Grout is a mortar that is used to fill the empty spaces between ceramic and stone tiles. The spaces between tiles vary - they can be less than an eighth of an inch wide or as much as 1-inch wide. Identification of grout can help determine maintenance practices that will work best for the classification of grout.
The most common type of grout for applications of spaces wider than an eighth of an inch is a sanded grout. Primarily composed of Portland cement, sand and water, its texture is very porous and absorbent. Because of these properties, seals are required for the best results.
When the spaces are less than an eighth of an inch, grout without sand is commonly used. This type of grout is commonly called “wall grout.” Non-sanded grout is used primarily with stone tiles because of their potential to be scratched by the sand crystals. However, non-sanded grout is seldom used on floor tiles.
There are many types of latex additives that are mixed with both sanded and non-sanded grout, which are referred to as latex additive grout. These additives help reduce or prevent water absorption into the grout. Sometimes latex additives are added as powders into the mixture at the factory.
Epoxy grouts are waterless, two-part systems consisting of epoxy resins and a catalyst or hardener. The two parts are mixed on-site prior to use. These grouts are smooth in appearance, flexible and are very resistant to stains and mildew.
The properties of grout impact the floor maintenance regardless of whether you’re working on stone or clay floor coverings. Because grout lines are generally lower than the tiles and water seeks the path of least resistance, soil from daily traffic and cleaning are deposited on the grout. That is compounded when sanded grout is used because of the natural porosity characteristics of the material.
Under a microscope, the texture of the sanded grout is porous, and as soil collects in these pores, the grout lines turn dark. Even when sanded grout is sealed or when using latex additives, the same situation can occur, it will just be a little easier to clean. When floor seal and/or finish are used as the method of maintenance it can really complicate the condition because when the floor is stripped and refinished, the stripping solution will carry the emulsified seal/finish deep into the pores, making it extremely difficult to remove.
Initial maintenance of grout can be easy if the proper care has been taken during the installation process. Wiping up excess residue with a sponge and fresh water or cleaning solution during the installation removes it before it dries. If this process is not done or is done poorly, the results can be extremely difficult for the floor maintenance technician that comes in later to perform the initial maintenance. This is especially true of latex additive grout that has been allowed to dry - it can be extremely difficult to remove, particularly when on a textured surface.
Most installation jobs are done professionally, and in most situations, the installation company will either use additives in the grout or seal the grout with penetrating or impregnating sealants after installation.
The initial maintenance for this scenario is a medium to heavy scrub and rinse in conjunction with neutral cleaner or all-purpose cleaner and an appropriate pad or brush. If the grout has not been sealed, the technician may have to apply penetrating seal or impregnator. There are many brands to choose from and they can be solvent or aqueous, so consult the local stone and ceramic tile supplier for the best solution for your application.
The daily/routine maintenance will be predicated by the environmental conditions the ceramic or stone floors are exposed to. Generally, stone floors occupy lobbies and halls and therefore can be swept and mopped with neutral cleaner or specialized cleaners on a regular basis. Ceramic floors are also used in these areas and are treated the same way.
Ceramic floorings are also found in more functional areas such as restrooms and kitchens. When these conditions occur, the daily/routine maintenance will be pretty much the same with the exception of the cleaning chemicals used - degreasers in the kitchen and sanitizers in the restrooms.
Remember that water seeks the path of least resistance and will deposit soil at the lowest point - the grout. When mopping tile floors (stone or ceramic), it is important to remove as much cleaning solution as possible from the surface of the grout. This can be achieved by following the mopping process with wet vacuuming and a damp mop. Damp mopping requires wringing as much solution or water out of the mop head as possible. The fiber of the mop will then absorb more liquid from the low lying areas.
Over time the grout will become soiled. Periodic maintenance should be scheduled to keep this condition in check.
The most common service procedure will be the scrub and rinse. The soiling condition will dictate the aggressiveness of the scrub (light, medium or heavy), while the environment and traffic conditions will dictate the frequency (weekly, monthly or quarterly). Keeping the soil in the grout at a low level extends the time between restorative maintenance.
Machine scrubbing with cleaning solution and abrasive pads or brushes will loosen the soil and bring it to the surface for removal. The scrubbing machine can be rotary or cylindrical and brushes tend to work better than pads because of the irregularity of the grout surface. Extract the contaminated solution using a wet vacuum with floor squeegee or wand attachment. Then rinse the floor with clean water. In heavily soiled environments like kitchens and restrooms, it may be necessary to apply an ample amount of clean water to the floor and extract it with the wet vacuum before the final rinse.
One of the best methods of cleaning soil out of grout is by incorporating pressure washing technology with extraction technology. The pressurized extraction tools available for portable and truckmount extractors are excellent for periodic and some restorative maintenance. They work by using high-pressure jets spinning in a shroud that are angled to blow soil out of low-lying grout areas up into the shroud for the extractor to evacuate. By totally removing the soil, it can no longer settle back down into the grout lines.
When restorative maintenance is in order, the service becomes more complex because you will be incorporating cleaning of the grout in conjunction with the stone or ceramic floor. Stone floor grout cleaning is different from ceramic grout cleaning. Stone floor grout should be cleaned with water only or with mild to moderate cleaning solutions because harsh chemicals – alkaline or acidic – may cause damage to the surface of some stones. More aggressive alkaline and acidic cleaners may be used on the ceramic floors in tandem with abrasive pads, brushes and/or pressurized extraction equipment.
When soil becomes so embedded in the grout, something has to be done to remove it. Concentrated alkaline and acidic cleaners can be used to remove the bulk of the soil, but there will always be some residual soil embedded deep. As you will not be able to remove the soil, it may become necessary to remove a portion of the surface of the grout to a point just below the soil. This can be accomplished with the help of a grout saw. The grout saw is designed to abrade away a bit of the grout to expose fresh grout below. Be careful when using this tool, as you can sometimes go too far and expose the spacers below.
Once the grout has been totally cleaned, thoroughly rinsed and is completely dry, re-application of penetrating or impregnating seals can be applied. These can be applied to just the grout lines or applied over the whole floor, allowing seal to penetrate with removal of excess seal from the surface of the tile. In some cases new grouting or a colored application of protective or decorative grout may be applied. There are a number of franchise companies that provide training and education in the use of their product lines for individuals that want to focus on this market.
The floor maintenance program developed for grout should take into consideration all factors such as soil, environment and traffic conditions in addition to the program developed for the stone or ceramic floor covering. Grout is by far one of the most difficult surfaces for the floor maintenance technician to maintain, but with understanding of the flooring material and the type of grout it is set in, the challenge is reduced.