with a clean damp cloth to remove any surface dirt or grime.
  2. Apply the cleaner directly onto your grout. It’s best to leave it for 5-10 minutes to give it time to really get into the surfaces. This is called dwell time.
  3. After the dwell time has passed, you’ll want to take your small brush or toothbrush and scrub your grout. Because its porous surface has tiny, minute holes and spaces it is easy for grime and dirt particles to get trapped in them. A firm brush will be able to loosen those particles, making it easier for a mop or cloth to wipe up.
  4. After scrubbing the whole floor go over it again with a mop and/or a clean, damp cloth. Use a gentle floor cleaner or a few drops of dish detergent in warm water to clean the tile. This final step should remove any lingering cleaning agents as well as leave your floor gleaming.

Use these tips for extra-stubborn stains.

If you have any particularly stubborn stains that do not come off with this method mix two parts baking soda with one-part water. Gently apply it to the stain and let it soak overnight. The next day take a nylon brush and scrub. Finish by a quick mop or wipe with a soft damp cloth.

If the step above fails to work, here’s one last trick. Take a small piece of fine-grain sandpaper and fold it. Gently work the sandpaper into the grout between tiles and slide the creased edge along it. Rinse the area with warm water when you’re done.

Prolong life between cleanings

Get a silicone-based grout sealer for extra protection. After letting the grout air dry for at least 24 hours, apply this sealer to protect the area from future staining. Regularly applying sealant every 2-3 years will help protect the grout from staining. Don’t be afraid to apply it more frequently in high-traffic areas like your kitchen and bathroom. The added bonus is with extra protection you’ll find yourself having to clean the grout less frequently.

Beyond cleaning

There will come a time when your grout will be too old for simple cleaning and will require you to change it.

If you see the tile or grout beginning to flake, break, any cracks, or tiles coming up or off it is time to change the grout. As soon as you notice this happening, take action. Damaged or aged grout puts your floors at risk for damage as water will be able to penetrate the surface and can cause much worse and more expensive issues. It is possible to change it out yourself or to hire a professional who knows how to remove grout the right way.

The bottom line

The lesson of this article is that to prolong the life of your floor or wall tile, regularly care for it. Regularly scheduled deep cleanings, a daily and weekly routine, and applying grout sealant at regular intervals will protect your tile and extend its life, saving you money, time, and hassle in the long run.

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