Messed up grout in a rental apartment
February 11, 2018 12:00 PM   Subscribe

For a while I have noticed that the grout in my shower has areas where it is starting to crack and recede. I waffled on what to do about this for a long time, but I'm thinking I should bite the bullet and put in a maintenance request to ask if my apartment complex will repair it. The problem is I'm fairly sure it is at least partially my fault that this is happening and not sure about my responsibilities or the potential consequences of calling it to my apartment management's attention.

So, this is kind of two problems in one. The first is that I don't clean my bathroom very often or well, out of a fear/wariness of caustic chemicals and fumes. (The toilet gets regular cleanings, but not so much the shower tile.) The resulting situation is not a horror show, but there are areas of grout with mild but visible discoloration that I in my unskilled cleanerness haven't been able to make much headway against. And then, obviously, the grout cracks and such that no amount of cleaning is going to restore.

After overcoming a great big pile of anxiety about waiting too long, I attacked it today with scrubbing bubbles cleaner and a sponge, only to come away with it looking precisely the way it did before I cleaned it. I don't THINK grout stains are supposed to be eternal, so any advice on specific cleaners and methods to get them out would be appreciated.

The second issue is whether I should ask my apartment complex to fix the grout/tile or call someone independent in to fix it who doesn't have a stake in whose fault it is that it's messed up. This kind of sat in the grey area for a while between where I didn't know if I was "allowed" to do it independently as a renter, but didn't think the apartment would want to bother, and subsequently too much time went by, and I think it got worse on my watch. I've lived here a little over a year and I'm not sure when it started. I actually took some photos of the grout and tile when I moved in as evidence that it was old and not very beautiful, but they are inconclusive about whether it was actually cracked on day 1. There are definitely signs that areas of grout have been spot-fixed before I moved in, though (bits that seem newer).

I'm (not thrilled but) okay with the prospect of being stuck by the bill, since it was likely my fault, but concerned about more outlandish bad outcomes like being stuck with an astronomical bill, being lectured for slovenliness in person, or being kicked out entirely if it turns out I'd been allowing some huge mold problem to develop hidden behind the tiles.

And before asking anyone to fix it, should I call in a professional cleaner to try to soften the evidence of poor upkeep or otherwise prepare the shower properly for a professional grout fix? Should I try different methods to clean it myself?

Has anyone dealt with a problem like this? What was the eventual process of fixing it and how much did it cost? I live in a large corporate-managed complex if that makes a difference.

Note that given that I'm a renter and have no handiness skill whatsoever, there is a 0% chance I will attempt to fix the grout myself, although I have read that it is "easy."
posted by space snail to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The grout damage is a routine wear and tear issue that has nothing to do with how clean you've kept the shower. I think you should report it to maintenance as it will eventually cause more damage.

The grout mildew staining is something you might have kept up with better with weekly cleanings and occasional bleaching with toothbrush action, but most people don't bother to be honest. (Scrubbing bubbles works on soap scum but doesn't do much for mildew on grout. It's one of the worst cleaners for fumes in my opinion)

I think it'd help with your anxiety about it to have a professional cleaner come in and clean the shower, evaluate the staining, give you some tips on maintenance (squeegee with a mild shower cleaner every day) and leave you feeling unembarrassed by the state of the shower when maintenance comes in to fix the cracking grout.
posted by Gnella at 12:18 PM on February 11, 2018 [10 favorites]

Try a Clorox Bleach Pen, and beyond that, don't worry about it. Unless the grout is less than a year old, management should expect some discoloration and it's not your problem. If it's less than a year old, then the installer didn't bother to seal the grout right. Again, NYP.

As long as you don't have six inches of groaty soap scum on the tiles, or you undies stuck to the wall, all is good.

The management should WANT to fix tile problems, because the issues that stem from leaks (mildew, tile falling off) can make the place uninhabitable.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:21 PM on February 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Just to complete the picture, one of the tiles near the worst of the grout damage does have a hairline crack and a chip or something in the corner, so I did apparently ignore this long enough to cause Damage that will probably increase the cost if they decide I'm at fault.
posted by space snail at 12:23 PM on February 11, 2018

You can put a paste of baking soda and bleach on the stains, let it sit for an hour, then wash it away.

You can put a spray nozzle on Hydrogen Peroxide and spray that regularly to keep the shower clean.

Grout is normal wear and tear and periodically needs to be re-done. You are not responsible, it's just old. Report the repair and kick up a fight if they try to charge you. They won't charge you. This is not your fault.
posted by jbenben at 12:23 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Firstly, grout between tiles isn't supposed to deteriorate much - mine has been fine for 10+ years. Not cleaning it certainly won't lead to it falling apart. If anything, regular cleaning will wear it out quicker. I'd suggest that whoever did the grouting and subsequent repairs may not have actually used a waterproof grout, which is essential when tiling a shower. If the grout elsewhere in the room is OK, then this seems like it might be the issue.

A short-term fix is a thing called a 'grout pen', which will cover up the discoloured grout and make it white again. But this won't fix the underlying issue which, if left unfixed, will cause far greater damage in the long term. If it were me, I'd call the building management people and tell them that you think the grout is defective, and would like them to replace it with a waterproof grout. It's a fairly cheap, easy job that will save them money, and makes you look like a good tenant.
posted by pipeski at 12:23 PM on February 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Of course, if it is just really old grout, it's a fairly painless job to rake it out and re-grout it yourself. YouTube has plenty of tutorials.
posted by pipeski at 12:26 PM on February 11, 2018

You’re putting yourself in a much more vulnerable position if you try to fix something that wasn’t even your fault yourself, and the job is bad, than you are if you just report normal wear and tear to your landlord yourself. The way you’re describing this stuff makes it clear that you don’t really understand how tile/grout works and ages, which means you don’t understand how to fix it or how to hire someone who would know how to fix it properly. Just report it to your landlord and tell them you just noticed the problem; be confident that your lazy-side-of-normal approach to cleaning DID NOT cause grout to crack or tiles themselves to crack.
posted by amelioration at 12:44 PM on February 11, 2018 [10 favorites]

There's nothing you've described that would put you at fault for the failing grout, nothing. This is the owner's responsibility and you shouldn't do anything more than let them know it needs to be addressed.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:11 PM on February 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Use bleach pen to get rid of the stains on the grout, if they bother you. Don‘t touch the grout itself. Why would you regrout a shower that isn‘t yours?

Cleaning or not cleaning is irrelevant for the state of your grout.

If you‘re a nice person, you could let the landlord know that the grout seems to be failing (since this could lead to water damage down the road). It‘s their problem. This is literally what you pay rent for.
posted by The Toad at 1:24 PM on February 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Normal wear and tear. Grout gets grody, stuff exposed to water every day cracks, particularly if it wasn’t sealed well in the first place. Don’t worry about this anymore— and don’t go into why you think it’s your fault when you request maintenance.

I strongly discourage you as a renter from hiring repair people as you’ll be resposnible for the cost as well as any damage they do, and you may have even signed a lease that bars you from this anyway.
posted by kapers at 1:25 PM on February 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

The hairline crack and chip in the corner is still not especially serious. Over the course of the next five to ten years, it may deteriorate enough to allow water to seep underneath - that's the point at which it becomes serious. I think you may not realize how slow this deterioration process is. It's REALLY not caused by lackadaisical cleaning, and you get brownie points as a good tenant for reporting it. They may not even show up to repair immediately as it won't be prioritized as an immediate concern. They're very likely to want to wait until you move out to repair it; again, because it's a routine wear and tear issue that happens over time in every apartment everywhere, not an emergency.
posted by Gnella at 1:54 PM on February 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thanks, everyone for the advice and perspective! I feel a lot better about it.

I will report it and stop imagining catastrophic scenarios.
posted by space snail at 2:01 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I have maintenance requests, I clean my apartment first so it looks nice. But honestly, I've also just let me my apartment look like a total mess. The repair people have seen everything and they don't care. They haven't batted an eye, even when my apartment looked like a tornado blew through. You cannot be held responsible for the grout. I don't think that has anything to do with upkeep. Most people do not regularly scrub the tile in their showers. I'd just call them -- you have no reason to worry.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:53 PM on February 11, 2018

In the hopes that this makes you feel better - I can't recall ever cleaning the grout in any of my apartment showers. Maybe a quick scrub when it was time to move out? I definitely didn't squeegee every day! Regardless, I got the full deposit back in both cases, after living there for ~4 years and ~3 years.
posted by Metasyntactic at 4:20 PM on February 11, 2018

Grout and tile crack when they're installed wrong. Period. Grout can't bend. If the surface beneath isn't rigid enough, then the wood underneath flexes, and the grout cracks. I suppose there are additional options, like the grout was mixed wrong.

Your failure to clean could result in white-colored grout turning gray, but any rental property manager would expect that to happen anyway. (They may or may not expect you to get it together to clean it well before moving out.)
posted by slidell at 7:33 PM on February 11, 2018

Update: With a remarkable combination of speed and apathy, they sent someone over today who partially filled in the most egregious gap (there are still visible bubble-like holes along the edges), and paid no particular notice to the cracked tile. Not exactly the decisive resolution to the situation I was hoping for, but at least I guess they've fixed everything about the situation they consider pressing, and my conscience is clean?
posted by space snail at 3:52 PM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

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