As building service contractors know all too well, small details matter. No one area of a building’s interior is insignificant. When seemingly trivial areas get overlooked, it can end up causing headaches for occupants and contractors alike. Grout cleaning is so basic and deceptively simple, it’s easy to make expensive mistakes on tile floors.

Most restrooms — whether in commercial, retail, industrial, healthcare or educational facilities — feature ceramic tile flooring. Tile flooring is also often found in lobbies and entranceways, manufacturing areas and foodservice or breakrooms.

When performing a pre-inspection or walkthrough, cleaning contractors should take note of a few things in regard to tile and grout.

• Know the floor’s history: Though it isn’t incredibly common, some tile floors have been sealed and that can dictate how the floor should be cleaned.
“Grout stays much cleaner if it’s been sealed or impregnated,” says Larry McAlpin, vice president of strategic projects at Rite Way Service Inc., Birmingham, Ala. “Grout is very porous and absorbs liquids so if a tile and grout floor has been sealed, it can be a whole lot easier to get and keep clean.”

However, a sealed tile floor still requires additional maintenance, says Stewart Wurm, executive vice president at Mr. Clean Maintenance Systems, Bloomington, Calif. A sealed and waxed floor requires stripping of those two layers before the grout itself can be cleaned, so more intensive cleaning projects need to planned for accordingly. Floors should be re-sealed every 14 to 20 months if using a water-based sealer, or every two to three years if using a solvent-based sealer.

• Pre-inspections matter: Be sure to inspect the grout and tile areas for any chips and cracks, says Craig Kersemeier, president of K-tech Kleening Systems in Weston, Wis.

“If you wait to point out chips, cracks or deformities until after you’ve cleaned a floor, you may be held liable for them,” he says. “A little pre-inspection goes a long way. If you see something is loose or cracked, report it. Educate customers — don’t make excuses.”

• Natural stone is a different animal: Natural stone tiles — such as granite and marble — are popular in some commercial and retail facilities, particularly in lobby and entryway areas where looks and first impressions matter. But don’t make the mistake of using the same chemicals on granite that you’d use to clean a ceramic tile floor, says McAlpin.

“You’d never want to use an acidic product on natural stone, because stone has calcium in it and acid reacts with the calcium and will ruin it,” McAlpin says.

However, certain stains such as rust require an acid-based product to remove, says Kersemeier.

“Acid cleaners can etch or eat away at the stones,” he says. “So don’t forget to always test your product in a corner to make sure it’s not going to have a bad reaction.”

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Grout Cleaning Tips