While tile and grout by nature of their interconnectedness must be cleaned together, they are actually two very different substances that are best treated in dissimilar manners. Commonly composed of porcelain or ceramic, tile is extremely durable, smooth and water resistant whereas grout, typically sanded cement-based, is irregular and porous. These disparate qualities are complicated further by the fact that grout is usually housed below the surface of the tile.
A tile’s appearance can be enhanced through a daily process of mopping with a water and soap-based solution. On the other hand, grout is best cleaned professionally using a multi-step process consisting of pre-spraying and scrubbing with a rotary machine delivering 1200 psi of high temperature water.
• Professionally clean. This can be done once or twice per year. High traffic areas such as main hallways and high exposed areas such as restaurants and kitchens may require more regular service.
• Change water regularly when mopping during cleaning. Grout is made from a cement mortar. Unless the contents of the mop bucket are changed frequently so that clean water is always used, the tile may look clean but the soil will be simply redistributed to the porous grout.
• Use appropriate chemical. Acids and alkaline both clean grout lines well. Determine which one works best by doing a test section. Never use an acid on a natural stone floor like marble! Sometimes a combination cleaning of both an alkaline and then an acid (or vice versa) is needed. As a general rule, areas subject to FOGs (fats, oil and grease) such as restaurants and kitchens should be treated with a high alkaline product with the right dwell time to remove. Conversely, guest bathrooms and pool decks that have hard water deposits, detergent build, body oils and dead skin accumulation over time are best treated with an acid-based product.
• Utilize proper equipment. Specialized tile and grout cleaning equipment uses high pressure coupled with hot water to blast out embedded soil. Powerful vacuums then help capture the soil and dry the floor. For more extreme situations, a 175-rpm floor machine with a hard bristle brush is used to scrub grout lines and tile.
• Seal the grout after cleaning. Sealers last from one to three years depending on product and type of cleaning procedures. By sealing the grout, dirty mop water and spills will be prevented from penetrating the grout. Also, the presence of dirt and other undesirable elements such as bacteria will be reduced, and ongoing maintenance costs will be less in the future.
• Consider an epoxy grout colorant to apply to the grout if it is so badly stained that no amount of cleaning will help. Grout colorant systems come in a rainbow of colors to choose from and can cover any badly stained grout. It simply is applied to the surface of the grout and bonds to the topmost part, creating a new surface. When the colorant dries, it becomes impervious to liquid absorption. The result is a bright and shiny grout colour as well as a much easier surface to clean. It is recommended to have a professional do the work as grout depth, repairs and surface preparation all play a part in the longevity of the system.
An important sidenote: Very often grout lines are so dirty and they have been that way so long that property personnel think the darkened appearance is its natural color – when in reality the discolouring is due to excessive dirt. One way to determine grout's natural colour is to compare a heavily trafficked area to a much less walked on one (such as in a corner of the room or under a loose carpet). You may be surprised at what you find!
About the Author: David Grossman is President of Renue Systems, Inc., a provider of specialized deep cleaning services to the hospitality industry. Founded in 1991, Renue has nearly 30 franchisees across the USA and overseas.