Did you know that 20% of stone, tile and grout floor restoration work is the result of inappropriate “cleaning?” This is also the case with cleaning hardwood floors and other solid surfaces. The wives tale that vinegar is a wonderful grout cleaners is just that: a wives tale. Vinegar proves can bleach and give the appearance of cleaning as it degrades the grout’s appearance in its own manner. Grout and many stone surfaces are acid sensitive. Vinegar and many off the shelf tile, grout and floor cleaners tend to be acidic. Acidic solutions have long been recognized as good “cleaners.” Unfortunately, acidic cleaners can have negative impact on surfaces.
So how should one clean these floors, stone, grout and tile? First, lets be clear on our definition of clean. Clean is the absence of dirt or oil on the surface. This can be accomplished with a pH neutral stone cleaner. This is a great product to maintain your floors, however if the damage has already been done we need to look elsewhere to restore the surface to its original appearance.
Have white spots or rings that keep coming back after you clean them? CaCO3 based stones such as limestone, marble, travertine, and salturnia to name a few will etch in the presence of an acid. The acid dissolves the stone causing microscopic pitts in the surface. The pitts show as dull areas or a loss of shine initially, forming white spots if the damage is more severe. These white spots, rings and “waterspots” disappear when cleaned with water, only to re-appear once the stone has fully dried. The water effectively fills these pits returning a smooth continuous reflective surface to the stone, effectively making the damaged areas difficult to see. Then when the water evaporates they re-appear.
So what is one to do to get rid of dull areas and white spots? Light etching and white spots can be removed using a polishing compound such as Gold Plus Gloss Restorer. This material is formulated to enable a homeowner to polish small areas of etched stone returning a glossy appearance to the stone. In severe cases where one can physically feel the damage, the shine can be returned, but a professional stone craftsman will be needed to level the stone for a consistent reflective image.
What about cleaning my grout? In the case of grout, vinegar and acidic solutions can dissolve the dyes and pigments used to color the grout, bleaching the grout over time. On a cement colored or white grout this may not be noticeable, but on a tan or darker grout you may be trading a stained appearance for a lighter than normal appearance. Here again a pH neutral cleaner is the safest most effective means of cleaning your sealed grout. Failing to seal or to re-seal your stone and grout surfaces every few years opens the surface up to stain risks. Once stained the cost and effort required to correct the problem can far exceed the cost of periodic preventative maintenance.
What do I do about the grout stains that do not clean up? Stains result when a spill or dirty mop water enters the pores of an unsealed grout or tile carrying with it the colorants from the spill or liquid. To prevent this or reduce the risk of staining. it is important your stone and grout surfaces be sealed. This should be done with a penetrating sealer if you are seeking a solution that will not alter the stone finish or color, or a topical sealer if your are seeking to boost gloss or change grout color. While there are many claims to longevity of seals, most seals need to be replenished every 2 years or so. If your surface gets a wet look versus beading up when water is spritzed on it, you likely need to reseal your surface. If uncertain or uninterested in doing this yourself most stone maintenance companies can handle this on your behalf.
If you are unfortunate enough to be reading this as you lament your stained grout, you may be interested to know that sanded grout, the primary choice when working with a ceramic or porcelain floor, can be restored to a like new appearance with better than new stain resistance characteristics with a COLORSEAL application which enables property managers, hotel managers and homeowners to restore their sanded grout to the original color or to change it if they desire. In most instances this process takes a day and results in a floor open to light traffic within 30 minutes of final application, and normal cleaning within 7-days.
The good news is that if you are unsatisfied with the appearance of your stone, tile or grout surfaces, in most cases these issues can be resolved. A professional craftsman will also walk you through the likely root causes, and how to maintain your surface safely and effectively after completing the process. You can search hardwood floor reviews to help with your decisions.