Skip the Bleach—One of the Best Grout Cleaners Is Safe Enough to Apply by Hand
And as a last resort, there’s always paint.
Published Mar 29, 2022 1:10 AM
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It’s inevitable—grout can get grimy. Whether you have bright white in a subway tile–clad kitchen or rainbow-hued lines as in London-based artist Leslie Kulesh’s 60-square-foot bathroom, you’ll want to pick up one of the best grout cleaners to keep this essential looking good as new. No matter if your grout is ivory or gray—even lilac, blue, or mango—the porous material tends to lose its vibrancy over time, thanks to hard water, food spills, soap scum, and regular old dust and dirt. Read on for a few of our favorite cleaners and scrubbers, which may also help you uncover your bathroom’s original (and maybe even unknown!) grout color.
- For floors: Mrs. Meyer’s Multi-Surface Concentrate
- For wall tile: Humble Suds Scour Paste
- For scrubbing: The Laundress Scrub Brush
- For when all else fails: Waterproof Grout Pen Tile Paint Marker
For Floors: Mrs. Meyer’s Multi-Surface Concentrate
Material: Oil-based liquid concentrate | Shipping: Free with Amazon Prime | Cost: $17 for a 2-pack | Application: Dilute with water, then spray and scrub or dip and mop
What we like:
- 8 herbaceous and floral scents (that will subtly linger)
- Climate-pledge friendly and Ecologo certified
- Does not disinfect
Why we chose it: Watch dirt melt away without having to use ammonia or bleach.
We’ll just come out and say it: White grout is a beast to keep clean. As a porous material, it easily absorbs all sorts of crud, especially when regularly exposed to water. But you don’t need to worry about breathing in chemicals to clean those crevices. Mrs. Meyer’s multi-surface concentrate is great at loosening up particles and will work even better with the right tool. Skip the toothbrush—which often has bristles that are too soft to get the job done—and look for stiffer fibers, like tampico (our favorite option is linked below!) and reinforced nylon or polyester. We also found that presoaking grout with a paste of baking soda and water makes the cleaner more effective. Then dilute and pour it on, and wipe the dirt off without having to put a face mask on. Just be sure to mix with enough water, as we’ve found when not properly diluted, it can leave a film behind on floors.
For Wall Tile: Humble Suds Scour Paste
Material: Paste | Shipping: $5.95 | Cost: $15 | Application: Dampen surface before applying paste, then scrub and rinse well
What we like:
- Naturally whitens
- Basic pH
- Safe on all sorts of surfaces (even a sink and stove)
- Nonabrasive and deodorizing
- Doesn’t sanitize on its own
Why we chose it: Cleans, brightens, and whitens grout lines and bath tile at the same time.
The Scour paste from Humble Suds is safe enough to clean pretty much anything, from pots and pans to fruits and vegetables—even your hands—and despite being nonabrasive, can refresh grout lines like magic. The whipped texture almost foams up as you’re using it, but the trick is to start with just a spoonful, then add on as needed (because it’s baking soda–based, the paste can be difficult to remove if too much has been applied). For extra grit, Jennifer Parnell, cofounder of Humble Suds, recommends adding a dash or two of kosher salt and reaching for the Fuginator Eco-Friendly Scrub Brush before scrubbing in circular motions. While it won’t sanitize, pair the paste with Illuminate Mineral and Oxygen Powder to not only enhance the brightening effect but remove germs from the surface. Bonus: We also love Humble Suds for cleaning tubs.
For Scrubbing: The Laundress Scrub Brush
Material: Wood and tapico | Shipping: $5.95 | Cost: $16 | Application: Once cleaner is applied, scrub designated surface
What we like:
- Natural materials
- Made in the U.S.
- Simple Scandi design
- Separate brushes recommended for different rooms
Why we chose it: Stiff fibers are better than a toothbrush.
If you mosey down the aisle of grout brushes at your local hardware store, you’ll likely be staring at a sea of neon bristle colors and plastic heads and handles. To avoid adding another eyesore to your cleaning repertoire, the Laundress brush is both effective—tampico is a durable, plant-based fiber—and pretty enough to hang up on your kitchen or bathroom wall like a vintage-inspired accessory. We love the ergonomic and light wood handle, which helps keep your hand from cramping. Pro tip: To keep the brush looking fine (and to prevent it from harboring odors), make sure to rinse it with liquid soap and hot water after each use.
For When All Else Fails: Waterproof Grout Pen Tile Paint Marker
Material: Paint | Shipping: Free with Amazon Prime | Cost: $9 | Application: Clean designated surface, shake, and apply pressure to the tip to release the paint
What we like:
- Nontoxic, water-based formula
- Works best on unsealed grout
- Can be used on grout anywhere
- Choose between a narrow or wide tip, depending on the size of your grout lines
- May not work on sealed grout
Why we chose it: When stains are simply too stubborn to remove for good, we turn to paint.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you scrub, grout may simply be beyond the point of recovery. But you don’t have to start tallying up the cost of replacements or living with stubborn stains as long as your rental’s lease; our style editor, Julia Stevens, has a quick fix: a grout pen. She equates the cheap thrill (it costs just $9 and covers 150 feet of 2 millimeters grout) to a white-out marker for your grout lines (but the company also offers 11 other colors). Just follow each line and wipe away any excess paint, an easy enough process that took Stevens only about 15 minutes of work. It should dry in just five minutes and be ready for you to take your next shower without worry after six hours.
How We Chose These Products
Plenty of grout cleaners contain chemical-heavy ingredients, so when narrowing down our list of products, we made sure to prioritize nontoxic materials (one less worry if your pets or young children are scampering about). From there, we considered how effective these cleaners are to apply—just add water or dampen, spritz, and scrub. Keep in mind that because our chosen cleaners steer clear of scary stuff, be prepared to use a little more elbow grease for the best results. (But thankfully, you won’t have to fret about keeping your windows open to air out any fumes.) We also factored in a product’s overall applicator design for quick dispensing—and, of course, a chic enough bottle that won’t embarrass you if the closet door is opened. Lastly, we considered the right tools and tricks to work with each pick on our list.
Our Shopping Checklist
Grout can be tricky to clean, and since it’s exposed to dirt, soap, splatters, and spills, you’ll need more than just a spray bottle to tackle this particular pain point. Whether you prefer using a diluted concentrate or whipping up a foamy paste, each task will likely need the assistance of water to suds things up and then rinse them down. We’ve found that a multipurpose cleaner works great in this situation, as it can easily be applied in any room where tiles and grout are found. Ingredients you’re likely to come across include denatured alcohol, a solvent that’s also a common cleaning agent for both sanitizing and helping dissolve scum, and glycerin, another solvent that helps whittle away stubborn stains and can help cleaning pastes from going dry (you can almost always find it in soap). You’ll find citric acid, naturally derived from fruits and great for hard-water stains, and decyl glucoside—a mouthful, we know, but also great at removing discoloration due to hard water. And special oils, like orange and lemongrass, both of which are a natural degreaser that leave behind a lovely, fresh scent.
Ditch any old, unused toothbrushes when it comes to scouring grout lines; they’re definitely not the most effective tools you can use. Toothbrushes tend to have softer bristles (even the ones labeled “hard”), and for grout you’ll want something stiff like reinforced nylon or polyester to really dislodge dirt buildup. What you don’t want is something so hard it can scratch and wear at grout (look for keywords including nonscratching and scratch-resistant). Plant-based fibers are also great, like tampico, which is not only durable and stiff but refuses to warp and become brittle after extended exposure to hot temperatures, acids, and other tough cleaners.
Brush and Container Design
Design-wise, grout brushes offer a signature angled look, as they’re made to target narrow lines. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but we advise keeping comfort in mind, too. This is something you’ll be putting some elbow grease behind, so you’ll want a brush that’s easy to keep a firm grip on. But if you’re attempting to cover more ground than just the smaller nooks and crannies, try looking for a brush attachment with an extendable pole, like the E-Z Scrubber.
For cleaners, we prefer containers with design-forward labels that are fine to leave out if needed but also allow for easy dispensing. There’s nothing worse than transferring a cleaner to a spray bottle or other vessel and wasting it during a poor pour.
Q: How often should I clean grout lines?
Kulesh recommends wiping down your whole area, whether in the kitchen or shower, once a week. Tackling these surfaces daily rather than pushing them off every month or so makes the overall task seem far less daunting. And once you have your grout looking as good as it can get, you don’t need to do anything special moving forward. Just make sure it’s enjoying proper airflow, Kulesh adds. But her best advice is to keep every cleaner you’re using, whether it’s for the room or your body, as simple as possible. By not exposing grout to all kinds of extra chemicals, it won’t get stuck and discolored.
Q: Are there any DIY grout cleaners I can make with ingredients at home?
According to Kulesh’s tiler, you can always give vinegar and water a try first if you start to spot any buildup or discoloration.
Q: Do steam cleaners work on grout?
Yes! For a really deep clean, turn to pressurized steam. A good steam cleaner only needs water to blast away stains, dirt, dust, and debris in a flash, with little to no physical exertion. Just make sure you’re using an attachment specific for grout and targeting that area as much as possible rather than soaking your tile, too. However, if the surrounding tile is porous (we’re talking a stone like marble), we’d skip the steam altogether, as it can damage the material’s integrity. But if you’re working with ceramic or porcelain, you’re good to go.
Q: Should I seal my grout to hold its color?
If you’ve been able to get your grout to the state of cleanliness and brightness you approve of, it may not hurt to look into having your grout sealed, depending on what was used. The Tile Council of North America, for instance, recommends sealer for cementitious grout but not regular epoxy grout. A penetrating sealer can help repel water, meaning you’ll never have to worry about water-based stains again (or at least for a pretty long time).
The Last Word
No matter the color of your grout lines, this is a material prone to discoloration, whether it’s from food splatter in the kitchen or the inevitable buildup of hard water and soap scum in the shower. To keep your grout looking bright, you’ll need to turn to the best grout cleaners. If you’d prefer to skip the chemicals and the hazmat suit, we recommend our favorite nontoxic cleaners, a stylish scrubbing tool, and a rental-friendly hack to get your grout looking good as new.