DIY grouting help, please!
August 30, 2010 8:31 AM   Subscribe

I need to regrout some bathroom tiles, and I need help with some specific questions. I'm very overwhelmed with the amount of information out there and having trouble narrowing.

My bathroom is actually fully surrounded in (really ugly) tiles to shoulder height; the tub is a complete tile surround. In the tub I have some grout that's completely fallen out in some places; seems intact in other places. I want to regrout JUST the tub tiles. Some of these questions are probably dumb, I apologize:

1) Do I have to do the ENTIRE tub area? Can I just do sections, or should I do the whole tub surround? (I assume I can stop at the edge of the tub and not do the whole bathroom.

2) Can I regrout just small sections -- 1 or 2 tiles -- or should I do a large area? I'll do the whole tub, but what about some cosmetic touchups in other parts of the bathroom?

3) Do I remove all the old grout first? Grout over? How do I decide which to do when? How do I remove it?

4) I'll be working in small bursts of time when my baby's napping. Should I ungrout everything that's being ungrouted, and then regrout it all at once? (Thus leaving tiles exposed for several days, potentially, while I ungrout in sections and then regrout in sections, and in my head, this means they all fall off the wall, even though I know they don't.) Or should I ungrout and regrout a single small section in one naptime, and then do the next the next naptime? Or can I ungrout in sections but I should set aside a Saturday to do all the regrouting at once? (I can avoid using this tub for an indefinite period of time if necessary.)

5) Can you point to good videos online that demonstrate removing and redoing grout, clearly and simply for a beginner?

6) How do I remove caulk? (I think that's what's between the tub edge and the floor? Is that the right word?) It's really messily done and I'd love a cleaner edge on it.

Thanks for any pointers; I've googled and looked at like six books and I just feel so confused and overwhelmed and nothing talks about working in sections during naptime which is really the key question here!
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I had to do this because of old grout, cracks in grout and then some mold. It was not fun.

1. I honestly would do the whole tub area. Why mix old and new?
2. Seems like the same question as #1
3. Yes you must remove the old. For me this was the toughest part. I wasn't practical but what I used worked--a butter knife and steak knife. I know, dumb (for snapping off and getting hurt) but the official grout wheel (looks like a pizza wheel made to remove grout) did shit for it. So I got fed up and used what I thought would work. I found a small open area and then just gouged it out.
4. If you can do it wall by wall. Otherwise a full day Sat. Do not use your tub during the ungrout part because of moisture sealing in when you grout over it. Must be dry area.
7. I would use the butter knife to remove the caulk. When you recaulk, use a wet finger to smooth it down.

Also know that once you regrout you have to seal the grout. This is the most tedious part .Buy one of those sponge brushes and just run it down the grout. Have plenty of ventilation plus a fan (if you have one in the bathroom) because that stuff smells like nail polish remover.

Good luck. And yes it's overwhelming at first then you get pissed off enough to just get it done next thing you know, it's done. :) Good luck.
posted by stormpooper at 8:49 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is the tool you use to remove the grout.

I would just take out whatever is loose and only redo that. You can't really grout over existing grout, you have to remove at least half of the old grout.

The tiles won't fall down when the grout is removed, they are glued or cemented to the wall. If they are loose, you'll need to remove whatever sections are loose and reglue them then regrout.

To remove caulk, just cut it on each edge with a utility knife.

posted by lee at 8:53 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can definitely just regrout sections. You will want to match the grout colors very closely (there are a gazillion shades of white, tan, and black at the stores, which can be annoying), but after you are done, you still may feel like the old grout is dingy. I know people who have gone back in after the fact, scraped down a bit on existing grout, and given it a facelift by regrouting the same thing.

The grout is not the primary thing holding the tiles in place - that's the cement/mortar on the backsides. If that's too lose to hold up the pieces without out grout, than you'd have to fix that tile at some point anyway, even with the grout.

If you want to be absolutely sure they don't move, you can get tile spacers (little plastic plus signs that sit between tiles) while you wait to grout, but this is a mostly a cosmetic/placebo type deal.

I generally remove the grout as much as possible from the damaged sections (I use dental picks, but there are little metal tools at hardware/home improvement in the Tiling Tools section designed to do it) - especially if there are cracks and deep holes and separate pieces of grout that wiggle around. If you just have dips and holes, than you can grout over after a simple rescrape up top.

When I remove old cracked/broken/loose grout, I also scrape surrounding grout down on an angle so I can blend the grout in and make it look more seamless.

I tend to use a razor blade and a light touch to help me remove caulk.

I use painters tape around fixtures if I need to regrout around then, and then take off the painters tape while it is still wet, but has set a bit. Waiting until the grout is firmly set will be a headache.

I recommend doing re-grouting all at once - it's easier and cheaper and you only do cleanup once. Plus, once you've mixed the grout, waited for it to set, and gotten started, the actual grouting is pretty quick. You should be able to do it during naptime, including a first clean-off when it sets, and then come back after you put the kid to bed several hours later and do a deeper clean.

Don't forget to reseal the grout when you are done. It's a good time to go ahead and reseal the entire tub's grout.
posted by julen at 9:07 AM on August 30, 2010

I've done this and this is my best recollection of the process.

They sell a diamond or carborundum grout removal tools. They also have dremel bits for this but it would be too loud while the baby is sleeping. Go at it in patches because it's tiring work on a hot summer day. You'll probably find that it will be sufficient to just scrape off the stained upper layer of grout rather than trying to remove all of it. Don't rush or it's likely the tool will slip out of the grout and scratch a tile (which will get mildewed and look bad).

Once you've done a pass at all the joints, you'll want to apply a new sandless grout. Sandless grout is fine enough that you can apply it as a thin layer over the old stuff below. Work in patches of a few square feet at a time, working it in with the rubber tool and wiping it off the tile surface with a sponge before it gets completely dry. Make sure you don't use a coloured sponge! I would do this part all in one session, so get somebody to watch the baby. When you've finished the whole shebang you need to wipe it gently until all the residue is off the tiles.

When it'd finished and dry, polish the tiles good with a rag and seal all the grout. You'll have to take baths for a couple of days while it cures.

I usually use an olfa knife to remove caulking.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:07 AM on August 30, 2010

I feel there are two main reasons that people say you shouldn't regrout without removing the old first:

1) You can end up with poor adhesion and grout can just flake off again
2) It is difficult to match colors

If in the end you just want to "stop the bleeding" and keep a situation from getting worse, there is nothing wrong with grouting over the areas that are the worst so you can fill in any missing grout. The damage that will be done by leaving holes in between tiles due to no grout far exceeds any advantage gained by waiting until the perfect time you can remove all grout and then regrout. As a point of reference, the previous owner of my house did this in one of our shower. We've lived there almost 9 years and we haven't gotten around to redoing the tile in that bathroom yet. But, the regrout-job over existing grout has had minimal flake-off in the years of use since. It doesn't look pretty due to even white not matching 100%, but it's not like it hasn't done the basic job of "keep water out."

The hand grout-removal tool linked above is great, but if you have a very large area I would suggest a power tool like this with a grout removal attachment (it's the black 3/4 circle thing in the picture):

Power Grout Tool

Another thing to keep in mind is grout is one of the cheapest supplies in tile work - I can't imagine you needing any more than $3 worth of grout mix to fix your stuff, even if you remove all your grout. Since boxes of grout are around $10-$15, you can slap up a temporary over-coat now using part of the box, and still have plenty left over for when you have more time to remove all grout and redo it.

Finally, make sure you follow the mixing instructions carefully for grout regarding water amount vs amount of grout mix. The boxes of grout typically only give you X amount of water for 1 box - so you'll have to do the math if you are mixing smaller amounts. You end up with something the consistency of peanut butter, but if you get too much or too little water in the mix you'll just accelerate any flaking issues due to poor curing (grout is essentially cement...). Also, get a pair of rubber gloves and mix the grout with your hands by squishing it between your fingers. You'll have a much easier time mixing than with a spoon/stick/paddle for the amount you'll be working with. Please wear gloves, though - otherwise you could get mild caustic burns on your skin from all of the basic-pH contact of the uncured grout.
posted by JibberJabber at 9:23 AM on August 30, 2010

I'm an amateur myself, but in the past I've found this plumbing forum to be very helpful. I suspect they will have answers on grouting as well.
posted by Doohickie at 9:42 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: Very helpful. So the consensus is that I can take it off in several sessions, as long as I don't use the bathtub, but I should regrout all at once if I can? (I waited to start this project until the other bathtub was repaired so we can avoid using this one for as long as necessary.)

In terms of #2, to clarify, I was thinking of a few dingy or worn spots in the grout in the rest of the bathroom. I don't want to regrout the entire bathroom, but I was wondering about the feasibility of grouting the dingy/worn spots NOT in the tub without doing everything else.

Argh, even the tub looks daunting. But at least now I understand what I'm trying to do much better!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:33 AM on August 30, 2010

When I did mine, the idea was just fix it so it didn't look like shit until we got around to renovating it. That said, the re-grout has held up remarkably well. My advice in a nutshell is to scrape all the stains off and scuff the surface of all the grout lines without worrying about removing anything that isn't loose. I think the fresh surface will give the grout something to bond to. Then re-grout the whole thing or at least one wall at a time. It'll give it a more uniform appearance. The grouting is pretty easy and fast. Digging out the old grout is the hard part.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:52 AM on August 30, 2010

@Lee I bought that grout thing too. It didn't work. Butter knife improvided.
posted by stormpooper at 10:58 AM on August 30, 2010

Don't know how soundly your child sleeps but the sort of noise made from scraping out grout will travel throughout the house. You're basically scraping hard against a surface that's firmly attached to the house. It'll make a lot of noise. I would not expect to be able to do it while the child is napping.

I've used the rotary dremel tool and bits for removing grout. My advice is to skip it. You have to maintain a pretty delicate and precise touch when using the rotary tool. Otherwise the bit will slip and mar the tile. Or, worse, if you're heavy-handed with it the bit will QUICKLY overhead and become ruined. They're not cheap.

The newer Dremel multi-max tool might be worth considering. It has a vibrating blade instead of a rotating one. They may a grout removing tool for it. If your grout lines are straight then this might be worth trying.

Otherwise it's dig, dig, dig. With either a grout tool or anything else that fits the gap.

Oh, BE SURE TO PROTECT THE TUB. Grout is rough and WILL scrape up the finish on the tub.

Hopefully your tile was properly installed in the first place. As in, set onto backer board not right onto the drywall. If it was done right you should be able to remove the old grout with too much worry about the tiles coming off.

I woudn't apply the grout in stages. Better to get it all scraped and then grout it. That way the color variations and consistency won't be a problem.
posted by wkearney99 at 12:55 PM on August 30, 2010

@stormpooper, you had a different tool. The one I linked to is not a wheel, it's a carbide blade and it works pretty well, just takes some muscle and concentration.
posted by lee at 3:10 PM on August 30, 2010

« Older Search for lowest airfare on specific dates?   |   Sometimes it's just a prop. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.