Hard Floor Maintenance / Web Exclusive Features

The Nitty Gritty of Tile and Grout Cleaning

If you are not already offering this service I might suggest you are walking over substantial income every day

March 10, 2014

The heartwarming scent of freshly cooked pepperoni pizza hung delightfully in the air. I was ready to sit down to a fat delicious gooey pie and prepare for heartburn joy the rest of the night. But it was not to be.

My chemist joined me as we loaded in just about everything we could get our hands on to clean the tile and grout floor in this pizza joint. This was 13 or 14 years ago and we were on a tear, developing chemicals and tools to clean dirty grout and tile. We had a great experience that night as we tried a bunch of chemical concoctions, accessories and brushes. We learned what worked and especially what we needed to develop to make this endeavor even more successful.

Chemical Solutions

Your favorite cleaning solution may vary from my favorite, but the need to go after heavily soiled grout will most always call for an aggressive chemical solution. This is usually a high alkaline solvent laden product. Second, you will need a strong acid side product. Some stains and soil are embedded in the grout and in order to remove them you will need to take a thin layer of grout with them. I prefer an organic salt-based acid that, while very strong on the gout, is much safer if it comes in contact with skin. A third cleaning product I insist on having is a peroxide-based, mildly acid cleaner that can be used as a standalone product on light to medium soil or in place of the organic acid as a follow up after using the strong alkaline cleaner. It will very slightly etch the grout while lightning it with the peroxide.


Millions of dollars have been made by professional carpet cleaners who apply aftermarket protectors on carpets. This service is good for the customer and good for the pro. Why not do the same and protect the grout? Grout is very porous and should always be protected after cleaning. Ask your customer if they have ever seen an oil stain on a driveway or garage. It penetrates into the cement and is very difficult to get out. Grout is a form of cement and is just as absorbent. Without protection the grout will literally soak in grease, oil and soil. Water-based protectors are best because they are safer and you do not have to wait until the floor is perfectly dry as with solvent-based products.

Application Devices

Our discovery – when applying the alkaline cleaner the best tool is a battery powered electric sprayer. Use a spray jet with a 0.5 opening or bigger to eliminate atomization of the solution. A good electric sprayer will allow you to spray 10 gallons or more on a single charge. Your object is to get plenty of solution onto the floor so it can dwell and cut into the greases, oil and soil to make your cleaning and extraction step easier. Do not allow the surface to dry before cleaning and extracting.

If you are applying an acid-based chemical do not use your electric sprayer. The acids will go to work on the metal parts of the sprayer and shorten its life. Although I am not a fan of pump sprayers, when considering even application and efficiency, this is the time to use an all plastic sprayer that will resist acid solutions. You may also consider simply mopping on the solution.


While most readers are now using high pressure spinning extraction tools, you may often find the need to add extra agitation to the grout lines with brushes. You may be using a large electric rotary or vibrating machine fitted with a brush. It could be a dual brush counter rotating machine. These can be very effective for large areas.

I have generally found that my high pressure spinning/extraction tool does most of the work without the need for the large machines, but in almost every case a small grout brush is needed for really tough spots in the grout, corners or baseboards.

The grout brush is an obvious choice for those nasty lines. The grout brush has a tapered configuration that allows you to brush hard into the smallest crevices with greater control and speed.

The corner and edge brush is unique in its ability to get into the corners completely while doubling as a baseboard and coving brush. This high-quality brush is made in small quantities, so it is quite expensive, but it will quickly pay for itself with its versatility.

Tools for Cleaning

The high-pressure spinning extraction tool is the most widely used tool for cleaning and extraction. They come as small as 5-in. in diameter up to 15-in. for higher production needs. Usually, these tools are run between 700 and 1200 PSI, so make sure the machine (truckmount or portable) you are using is capable of those pressures.

The smaller tools, 5-in to 7-in are very effective devices. They get into tighter spaces and actually have the capacity to clean better, while all the power is concentrated into a smaller space. Exciting innovations allow you to use the same tool hand operated or attached to a wand for stand-up operation. They are great in bathrooms, showers and tiled countertops.

In addition, non-spinning jetted tools are often required for specialty cleaning. The most used is the single jet tool with one jet gathering all the power, close to the grout, to really blast a single stubborn grout line. This tool with other options can also clean coving, edges and adapt to a larger four-jet tool for wide area coverage.

Following the Cleaning

As suggested above, sealing the grout is essential in almost every situation. Let’s talk about the available tools for doing this.

My favorite is the Injectimate grout sealing kit. It gives you total control over the amount of sealer applied because the flow of sealer stops after each squeeze of the trigger! You are standing upright and even tall individuals can apply the sealer without back strain. The sealer flows through a small brush which spreads it evenly onto the grout. This applicator should only be used with water-based sealers.

The most popular applicator is the Grout Wand. It is inexpensive and basically a throw away tool after a few uses. It is also a stand-up tool with pretty good control of the sealer flow. It utilizes a small rolling wheel in contact with the grout, and putting pressure downward releases the sealer. This applicator should only be used with water-based sealers.

The Grout Stick is also a stand-up applicator. The flow of the sealer is not as controllable as compared to the other tools. Once the valve is open you will want to keep moving steadily along to keep the sealer going down evenly. The advantage to this tool is its compatibility with solvent-based sealers.

Finally, for counter tops, showers and tight spaces, the Hydro Stick is the applicator of choice. It is a hand applicator and especially useful if applying colored sealer. It comes with brushes and the sealer is very controllable just by squeezing the bottle. The applicator can be used with solvent or water based sealers.

 With the right equipment and chemical, tile and grout cleaning can be very effective and profitable. If you are not already offering this service I might suggest you are walking over substantial income every day. 

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