Category: Flooring & Stairs

How To: Remove and Replace Grout

Even the best tiling jobs show their age eventually. When that day comes, remove the grout and replace it to rejuvenate the installation and make the surface gleam again.

How to Remove Grout


Several years after you complete a bathroom or kitchen renovation, it inevitably starts to show some wear. One culprit is grout: Over time, it stains, cracks, and becomes loose, even if it was professionally installed. And if the grouting was done poorly to begin with, then the job really isn’t likely to last very long. Fortunately, it’s well within the range of the average do-it-yourselfer to remove and replace grout. Indeed, regrouting tile can restore lost luster and is well worth the time and effort.

How to Remove Grout - Tool


How to Remove Grout
It’s certainly possible to remove grout by hand, the old-fashioned way, but it’s recommended that you opt for a power tool. Doing so makes much quicker work of what can be a labor-intensive, time-consuming, and potentially frustration-inducing home project.

If you’re up for taking the power-tool-free route, you need a manual grout removal tool. These typically come in one of two flavors. One looks like a screwdriver with a triangular carbide blade mounted on its end. How does it work? You pull the tool through a grout joint until at least one-eighth of an inch has been removed. The second type of manual grout removal tool features a carbide grit-edged blade—that’s why it’s sometimes known as a grout saw. To use one, you simply saw into the the old grout in the same way that you would saw into wood.

If power tools are more your style, you have at least a couple of effective options. One is to outfit your reciprocating saw with an accessory that is specially designed to remove grout (pictured at right). Alternatively, you can opt for an oscillating tool, such as the Dremel Multi-Max; these excel at smaller jobs, because they afford a high degree of control. No matter what power tool you end up choosing to help you remove grout, remember to keep a chisel or a flat-blade screwdriver on hand. The stubborn bits often need a little coaxing to come out.

Related: Top Tips for Cleaning Grout Lines

Regrouting Tile
The first step in regrouting tile is to mix a certain amount of grout powder with a specific quantity of water. Stick closely to the manufacturer’s directions. Whether you pick sanded or unsanded grout depends on the desired width of the joints between tiles. Unsanded grout is typically used to achieve relatively thin grout lines; the sanded variety is recommend for joints any wider than one-eighth of an inch.


Once you have properly mixed the grout in a bucket, apply it with a plastic towel, then use a grout float to press the mortar deeply into the joints. As you do this, hold the float at a 45-degree angle to the wall or floor surface. Once you are satisfied with the distribution of grout, the next step is to clean off the excess before it has the chance to harden. To do this, use the grout float again, this time holding the tool at an 80-degree angle to skim the excess grout from the face of the tiles. In concert with the grout float, a large, damp sponge can be handy for wiping off any lingering grout haze. (Rinse the sponge often and change the rinse water as it becomes cloudy.) Finally, allow the grout to harden for a period of 24 to 48 hours. Walk on the tile surface only after that amount of time has elapsed.

Quick Tip: Laying Tile

Before you start laying tile in earnest, set the dry tiles into the pattern you want, while marking those tiles which must be cut in order to fit.

When laying tile, here’s an easy way to save some time before applying any mortar. Dry-fit the tiles on the surface you’re working with. Next, mark any pieces that will need to be cut. That will help you determine how to get the best design and fit, and doing so will enable you to avoid the mess of pulling up the tiles after the mortar’s applied.

For more on tile, consider:

Tiling Tools
How To: Install Tile
Laying Glazed Ceramic Floor Tiles (VIDEO)

How To: Lay a Subfloor

Before you put down hardwoods, vinyl tile, or carpeting, you must first install a subfloor. Here, learn what steps are involved in this straightforward, important aspect of homebuilding.

Here’s how to lay a no-squeak subfloor. Apply a generous bead of panel adhesive to the tops of your floor joists. Lay sheets of 3/4-inch tongue-in-groove plywood, staggering the joints as you go. Use a sledgehammer against a two-by-four to drive the plywood together tightly. Secure each sheet in place with galvanized eight-penny flooring nails.

For more on flooring, consider:

Wood Flooring 101
Installing a Subfloor (VIDEO)
Enhanced Plywood and Subfloor Products

What Would Bob Do? Fixing Scratches on Wood Floors

Over time, a hardwood floor is bound to get scratched, nicked, or even gouged. Here are a few techniques for handling these imperfections—and some tips for keeping them from happening in the first place.

How to Fix Scratches on Hardwood Floors


I have various scratches on my wood floors. Some add character, but some are just too big and need to go away. What is the easiest way to fix scratches on hardwood floors without causing any lasting damage?

Apply wax or acrylic floor polish over light scratches in hardwood floors, but take caution: Over time, such polishes can dull and darken the floor, eventually requiring removal. That’s never an easy task; it involves powerful cleaning agents (for example, mineral spirits and ammonia) and no small quantity of elbow grease.

Related: Rx for Hardwood Floors

Alternatively, coat floors with a product specially formulated to renew the wood—Bona Pro Series Hardwood Floor Refresher, for example, or Hardwood Floor Reviver from Minwax. Sanding isn’t required, but to achieve best results, you must thoroughly clean the floor prior to application. Also, allow ample time for the finish to dry. Plan to reapply the product every several months and always refrain from using any such treatment on wood laminate or factory-finished floors.

If a scratch has penetrated deep enough to expose bare wood, there’s a low-effort way to conceal the imperfection: Simply fill it in with a stain that matches the floor color. Stain markers and blending pencils are commonly available in a range of tones; check your local hardware stores or home improvement retail chain store. But traditional wood stain works equally well. Apply it with a small brush or even a cotton swab—just be sure to wipe away any excess before it has the chance to dry.

To address a deep, wide gouge, opt for a precolored latex wood filler, one that closely matches the color of your hardwood. Apply the filler with a plastic putty knife, which is the tool least likely to cause any further damage to the floor. Once the filler has dried completely, use fine-grit sandpaper to level the surface so that no difference in elevation exists between the patch and its surrounding area. Finally, coat varnish (thinned with 10 or 20 percent turpentine) over the repair.

Whether from pets or children, boots or rolling furniture, unprotected wood floors are virtually certain to get scratched. If you’re committed to keeping your hardwoods in tip-top shape, consider the following tried-and-true methods of safeguarding wood against the most common threats to its flawlessness:

1. Position fiber doormats near all exterior doors, as tracked-in dirt and grit are the enemy of beautiful, pristine hardwood floors.

2. Encourage friends and family to remove their shoes upon entering the house—especially women in high heels!

3. Sweep often in order to contain any dirt or grit that manages to sneak in despite your best attempts at barring its entry.

4. If you are going to slide furniture across a wood floor, always place felt protective pads under its legs (or use a piece of leftover carpeting, soft side down).

5. Restrict medium- and large-size dogs from all rooms with hardwood flooring, or be sure to always keep their nails neatly trimmed.

How To: Clean Porcelain Tile

A beautiful and extremely durable flooring option, porcelain tile will retain its sparkling finish for years—so long as it's cleaned regularly and appropriately. Here's how.

How to Clean Porcelain Tile


Porcelain tile consistently ranks as a preferred flooring choice among homeowners, partly due to its beauty—the material comes in a veritable rainbow of hues—and partly due to its stain- and moisture-resistance. Though it loses luster over time, porcelain tile can be easily cleaned and restored to its original shine.

Related: Top Tips for Cleaning Grout Lines

Regularly maintaining porcelain tile is the best way to keep it in tip-top condition. As often as two times per week, sweep with a soft-bristle broom before vacuuming (with the brush attachment). Once a month, mix 1/4 cup white vinegar with two gallons of water (or purchase one of the many suitable commercial cleansers), then apply the solution with a sponge mop. Rinse with plain water, then dry the surface completely with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth.

There are different types of porcelain tile (unpolished/unglazed, polished/glazed, or textured) and for each type, a different set of care recommendations applies:

Cleaning Unpolished/Unglazed Porcelain Tile
• Vacuum and sweep the area thoroughly to remove dust and dirt.

• Taking one section at a time (two or four feet square), saturate the tile surface with a vinegar-and-water mixture or a commercial cleanser.

• Allow the cleanser to soak into the tile for five to ten minutes, but do not allow it to dry.

• Scrub stained areas with a soft-bristle brush.

• Wipe away the dirty cleaning solution and rinse the area with clean, hot water.

• Dry the tile with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth.

How to Clean Porcelain Tile - Wenge


Cleaning Polished/Glazed Porcelain Tile
• Sweep and vacuum debris and dirt, then go over the area with a dry dust mop.

• Now use a hot water-dampened mop, never allowing moisture to puddle or pool on the tile.

• Loosen heavier soil with a soft nylon-bristle brush (or an old toothbrush).

• For stains, use a vinegar-and-water mixture (or a commercial cleanser diluted to half strength).

• Mop with your chosen cleanser, mopping again with hot water before the cleanser dries.

• Dry the tile surface with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth, being sure to rub out any water spots.

• Once dry, buff the tile to a high shine with a piece of cheesecloth.

Cleaning Textured Porcelain Tile
• Sweep the area twice with a soft-bristle broom, first in the direction of the tile, then on a diagonal.

• Vacuum to remove all dirt.

• Saturate the tile with a vinegar-and-water solution, allowing it to soak for five to ten minutes.

• Scrub the floor with a soft-bristle brush, again working in two directions.

• Rinse the floor with hot water in order to thoroughly remove the cleaning solution.

• Go over the floor with a clean, damp mop.

• Dry with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth.

While porcelain tile boasts exceptional durability, there are few cleaning products and techniques you should take pains to avoid:

  • Never use a product containing ammonia or bleach (or any type of acid-based cleanser); these can alter the tile color and/or stain the grout.
  • Never use oil-based detergents or wax cleaners.
  • On unglazed porcelain, never use any cleaners that contain dye or coloring.
  • Never use steel wool on porcelain tile—small particles of steel can become embedded in the tile and grout, eventually causing rust stains.
  • Never use hard bristles or scrub brushes, as they can scratch the tile surface.

Regular cleaning and polishing with a soft cotton or microfiber cloth will ensure that porcelain tile retains its “like new” shine for many years.

How To: Reclaim Wood Flooring

Rather than tear it up, reclaim wood flooring the next time you undertake a major remodeling project.

When you’re renovating, save and recycle old hardwood floorboards for patching and repairing. Using a pry bar at each nail, carefully remove the board to minimize splits and damage to the wood. Tap out the old nails, then reinstall the flooring as needed, staggering all joints. When it’s refinished, you won’t be able to tell where the repair was made.

For more on flooring, consider:

Wood Flooring 101
Quick Tip: Reclaimed Wood Floors
Installing a Reclaimed Wood Floor (VIDEO)

How To: Build a Winding Staircase

By means of an ingenious shortcut, it may be easier than you think to build a winding staircase.

If space is a consideration in your remodeling project, you might want to consider building a winding staircase. You can build this simple version yourself. Think of it as a stack of wooden boxes with a portion removed for each successive step. Build each box step in advance and stack them on top of each other. Secure each level with panel adhesive and nails, then finish off with a straight run to reach the next floor. Remember to check with your local building inspector.

For more on stairs, consider:

How To: Paint a Staircase
Building Winding Stairs (VIDEO)
A “Step by Step” Solution: Pre-Cut Treads and Risers

Quick Tip: Laying a Basement Subfloor

Using a method like this one, you can easily install a basement subfloor in the course of renovating unfinished cellar space.

Here’s how to get a warm, dry basement floor over a concrete slab when converting your basement into living space. Lay four-millimeter polyurethane sheeting across the entire floor, overlapping the sheets by about a foot. Then lay pressure-treated two-by-fours on the flat around the perimeter. Lay more two-by-fours, 16 inches on center, securing them to the basement floor with concrete nails. Fill in with one-inch rigid insulation and cover with three-quarter-inch plywood. Now you’re ready to finish off the basement floor with the flooring of your choice.

For more on flooring, consider:

Basement Flooring 101
Installing a Subfloor (VIDEO)
Enhanced Plywood and Subfloor Products

How To: Drill Through Tile

Many small projects in the bathroom require you to drill through tile, and while it's tricky to do so, these tips can help you create a clean hole.

Here’s how to avoid cracking a tile surface when you need to drill a hole. Mark your point, then gently score the tile with a nail set to break through the glaze. Be sure to use a carbide driill bit to cut through the tile more easily, and be careful when backing out. If you’re not drilling into a stud, use a plastic shield for a secure grip on the wall.

For more on tile, consider:

Tiling Tools
How To: Install Tile
5 Reasons to Love Subway Tile

Quick Tip: Repairing Floorboards

Did you know there's a power tool that in addition to other valuable uses, makes quick work of repairing hardwood floors?

Here’s a way to save time and energy when repairing floorboards. Instead of drilling and chiseling damaged floorboards, use a plunge router. First, use a magnetic nail finder to be sure there are no nails in the way. Set scribe lines across the damaged pieces, then run the router across the boards for a quick, clean cut.

For more on flooring, consider:

Wood Flooring 101
Wood Floor Repair (VIDEO)
How To: Refinish Hardwood Floors