How to Clean Grout and Remove Grime Quickly

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Learning how to clean grout takes strategy. But with a little time, some household cleaners and minimal scrubbing, you can revive your tile.

There’s nothing worse than spending an entire Saturday cleaning your home top to bottom, only to find that the tiled areas aren’t crisp and spotless. Porous grout lines are magnets for dirt, grime and stains, so if you want every corner of your house to shine, you’ll need to learn how to clean grout.

Luckily, cleaning grout effectively no longer requires the chemicals, scrubbing or frustration of yore. Instead, you’ll need a simple grout-cleaning toolkit (both DIY and ready-to-use solutions like Zep Grout Cleaner are expert-approved) and a solid strategy. Stained or discolored grout can appear anywhere there are tiled surfaces, so weaving grout-cleaning into your overall cleaning schedule is a smart move. Whether you’re considering how to clean your kitchen or how to clean your bathroom, two of the most common areas stubborn grout stains form, just add these expert-approved steps and tips to your to-do list.

What is grout?

“Grout is a mixture of water, cement and sand that is used in a variety of industrial and home applications,” says cleaning expert Mary Gagliardi. “Each grout differs in texture and performance, making it perfect for select spaces inside and outside the home.”

Although there’s a wide variety of use (and colors) for grout, most homeowners employ the product to seal joints between tiles, such as backsplashes, showers and bathroom or kitchen floors. It’s used anywhere you have tile, as it “stabilizes the tile and also protects the surface the tile is applied to from water exposure,” Gagliardi says.

Why should you clean grout?

white subway tilesarasang/Getty Images

“Having dirty and moldy grout can make the whole space look grubby,” says Julie McKinney, a microbiologist at Reckitt, which makes Lysol. “Any part of the home that spends time being wet is susceptible to mold buildup, if not regularly cleaned and disinfected.”

The shower is a prime example of a vulnerable spot for stained grout, she says, as it spends most of its days being wet or damp without fully drying out in between uses. Keeping grout free of mold and mildew will not only contribute to a healthier environment (why you should spend some time cleaning shower curtains and cleaning shower heads as well), it’ll also prevent discoloration.

And if you think you’re safe because you’ve chosen a gray or cream-hued grout versus a crisp white, think again, says Gagliardi. “Even colored grout needs regular cleaning, just like white grout, because the same stains are there, they’re just less obvious.”

Tools for cleaning grout

Zepp Grout Cleanervia merchant

“Because the biggest problem with keeping grout clean and stain-free is mold and mildew, products that contain sodium hypochlorite are great for maintaining grout,” says Gagliardi. There are specific household cleaners and equipment you’ll want to keep in your grout-cleaning toolkit, and the below items are a good start.

Once you’re armed with the right disinfectants and have a fully stocked cleaning shelf (one of the secrets of people who have a clean house), you’re ready to follow these expert-approved steps and cleaning tips for how to clean grout and restore it to its former glory.

How to clean grout

blue cleaning gloves holding a sponge cleaning a tile floorCameronAynSmith/Getty Images

Clear the area

“Regardless of the location in your home, grouted tile is cleaned in the same way,” says Gagliardi. How to clean grout doesn’t vary greatly from room to room, and it always begins with clearing the area of superfluous items, especially in kitchens.

Cleaning agents are strong and can discolor hardwood floors and fabrics, like dish towels, if not sprayed carefully. If you’re cleaning a kitchen sink or backsplash, prep the area first to make sure you’ve removed all food, kitchen utensils and other items before getting down to business.

Start easy

The best way to clean grout is to start with a mild cleaning product, says McKinney. “This is because using bleach (or other harsh chemicals) to clean grout can reduce its longevity.” While she says harsher cleaners may be necessary in some cases, it’s always best to start with something mild and work your way up. The strength of the cleaning product and number of times the steps need to be repeated to fully remove the discoloration will vary based on how solidly the stain has set.

Spray the surface generously

Close-up Of Person Cleaning The Tiled WallAndreyPopov/Getty Images

To clean the grout, start off by spraying it with the disinfectant of your choice until it is visibly wet, allowing it to penetrate the soil and stain before wiping it away with a clean cloth or paper towel. “It’s important to note that the success of this method will depend on the severity of the problem,” McKinney says. “If you’re dealing with a serious case of mold in your grout, then you may need to use a stronger product.”

Go stronger, if needed, and let the solution soak

If a gentle approach doesn’t do the trick, a firmer hand may be necessary. Gagliardi recommends sponging a bleach-based solution onto the surface and reapplying as needed to keep the surface wet for 10 minutes. Next, scrub the grout with a scrubber sponge or toothbrush to lift or break apart the stain. Finish by rinsing with clean water and letting the surface air dry.

Use a mildew-specific cleaner

If the stained grout still won’t budge, then you’ll need to tap a heavyweight, concentrated product, like Lysol’s Mold and Mildew Remover. “This offers a bit more force and contains some bleach, which should not only eradicate the mold, but whiten the grout so it looks new,” McKinney says. Using this spray solution is not only a great way to remove stains, but it can also be used simply to make your grout look white again.

For best results, pre-clean the stubborn grout stain with one of the gentler products to get rid of the surface-level grime, then go in with the more concentrated formula to attack the deeper mold.

Repeat as needed

clean tile groutYarygin/Getty Images

“For highly stained grout, you may just need to repeat the steps a few times to work severe stains out,” says Gagliardi, who warns that while letting a solution soak into a stain for longer than 10 minutes may seem beneficial, it can actually be unsafe for the surface.

Tips for cleaning grout

If you prefer to make a homemade grout cleaner from household items, DIYers can mix their own solution using water and disinfecting bleach (just follow the exact measurements listed on the bottle). Sponge the solution directly onto the grout and scrub with a toothbrush.

As with all methods of cleaning, remember that it’s always easier to keep on top of an ongoing concern, like baseboards or grout stains. McKinney follows the little-and-often rule by spraying and wiping down the surface frequently—about once a week, or when the first spot of mildew appears—in order to “keep the need for serious elbow grease to a minimum.”

If you find yourself in the midst of a home renovation, Gagliardi always recommends thinking not just about how materials will look, but how easy they are to care for. “Your kitchen and bathrooms will get dirty, but selecting surfaces that are bleach-safe will pay off in the long run,” she says.

Sources:

  • Mary Gagliardi, cleaning expert at Clorox
  • Julie McKinney, PhD, director of microbiology at Reckitt

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Kaitlin Clark
Kaitlin is a beauty and wellness writer for RD.com with more than 10 years experience covering everything from the link between hair care and mental health to innovations in medical aesthetics to the safety of sunscreen. When she's not playing with words, you can find her training for her next marathon or planning her next weekend escape.