Overcoming common grout cleaning problems

Two caucasian male hands cleaning kitchen grout of an old, dirty tile floor with environmentally friendly hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and a scrub brush.

More and more cleaners are adding tile and grout cleaning and sealing to the list of services they provide.

With more cleaners cleaning more tile and grout, they are encountering unexpected problems.

One such concern is a white haze on the grout or, sometimes, on the tile after the floors dry.

There are two common situations that can produce a white haze.

The first is efflorescence. Efflorescence appears as a white powder, normally on the grout.

The second is sealer residue. This appears as a milky white haze where sealer has pooled and dried on the surface rather than penetrating into the grout or stone. This is more easily seen on dark colored grout.

Correcting efflorescence
Some efflorescence will wear away from traffic.

This solution may be acceptable if the problem is mild, or if your clients are not picky.

In many situations, the salts can be removed by simply brushing with a stiff brush.

When brushing is not an effective solution, efflorescence can be dissolved and removed with acid products.

You may be able to use concentrated solutions of the acid-side tile and grout cleaners already in your cleaning arsenal.

Another option is muriatic acid diluted about 10 ounces per gallon of water. There are also a variety of products designed especially to deal with efflorescence.

Caution! Anytime you are dealing with acids be sure to use appropriate personal protective equipment. This includes splash goggles and acid-resistant gloves.

Keep in mind that water is a necessary ingredient to produce efflorescence. Try to use a minimum amount of water when removing it.

Your acid can be applied with a damp sponge or slightly damp mop.

Preventing efflorescence
Efflorescence can occur anytime there is moisture in masonry material — grout, concrete or ceramic flooring. It may happen no matter what the cleaning technician does or does not do.

However, there are some steps that can be taken to reduce the possibility of efflorescence forming.

  1. Get the floors dried quickly following cleaning. This step may include the use of airmovers.
  2. Seal grout lines or porous tiles. Apply the seal after the floors are dry. This helps to keep out the moisture from daily maintenance cleaning. A seal that breathes allows any moisture remaining below the surface to get out.
  3. Because efflorescence is more easily seen if the grout is a dark color, reduce the amount of water in the grout by choosing a sealer with a solvent carrier.

Sealer haze: The causes
Stone and grout sealer is intended to penetrate the porous surfaces and fill the capillaries. This prevents other liquids, either water or oils, from getting into those same pores and staining the surface.

If the seal stays on the surface, it can dry to a milky haze. If much sealer remains on the surface, the residue can be sticky.

If stone and grout sealer has dried on the surface, something prevented it from penetrating.

Unlike carpet protector which wears off with foot traffic, grout sealer below the surface does not wear off with traffic. Previous applications of sealer may prevent a new coat of sealer from penetrating.

Some grout is more porous than other grout. The amount of sealer that was just right for one job may be too much for another site.

An increasing number of grouts contain polymers, latex or epoxy. These are non-porous materials.

These types of grout, in effect, have a built-in sealer. They may not accept any sealer or will only accept solvent based sealers.

Attempts to seal with water-based sealers will leave a film.

When more than one coat of sealer is applied, the first coat can keep subsequent coats from penetrating.

Moisture that remains in the grout or stone can act as a barrier to solvent-based sealers. Consequently, solvent-based sealers should only be applied to floors that are thoroughly dry.

An ounce of prevention
All of the previous scenarios can usually be prevented by first determining how much seal is appropriate for each job.

A simple test in a small area should answer that question. You only need to test a small area.

Select your test area somewhere that has received average traffic. If the floor has been sealed previously, a low traffic area would need less sealer.

Apply a few drops of water to the grout lines. On a natural stone floor, you should also test the stone in the same way.

Observe how quickly the water takes to penetrate.

If the water penetrates quickly, it means there is little or no sealer present. If the water does not soak in, then the floor does not need additional sealer.

The water test will tell you whether or not the floor should be sealed. If it does need to be sealed, it will also give a rough idea of how much sealer is required.

Now apply seal to an area. When it has dried, you can determine if there is enough sealer or perhaps too much.

It will always be easier to add another thin coat than to remove excess sealer. Do not overuse tile and grout sealer.

Procedure to correct over-application

  • Step 1
    Thin, dry sealer haze on ceramic or porcelain tile or smooth stone surfaces can be polished off using a white polishing pad under a standard rotary machine. For more extreme cases, you may need to use a red buffing pad.
    An excess of dried sealer in the grout lines can be removed with a grout brush.
  • Step 2
    To remove built-up or sticky residue from grout lines, wet the surface with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.
  • Step 3
    Agitate briefly with a grout brush.
  • Step 4
    Vigorously wipe the grout lines with a white, absorbent, cotton towel. You will be removing some of the sealer along with any remaining alcohol.
  • Step 5
    Continue until all affected areas have been treated. Repeat if needed.
  • Step 6
    Depending on the sealer used and the time it has been down, the alcohol may not dissolve it. Seal can be emulsified and returned to a liquid state by applying a small amount of the sealer that was used.
  • Step 7
    As soon as the sealer on the floor begins to liquefy, wipe it off with a clean, absorbent cotton towel.

 

Becoming popular

Tile and grout cleaning is a naturally-added service.

More and more homes have tile floors. You are already in those homes cleaning the carpet.

Begin with man-made tiles such as ceramic and porcelain before trying to work on natural stones.

A little practice on your own floors or those of friends will help void problems like those discussed above.

Many distributors also have floors where you can compare products and get some hands-on time to try various equipment and methods.

 


Scott Warrington has more than 35 years of experience in the carpet cleaning industry and related fields. He serves as the technical support specialist for Bridgepoint Systems and Interlink Supply. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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