ICS Magazine

Restroom Floor Cleaning: Focus on Grout

July 12, 2004

While attending a recent seminar in one of the most fashionable hotels in Chicago, I became dissatisfied with the overall cleanliness of the building because of the condition of one specific area: the grout in the restroom floor.

Entering the room, I noticed the elegant white marble floor tiles and how they were interlaced with black tiles for a dramatic effect. However, as I looked more closely, I saw that the grout areas, especially in corners and along the wall edges, were actually quite dirty. Much of it was surface dirt, which could be removed quickly and easily, but a great deal of it was soil and grime embedded deep into the grout.

After discovering this, my entire attitude toward the hotel changed abruptly, and I started looking for other unkempt or poorly maintained areas of the building-which I was able to find easily. Dirty grout can have a powerful effect. Finding it changed my views about this "classy" establishment. To retain its reputation and excellent image, grout cleaning and restoration should be one of the hotel's top priorities.

The Challenge
Cleaning restroom grout is an issue in all types of facilities-elegant hotels, schools, office buildings, and medical clinics, among others. In fact, according to David Frank, founder of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences, "Cleaning grout is the No. 1 challenge facing facility managers today, not only in restrooms but also in lobbies, kitchens, and showers. Building occupants, property managers and customers are quick to notice the appearance of dirty grout lines in restrooms along with improperly maintained flooring."

With this in mind, cleaning technicians should develop a restroom-cleaning strategy that not only cleans and restores unsightly grout areas but also effectively keeps them clean in the long run.

Developing a Grout-Cleaning Strategy
A successful, on-going restroom grout-cleaning and floor care strategy requires an understanding of the types of floor and grout they are cleaning, the chemicals best suited for the job, and the types of floor care equipment available.

Before any type of grout-cleaning strategy can begin, you must know exactly what type of floor surface is being cleaned-marble, granite, terrazzo, ceramic tile, etc. Manufacturers can help identify floor surface types and provide recommendations for cleaning chemicals as well as approved sealers, strippers, and finishes. Just as important is knowing of what type of grout has been used to install the floor, along with the type of soil present.

Chemical Selection
There are a variety of chemicals and detergents available to clean and restore grout. These range from very aggressive and more toxic solutions to chemicals that are "green" or environmentally preferable. Frank suggests selecting chemicals that require the least effort, have the lowest odors (volatile organic compounds), are easy to clean up, and can be disposed of safely without risk to the cleaning worker, building occupants, or the facility being cleaned.

Typically, grout cleaning requires a stripper, a baseboard cleaner, a degreaser, and mild acidic detergents. All chemicals used should be tested first in an inconspicuous area using a handheld scrub brush. Most chemicals will need dwell time; actual scrubbing should begin about 10 to 15 minutes after the chemical has been applied.

Familiarize yourself with the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all products used as well as their specific safety requirements. Wear protective gear, including gloves and goggles, at all times.

Equipment selection is an important piece of the grout-cleaning puzzle. Machines available range from 175-rpm floor buffers and vapor machines to rotary and cylindrical floor machines. Square footage, foot traffic and floor covering type all play a role in machine selection; a thorough knowledge of your facility's needs and requirements is key making the correct choice.

Grout maintenance is also very labor-intensive and costly in both supplies and time. It demands that technicians have a thorough understanding of floor types and the chemicals and materials required. Keep informed of advances in floor care technology to perform your job more efficiently, improve productivity and customer satisfaction, and reduce costs.