The floor in the master bathroom used to be white tile surrounded by black grout. I gave it a thorough sweep and mop each week, and paid it no further heed. Then one day I noticed that the grout close to the walls was a different shade than the solid black grout in the middle of the room. I grabbed a sponge and some cleaning fluids and sprayed down a grout line. And then, after five minutes’ intensive scrubbing, jumped up with a repressed a yelp and tried to hop out of the bathroom using the old “lines between the tiles are lava” game. Turns out, the grout in our bathroom is white. Only the disgusting bacterial soup living in the grout lines was black.
The problem with online research is that it turns up a lot too many options for dealing with a given problem. Clean your grout with vinegar! No, vinegar doesn’t work, clean it with baking powder! You naturopath people are idiots, only bleach will do it! Ha! Regular bleach doesn’t do a thing, only oxygen bleach has an effect! Nonsense, you’re wasting your time unless you buy a specialized product! What kind of moron cleans their own grout? Just hire the team from Home Depot!…and so on.
I’d already tried bleach, but with disappointing results for the amount of effort. This grime was just too old, too deep, and too well imbedded. So I decided to go straight for the big guns and picked up a bottle of Tile Guard Extra Strength Tile and Grout Cleaner at Lowes along with a bottle of grout sealant. Since there was only one option for cleaners the decision was pretty easy. If you don’t seal grout after cleaning it, it will begin accumulating grit again immediately and you’ll have your work to do over in a few months.
In case you’re feeling like tackling the job, these were the required steps for my (uber-nasty) grout. It was worth it, see? [Scrubbed lines on left, original color on right]
1) Clear moveable items like trash cans and bath mats off the floors.
2) Sweep or vacuum the room.
3) Mop the floor and let it dry.
4) Put on a good recorded book. Pull on a mask and eye-protection. This stuff is bad to inhale. Spray down a small area – I found two square feet at a time was about right. [This isn’t in the instructions, but I found it helpful to then quickly brush the sprayed material along the grout lines to make sure they were all covered.]
5) Let sit two minutes.
6) Scrub along the grout lines with a toothbrush (please, not one you intend to use for your teeth in the future). The grit should come up pretty easily with a few vigorous brushes to each grout line.
7) That’d do it if our floor weren’t so far gone, but in our case it was just the beginning. Scrub over the same area with the metal side of a metal-backed sponge (don’t do this if it will damage your tile).
8 ) Scrub over the same area with a nylon scrub brush.
9) Rinse/clean off the area with a damp sponge.
10) Congratulations. You’ve done two square feet, which is roughly like laying the first three bricks of a sky-scraper, but don’t let that discourage you. Move on to the next section and repeat steps 4 through 9 until the floor is complete.
11) Again, on the being-thorough-because-this-floor-was-far-beyond-a-year’s-worth-of-grit dirty line, I then went back to dried sections and painted over all the grout lines again with a 50/50 bleach/warm water solution. You want little standing pools over the lines. Leave the bleach solution to sit until dried out. Wipe up the areas with a sponge.
12) Once the entire floor has been treated, scrubbed by toothbrush, sponge, and scrub brush, wiped with a sponge, treated with bleach, and wiped clean again, your floor is looking about as presentable as it’s ever going to get and your wrists, back, and shoulders will be in absolute agony so you may as well figure that’s as good as it’s going to get. At which point, you still need to seal the floor. Once everything has dried completely, follow the directions on your bottle of sealant to apply it along all the grout lines. Wipe up any excess that spills onto your tiles with a dry paper towel. Let the sealant dry as well.
13) Take some Tylenol, and sit and stare admiringly at your floor because you’re too darn tired to do anything else. Repeat on a yearly (rather than decade-ly) basis to reduce the agony of future cleans.
Total project cost: Under $10 for all supplies. And a few years off the useful life of my joints.
The sad fact is that last night I had a nightmare about cleaning grout. I dreamed we had another bathroom I hadn’t even known about. It was dirtier than the first, with tiny half-inch tiles (i.e. 10 times the grout). It wasn’t all bad though – while my dream-self stared in disbelief at the unexpected floor, my logical self thought “At least I can use this floor to see if the Oxygen Bleach method works better!”