8 Ways to Clean Stained Grout
Using common household products, some elbow grease, and these time-tested tested tips, you’ll get the space between your tiles clean again no matter how soiled it is.
Tile is beautiful, durable, and generally easy to clean, but cleaning grout? That’s a different story. Because it’s typically light-colored and has a porous composition, grout is prone to staining. In a tiled entryway or mudroom, dirt and grime are the usual culprits but in the kitchen, spills are more likely to blame. In the bathroom, homeowners must contend with grout that’s marred by mold and mildew.
The good news is that the best way to clean grout doesn’t come with a big price tag. It’s possible to clean and restore your grout using common household products and of course, a bit of elbow grease.
Before you get started on your grout-cleaning endeavors, understand that it is best to begin with the first cleaning option on this list, which is the mildest, least harmful method. If that doesn’t work, you can work your way up to incrementally more intense, odiferous, and potentially time-consuming options on this list. If you’re in doubt about whether a particular grout cleaner is suitable for your surface, test it in a hidden spot first—under an appliance in the kitchen, say, or behind the toilet in the bathroom.
Before you begin cleaning, it’s important to understand the different types of grout.
There are several types of grout, and most types come in multiple colors. It’s important to take both type and hue into consideration before you start gathering cleaning supplies and making a cleaning plan. The two most common types of grout these days are traditional cement grout and the newer standard, epoxy grout. These grout types can be further broken down as follows:
- Sanded grout. Made with cement, sanded grout has grit that you can see and feel when working with it. Tilers use sanded grout in larger joints (more than ⅛ inch wide and up to ⅝ inch or 1 inch, depending on the product). It is a solid choice for heavily trafficked floors, but it’s not the best choice for smooth, polished stone. Why? The grit might scratch these surfaces during grout application.
- Unsanded grout. Unsanded grout is also made with cement, but it doesn’t contain grit. Tilers use unsanded grout for narrower joints, as small as 1/16 inch wide. This durable material is easier to work with and clean up than sanded grout, and it’s appropriate for both polished stones and vertical surfaces like shower walls. Unsanded grout feels stickier and looks a little smoother than sanded grout.
- Epoxy grout. This type of grout holds up better to water stains and tends to be less vulnerable to shrinking or sagging than cement grouts. Epoxy grout will absorb up to 50 times less water than cement grout, and it’s stronger. It works well in harsh environments, such as on kitchen backsplashes and in shower surrounds. It is also easier to clean and more likely to return to its original color than cement grouts, which is a big plus if you’re tiling with white or another light grout color. Epoxy grout is also less prone to cracking. On the downside, however, it’s more expensive than cement grout and takes longer to apply.
Some types of grout are precolored and are as a result better able to resist stains and fading. There are also grout formulations that add polymers to provide helpful features such as moisture and mildew resistance. Finally, as you’re figuring out how best to clean your grout, it’s important to know whether the grout has been sealed, or possibly needs resealing. This might affect both how well the grout holds up and what solutions you can use to clean it.
1. Scrub dirty grout using warm water and a medium-bristle brush.
If you don’t already have a grout scrubber, most home centers and hardware stores carry a number of products that are specifically designed for the purpose of cleaning tile grout. To avoid damaging the grout, opt for a medium-bristle nylon brush, not a hard steel one. Simply spray warm water on the grout lines and scrub in a circular motion, then let it dry. Don’t use too much water or let it sit on the grout for too long. Remember: Porous cement grouts absorb water, which could lead to mildew.
2. Spray grout with equal parts vinegar and warm water.
If you know your grout has been sealed but it has accumulated heavy dirt or mild stains, turn to vinegar, that trusty old household staple. Fill a spray bottle with a half-and-half solution of vinegar and warm water. Spray the mixture on the grout, let it stand for 5 minutes, then scrub the surface with a stiff brush. Avoid using vinegar on unsealed grout.
3. Apply a baking soda paste and then spray with vinegar.
Cleaning grout with baking soda will bring even more power to the party. Here’s what to do: Cover grout lines with a paste of baking soda and water, then spray on the vinegar solution listed above (remember, only apply vinegar if the grout has been sealed). Once the mixture stops foaming, scrub with a brush, rinse with plain water, and wipe dry. If the grout is unsealed or needs resealing, apply just the baking soda solution and scrub carefully.
4. Pour on some hydrogen peroxide.
Moderate stains may require you to use hydrogen peroxide, which is available in most drug stores. You can use the product straight or as part of a homemade grout-cleaning paste of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. This mixture is typically safe for both sealed and unsealed grout.
5. Apply oxygen bleach and let it stand for up to 15 minutes.
For tougher stains on really grimy white grout, use oxygen bleach as a grout cleaner. You’ll find this cleanser is most often sold in powdered form; bestselling brands include OxiClean and Biokleen Oxygen Bleach Plus.
Before using oxygen bleach to clean grout, make sure the room is well ventilated, and then carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s directions for application. Let the oxygen bleach solution soak in for 10 or 15 minutes before rinsing. Always rinse with clean water and then wipe the area dry so that the dirt doesn’t resettle into the grout lines.
6. Try a commercial grout stain remover.
Applying one of the best grout cleaners on the market could make quick work of removing mold and mildew and restoring bright white grout lines. These products work in one of two ways: (1) spray and wipe, or (2) scour with a brush. Spray-on products claim to work without scrubbing. Though they save time and energy, they may contain harsher acids, solvents, or chlorine bleach.
Scouring with a soft brush and cleaner does require a little work, but this method can be especially effective on floors and heavily soiled grout. Before you begin using one of these products, read the active ingredients carefully, and heed the instructions—particularly the safety precautions.
7. Steam-clean the worst of grout stains.
The best steam mops are effective and environmentally friendly tools for cleaning grout—or, for that matter, many hard surfaces throughout the house. Bissell, Oreck, and Hoover all make steam cleaners for residential use.
8. Use chlorine bleach sparingly on grout.
Chlorine bleach and commercial cleansers containing chlorine bleach can be used sparingly in extreme cases to clean grout. It’s not a great idea to use them as your go-to grout cleaners because long-term use of caustic cleaners will erode grout. When all else fails, however, a bleach product such as Clorox Clean-Up might be effective.
If you’ve tried any or all of the above methods before you apply chlorine bleach, be sure to rinse the surface completely before proceeding with any chlorine bleach products. This is especially true of vinegar, because traces of vinegar mixed with bleach will emit a highly toxic chlorine gas into the air.
Once you’re finished cleaning your grout, spray it with household vinegar or a mild grout cleaner and wipe it down once a week to keep it stain-free. Wiping grout with rubbing alcohol will also keep mold and mildew at bay. In any case, just a few spritzes and wipes a week can save you a lot of time and effort cleaning and help you preserve the attractive appearance of your tiled surfaces.
Cleaning grout begins with good prevention, including resealing the grout as needed, cleaning up kitchen spills right away, and using a mild homemade or commercial grout cleaner regularly. Once grout begins to look stained or dingy, refer to the steps above. An important reminder about how to clean grout is to start with the mildest approach because this will be the least likely to damage or discolor grout. If the grout stain persists, move on to progressively more intense methods. Always ensure adequate ventilation and wear rubber or nylon gloves when cleaning grout.
Finally, be sure to keep grout sealed and maintained according to your tiling professional’s or manufacturer’s recommendation, and avoid harsh cleansers or scrubbers if the tile and grout are prone to damage. Keeping grout clean and sealed beats having to paint, repair, or regrout it.
FAQs About Cleaning Grout
The methods outlined above range from the easiest way to clean grout up to more powerful approaches for more stubborn stains. If you still have questions about maintaining and cleaning tile grout, read on for answers to common concerns.
Q: Does Magic Eraser work on grout?
A Magic Eraser and a little warm water can remove residue from the surface of tiles and could be a simple addition to your regular grout-cleaning routine. In particular, regular wiping with a dampened Magic Eraser sponge can remove some of the gray surface on white grout. For heavier stains, you may want to choose it as your first scrubbing option instead of a brush or soft cloth, then progress to something tougher if needed.
Q: Can I use OxiClean to clean grout?
Although OxiClean is called “oxygen bleach,” it is actually made of a combination of dry hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate, which is similar to baking soda. It is less toxic to the environment and more color-safe than bleach.
Powdered OxiClean is safe for use on grout when mixed with water to form a liquid or paste and applied with a cloth, sponge, or grout scrubber. Give the solution from 5 to 30 minutes to sit on the grout before scrubbing away and rinsing.
Q: Can you use steel wool on grout?
Do not use steel wool on grout. While the abrasive pad might scrub away the stain, it could also take some of the grout along with it. Plus, steel wool can scratch the tile surrounding the grout joint. Opt instead for a soft sponge or nylon bristle brush, maybe even one mounted on a power scrubber, always starting with the least abrasive material first.