Why Does Grout Get So Dirty?
Grout is a rough, porous material made from a combination of sand, concrete, and water. During installation it is kept in a semi-fluid form that can easily be spread and sink into gaps between tiles. While there are some tiles that can be installed without using any grout between them, this is often not recommended for a number of reasons. Most tile bought in stores like Home Depot, Lowe's, and even specialty flooring stores is not rectified. To rectify tile, it must have all of its edges mechanically finished to create precise dimensions. Unrectified tile will have slight variations along its edges. If one were to try and install unrectified tile without a grout line, the line would not run straight. The further the tile is run, the more the line will jog. Grout allows the installer to compensate for slight tile variations.
Another reason grout is necessary is that it prevents food, dirt, and other particles from getting trapped in between tiles. No matter how closely you butt tiles up against each other, there will still be minute spaces in between them that will be open to the intrusion of unwanted particles. Grout completely seals the space between tiles so that nothing can get stuck inside of it. Grout also helps to preserve the integrity of tile. Practically all tile substrates expand and contract due to thermal activity. This can cause the tile edges to continuously rub up against each other, over time leading to chipping along the edges.
Despite its many benefits, grout has one very major drawback; it gets dirty very quickly. This is due to its rough and porous nature. Because it is so rough, dirt and grime easily adhere to it. Because it is so porous, liquids can seep into it, resulting in staining and discoloration. Liquids that have seeped into grout take a long time to dry, too. This often results in the growth of bacteria and mold. To make matters worse, many of our efforts at cleaning it tend to have the opposite effect. Grout lines dip below the surface of tiled floors, which makes them difficult to thoroughly clean. Dirty mop water puddles up in the grout lines, sinking in, and causing discoloration. This means that mopping the floor often makes grout dirtier, rather than cleaner.
Choosing The Best Grout Steamer
When choosing the best grout steamer for your needs, there are a few things you'll want to keep in mind. First, you'll have to think about what you plan on cleaning with it. If you just want to use it for grout in your bathroom or kitchen counters, then a small, handheld model will suffice. If you plan on cleaning all of your floors, along with the bathroom and kitchen counters, then you will be better off with a full-size model. The larger the reservoir of a unit, the longer you can clean without having to refill it. If you have a large house with a lot of tile, choose a model with a very large reservoir. If buying a handheld model, you'll have to make a compromise between reservoir size and ease of operation, as the bigger the reservoir, the heavier the unit will be and more fatiguing to use.
Next, check the specifications of the model you are considering to see how hot it can get. The hotter the better. Models that are capable of releasing steam at, or close to, 200 degrees Fahrenheit will not only be able to remove stubborn dirt and grime, but also disinfect surfaces by killing 99.9 percent of germs.
You'll also want to make sure the grout steamer you are looking at uses a combination of steam and pressure. Models that use a combination of the two will produce the best results. They will also require the least amount of passes, making your grout cleaning job easier and less time consuming. Generally, the higher the wattage of a unit, the hotter it will get and the more pressure it will be capable of, so if you can't find exact specifications on heat and pressure, just choose the one with the highest wattage.
Finally, consider the attachments that come with each model. Most homeowners will get the most use out of a multipurpose machine. You may be buying a grout steamer thinking that you will only use it on grout and flooring, but once you see how effective it is, you'll probably want to use it on upholstery, carpets, and other items. Some can even double as clothes steamers. Choosing a model that comes with scrubbing brushes, crevices tools, extensions rods, and flexible hoses is always a smart idea.
How To Use A Grout Steamer
When steaming grout, always start by blasting it with jets of steam to remove top layers of gunk or any particles on the surface that could potentially be abrasive when you start scrubbing. If working on walls, start at the top and work your way down towards the bottom. If working on floors, just start at one end and work your way towards the opposite end. Don't go back and forth as you may wind up embedding dirt and grime into an area you have just finished cleaning. Periodically rinse the steamed areas with fresh water to wash away gunk that you have removed from the grout. If you leave it sitting there long enough to dry, it may harden on, requiring you to steam and scrub all over again.
Once you have passed over the entire area with jets of steam, it is time to start using a brush attachment. It is always best to start with a soft-bristled brush as they generally won't damage your grout, no matter how hard you scrub. If you encounter areas of particularly stubborn dirt or stains, try switching to a hard-bristled brush. Be careful though, and only scrub lightly at first to ensure you don't cause damage. You can continue to add a little more pressure to your scrubbing until you see that the stains have been removed or you begin to notice any signs of damage on the grout, at which point you should stop immediately.