Tile and Grout Maintenance

March 18, 2011

Most houses in my part of the county use a lot of ceramic tile products in the bathroom and kitchens. This is a very durable product and can easily last a lifetime, assuming it is applied correctly.  Though the winter months it is very normal to find drying out type cracks throughout the house. This is the perfect time to perform interior caulking and sealing.  See Caulking and Sealing for general purpose maintenance.  At first glance, it might be alarming to find grout chipping or breaking up in the bathroom or kitchen. However, this can be common, specifically at 90 degree edges. Look at where the horizontal and vertical surfaces connect, this chipped grout is due to opposing movement of these two surfaces.   This type dry out will continue to happen year to year. Even though you may find some of this with a slab foundation, most of these issues will show up with crawl space or basement type foundation. Granted tile movement with slab foundations can be common, but are usually related to foundation issues.

The house I live in has the orignal tile and grout applied some 60 years ago. For the most part it has survived without causality. Fortunately, it was not pink or some color that is totally out of favor today.  One of the most noticeable items I have recognized over the years with tile application (old and new) is that seams, edges corners or transitions become the weak link. In other words, the location that the wall tile meets the floor tile tends to have issues. This is typically associated with the fact that the sub structure (floor & walls) are moving differently. For this reason the grout at these edges usually gives way.  Additionally, during the winter we tend to see these areas gap due to low humidity.

One of the easiest ways to deal with this condition is to remove the grout and replace it with caulk. Using caulk will fill the void, and add flexibility to the joint.   As an added benefit, you may also find the surfaces creak or squeak less when walking on them.

Steps to Caulking:  Good preparation is important. If done correctly, this caulking method will create a nice finished surface requiring little to no maintenance for several years.

  1. Clean the surface to the best of your ability. There are tile cleaners at the home centers that will work better than what’s found at the grocery store. Try not to over-saturate the surfaces with liquids as you do not want to fill the cracks with fluids, then fill them with caulk as this could potentially set up a mold condition. 
  2. Let the surfaces dry overnight. If needed, you can use a hair dryer to pull the remaining moisture out of the cracks.
  3. Remove as much of the loose grout as possible. This can be done with a Dremel tool or a grout saw. Remove as much as possible, or score the grout enough so you have a void large enough to accept caulk. NOTE: This grout replacement method is all based on the fact that the corner surface is cracked and the grout is flaking out. If the grout is solid and in tack… leave it alone.
  4. Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to suck out the loose grout.

Caulking: Make sure and read the “Caulking and Sealing” post mentioned in the first paragraph. It’s important to understand how to caulk correctly. At the end of the task, the finished caulk should have a smooth seamless appearance. The goal here is for the caulked surface to resemble the grout. 

  1. Use a good acrylic  latex caulk. If the grout is anything other than white, you may have difficulty finding a suitable caulk material. It is important for the new caulk material to match the grout as close as possible. For custom colors consider the Red Devil Color Caulk System. This will bring your project up to a professional level.
  2. Using a caulk gun, push the caulk gun away from you as you apply it  into the crack. This will cause the material to get deeper into the crack.
  3. Wipe clean any excess caulk as described in the caulking post.

Final Step: Re-seal the grout. When the tile and grout were originally installed, the surfaces should have been sealed. Sealing the surface will keep the grout clean. Plan to re-seal the grout on a yearly basis. Grout sealer is available at the Orange Box Store.

Besides the bathroom floors there are other places throughout the house that will have the condition mentioned above. Here is a short list.  

  • Kitchen counter tops (at the edge between the surface and the back splash
  • Tub and wall surfaces, this could be tiled or marbled surfaces
  • Tub and floor surfaces
  • Bathroom wall and floor surfaces
  • Bathroom wash basins and tiled surfaces.

Besides looking better, this maintenance project will reduce drafts, insect infestation and the potential for water to migrate into the floor substructure underneath the tile.

Good Luck,

BOB

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