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Methods for Cleaning Tile and Grout Effectively

Cleaning tile and grout surfaces doesn’t have to be an arduous task. In fact, the need for aggressive cleaning is typically a sign there’s something wrong. Daily maintenance should be effective, not exhausting. But there is one element critical to the success of any maintenance plan or practice – a sealed surface.

The best manner in which a tile and grout surface is sealed and protected will vary depending on the type of materials present. In some cases, due to certain tile types, it is better to leave the tile untouched and simply use an impregnating sealer in the grout lines. In other cases, the entire surface may be sealed against moisture and protected from damage by professional shields or coatings. Regardless of the situation or environment, sealing grout lines is key since grout is quite porous in its natural state. Without it, foul liquids and contaminants are absorbed into the myriad of pinholes present within grout. As mentioned in a CMM Magazine article, “Grout sits below the surface of the tiles; water finds the lowest point and brings any soils with it.” 

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Unsealed grout lines inevitably lead to dingy, discolored floors and foul odors.

First steps

The best time to seal and protect tile and grout surfaces is right after installation, but that isn’t always possible. When it isn’t, the next step is to determine whether the existing surface is sealed and without damage. If it is, routine maintenance can proceed. If not, it’s a good idea to have tile and grout professionals restore and protect dirty, damaged surfaces.

Routine maintenance

Routine maintenance should be performed to eliminate the buildup of dirt and contaminants on tile and grout surfaces. A sealed surface does not prevent it from getting dirty. “One often misunderstood attribute is that sealers do not make the tile, stone or grout maintenance-free,” states a TILE Magazine article. “The purpose of a sealer is to keep contaminants, including everyday dirt, ‘on’ the surface and not let them get ‘in’ the material.”

For basic ceramic tile and grout surfaces, the first step is to remove debris using a vacuum or dust mop. Then, apply a low VOC cleaner to the floor. It should be compatible for cleaning the grout lines as well. (Avoid products containing ammonia or acid, as they can discolor and damage the surface.) Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for dilution ratios and the appropriate dwell time, and then scrub the floor.

Best practice for removing soil from tile floors is the use of a scrubbing device and a wet vac. If available, an automatic scrubber does both functions at the same time and makes the job easier. If not available, a plastic or nylon deck brush is the best option.

Use a wet vac if available to pick up the dirty water and rinse water. Rinse the floor with clean water at least once and allow to dry.

While mopping has traditionally been a typical method of cleaning tile and grout, it is not recommended due its propensity to retain and distribute dirty water and soil back on the tile surface.

For unglazed tile, it is best to select a concentrated cleaner with a neutral pH. These are better at dealing with the oils and stains that often become embedded in unglazed tile. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the proper dwell time and agitation methods and be sure to rinse the floor with clean water at least once. For soiled wall tiles, use a spray cleaner designed to remove hard water deposits, mildew and soap scum. Apply it according to its instructions and rinse with clean water.

When dealing with the natural stone tile often used in kitchens or lobbies, many standard cleaning agents will be too acidic and damage a floor finish or the stone itself. A neutral pH cleaner is a better choice, so long as it’s a quality detergent intended for natural stone. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for dilution ratios and the appropriate dwell time and avoid abrasive pads or bristle brushes if agitating the floor. To remove tough stains, try a longer dwell time and follow with a thorough clean water rinse.

Deep cleaning and repairs

It is important to periodically perform more intensive cleaning on your tile and grout surfaces. In many cases, it’s wise to hire tile and grout professionals for occasional deep cleaning. They can also perform any necessary repairs to damaged surfaces and refresh tile and grout sealants as needed. Remember, surface coatings don’t last forever without occasional refreshing. Your local tile and grout professionals can work with you to create a sustainable maintenance plan that won’t break the bank and eases the burden of routine cleaning.

Hoyt Rosenbloom

About Hoyt Rosenbloom

Hoyt Rosenbloom is the Vice President of Operations at SaniGLAZE International, where he analyzes and improves organizational processes, and works to improve quality, productivity and efficiency. He also helps manage the marketing department and serves on the SaniGLAZE Marketing Advisory Committee. He is one of three Rosenbloom family members currently at SaniGLAZE, and enjoys working alongside his father, CEO, Percy Rosenbloom, and his brother, Carter Rosenbloom.