Your Grout is Not Black

By Amy Milshtein

Your Grout is Not Black

Psst…wanna hear a secret? Look down. See your tile floor with the black grout? Well, chances are the grout was white when that floor was fresh, clean and new. It turned black because of poor cleaning procedures.

"But wait," you may protest, "we mop these floors every night." That, ironically, is the problem.

No one is doubting your cleaning schedule. It's your cleaning method that's at fault. Mopping doesn't remove dirt, soils and contaminants fully from any hard surface floor, be it laminate, concrete, terrazzo or luxury vinyl tile. The method just spreads the dirt around while splashing dirty water up against the baseboards.  

Tile and grout floors present an even trickier problem. Grout, because of its unique properties, is nearly impossible to clean with a mop. Learn how to stop the mop and clean your tile and grout floor the right way.

What is grout anyway?

Tile and grout floors are always on-trend. A darling of designers and architects, the combination holds up well to heavy traffic and is sold as easy to maintain. You can find tile and grout floors in restrooms, of course, but the combination is also commonly used in lobbies, industrial kitchens and restaurant floors. Recent style trends call for smaller and smaller tiles which demands more and more grout. 

And there's the problem. Grout, the substance that fills the space between individual tiles, is softer than tile and surprisingly porous. Think of it as a hard, dry sponge. Dirt, bacteria and pathogens hit the floor, settle into the dry-sponge grout and cause black stains and unpleasant odors. 

Scrubbing Troubles

Cleaning grout at home often means getting on your hands and knees and scrubbing with a stiff brush. An unpleasant task for sure, tackling dirty grout in a commercial space this way, where the average commercial kitchen is 2000 square feet, according to Restaurant Insurance Corp, would be nearly impossible.  

Stop the Mop

Using a mop and bucket to clean a tile and grout floor may seem quicker, but the method doesn't work. In fact, it actually makes the problem worse. There are several reasons why.  

  • Grout sits lower than the tile: When a mop passes over the tile floor the lowered grout line acts like a tiny squeegee, pulling dirty water out of the mop and depositing it back on itself. 
  • Mops splash dirty water: Mopping in a figure eight configuration, the recommended technique, splashes dirty water up tile walls. Dry, porous grout will hold on to that dirty water, even if you rinse the tile. 
  • Mopping isn't cleaning: Mops don't' remove soils. They act more like paintbrushes spreading dirt and pathogens around. Old fashioned cotton string mops are the worst offenders but even newer technology like microfiber mops leave behind a considerable amount of soil.  
  • Mopping causes stains and smells: Organic soils, like bits of food in a kitchen or drips of urine in a restroom are found in dirty mop water. Once deposited on grout they become a great food source for malodorous bacteria. These organisms hang out, creating unpleasant smells and staining your once-bright grout black. 

Case Study: How One Restaurateur Saw the Light

Mopping wasn't' working for Jake Hibbett, assistant Manager of Buffalo Wings & Rings in Greendale, IN. The back of house floor was very greasy and, because of poor cleaning practices like using the same mop was sometimes used in both spaces, the dining room and host stand tile floor in front never looked clean and inviting even at the beginning of the shift. 

"I came in every morning and saw footprints on the floor," he reports.  

Hibbert and his crew tried different chemicals and tools to combat the problem but nothing worked. A cleaning demonstration with a Kaivac OmniFlex revealed a big surprise. The representative put solution down on the tiles around the host stand, let it dwell, and vacuumed it up.

The grout was white! 

"We always thought that it was black grout between those tiles," says Hibbert. "That blew us away. The black stain came up with ease."

Are you ready to see what color your grout really is? Click here to find the right tool to find out. 

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines. 

Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.

She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.

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