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white bathroom tile wall
Credit: Janelle Jones

With tile, the difference between dingy and dazzling often comes down to the grout in between. When you think of grout, envision a sponge, as this material actually absorbs grime. And while the culprit may vary from room to room (mildew in the bathroom, cooking splatters in the kitchen, or mud stains on the foyer floor), you don't need specialized systems to get gross grout—and the surrounding tiles—clean again.

Follow this fail-proof strategy to clean tiles and grout and watch how fast your walls and floors sparkle.

yellow gloved hand cleaning tile with blue sponge
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How to Clean Tiles

When cleaning your tile, avoid using harsh chemicals, such as vinegar (even if it's diluted). This cleaning solution is very acidic, says Robb Roderick, a technical trainer at the National Tile Contractors Association. "If the solution is too strong, you'll weaken and damage the grout, and vinegar can etch stone tiles," he says.

Materials You'll Need

  • Warm water
  • Dish soap
  • Microfiber towel or cloth
  • Surface cleaner

For most types of tile, including porcelain and ceramic, you only need one key ingredient: A DIY mixture of warm water and dish soap will do the trick. Follow these steps to clean tiles:

  1. Spray the water and dish soap solution on the tile surface.
  2. Wipe the area with a damp microfiber towel or cloth.

Need to achieve a deeper clean? Break out the surface cleaner and follow our tips:

  1. To deep clean tile floors and walls to rid them of soap scum residue, spritz tiled floors and shower walls with surface cleaner, then apply or turn on hot water for five minutes until steam builds.
  2. Wait 20 minutes and wipe off the tiles with a cloth.

Make Some Daily Tweaks

If you have tile floors and notice certain areas get particularly grimy—say, by the back door or near the laundry basket—consider putting down a rug to better protect those areas from dirt and debris or make sweeping and mopping a more frequent habit, says Melissa Maker, the author of Clean My Space.

hanging terra cotta plater with fern
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How to Clean Grout

Now it's time to turn your attention to the grout lines between those clean tiles. How grimy the grout gets may come down to what it's made of: Traditional grout is a mixture of sand and cement, though more modern options include latex and other polymers to help boost their stain-resistance.

Materials You'll Need

  • Hot water
  • Stiff bristle brush or grout brush
  • Steam cleaner

No matter what stains you're facing, water and patience will be your two best tools. Follow these steps to clean the grout:

  1. Start by spraying the grout with hot water and scrubbing with a stiff bristle brush or a grout brush to lift any dirt or grime on the surface.
  2. Using a steam cleaner (this tool is especially effective against grout stains, says Maker), apply steam directly to the grout, then use your brush to scrub in a circular motion.
  3. "Blot any moisture away with a rag, and once the grout dries, it may look good as new," she says.

Why Water Works Best

Water has a neutral pH (at 7) and is particularly gentle and safe for grout, says Rodderick. That's less true for highly acidic cleaners (such as vinegar, which has a pH around 2) and highly alkaline cleaners (such as bleach, with a pH around 12), so you want to use them very sparingly.

Attack Stubborn Grout Stains

If your grout still looks dull, grab a cleaner that's pH neutral (such as Neu's Tub & Tile Cleaner). Then, take your stiff brush and give it another scrub, explains Donna Smallin Kuper, certified house cleaning technician and author at Unclutter.com. "Elbow grease really is the most important ingredient," says Smallin Kuper. A Magic Eraser can also make quick work of stubborn stains, but know that you might go through more than one to get a room full of tiles sparkly.

After scrubbing, use a damp sponge or microfiber cloth to remove any remaining grout cleaner. Just make sure you're using a clean cloth and fresh water, says Maker. "If the sponge is dirty or you're using dingy mop water to rinse, the grout will soak it up and become discolored again in a snap," she says.

For super-stubborn stains, the Tile Council of America recommends alkaline cleaners (such as Mr. Clean or Spic and Span) over acidic options. When using any non-neutral cleaner, perform a quick test in a small, inconspicuous spot, says Rodderick. Wait a few minutes to make sure you don't see discoloration or damage before moving on to the rest of the grout lines.

Kill Mold

Hot, humid bathrooms with limited circulation are like dream environments for mold spores. While bleach does effectively kill mold on non-porous surfaces, like tiles and countertops, it's not as effective on porous surfaces like caulk, drywall, wood, and grout. Try Zep Tile Mold Stain and Mildew Stain Remover to send mold stains packing for good, suggests Smallin Kuper. Then make it a habit to open a window or run the bathroom fan after showers to lower the room's humidity.

Seal Your Success

Sealers fill the grout's pores, preventing grime, grit, and mold from infiltrating the porous material. How often you need to seal grout depends on how high-traffic a tiled area is, but aim for at least annually—and for most areas in the home, twice a year is a solid goal, says Maker. Just be sure to wait at least 24 hours between deep-scrubbing and applying the sealer (like DuPont Grout Sealer) to make sure the grout is completely dry.

scrubbing bathroom tile floor
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How to Maintain Tile and Grout

To maintain the cleanliness of your tile and grout, the first step is setting a routine to refresh them, notes Anne Ruozzi, the founder of Therapy Clean. "For best results, clean weekly," she says. "Not only is your bathroom going to feel clean, but it will also be more sanitary and keep mold at bay." Mold eventually eats away at grout and moisture buildup will cause the grout to loosen over time.

Regularly Wipe Down Tile

In the bathroom, you'll cut future grout-scouring time by half (or more!) if you keep a small squeegee or a clean microfiber cloth near the shower, to quickly wipe down the tiles after you turn off the water, says Leslie Reichert, green-cleaning coach and author of The Joy of Cleaning. "You'll hardly have to deep clean, because there's nothing building up on the tile's surface," says Reichert. Tell your family to open a window or run the exhaust fan for 10 to 20 minutes after a shower, as well, to quickly pull humidity and moisture from the room and help prohibit mold growth on the grout.

When to Call a Professional

If you notice widespread discoloration of tile and grout, you'll need to contact a professional to assess the damage and give the area a thorough cleaning, says Ruozzi. "If tile and grout have been neglected to the point where discoloration exists, chances are they start loosening up to the point where water seeps through to the back wall," she says. "[This creates] mold in areas that can't be seen, but that pose a health risk."

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