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When Cleaning Products Stop Working – Troubleshooting Potential Issues

Tile and grout surfaces have been valued for centuries – even millennia – for their dependability, a quality imparted by the material’s incredible strength and longevity. 

Yet, despite its durability, tile and grout must be regularly maintained to prevent damage and soiling issues. When it comes to daily cleaning, a simple straightforward maintenance plan utilizing a non-acidic cleaner works best. Cement, a central component of many grouts, will dissolve when treated with acids.

Occasionally, a cleaning product that once performed well stops being effective. When this occurs, grout lines may not come clean, the tile may appear dull or feel tacky, and the entire surface may seem to soil more quickly than it did before. Several factors may be at play when this happens. 

Improper Cleaning

Today’s tile and grout come in an astonishing array of materials, colors and styles, and many issues can arise from simply choosing the wrong cleaner for your tile or grout type.

In most cases, an alkaline cleaner is best, but even those can damage surfaces if maintenance isn’t performed properly. “Even good alkaline cleaners, if not properly rinsed, will leave a sticky soap film,” states the Tile Council of North America, Inc., “This usually attracts dirt. In fact, truly clean ceramic tile without any sticky soap film will stay very clean as tile does not tend to hold an electrostatic charge (which can attract some kinds of dirt). The absolutely best way to clean grout is to apply the cleaner and then vacuum ("shop vac") up the dirty water. This lifts the dirt off the joint. Apply rinse water and vacuum that water up. This lifts off any remaining soap film.”

Many cleaning chemicals advertised as “no-rinse” products do, in fact, leave a residue behind. Without occasional rinsing with clean water, that residue can build up over time. Though it may be invisible to the eye, its stickiness will attract dirt and contaminants, causing the surface to soil quickly. Periodic extraction with clean water and a wet vac is key to preventing a buildup of surfactants on tile and grout surfaces.

A Lack of More Intensive Maintenance 

Using the proper chemicals and rinsing thoroughly are critical components of maintaining tile and grout surfaces, but they aren’t the whole picture. Even well-maintained surfaces require periodic deep cleaning. 

Deep cleaning is necessary to remove any mold or bacterial issues, as well as a build-up of mineral deposits. As stated in an article from Healthcare Facilities Today, “…even ceramic tile installed with 100% epoxy grout will need to be deep cleaned occasionally to remove build-up of dirt, grease, soap or other types of soil and prevent grout discoloration.” When periodic deep cleaning is not done, the build-up of surfactants and other unwanted residues results in a tacky surface that soils quickly and often appears dull or discolored. Grout lines will also darken and become more difficult to clean satisfactorily. 

In response, janitorial staff frequently try more aggressive cleaning methods, like employing harsh chemicals with extended dwell times and using floor machines or scrubbing pads with hard bristles. These methods tend to accelerate the issue because they often abrade the tile’s surface and deteriorate grout lines, creating even more cracks and pinholes for dirt and bacteria to hide in and making the surface even more difficult to clean.

Damaged Sealants or Coatings

Depending on the type of materials, all tile and grout surfaces should either be treated with an impregnating sealer or topical floor coating. These are applied by professional tile and grout restoration companies and are a critical element of having a successful maintenance plan that can achieve attractive, sanitary surfaces without excessive labor. 

Because grout is naturally porous (as is some tile to a lesser degree), wastewater and contaminants eventually work their way into the pores, causing discoloration and odor, which is why sealing surfaces is so important.

When aggressive cleaning is done to combat excessive buildup – whether by floor machines, harsh chemicals, pressure sprayers or hard bristles and pads – existing sealants or coatings are often damaged. This causes porosity to become an issue again. 

In these situations, it’s a good idea to call in tile and grout restoration professionals to deep clean problematic surfaces and restore any necessary sealants or topical coatings

These solutions not only sanitize the surface and repel moisture, they also protect against scuffing and scratching, chemical damage and high levels of foot traffic. Again, periodic deep cleaning is the key to a routine maintenance program that works and continues to work. Most tile and grout restoration companies will work with you to create an appropriate schedule for periodic deep cleaning based on your facility's specific needs and budget.

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.