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Use Grout Colorant Paint To Easily Restore or Change Your Grout Color!

Imagine a tile floor that would be beautiful... except for the dingy-looking once-white grout that looks filthy even after cleaning!  Or have you ever considered how attractive your tile floor would be with a different color grout?  To even think of grinding out all the grout is enough to make even the toughest he-man weep!

Compare grout colorant to stained groutThe solution is here:  restore grout to an attractive, uniform color by applying an epoxy grout colorant.  Also known as grout paint, it is available in shades of white, many premixed colors and even custom blends.  Today's colorants are easy to apply, can last up to fifteen years and, best of all, actually look good!

Though a "panoramic view" of the floor looks great, I think this close-up (coated area circled) tells it all.  The grout colorant brightens the appearance of the entire floor but the grout still looks like grout so you don't lose the ambience of a genuine tile floor.

Preparation and application is somewhat different than wall painting, even though a brush is used.  Nevertheless, it is easy enough for anyone who can safely kneel on a floor.  No joke... depending on the size of your floor, you may be kneeling for hours!  (Reminds me of "retreat week" at my old Catholic high school!)

The key to a successful job is a combination of patience, following the manufacturer's instructions, and... of course... reading this article before you do anything!

Choose the colorant...

Bottle of grout colorantEach grout brand has somewhat different instructions, so you should choose your colorant brand first.  Colorant brands vary in drying time, waiting time between coats and in application methods.

I have been using Aquamix Grout Colorant on the recommendation of a local tile restoration pro (and former tile store owner), who tried a few different brands over the years.  Aquamix's longer total drying time is advantageous for larger jobs.  This may seem to contradict the notion that faster is better, but this is not necessarily true with grout colorant.

For example, other brands require you to finish application and cleaning (more on this later) within one hour.  Thus, for larger jobs you must stop painting and begin final cleaning before the floor is completely done.  Jeez... a medium-sized bathroom can take a few hours to first coat!

Inspect and repair the floor, replace damaged tiles (if possible) and replace broken or loose grout as necessary...

NOW is the time to make repairs to deteriorating grout or replace broken tiles.  Once you apply the colorant you'll wish you had made the effort!  Don't worry too much about an exact color match for the old grout. Within a few shades is good enough.

For more on tile repair click HERE.

A special warning if you have unglazed tile, such as terrazzo, natural stone or any raw clay variant.  The tile should be sealed prior to colorant application or the colorant may permanently stain the flooring.  Since fresh sealant will keep the colorant from sticking to the grout, any resealing of the tile must be done carefully and one tile at a time to avoid sealing the grout. 

Frankly, unless you are on suicide watch because of the condition of your grout, consider learning to love the quaint character of old, discolored grout.  Or else, be extremely meticulous in applying the colorant to the grout only!

Cleaning the floor...

The floor grout must be properly prepared so the colorant will stick.  Any old food, oils, soap residue or grout sealers (there's that pesky sealer again) may cause the colorant to fail.

Clean the tile with a special ceramic tile cleaner.  These cleaners are somewhat harsh (gloves and eye protection recommended) but will take off most anything including aged grout sealer.  Some colorant manufacturers have their own branded cleaning product, so whether you prefer to use it is up to you!  Whichever cleaning product you decide to use, be sure to do a final rinse with hot water to remove any chemical residue!

Allow the floor to dry thoroughly before continuing.  A large floor fan will speed drying.

Applying the colorant...

Finally, we're at the fun part!  Get out your kneepads, or a thick towel.  Your knees will thank you later!

Choosing a brush for application of the colorant...

Applying grout colorant with trimmed brushINormal and trimmed down colorant brushes have tried various types of brushes, including the cheap, throwaway hog bristle brushes that come with some colorant application kits.  Keep in mind that you want to give the grout a thin, even coat of colorant with minimal overlapping onto the tile.  I use small, cheap artist brushes found in most hardware or paint stores.  Purchase a size that will easily run down the grout line in one stroke when used with the flat of the brush parallel to the grout.

Some manufacturer's instructions suggest using a toothbrush to apply the colorant.  Pleeeeeeze!!  Sure... it will scrub the colorant nicely into the grout, but the short bristles tend to flick, spreading droplets everywhere.  Stick to a brush for more control.

Depending on the width of your grout line, you can trim the brush with scissors so it is stiffer and more controlled (graphic shows trimmed and untrimmed brushes).  Have two or three brushes handy in case you mess one up when cutting it. Experiment and you'll find the right brush and brushing style for you!

Whichever type of brush you choose, run your fingers through the bristles to remove as many loose hairs as possible.  Many of these brushes lose their hair as fast as the guys from Hair Club For Men.  You REALLY DON'T want to be constantly picking hairs from your work!

Don't apply from colorant container...

Mixing grout color or colorantAlways pour out a small amount of colorant into another container.  Tuna or cat food cans (interesting synergy there) are great because they are shallow and broad.  Don't fill it... grout colorant goes a long way!  If you hate tuna and don't have a cat, you can pour a little into a small paint tray instead.

Put a small amount on the brush and apply to the tile in long strokes, smoothing the colorant  with a back-and-forth motion into all the nooks-and-crannies of the grout.  Grout can be somewhat rough so you want to get a thin, even and complete coat. If there is any "pooling" or "puddling" of the colorant, you are applying too much!

Don't pour any used colorant back into the bottle... throw it away! If you poured out a small amount into your container as I suggested, there shouldn't be much left to pour back.  Wipe out the excess from the container with a paper towel and allow to dry.  Your brush can be washed with soap and water to reuse for subsequent coats

Should you overlap colorant onto tiles?

If your tile is ceramic, by all means.  This will assure that the colorant covers all the grout.  This is similar to painting wood windows... you want to overlap slightly onto the glass to assure a paint seal between the glass and the wood.  You want colorant coating all the grout.  Slight overlapping onto the tiles assures a good seal! Just don't go crazy or you'll multiply your cleanup time.

How many coats should I apply?

That's really up to you.  In my experience, except in the case of dark colorant over dark grout or white over white, you will probably need two coats and even a third "touch-up" coat in some ornery areas!  Even though you can get great coverage with one coat, my opinion is that at least two coats should be applied for the most long-term durability... just like regular wall or trim paint!

Depending on the brand, you may have to remove excess grout colorant from the tiles before applying a second coat... again please read the instructions!!

How do I remove excess grout colorant from the tiles?

Sponge to remove excess grout colorant from tilesThis is the second-most laborious part of the job, though much easier than the original cleaning.  Check the manufacturer's instructions for the appropriate drying time.  With Aquamix, you must wait at least one hour before cleaning the tiles.

Spray the floor lightly with water, wait a few minutes and then scrub the floor with a light-duty plastic scouring pad. "Light-duty" means just that.  Read the label on the pad... it should say "safe for plastic shower enclosures and ceramic tile".  If it says "great for cleaning years of crud from barbeque grills", you have made a BAD choice!

Using abrasive sponge to remove excess grout colorantClean a small area at a time, rinse the pad in a bucket of cool water and continue till the floor is done (or till your arm falls off).

Apply most of your force to the tiles.  Though the colorant is fairly hard, you can scrub it off if you apply too much force directly on the grout line.  Using a circular motion is safest, but you will probably have to do a little scrubbing along the grout lines so take it easy!

For your information, the purpose of the water is NOT to soften the grout colorant (it is waterproof once dry).  The water acts as a lubricant to protect the tile from any abrasion and also to make it a little harder to rub the colorant from the grout, where it adheres more firmly than to the tiles.

UH OH... I found some dried colorant on the tiles a few weeks after applying it!!

No problem... though the colorant is firmly attached to the grout, it can still be removed from the tiles with a new, sharp single-edged razor blade.  Dull, used blades have edge defects that can leave scratches in the tile!

You can apply a little water if you like (as a lubricant), though not absolutely necessary.

The rest of the story...

Below left is a "before" picture of the floor used in this article, below right is an "after" shot.   The difference in the grout is unmistakable! To you photography buffs out there, my apologies for the amateurish color matching, but the pictures were taken under different lighting conditions, one natural and one artificial lighting.  Regardless, the difference in the grout is unmistakable and, frankly, remarkable!!

Grout staining before application of colorant              Grout after application of colorant

Jerry Alonzy, the founder of Naturalhandyman.com

Written by Jerry Alonzy

Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.

As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+.