The Homeowner's Guide to Tile Grout

Photo: robinsan/flickrToday, trendy tile is used as an eye-catching decorative feature, covering walls, floors, countertops, and backsplashes in some of the most striking homes in town. But no matter how gorgeous the tile may be, it is only as good as its grout. Grout is the substance which fills the spaces between your tiles and seals their joints. Learn how to choose, clean, and repair this important element of your home tile decor.

Choose a Grout Color

Homeowners are no longer confined to the standard white and off-white shades of grout. These days there is a whole panorama of literally hundreds of colors available, from soft and subtle to boldly bright. You have the option to match your tiles, of course, but if you'd like to go for a splashier look, why not pick out a contrasting shade? For example, a white tiled bathroom will turn wow when it's set off by lipstick red grout, and deep gray grout will accentuate the beauty of southern California-style terracotta if you're remodeling a San Diego kitchen. Another, less exciting, consideration is where the grout is to be used and how much care will be involved. For example, you might want to pick a dark color, which doesn't readily show dirt, to grout the backsplash behind your stove. Whichever hue you opt for, make a note of its name at the time of purchase for easier matching when you need to make repairs.

How to Clean Grout -- Naturally

If you want to keep grout looking its best, be prepared to clean it regularly. In addition to your usual floor mopping or wall wiping routine, you will need to give the grout itself a special scrubbing to get rid of greasy buildup, soap scum, algae, and ground-in dirt. For natural deep cleaning, make a paste of baking soda or borax and water, and apply using a repurposed toothbrush and a little elbow grease. Rinse well with warm water. Should the grout be badly stained or mildewed, try spraying it with a dilute hydrogen peroxide solution. Let stand overnight, then flush with warm water. Make sure that any "green" cleaners will not harm the tile by testing them on an inconspicuous area before use.

Steps to DIY Grout Repair

Broken grout lines not only look unattractive, they are also dangerous to your home. Water will penetrate the cracked or crumbling areas and accumulate in the wall behind them. This fosters mold growth, which tends to attract insect pests and cause serious damage to your house's structure. The good news is that you can repair grout yourself. Your best course of action is to completely remove and replace the old grout.

Match the replacement to the existing grout, either by color name or by comparing a chip of the old grout to a color chart. Purchase sanded grout if the space between the tiles is more than 1/8 inch. If it is less, or if your tiles are marble (which scratches easily) then buy unsanded, acrylic latex, or epoxy grout.

After removing the old grout, clean the grout lines with a moist paper towel. Leaving the edges of your tile slightly damp will help the grout to stick. Mix the grout with water, following package directions, until it is the texture of thick peanut butter -- or use a premixed grout. Spread grout with a tool called a grout float to fill the joints completely. Cover a small area at a time and wipe down the tiles with a damp grout sponge. Don't over-moisten the grout lines, as this will weaken them. Rinse out your sponge periodically.

Wait for half an hour before rubbing the tiles with a dry rag to get rid of the grout haze. Then let the grout dry undisturbed for a 48-hour period before you seal it.

Laura Firszt writes for

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