Tile Grout Removal Tool: Does This Exist? Where To Get It?

If you’re got nasty, stained tile grout, sometimes the easiest option is simply to rip it out and replace it.  Cleaning tile grout can often take as long as a full-out replacement.

But how do you remove tile grout without damaging the tile?

Many products claim to remove grout from tile.  Let’s take a look at the main ones:

1.  Flathead Screwdriver and Hammer


Image:  www.cae2k.com

Hammer and flathead screwdriver are the traditional method of chipping out tile grout.  Unless you have just a small portion of grout to remove, this method will tire you out quickly, leading to inevitable tile damage.

  • Type:  Manual
  • Cost:  Around $3-5
  • Effective (1-10):  1

2.  GroutGetter


Image:  GroutGetter.com

A slight improvement over the screwdriver/hammer method, the GroutGetter has a triangular head to better gouge out grout with less impact to the tile.

  • Type:  Manual
  • Cost:  Around $10
  • Effective (1-10):  3

3.  Dremel Tool


Image:  Dremel

The Dremel is a 12V rotary tool which, though not specifically designed to cut out grout, has countless interchangeable heads that will accommodate this use.

  • Type:  Electric
  • Cost:  Around $100
  • Effective (1-10):  8

4.  Ridgid JobMax Combo


Image:  Ridgid

This multi-tool set from Ridgid features a JobMax™ power base handle with a Multi-Tool head that includes saws to cut through tile.

  • Type:  Electric
  • Cost:  Around $200 at The Home Depot
  • Effective (1-10):  6

5.  The Grout Remover


Image:  TheGroutRemover.com

The Grout Remover is a novel concept.  Rather than cutting or zipping out the grout with a rotor, The Grout Remover “vibrates and reciprocates which helps eliminate damage to the existing tiles during the regrout process.”

  • Type:  Electric
  • Cost:  $69-$149
  • Effective (1-10):  ?

Tile Expansion Joint

What is a Tile Expansion Joint?

Sub-surfaces move; tile doesn’t.  Under tile you’ve got wood, drywall, cement board, any number of things.  These things can expand and contract and move.

Tile is hard and brittle.  Not only that, but tile grout is brittle.  So you need to reconcile movement with inflexibility.

A tile expansion joint replaces grout with a more flexible substance, such as silicone caulk.

The caulk can be tinted to match the rest of your grout, so that it doesn’t stand out as much.

Tub/Tile Caulk Can Be Used for Tile Expansion Joints
Tub/Tile Caulk Can Be Used for Tile Expansion Joints

Where to Use Tile Expansion Joints?

The good thing is that you don’t need expansion joints everywhere; just in a few places, and in not every tile application.

In Huge Tile Floors

While you may not be laying a floor this big, if you’re installing a floor more than 24 feet in any direction, you’ll need a tile expansion joint.

Think that your substrate is kinda shaky?  Then, install the expansion joints more closely.

At Corners

When you have two tiles meeting at an inside corner, use the caulk instead of grout to form the joint.

Tile Meeting with Non-Tile

Grout doesn’t stick to Formica, wood, electrical conduit, PVC pipe, or just about anything non-tile.  So, use your caulk to form the joint between tile and anything that isn’t tile.

Tile Grout Width

Before we start issuing any grand pronouncements, you have to realize some of the factors that go into deciding tile grout width.

And these are your decisions to make; not something that a home remodeling website can make for you.

  1. Tile grout can be used as a style and design device, not just as a way to hold tile together.  Do you plan on using colored tile grout or do you just want it to fade away?
  2. What is the size of your intended tile?  As you might imagine, small tiles with wide tile grout lines looks pretty crappy.  Not only that, but you’re compromising the tiles’ stability if you have almost as much grout as you do tile.
  3. What kind of tile are we talking about?  Granite?  Ceramic?
  4. Sanded vs. unsanded tile grout.  Unsanded tile grout can’t be used for the wide tile grout widths.  You’l be using sanded tile grout for widths over 1/8″
12x12 Ceramic Tile - Use 1/4" Tile Grout Width
12x12 Ceramic Tile - Use 1/4" Tile Grout Width

So, here are a few rules of thumb that might help you:

Nothing Over 1/2 Inch

Consider 1/2 inch the absolute maximum width for your tile grout.  Anything wider than 1/2 inch looks strange, doesn’t stick together well, and is prone to cracking.

Minimum Width:  1/16″

It doesn’t get much smaller than 1/16″.  If you try to get any smaller than that, you basically don’t have tile grout anymore.  You do need tile grout for ceramic; can’t get away from it.

If you hate the idea of grout, it is possible to install granite tile with epoxy, butting tile against tile–no grout.

But 1/16″, while theoretically possible, is still not recommended.

For 12″x12″ Tiles

For larger tiles of the 12″x12″ size, tile grout width of around 3/16″ to 1/4″ tends to work best.

For 4″x4″ Tiles

You’ll want to step down the tile grout width to something around 1/8″.

Can I Use Thinset as Grout?

Q: Can I Use Thinset Mortar as Grout?

A: Let me answer your question with a question: Why would you want to?  To save money, convenience, or what?

I see this question come up every now and then, and I think one motivation on the part of DIY’ers may when they are installing the tile, the thinset mortar squishes up between the seams of the tile.  The DIY’er may think:  the damn stuff is already between the tiles, so why not just keep it there as grout?

Thinset as “Accidental” Grout is Fine

Sure, you’re going to get some thinset “squish” between tiles.  The more skilled you become as a tile, the less squish you will get.  But squish is nothing to fear.  Any thinset that forms this bulge between tiles is OK–in small portions.  We’re not talking about the entire perimeter of the tiles; we’re talking the occasional squish here and there.

What you most certainly want to limit is thinset mortar squish that rises above the level of the tile.  This will give you no end of trouble.

Sanded Grout

But How About Thinset Instead of Grout?  It’s Cheaper…

Thinset is very cheap.  At the time of this writing (2009), you can buy a 25 pound bag of dry thinset for about $13.  And that’s just retail.

Your basic 25 pound bag of dry sanded grout will run you about twice that amount…around $22.

But there is a reason why tilers use two different materials for mortar and for grout:  they had different compositions.  You can even feel the difference if you rub the two materials between your fingers…  Grout is grainy-er than thinset mortar  Thinset’s job is to make the tile stick down; grout’s job is to provide this side-to-side stability.

Not only that, but thinset comes in one bland color.  One grout manufacturer, Mapei, produces grout in what they call “36 designer colors.” And Mapei is a pretty front-lines, Home-Depot-type of grout manufacturer.  If you want to get really creative, you can find grout in a wider range of brilliant colors, too.

Sealing Tile Grout

Sealing tile grout is required for most tile projects, but especially for those where grout joints need to be protected from moisture, mildew, or grease.  In some instances, grout will not need to be sealed, so check product instructions before you attempt sealing.

Seal the Joints

Grout is the glue that holds tiles together. Yet it’s more than that. It also adds to the aesthetics of a tile project and with colorants being used these days, grout can truly be a complement to whatever tile you choose. For most tiling, you will want to protect these grout joints from any preventable damage. Fortunately, there’s grout sealant to the rescue.

Depending on where your tile is located (bathroom shower, kitchen backsplash, countertop, etc.), you’ll need a sealant that works for that particular setting. For guidance, go by what is recommended by the grout manufacturer. Also for consistency, once you’ve selected a brand, stick with it for all future resealing and repair.

As said, sealing tile grout is especially important for any tile that’s exposed to moisture, mildew, or grease. For example, sealing a kitchen countertop will protect it from any grease or oil the surface may come in contact with. For the bathroom, grout sealant is necessary to protect joints from any water that may seep through and possibly reach the underlayment.

Sealing Tile Grout

Choosing a Grout Sealer

When choosing a grout sealer, you have two classifications: topical and penetrating.

  • Topical: While this type of sealant resists water, it does not work for glazed tiles, such as those use in a shower or a backsplash. The sealant is a good choice for decorative work, as it can chance the color of grout. For floors and ceramic tiles, this type of sealer will work fine until it’s worn off (such as by foot traffic).
  • Penetrating: Penetrating sealant fills in the microscopic spaces of grout. Once the water or mineral base solution evaporates, only solids are left behind — typically silicone or latex. By filling in the tiniest of pores in the grout, it makes the grout impervious to moisture.

Again, when it comes to sealing tile grout, choice of sealant largely depends on location. However, the type of grout is also telling. There are three main types: cement, epoxy, and furan resin.

Both cement-based and furan resin grouts are available in sanded and non-sanded versions. Epoxy grout is the most expensive of the three and is often used for surfaces that require water-resistance. What’s more, these grouts can be sealed using grout stains that alter the color of the grout and by doing so, seal the surface. If a stain is used, no further sealant is required.

Things to Remember About Sealing Tile Grout

For the do-it-yourselfer, there are a few things to remember when sealing tile grout. Keep them in mind when you start your project and you’ll avoid a good deal of mistakes:

  1. Cement grouts are porous and thus, should be sealed.
  2. A decorative colorant/stain cannot be used on grout that’s been sealed.
  3. Sealing grout will prevent it from staining (from age or use).
  4. For glazed tile, it’s better not to use a spray sealant.
  5. Though the two main sealants are penetrating and topical, there are hybrids on the market.
  6. Penetrating sealers will repeal oil-based stains.
  7. When applying a sealant, always wait at least 48 to allow the grout to completely set.

Do I Need to Use a Tile Grout Sealer?

Question: Do I Need to Use a Tile Grout Sealer? – Karen A., Connecticut

Answer: In general, “Yes, you need to use tile grout sealer.”  But read on…

Using a tile grout sealer is advisable. While not all tile joints will need a sealer, it doesn’t hurt to protect your investment. It’s true that epoxy-based grout typically doesn’t need to be sealed, but that’s only because it is usually sealed from a stain. Grout stains are epoxy-based products designed to penetrate the surface and seal in color. Thereby, sealing the grout.

Cement-Based Grout Always Needs a Sealer

For cement-based grout, a sealer is needed. This is especially true for tile that’s exposed to water. Cement grout is porous and thus, susceptible to moisture. You will want to seal off the grout so that no water can get through, get trapped, and start to build mildew behind the tiles. Once water reaches underlayment, you have a real problem. To avoid all this, simply use a tile grout sealer to create a protective coat.

For ceramic tiles, applying a sealant is advisable. It will help protect grout joints from wear (such as from foot traffic) and keep your tiling project looking clean, fresh, and new for years. What’s more, sealant aids in the cleanup of tiles, as it makes grout impervious to dirt, grime, and chipping.

Tile Grout Sealer

“…Tile Dictates the Type of Grout…”

The type of tile used depends largely on the setting and purpose. While ceramic tiles work great for floors, you’ll want glazed tiles for backsplashes and shower walls. What’s more, the type of tile dictates the type of grout used, which determines the type of sealant needed.

To make this process easier, simply follow the grout manufacturer’s recommendation. Also, once you select a brand of grout and sealer, stick with it for all resealing and repair. Though all grout products are similar, it’s best not to mix them.

Grout-Sealing Tips

A few tips to remember when applying sealant to grout:

  • Tiling is a delicate project that takes precision and patience. Once done, it’s only natural you’ll want to protect it. A tile grout sealer can be the final step to lasting beauty. Remember to wait at least 48 hours to let the grout set and dry.
  • For glazed ceramic tiles, you’ll want to seal the grout joints with a silicone or water-based sealant. Remember that if it’s glazed, it’s OK if sealer gets on the tile surface. Simply wipe it off before it dries.
  • There are two main types of sealants: topical sealers, which coat the surface of the grout, and penetrating sealers, which soak into the grout. Both are water-resistant. Remember, to test the sealant, simply drop some water onto the sealed grout. The water should bead up as if the surface has been waxed.
  • Plan on resealing grout periodically to keep joints protected. Sealant will eventually wear off and should be replaced. Remember that water leads to mold and mildew.
  • Spray-on tile grout sealer is often used these days on tile floors. Remember though, glazed floor tiles are usually easier to maintain if no spray has been applied at all. The tiles are usually produced using “dust processing,” which leaves them practically waterproof already.

Good luck!

Grout Haze Cleaning

What is grout haze and why does it need to be cleaned?

After you apply grout to your tile with the float, there will be a “haze” on the surface of the tile that must be cleaned off.

Why is the grout haze there in the first place?

Because of the way grout is applied to tile.  Grout is sort of glopped onto the surface of the tile and then mushed into the seams between the tiles with your rubber float tool.

Wait.  Isn’t grout abrasive?  Why doesn’t grout damage the surface of glossy tile?

It most certainly can.  If you were to spread grout across your glossy or semi-glossy tiles enough times, you would abrade the surface.

What’s the first step in grout haze cleaning?

First, you wipe off the “big junk” with a wet sponge.  Use a big enough sponge.  Otherwise it will be nearly impossible to wipe the grout off.  Next you completely clean off the sponge or get a new sponge and wipe down the tile once more.  But that will not completely do the trick.  That is where grout haze cleaning comes in.

Why can’t you get the grout haze off with a wet sponge?

I don’t know the exact chemistry behind us.  But believe me, no matter how many times you bring out your spine which and no matter how clean the sponge, you cannot remove this grout haze by sponge alone.  It is like a white efflorescence.

So what is the trick to grout haze cleaning?

You need to buy a special grout haze cleaner.  Don’t confuse this with grout cleaner.  Grout cleaner is something completely different and is applied to your grouts only after your grout has gotten dirty over a number of years.  Some DIY forums recommend a number of B.S. solutions, such as using a 3M pad, mixing up vinegar and water, using muriatic acid, etc., etc.  But given the cheapness of authentic grout haze cleaner, found at practically any hardware store, Lowe’s, Home Depot, or wherever, might as well get the real stuff.


Mapei Grout Color

Q: What is Mapei Grout Color?

Mapei Corporation supplies materials and equipment for the tiling industry.

Mapei offers grout products called OptiColor, Ultracolor, and Ultracolor Plus. These grouts and others have certain colors that are found in retail locations (Home Depot, etc.)

Q: Does Mapei have grout coloration stains?

No. OptiColor itself comes in what Mapei calls “36 designer colors.” But Mapei offers no separate grout coloration system.

Mapei Grout Color
Mapei Grout Color Chart

Q: What Mapei grout colors are there?

If you’re looking for something exciting and unconventional, sorry suckas – you won’t find it at Mapei. Mapei’s offerings are fairly normal (read: bland).

But it should be noted that it’s difficult to formulate a really brilliant grout color.  Most of the Mapei grout colors are fairly muted and earthen-toned.

Here are Mapei’s grout colors (take a deep breath now):  White, Bone, Cayenne, French Vanilla, Ivory, Terra Cotta, Biscuit, Straw, Gray, Pear, Alabaster, Warm Gray, silver, Harvest, Avalanche, Waterfall, Summer Tan, Lilac Green Tea, Irish Cream, Blue Oyster, Pewter, Sand, Magnolia, Sahara Beige, Malt Slate Gray, Chamois, Navajo Brown, charcoal, Camel, Pale Umber, Black, Mocha, and Cinnamon Spice.

Q: Where can I get more information about Mapei grout color choices?

I have found the Mapei Corporation website to be horribly unhelpful.  The Mapei grout color chart is duplicated right above.  But you’re welcome to take your chances.   The Mapei grout color chart is found here.