There’s something about the word “grout” that just inherently conveys that it’s going to be a tough clean. And if you’ve ever gone toe-to-toe with a bathroom wall of one-inch tile or an entire living room or kitchen with tile flooring, you know you have your work cut out for you. Cleaning the tile? That’s easy. Cleaning the grout that holds it in place? That can be a monster chore.

That’s because most types of grout are porous, which means they’re quick to absorb dirt, spills, grime, and anything else that comes its way.

But you don’t need to fear a good grout clean. Just come prepared with the right cleaning supplies, a little patience, and in most cases, some old-fashioned elbow grease.

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Method 1: Store-bought cleaners

There are several branded products that are specifically designed to clean grout — sprays, powders, and even magical grout-cleaning pens.

You’ll need:
Grout cleaning spray
Or, oxygen bleach
Or, a bleach pen
Hard-bristled brush

You might need:
Spray bottle
Old toothbrush (an old electric toothbrush is even better)
Electric drill and drill brush (only if you really want to avoid scrubbing manually)

Step 1: Select a grout cleaner

There are three types of grout cleaners to consider:

Liquids: Most grout cleaners are liquid and come in a standard spray bottle. Liquid cleaners are familiar and easy to apply — especially the ones that come ready to use in a standard spray bottle, as opposed to a big ol’ jug. (Some grout cleaners are concentrates and need to be diluted with water before application.)

Oxygen bleach: Oxygen bleach — think OxiClean — comes in powder form and needs to be mixed with warm water before use. It’s non-toxic and doesn’t contain chlorine bleach, so you don’t have to worry about spilling it on your clothes, floor mats, or any other fabric.

Bleach pens: These pen-like applicators are roughly the size of a large Sharpie, and contain a white, chlorine bleach gel that is directly applied to the the grout. The biggest benefit of using a bleach pen is that you may not need to do a deep scrub. Applying the cleaner with the pen can be more tedious, especially if you’re cleaning a large area. But the benefit of potentially skipping the scrub may make it worth it.

Can bleach pens be used on colored grout? Some say that bleach pens should be avoided on colored grout; others say it’s no problem. We say, if you’d like to use a bleach pen on colored grout, test it on grout lines that are relatively inconspicuous to see how it turns out before you go all out and apply it to a large, visible area.

Step 2: Clean the tile to get rid of any dirt or debris

Before you get started on the grout, it’s best to do an initial clean of the area. If you’re cleaning tile flooring, take a soft-bristle broom or dry dust mop and do a quick sweep followed by a wet mop of the targeted cleaning area. If you’re cleaning in the bathroom or kitchen, grab a damp cloth and your favorite tile cleaner and wipe down the area. This initial clean helps get rid of the top layer of dirt (or scum) and will make it easier to clean the grout.

Step 3: Apply the cleaner to the grout

The application process will vary a bit based on the type of branded cleaner you’re using:

Liquids: Spray the cleaner on the grout and let it sit for about 5 minutes.

Oxygen bleach: Add water to the powder — simply follow the label instructions for this. Then pour or spray the cleaner on the grout and let the solution work for 15–20 minutes.

Bleach pens: Apply the bleach gel directly to the grout and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Step 4: Grab a brush and get busy!

If you’re using the spray or oxygen bleach, grab a hard-bristled brush and start scrubbing. There are cleaning brushes specifically designed for grout, but you can also use an old toothbrush or a standard cleaning brush. An old electric toothbrush can also make things easier, and if you’re really ready to up your grout game, you can use a cordless drill with a drill brush attachment.

If you’re using the bleach pen, take a sponge and gently scrub the bleach along the grout line. If you don’t get the results you’re after, reapply the gel, grab the brush of your choice, and get scrubbing.

Step 5: Rinse the area

Rinse away all of the grout cleaner and any residue using a sponge, mop, or washcloth. If you’re cleaning the shower area, you can use the shower head to spray things down. Give the area one final pass with a damp cloth and then let it dry.

Pro tip: Grout may appear slightly darker when it’s wet. Wait until it’s completely dry to assess whether or not it’s as clean as you’d like.

Method 2: DIY cleaning solutions

The cleaning process is similar to cleaning with a store-bought product, the one key difference: you’ll make the formula with ingredients you probably have around the house.

You might need:
Plain white vinegar
Or, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and dish soap
Or, baking soda, ammonia, and vinegar
Hard-bristled brush
A spray bottle
Rubber gloves
An old toothbrush (an old electric toothbrush is even better)
An electric drill and drill brush (only if you really want to avoid scrubbing manually)

Step 1: Prepare your DIY grout cleaner

Do-it-yourself cleaning solutions can be cheaper than store-bought cleaners and they’re an easy way to make sure you know what’s inside — nothing you didn’t pour in yourself. The even better news is they also do a great job. Here are a few formulas you can experiment with, using products that are commonly found around the house:

Spray formula 1: Combine 2 cups white vinegar with 2 cups warm water.

Spray formula 2: Combine ½ cup baking soda with ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide and 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap.

Spray formula 3: Combine ½ cup of baking soda with ⅓ cup of ammonia, ¼ cup of white vinegar, and 7 cups of water.

Paste: Combine hydrogen peroxide with baking soda to create a thick paste.

Pro tip: Though vinegar is popular in DIY cleaning solutions, never use it to clean grout between marble or granite tiles. The acidic quality of vinegar will cause etching, which is a dulling of the polished finish. Ammonia and citrus fruits like lemon should also be avoided on granite and marble.

Step 2: Give the surface an initial clean

Getting rid of the top layer of dirt and removing any debris will make it easier to clean the grout. For flooring, use a dry dust mop or soft-bristle broom to do a quick sweep, then use a wet mop or cleaning pad to clean the tile. If you’re cleaning grout in the bathroom or kitchen, use a standard tile cleaner and damp cloth.

Step 3: Apply the cleaner to the grout

Sprays: Use a spray bottle to apply a heavy mist directly to the grout. Allow the formula to sit and soak for at least 10–15 minutes.

Paste: Use a brush (or your finger, as long as you’re wearing gloves) to spread the paste and completely coat the grout lines. Allow the paste to sit and work for 5–10 minutes.

Step 4: Grab a brush and go to work!

Scrub until the dirt, scum, or other stains are removed, and the grout is noticeable cleaner. For the sprays and the paste, you can scrub using a standard toothbrush or a hard-bristle brush. If manual scrubbing isn’t your thing, you can also use an old electric toothbrush or level up to a cordless drill and drill brush.

Step 5: Thoroughly rinse the area

Use a sponge, mop, or washcloth to rinse away the grout cleaner. Give the area one final pass and allow the grout to dry completely.

A Few Tricks for Stubborn Stains

When you’ve scrubbed all you can scrub, here are a few tricks you can try:

Magic Erasers: If you have a tough grout stain, a little warm water and a magic eraser will often do the trick.

Sandpaper: Use a fine grit piece of sandpaper to remove top-level gunk and difficult stains. Be targeted with the paper though, as you don’t want to scratch the tile itself.

Pencil eraser: Some stains can be removed using a pencil eraser. If you have white grout, be sure to use a white eraser, otherwise you might end up replacing your stain with a light pink eraser spot.

White shoe polish: Apply a white liquid shoe polish to the grout. Let it sit overnight, then wipe away with a damp cloth. (This is obviously best suited for white grout only.)

Steam cleaners: Scrubbing is the most effective way to clean grout, but a steam cleaner can be a good supplement for persistent stains.

General Maintenance and Best Practices

There are several different types of grout, but the vast majority of in-home tile work is done with a cement-based grout. There are two types of cement-based grout:

Sanded grout has small grains of sand added to the cement-based mortar to help improve its strength. Sanded grout is often used with ceramic and stone, or other types of tiling with relatively large grout lines.

Non-sanded grout (aka unsanded grout) is made from mixing cement, water, and non-sand particles. Non-sanded grout does not have the strength of sanded grout and it also tends to shrink slightly when it dries. It is typically used for smaller grout lines.

With proper care, cement-based grouts can last for several years. Here are few best practices to help you maintain the grout in your home:

Avoid abrasive cleaners and brushes. Undiluted chlorine bleach and other intense bleaching products aren’t good for grout. Over time, they’ll eat the grout away. Similarly, metal brushes or harsh scouring pads can erode the grout over time. A good gauge for bristle strength is a firm-bristled toothbrush. Anything harder than that may end up damaging the grout over time.

Apply a silicone based sealer every two years. Silicone based sealers help keep grout clean and resist mold and mildew. In most cases, applying a sealer every two years is sufficient, but for showers, or high-trafficked areas, you may want to apply a sealer more frequently (maybe every six months).

Ventilate the bathroom. A poorly ventilated bathroom is more prone to mold and mildew. If you don’t have a strong bathroom vent, be sure to open the window or door after you shower. This will help reduce the humidity and allow the shower area to dry more quickly.

Know when it’s time to through in the towel. Sometimes grout gets moldy or filled with mildew. This is especially common for grout used in shower areas. You can scrub much of it away, but the mold and mildew actually live inside the grout, and will just grow back. If you’re constantly fighting back the mold and grime, it may be time to replace the grout.

Wipe up everyday spills as quickly as possible Grout in the kitchen is especially susceptible to everyday food spills. Wiping up these daily spills as soon as possible will help avoid stains and minimize the need for deep cleaning.

In Sum

Step 1: Do a quick clean of the area to get rid of the top layer of dirt or grime
Step 2: Apply your cleaner of choice to the grout lines and give it time to soak
Step 3: Grab a hard-bristled brush and get busy
Step 4: Rinse away the residue and let the area dry
Step 5: Bask in the glory of amazingly clean grout

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