Dingy Grout — You’re Out!

Retiring restroom grout discoloration using modern equipment and methods.

Sure, everyone uses them, but these rooms are rarely discussed in “polite” company.

Restrooms, loos, powder rooms, water closets, latrines — no matter the name, at least one of these needed spaces can be found in 99 percent of public buildings.

Inside each of these restrooms, there will be at least one troublesome cleaning challenge that industrious JanSan workers must conquer.

From soiled floors to contaminated surfaces, from funky toilets to overflowing garbage cans, high-use restrooms frequently require the lion’s share of a cleaner’s time and attention.

This is especially true today, as orderly restrooms have proven to be an important indicator when it comes to public perception and comfort.

When nature calls, no one wants use a public restroom that looks like a natural disaster, and few things can affect a customer’s or visitor’s opinion of a business or public space as much as dirty, unkempt restrooms.

One of the most common restroom challenges can be found beneath a user’s feet — tainted tiles and grungy grout.

Most grout found on floors and walls is porous, and acting as a sponge for bacteria and moisture, it absorbs contaminants and presents a considerable cleaning challenge.

“Dirt accumulates in the grout lines, liquids soak into the grout lines, both create unsightly and odiferous situations,” says Bill McGarvey, director of training & sustainability for the Philip Rosenau Company and a Cleaning Management Institute certified trainer.

Fortunately for building service contractors (BSCs) and facility managers, there are chemicals, equipment and cleaning tools made especially to address the appearance issues, discoloration and odor problems that are common to restroom tile floors.

Up To Bat

While three or four tile floors might be a challenge for many cleaning operations, imagine how grout problems can pile up with a dozen restrooms.

Matthew Kastel is manager of baseball operations and events for the Maryland Stadium Authority, and he is responsible for maintenance, janitorial and events in Camden Yards, which includes Oriole Park and B&O Warehouse.

“I have been with the Maryland Stadium Authority for over five years and have over 25 years experience in the industry, including working for the Houston Astros, Citizens Bank Park and the D.C. Convention Center,” Kastel says.

By itself, Oriole Park offers visitors 39 restrooms that see approximately 2 million Orioles fans during the team’s 81 home games every year.

According to Kastel, the Oriole Park restroom breakdown includes:

  • A club level with 16 restrooms
  • The upper concourse with 11 restrooms
  • The lower concourse with 10 restrooms
  • The Eutaw Street area with two restrooms.

The club level restrooms include tile floors while the upper and lower concourse restrooms have MMA flooring and cinderblock walls, Kastel notes.

Bases Loaded

In Oriole Park, the biggest challenge to keeping restroom floors clean is the volume and frequency of large crowds, Kastel states.

The highest restroom traffic occurs during rain delays; attendees will leave their seats and congregate on the covered concourses and in the restrooms.

When dirty grout lines are visible in high-traffic public restrooms, often the tiles themselves are one cause, according McGarvey.

The tile’s edges can act as a squeegee that pulls solution and dirt off of cleaning equipment, McGarvey explains.

If a cleaner is not using clean equipment and fresh solution on a restroom floor, the dirt will be pulled from the mop, and it will dry leaving soil in the grout lines.

Practice And Equipment

McGarvey offers three suggestions for daily restroom floor cleaning tasks:

  • Thoroughly sweep or vacuum floors before performing any wet cleaning processes to remove as much dry soil as possible.
  • Accurately dilute the mopping solution as chemical overuse can cause sticky floors.
  • When possible, cleaners should use a wet vacuum to pick up the dirty cleaning solution.

For restroom floor project or deep cleaning, McGarvey recommends scrubbing equipment that includes brushes.

“Floors need to be thoroughly scrubbed periodically to minimize the buildup of soil,” he says. “This scrubbing can be accomplished with a variety of equipment, but typically scrubbing brushes should be used whether we are talking about a brush under a conventional floor machine or cylindrical brushes on other machines.”

The brush bristles should be adequate to get into the grout to provide proper agitation, and the chemical used during this process should be tested ahead of time to ensure it will adequately remove the soils, McGarvey notes.

Today, BSCs and facility managers have a number of cleaning equipment choices: Equipment designed specifically to clean tile and grout, add-ons created to be used with traditional equipment or equipment that was designed for multiple surfaces including tile and grout.

Manufacturers are also adapting their equipment for restroom uses.

One example McGarvey cites is a powerful carpet extractor that was adapted by its manufacturer to be used with a pressure washing and scrubbing machine to produce significant restroom results.

When it comes to restrooms, spray and vacuum cleaning equipment has proven ideal to keep problems at a minimum, McGarvey says.

Cleaners’ Extra Innings

Kastel explains that workers at Oriole Park use spray and vacuum equipment to clean restrooms after every game.

This can be a challenge for cleaners due to frequent back-to-back games or day games that follow night games.

“Due to the time constraints, grout cleaning becomes tough on a daily basis,” Kastel states.

During baseball season, project tasks like tile and grout work is scheduled in between the Orioles’ homestands, approximately every other week.

“The All-Star break comes midsummer and is usually longer than your normal road trip,” Kastel explains. “Most teams try to schedule some of their more arduous and time consuming projects during this break.”

When the maintenance and janitorial workers at Oriole Park have the time, they utilize a portable extractor, and sometimes even a buffer, for restroom floor project cleaning.

The extractor includes a high-pressure solution hose, three vacuum motors, a water hook up as well as a dump hose.

Further, the machine has automatic water fill and chemical feed, so cleaner dilution is easy and efficient.

To return stained grout lines to their original color, workers here use a Green Seal Certified, biodegradable product that contains hydrogen peroxide.

“After we dilute it properly, we let [it] sit for about five minutes before we begin to work on the tile,” Kastel says.

Grout Problems: You’re Out

The first cleaning step McGarvey recommends is ascertaining what is causing grout discoloration.

If soil can be seen creeping up a wall in the grout lines, managers need look no further than the nearest custodian’s mop bucket, he says.

Aside from a troublesome mop bucket, managers should try to figure out what soil has discolored the grout and where it originates.

To remove existing discoloration, an appropriate cleaning agent should be used to loosen the soil with proper agitation from a brush or a pressure washer using 1,000 PSI or less.

Once the soil has been loosened, recovery should be accomplished with a good-quality wet vacuum.

“Trying to mop up the dirty solution is merely going to start the soiling process again,” McGarvey reveals.

Once grout is properly cleaned — or better yet when grout is new — it should be sealed with an impregnating sealer.

McGarvey notes this sealer will not add “shine” to the floor as it typically will not bond much, if at all, with the tile.

This treatment simply seals the grout making it less porous and harder for soil to develop a stronghold to the surface.

“The process is to thoroughly clean and rinse the grout, allow it to dry, then apply the sealer with a pump sprayer, paint roller or lamb’s wool applicator,” McGarvey says. “Allow the product to sit for a minimum of five to 10 minutes, then squeegee away any excess product.”

After roughly 30 minutes, a second application may be applied, and approximately one hour after completion, the floor can be opened to foot traffic.

Actual wet cleaning should not resume on the floor for 48 hours.

Finally, McGarvey concludes that floor finish should never be used on a tile floor in place of an impregnating sealer.

Floor finish typically does not hold up in this environment and can be difficult to completely remove from the floor, especially in the grout lines.

Grout line maintenance and cleaning has traditionally proved to be a challenge for most cleaning crews.

For heavy trafficked areas, the use of air movers and proper ventilation will help keep moisture, bacteria and contaminants from thriving in porous grout.

Posted On October 4, 2013

Phillip Lawless

Phillip Lawless is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He has over 15 years of professional writing and editing experience.

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Dingy Grout — You’re Out!
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