Tap into tiles and grout
Tips for inspecting and cleaning tile, grout. By Taf Baig From the June
2002 edition of Cleanfax magazine. For a free introductory subscription, click
As tile and grout cleaning moves from low tech to high tech, more carpet
cleaning companies are finding gold in this new business.
This untapped market produces returns from 50 cents to $1.50 per square foot
and all you need are a few tools and chemicals that work with your existing
truckmount and portable.
However, many carpet cleaners are reluctant to get into this business, mainly
because they are not sure how to perform the service.
They’re afraid that they will ruin something, and while these fears are
understandably true, a little education can quickly overcome any fears you may
Tile tales Rich Absher, a tile and grout cleaning instructor for
Hydro-Force, Salt Lake City, UT, lists four different groups of tiles:
Man-made hard ceramic and porcelain
There are also 4 major types of grout:
Sanded lime-based cementitious
Unsanded lime-based cementitious
If you’re a beginner, you should first learn to clean the most common
tiles and grout until you gain more experience.
How do you know what is common and what is not?
Four tests may need to be done to determine the suitability of the floor to
be cleaned, according to Absher. The goal is to check to see if it’s man-made or
Learn to identify the tile type before attempting to clean.
1. Does the tile pattern repeat? In a large room you would see the
man-made tile repeated in a combination of four to six different tiles. With
natural stone, every tile would be different and has the 1/16th beveled edge.
Tile manufacturers are making more and more look-a-likes that try to
duplicate real stone in every way, which makes this task even more difficult.
Don’t be alarmed. Just visit your local flooring store to learn to tell the
difference visually. A trained eye can usually determine whether it’s man-made
or natural by sight alone.
Scott Rendall, of BRC Systems and owner of Sci-Clean in Brighton, MI, says
good inspection is most important and suggests looking for chips or broken
“Make sure grout is intact, he said. “When cleaning marble or other natural
tiles, don’t use acid because it will etch the surface.”
If the tile pattern repeats, then it’s man-made. The following three tests
are necessary only if you haven’t determined this from the previous test.
2. Determine surface porosity Placing a few drops of water on the tile.
Some tiles will show an immediate absorption of water.
There’s a range of porosity and even the most dense stone-like granite will
allow water to flow through it, even though it could take more than 10 minutes
to fully penetrate the surface and more than 30 minutes to work through the
Most ceramic tile is relatively non-porous. The more porous the tile, the
more prone the tile is to efflorescence as a result of cleaning.
You may notice some efflorescence, a precipitate that has the appearance of a
white, chalky, powder-like substance on the surface of the grout and most porous
tiles, especially darker tiles.
A free demonstration is a great way to sell customers on tile cleaning.
To remove it, allow adequate drying time for the minerals to accumulate
completely to the surface of the grout or tile, then buff it out using an
abrasive pad or brush.
3. Scratch the tile Scratch the surface of the tile with a sharp knife.
Make sure you ask for permission, since you wouldn’t want to replace the tile
at your expense. Find an inconspicuous area where you are going to test or get a
piece of extra tile.
If the stone scratches, high pressure may not be the ideal cleaning method.
If caution is taken to make sure no dirt gets trapped under the tools being
used, then these tools can be used at lower pressures. The softer the tile, the
lower the pressure.
4. Apply phosphoric acid If it fizzes, then the tile is natural. In the
beginning, you will avoid natural stones, but if you test first, then you can
successfully clean even the softest of stone tiles.
Grout and about The problem with grout is that each time tile is
mopped, dirt gets pushed down into the grout lines, making it several times
dirtier than the tile.
Efflorescence is a white, chalky substance that can be buffed off using an
abrasive pad or brush.
“We have found two things to work well on grout,” Sam Samad, regional sales
manager for Magic Wand Company, said. “One is a concentration of high pressure
and the other is a tile safe bleach product.”
The pressure is necessary to get into the small opening of grout to blow out
The bleach is necessary to bleach away years of dirt that have been absorbed
into the grout.
The key is the dwell-time with this product; the dirtier the grout, the
longer the dwell time.
It is important to keep the area wet while the chemical is allowed to work.
Two grout types Cementitious grout and epoxy grout are basically the
two types of grout, Absher says.
The way to tell the difference between them is to take a knife and try to cut
it in an inconspicuous area.
Cementitious grout will be dry and powdery because it is lime based, while
epoxy grout can be cut into like plastic.
Epoxy grout also does not need to be sealed, since it will not absorb
moisture like an unsealed cementatious grout. Do not deliberately try to seal an
epoxy grout or your efforts will be in vain.
High pressure tile cleaning can have dramatic results.
Most grout will come clean, but if it still looks “blotchy” Samad recommends
using one to 10 parts of muriatic acid. Apply it with a towel on the grout only,
and rinse it out within two minutes.
You can increase the concentration if the grout does not respond.
Only use this on cementitious grout as a last resort.
This is an industry that belonged to the janitorial and maid service
industry, but has seamlessly connected itself to ours as we’ve developed tools
and chemicals that work in conjunction with our truckmounts and portables to
produce “jaw-dropping” results.
Taf Baig is president of Magic Wand Company, a manufacturer and distributor
of carpet cleaning tools, equipment and supplies. He is also president of a very
successful carpet and furniture cleaning company. He owns patents to several
tools and pieces of equipment. To e-mail him, visit www.magicwandco.com.