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The Secret to Cleaning Grout in Tile Floors

By Tim Carter
Friday, April 3, 2009 5:35 PM

Q: DEAR TIM: Cleaning a tile floor is my next big project. The grout lines are filthy, and I haven't discovered an easy way to restore the tile. Is there a magic product that will clean floor tile? Once the grout is clean, what's the easiest way to keep it that way? Should I invest in a cleaning machine? -- Michelle S., Corvallis, Ore.

A: DEAR MICHELLE: We had a boatload of tile floors in our last home, and cleaning them was a nightmare. To make it worse, we had brilliant white tile with light gray grout in our kitchen and breakfast area. I knew when I was installing it that it was going to be a challenge to keep it clean. Add to the mix three small kids, and soon the grout around the refrigerator, stove and kitchen sink was nearly black.

It took me years to discover how to clean tile floors in a way that was easy and that didn't harm my family, pets and the colored grout. I finally settled on using powdered oxygen bleach. Little did I know that this choice would put me way ahead of the current green movement.

Oxygen bleach is nontoxic, doesn't produce harsh fumes, and is color- and fabric-safe. It removes all food and grease stains with no or minimal scrubbing. The oxygen ions attack the stain molecules, breaking them into pieces that rinse away with little effort.

To clean floor tiles, mix any high-quality oxygen bleach with warm water and stir it until it dissolves. Then pour the solution onto the floor tile so the grout lines are flooded with the solution. It's best to apply the oxygen-bleach solution to dry grout so it soaks deeply. Let the solution sit on the grout for at least 15 minutes. If it completely soaks into the grout, add more solution, making sure there is always plenty of the cleaning liquid on the grout.

The longer you let the solution sit on the grout, the less work you have to do cleaning tile flooring. The oxygen ions work for up to six hours. To get maximum cleaning results, it helps to scrub the grout lightly after 30 minutes. Always pour new solution onto the grout as you scrub.

An oxygen bleach solution will remove red wine stains in minutes. Beet juice is not a problem. I've not discovered one stain it can't remove. Friends have tried the tile cleaning machines, but they say the oxygen bleach does a much better job. You have to always scrub a little, but that's how anything gets clean.

Once you have clean floor tiles, you can keep the grout looking like new by adding oxygen bleach powder to your mop water. Apply a liberal amount of mop water to the floor, scrubbing the tile surface with the mop. But leave the mop water in the grout joints without rinsing the floor. The oxygen ions clean the light dirt in the grout without scrubbing. Come back 30 minutes later and rinse the floor with clean water. If you do this each time, you'll never be on your hands and knees again with a scrub brush.

It's always best to work on stains while they're fresh, if at all possible. But tile floors that have been dirty for years will come clean in no time if you use oxygen bleach.

Tim Carter can be contacted via his Web site, at http://www.askthebuilder.com/printer_Submit_Question.shtml.

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