Buyer’s Guide: Grout Cleaners
Cleaning grout can be difficult, but the best grout cleaners make it significantly easier. Ahead, see our top tips and recommendations on choosing a product, and don't miss our roundup of top picks.
Grout isn’t something we usually notice until it becomes grimy, dark, and dingy. Fortunately, with the right cleaner, it can often be restored to its former glory.
Grout serves as a space filler between laid tile. A cement-based material, grout is made of natural minerals mixed with water. Since it’s slightly porous, dust, dirty water, and soap scum can coat it and even soak into it over time (especially when it’s not properly sealed). This dirty, moist environment provides the perfect foothold for mold and mildew to take root.
Cleaning grout can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, but the best grout cleaners make it significantly easier. Ahead, we’ve rounded up our top favorites among the available options and offered tips and recommendations for deciding on the right cleaner to use. Read on!
- BEST OVERALL: CLR Bath & Kitchen Cleaner
- BEST ECO PICK: Seventh Generation Professional Tub & Tile Cleaner
- BEST FOR STAIN REMOVAL: Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser Liquid
- BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: Grout-EEZ Super Heavy Duty Tile & Grout Cleaner and Whitener
Key Considerations for Choosing the Best Grout Cleaner
Grout cleaner should be gentle enough to polish tile without scratching it, but strong enough to eliminate grout discoloration due to mold, mildew, and dirt. Whether cleaning a floor, kitchen backsplash, or shower stall, the best results will depend on the following factors:
To be effective, grout cleaners must lift dirt, erase mold, clean soap scum, and brighten tile with ease. Choose a product based on the desired result.
- Mold and Mildew Removal: Depending on how bad your mold situation is, you’ll want a grout cleaner with one of the following ingredients: an acid, hydrogen peroxide, or chlorine bleach. A mild acid-based cleaner (containing citric or oxalic acid, for example) is the least harsh of these formulas and typically won’t damage chrome, stainless steel, or tile. An oxygen bleach (containing hydrogen peroxide) is moderately strong, while chlorine bleach is the strongest and most caustic. Bleaching formulas should only be used on grout you wish to whiten, as they can also lift color from dyed grout. All these ingredients will also kill germs and bacteria, which, when applied in low doses, can be helpful, especially in bathroom and kitchen areas.
- Whitening and Brightening: While chlorine bleach is often a go-to ingredient in whitening products, it is not necessarily the best or only option. Bleach is associated with health concerns (respiratory damage, for example), and it can also release harmful airborne particles when mixed with other cleaning substances. That said, it can have a place in a cleaning regimen if used in small doses. Beyond bleach, citric and oxalic acid can also lift soap scum and surface staining. The right abrasive product can really get the dirt out, restoring grout and tile to an almost-new appearance. Look for products containing feldspar. This naturally occurring mineral is crushed into a fine powder, which works wonders on hard surfaces, including grout and tile.
There are two ways to apply grout cleaner: (1) spray and wipe, or (2) scour with a brush. Spray-on products claim to work without scrubbing, which can save time and energy. On the downside, these cleaners may contain harsher acids, solvents, or chlorine bleach. Therefore, it’s important to weigh the benefits of saving elbow grease versus potentially releasing toxins into the home environment.
Scouring with a brush and cleaner does require a little work, but this method can be especially effective on floors and heavily soiled grout. For tools, a toothbrush can be used on small grout lines. A brush or scrub pad is best for floors and backsplashes. Some brands provide both the liquid cleaner and a scrubbing tool or broom head. To prevent scratching the surrounding tile, use gentle pressure and avoid overly vigorous scrubbing.
Health and Surface Safety
A variety of harsh chemicals can be found in some commercial grout cleaners, with bleach and ammonia often playing a key role. These active ingredients can be efficient at scouring away surface stains, soap scum, and mold, but they can also impact your health adversely as well as harm the environment.
- Chlorine bleach and ammonia can be caustic and poisonous if improperly used. Both chemicals can cause skin and eye irritation, as well as respiratory damage. That said, their grout-whitening powers are formidable, especially where tough grout stains, mold, and mildew are concerned.
- High levels of phosphates have been linked to irritation in humans, as well as negative impacts on water systems and aquatic life. However, they are also useful in softening water, cutting through soap scum, and improving cleaning products’ efficiency. Since the 1960s, the U.S. has been increasing regulation on phosphates, removing this additive from many cleaning products and detergents, though not all.
If you favor a non-toxic, plant-based grout cleaner, prioritize products with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Safer Choice seal. Also, consider consulting the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, an online database that provides independent research on product toxicity and safety.
Bear in mind also that during application, grout cleaner may get on the surfaces surrounding the grout. To clean grout between granite, marble, or unsealed stone, make sure to use a product designated safe for use on those materials. Likewise, if you are cleaning grout between ceramic tile, it’s important to avoid grout cleaners that would damage it.
In any case, it can be a good idea to begin any grout-cleaning project by spot-testing the grout cleaner on a small, unnoticeable area. Proceed if and only if the results of spot-testing are satisfactory.
Our Top Picks
1. BEST OVERALL: CLR Bath & Kitchen Cleaner
Boasting the EPA’s Safer Choice Program seal, CLR Bath & Kitchen Cleaner contains no ammonia, bleach, or phosphates. That’s not to say it’s soft on cleaning power. This foaming spray is formulated to cut through dirt, calcium, lime scale, hard water stains, and soap scum. It is safe for use not only on grout, but myriad other surface types as well, including tile, glass, and stainless steel. Application is easy, too: simply spray on and wipe clean. For stubborn grout stains, let the formula soak in for a few minutes before wiping or rinsing clean. No scrubbing is required.
2. BEST ECO PICK: Seventh Generation Professional Tub & Tile Cleaner
This eco-friendly liquid is formulated with citric acid, plant-based ingredients, and essential oils—without chlorine bleach, artificial fragrances, dyes, or solvents. It is safe for use on a range of surfaces, including ceramic tile, shower doors, plastic, chrome, fiberglass, porcelain, stainless steel, and more (not advised for marble or brass though). While this cleaner doesn’t include fake fragrances, it is scented quite heavily with essential oils, so people with sensitivity to smells should take note. Still, the product works great to remove soap scum and to prevent mold and mildew before it gets out of hand.
3. BEST FOR STAIN REMOVAL: Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser Liquid
Bar Keepers Friend is best known for its powdered formula, but we love this liquid formulation, which comes with a handy grout-cleaning brush. Free of ammonia and silicone, Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser Liquid is safe to use on many hard surfaces, including porcelain and ceramic tile, chrome, stainless steel, fiberglass, copper, and brass.
4. BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: Grout-EEZ Super Heavy Duty Tile & Grout Cleaner and Whitener
Some tough jobs require specialized formulas. For moldy, stained grout that won’t respond to everyday cleaners, consider Grout-EEZ. This heavy-duty solution is designed for maximum whitening power, especially on floors and large surfaces. Grout-EEZ—which goes to work quickly on dirt, grease, and stains—comes with a brush head, which you can attach to any standard broom or mop handle, making application easier. Though it’s safe to use for most tiled surfaces (but not natural stone), Grout-EEZ contains chemicals that give off fumes. Open the windows and/ or turn on a ventilation fan if you’ll be applying it in an enclosed space, and be sure to wear protective gear (goggles and gloves) while doing so.