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Tile and grout cleaning advice: steam or chems?

Virtually every day we receive questions about cleaning tile, carpet, upholstery, and rugs. This question comes up frequently:

Which is better? Tile and grout cleaning advice: steam or chemicals?

tile and grout cleaning advice brighton mi


Firstly, this is a GREAT question, and one we hear often. Before delving into an answer we need to know a few things about the tile and grout because it makes a huge difference in selecting the proper cleaning method.

Is the tile?

  • Man-made – like ceramic and porcelain
  • Natural – like marble, granite, travertine, etc.

Is the grout?

  • Sanded
  • Unsanded
  • Epoxy

We’ll also need to know what types of soils are present. Simply knowing which room the tile is in helps us identify the soil types. For purposes of this article I will make the assumption that we’re dealing with ceramic or porcelain tile and sanded grout floor and shower in a bathroom, since this combination of tile/grout is the most popular.

Ceramic and porcelain tile have a baked-on glaze, which make the tile itself chemical and water resistant. Sanded grout is basically mortar like you’d see between bricks on a wall. It is cementitious, porous, and reacts to acids. (it fizzes when acid is applied)

Let’s look at the soils

Hopefully you’ve already eaten because this is going to get a little gross 🙂

The soil found in a typical bathroom consists of:

Biological contaminants:

  • skin flakes
  • hair
  • body oils
  • dried urine droplets
  • fecal particulate
  • dried saliva

General soil contaminants:

  • tracked-in mud
  • oil/grease
  • sand
  • pesticides
  • herbicides
  • dead bugs

Yet another type of contaminant is also found:

minerals from the water

  • calcium
  • lime
  • rust

When one uses steam, meaning boiling water under pressure, the biological contaminants and general soil contaminants are removed quite thoroughly, often without the use of harsh chemicals.

However, steam does relatively nothing to remove the mineral contaminants from the grout and tile. This is where agitation and chemistry comes play.

The case for acid

Calcium, lime, and rust deposits easily bind to grout, and, to a lesser degree, ceramic and porcelain tile. You may have heard the term “soap scum” used to describe buildup in a shower. That’s not actually soap. That’s calcium buildup. Agitating with a stiff brush can help break it up, but it can take a lot of elbow grease and oftentimes that’s not possible.

When the proper acids are applied to tile and grout, the bond between the minerals and the tile and grout breaks much easier. It may still require mechanical agitation with a brush, but the acids immediately start to break down the calcium, lime, and rust deposits. Sometimes a second or even third application of acid is required to fully break the mineral bond.

Is acid safe for tile and grout?

The proper acid (esp. muriatic, sulfamic, and acetic acid – aka vinegar) applied to sanded grout causes a “micro” layer of grout to release along with the minerals. This is called “etching” . When grout is etched, it is being chemically broken down – very slowly.

The last step is to rinse and neutralize the acid, otherwise the acid will continue to etch the grout causing it to become brittle over time and eventually failing.

Here is our tile and grout cleaning advice

Whew, ok – with all of that said, I’ll now answer the question: Which is better? Steam cleaning tile and grout, or using chemicals?

Hopefully by now the answer is self-evident – they’re both beneficial and neither one is right or wrong, unless your tile is stone in which case using an acid will etch the stone itself.

The MOST important step you can take after having the tile and grout cleaned is to have the grout sealed. We specifically recommend grout color sealing which adds a permanent physical barrier between the grout and contaminants. Color sealing (as opposed to clear sealing or color grout dyeing) changes the surface tension of the grout, making it difficult or even impossible for general, biological, and mineral contaminants to stick to the grout.

Best of all with color sealing, you’ll never have to scrub or use an acid again on the grout lines, unless the color sealer becomes compromised.

For more information about our tile and grout cleaning and grout color renew, please check out our Tile and Grout cleaning page.

Howell mi tile and grout cleaning seal

Scott Rendall
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12 thoughts on “Tile and grout cleaning advice: steam or chems?

  1. I didn’t know that simply knowing which room the tile is it helps us identify the soil types. My dad slipped in our bathroom the other day because it’s a bit untidy. My mom suggested tile and grout cleaning and shared this article with him.

  2. My mom is now having a hard time cleaning the tiles because it’s old. It was explained here that tiles can be cleaned with the proper use of acid. Furthermore, it’s advisable to hire professionals for tile cleaning services.

  3. Get guide to tile and grout cleaning. I will make sure that I keep a note of these guidelines to keep my bathroom as well as tiles clean and my house safe from those dirty germs. Thanks a lot.

  4. It’s interesting that steaming your tiles easily gets rid of soil and biological contaminants, but not the mineral ones. I’ve been wanting to get my bathroom tiles cleaned, so this helps me realize that a mixture of both methods would probably be best. Thanks so much for sharing all this great knowledge on different tile cleaning methods.

  5. My mom wants our home to be spotlessly clean, especially the common bath because we’ll have guests next weekend. It was explained here that there is proper acid that can be used for tile and grout cleaning. Furthermore, it’s advisable to hire professionals for quality grout cleaning services.

  6. It’s good to know this about grout cleaning. It makes sense that it depends on the contaminants that are in the room. We’re looking to clean the bathroom grout, so it’s probably more the biological contaminants.

  7. That’s good to know that after you have a tile and grout cleaning that you’ll need to have the grout sealed to add a permanent barrier between it and contaminants. My kitchen floors are all tile and I realize that the tiles are small so it’s going to take me forever to clean the grout and then regrout. I’ll have to see if I can find a cleaning service that could at least help with the cleaning so I’ll know it’s clean and I’ll have to worry about adding more grout.

  8. My sister just moved into a new home that needs some fixes done. She is worried about the grouting in her tiles and is thinking about hiring a service. It would help her a lot to know that she should have it sealed after it is done.

  9. Thanks for mentioning how you can use vinegar to clean your tiles. I also like how you said that baking soda is an effective additive. My husband and I are looking for a professional to clean our kitchen tiles since I don’t know if we could do it ourselves. Thanks for the post!

  10. I liked that you explained that there are different materials that require different cleaning solutions to clean them properly and that a professional would know the difference. I have grout between my kitchen tile at home that needs to be cleaned and I have thought about hiring someone to do it for me. I definitely feel comfortable having a professional clean it, since I can trust that they know which cleaning solution to use. This will ensure efficiency and quality in the work.

  11. It’s great that you elaborated on the different methods for cleaning your tile which is steam and chemicals. My wife wants to clean our home tile and she wants to have a professional do it because she wants to know if they can get rid of little scratches on the tile. I’m going to let her know about the methods for cleaning tile so that she can decide which one she wants to use.

  12. It’s good to know that the bonds between the minerals and grout break more easily. My brother has been telling me about some grout in his bathroom that he wants to get cleaned. I’ll share this information with him so that he can look into his options for professionals who can help him get this grout cleaned.

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