Overcoming Common Grout-Cleaning Problems

Overcoming Common Grout-Cleaning Problems

As more cleaners add tile and grout cleaning to the list of services they provide, they are encountering unexpected problems. One concern is a white haze left on the grout or on the tile after the floors dry.

Two factors can produce this haze: efflorescence and sealer haze. Efflorescence appears as a white powder, normally on the grout. Sealer haze appears as a milky white haze where sealer has pooled and dried on the surface rather than penetrating the grout or stone. It is easily seen on dark-colored grout.

Prevent Efflorescence

Efflorescence can occur anytime there is moisture in masonry material — grout, concrete, or ceramic flooring. It may happen even after a thorough cleaning. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the possibility of efflorescence forming:

  • After cleaning floors, dry them quickly using airmovers
  • Seal grout lines or porous tiles after the floors are dry. This helps to keep out the moisture that can infiltrate as a result of daily maintenance cleaning. A seal that breathes allows any moisture remaining below the surface to escape. 
  • Because efflorescence is more easily seen in dark-colored grout, reduce the amount of water in the grout by choosing a sealer with a solvent carrier.

Brush or Wash Away Efflorescence

If, despite your best efforts, efflorescence appears, don’t despair. Foot traffic will remove some efflorescence, which may be an acceptable solution if the problem is mild or if your clients are not picky. Otherwise, you can often remove this salty deposit by simply brushing the grout with a stiff brush.

In cases where brushing doesn’t work, you can remove efflorescence with acid products. Try concentrated solutions of the acid tile and grout cleaners already in your cleaning arsenal. Another option is muriatic acid diluted to 10 ounces per gallon of water. There are also a variety of products specifically designed to remove efflorescence.

Apply the acid with a damp sponge or slightly damp mop. Keep in mind that water is a necessary ingredient to produce efflorescence, so try to use a minimum amount of water when removing it. Remember to wear appropriate personal protective equipment, including splash goggles and acid-resistant gloves, any time you are using acids.

Reasons Behind the Haze

Stone and grout sealer is intended to penetrate the porous surfaces and fill the capillaries. This prevents water or oils from getting into those same pores and staining the surface.

However, if something prevents the sealer from penetrating the surface, such as previous sealer applications, the protective coating can dry to a milky haze and leave behind a sticky residue. Unfortunately, grout sealer does not wear off with traffic.

With this in mind, there are many reasons sealer may not penetrate the grout:  

  • Different types of group have varying levels of porousness. The amount of sealer that was just right for one job may be too much for another surface.  
  • An increasing number of grouts contain polymers, latex, or epoxy, which are nonporous materials and create a built-in sealer. These grouts may accept only solvent-based sealers. Attempts to seal them with water-based sealers will leave a film. 
  • When more than one coat of sealer is applied, the first coat can keep subsequent coats from penetrating. 
  • Moisture that remains in the grout or stone can act as a barrier to solvent-based sealers. This is why floors should be thoroughly dry before you apply solvent-based sealers.

Prevent the Haze

Your first step in preventing sealer haze is to determine how much sealer is appropriate for each job. A simple test in a small area should answer that question. Select a test area that has received average traffic. Apply a few drops of water to the grout lines and observe how quickly the water takes to penetrate.

If the water penetrates quickly, there is little or no sealer present. If the water does not soak in, then the floor does not need additional sealer.

Next, apply sealer to an area. When it has dried, you can determine if there is enough sealer or perhaps too much. Avoid the temptation to apply a thick coat of sealer to get the job done quickly. Remember, it will always be easier to add another thin coat than to remove excess sealer.

Practice Makes Perfect

Don’t let the fear of efflorescence or sealer haze prevent you from offering tile and grout cleaning. Practice on your own floors or those of your friends until you’re comfortable with your technique. Begin with man-made tiles, such as ceramic and porcelain, before working on natural stones.

Visit distributors with practice floors so you can compare products and get some hands-on experience trying various equipment and methods.


Scott Warrington

Technical Support, Bridgeport and Interlink Supply

Scott Warrington provides technical support to the customer service department for Bridgeport and Interlink Supply. Contact him at 

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Overcoming Common Grout-Cleaning Problems
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