Grout: the biggest mystery of housekeeping.
July 8, 2015 2:39 PM   Subscribe

Recently I've tried using Clorox toilet bowl cleaner with bleach and then (yesterday) just straight laundry bleach to clean my floor grout. Neither had impressive results. Now I have some Zep, which contains hydrochloric acid. If I use this today and there is still bleach residue on the floor (I did mop with water), might I poison myself via a chemical reaction? The area is decently ventilated.
posted by lakeroon to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't your question but I just wanted to let you know that floor grout does not come in bright white so if that's the result you're hoping for, don't waste any more time. I found this out after getting really irritated with a contractor and then going to the tile store myself and also calling the CEO of a home improvement store company who I knew through work, just to confirm that I wasn't being bamboozled.
posted by janey47 at 2:43 PM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

I don't think you'll have enough bleach left there to cause a problem.

But when you get that grout as white as it's going to get, what you need to do is seal it. They make specific sealers for grout. This won't stop it from picking up dirt again. But it makes it cleanable with standard soap and water rather than heavy duty chemicals.
posted by beagle at 2:58 PM on July 8, 2015

We were taught in my pool management course I took 20 years ago not to add these two chemicals directly together, even though adding them separately to the pool was not a problem. Anyway, it looks like it's potentially harmful according to the NIH.
posted by skewed at 2:59 PM on July 8, 2015

Basic rule is don't add bleach to anything, especially not ammonia or acids. Chlorine gas is the result and you don't want to run afoul of the Geneva Protocol end up with severe mucus membrane burns. In your case, since you rinsed with water you're probably OK - but a second rinse would be easy and safer.
posted by a halcyon day at 3:08 PM on July 8, 2015

You can return the heavy chemicals. Get a spray bottle, put some plain old laundry detergent in it (I think I used the dregs of a container of tide) and fill it with water. It ended up this light blue color. Spray the grout, walk away. Later, spray the grout again, walk away. Continue this until the grout is the exact color it was when the tile was laid.

It's actually pretty amazing to me, after I'd spent hours of scrubbing time and all kinds of brushes and cleaners -- detergent and water truly does the deal, costs nothing, no hazardous chemicals, no spending eight or ten bucks for this cleaner or that one.

Just spray it on the floor, might take a week to get it totally clean, but you'll see results fast enough to get you to see I'm not bs-ing you. Then seal it, as recommended above.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:12 PM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Bleach residue won't be enough to cause problems. Plus, mixing bleach and acid doesn't produce some subtle, insidious poison--it makes chlorine gas which will be immediately obvious. So if you mix greater amounts (not residue, more like pouring both into a toilet bowl at once), get out to fresh air. If your lungs still seem pretty bad after getting fresh air, call 911. But in any case, if you breathe chlorine, you will immediately know.

Some more info on the effects and treatment: Home exposures to chlorine/chloramine gas: review of 216 cases.
posted by ryanrs at 4:24 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Dancestoblue, that's probably due to the brighteners in the detergent perking up the blue spectrum.
posted by ryanrs at 4:27 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've had to deal with mildewed caulk in a shower that my then wife "could not get clean with bleach or anything else dammit we need a new shower NOW!".
I used to work in buildings conservation, and drew on something I had learned there -
I got some rubber gloves, a bunch of paper towels, soaked the paper towels in straight bleach, and kind of wadded them up on top of the caulk, vertical surfaces were not an issue. Went to bed, got up the next morning, pulled the paper towel "poultice" to reveal shiny white caulk.
I don't think putting acid on grout is such a good idea at all - grout is partially composed of lime and cement, which are broken down by acids.
posted by rudd135 at 5:35 PM on July 8, 2015 [9 favorites]

For a non chemical solution, I've used a stream cleaner combined with those magic erasers on grout to prepare for obsessive cleanlieness quality inspections at a hotel. It got things pretty bright.
posted by platypus of the universe at 6:39 PM on July 8, 2015

I put white vinegar in a ketchup squeeze bottle and put it directly on my grout. Let it sit for the length of one sitcom episode on Netflix, then scrub with a bristle brush. Done!
posted by wwartorff at 8:44 PM on July 8, 2015

Yes, I basically use rudd135's solution, but without leaving the wads on the grout. The important thing is that the grout is entirely coated in bleach, and that you leave it overnight before washing or scrubbing it off. It's the soaking that does it, and it takes that time. So spraying bleach on and then cleaning it off even an hour later will have almost no effect.
posted by lollusc at 8:58 PM on July 8, 2015

Instead of possibly killing yourself either from noxious gases or scrubbing your heart out, you could use Polyblend Grout Renew. It works like a charm! I saw it on Young House Love and their results are great, and they tried everything you tried and more to get their grout white. Link:
posted by buttonedup at 7:24 AM on July 9, 2015

Response by poster: Followup in case anybody later is reading this and wondering what worked: Before resorting to the Zep I thought I'd try scrubbing with a slurry of Bar Keeper's Friend and water. Despite enthusiastic scrubbing with a grout brush, the results were only so-so and the mop-up of all that slurry was enormously laborious. I also lost a layer of skin off my palms a couple days later.

Then I gave bleach one more try. Poured a good amount into all the grout lines and let it stand several hours; humid day so it was mostly still wet when I mopped it up. For this purpose I rented a hard floor cleaner from Home Depot - very loud heavy machine with brush rollers, much more industrial than a Rug Doctor. Went over the floor with that, slowly, several times to get the bleach up and scrub some more.

That improved things a little over previous efforts, but not perfect. I used the Zep. It wasn't pleasant but I didn't die. (Pro tip: Drape a washcloth over your grout brush to avoid spraying acid as you scrub.) The grout looks uniformly clean. I put on two coats of sealer and, as God is my witness, will never go through that again.
posted by lakeroon at 1:52 PM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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