ICS Magazine

Grout Cleaning Basics

February 1, 2001
Your maintenance staff has been doing an excellent job of maintaining the ceramic floor lobby, but it still does not look good. The grout is discolored, dirty and in terrible shape. Your staff has tried everything to get it clean but to no avail. What can you do to get the grout looking new again and more importantly, keep it looking new?

Grout is often dirty due to the fact that it is recessed. When a floor pad or brush is used on the floor, it simply glides over the grout and never touches it; hence, not cleaning it. In order to get into the grout, you’ll need a brush that will reach down into the grout lines. There are several manufacturers that make these types of bushes.

Another way of reaching into the grout is to use a machine with a rotary brush. There are also several manufacturers that produce these machines. Of course, if the floor is small enough, you can always scrub the grout by hand with a narrow scrub brush.

Now, once you have the proper brushes and machinery, it is time to choose the proper chemicals. The main reason maintenance personnel have difficulty cleaning grout is because of improper chemicals. Grout becomes dirty and soiled by acrylic finishes and excess cleaners collecting in the recesses. In addition, the grout also accumulates dirt from traffic. In order to clean the grout effectively, two different chemicals are needed. Acrylic finishes and excess cleaners can be removed using a standard floor finish stripper. The dirt can be removed using a mild acid wash. The following is an eight-step grout-cleaning process. Do not use this procedure to clean grout on marble floors.

    • 1. Prepare a solution of acrylic stripper according to the label directions.

    • 2. Apply stripper to the grout using a mop. Be sure to flood the grout with the stripper.

    • 3. Allow stripper to dwell for five minutes or more, than agitate with a brush.

    • 4. Pick up stripper with a wet vacuum and rinse grout with clean water. If the grout has a heavy build up of finish, this procedure may have to be repeated until all the finish is removed.

    • 5. Prepare a solution of Sulfamic acid and water per directions. Sulfamic acid can be purchased at most home centers or tile supply stores. Use only Sulfamic acid. Do not use hydrochloric of muriatic acid. These acids are too harsh and will damage the grout. Sulfamic acid is an odorless acid and will not damage the grout if used properly.

    • 6. Apply the acid solution to the grout and allow it to dwell for several minutes before agitating it with a brush.

    • 7. Pick up acid solution with a wet vac and rinse the grout several times with clean clear water.

    • 8. Allow grout to dry for several days before applying a sealer.

    The above procedure should clean most grout. If it doesn’t work, then the grout may need to be replaced.

    A word on sealing grout: One of the best sealers for grout is what is known as a penetrating sealer or impregnator. These sealers are sold for protecting marble and stone, but also work to seal grout. They are easy to apply by mopping the sealer over the entire floor (tile and all). The sealer will flow into the grout joints. The excess sealer is removed from the tile by wiping with rags or buffing with a white pad or carpet bonnet.