As anyone who has spent time on their hands and knees scrubbing their kitchen floor knows grout can be a pain to clean. The material that fills the spaces in between your floor, shower, or backsplash tiles is one of the most susceptible spots to soiling in your home, and it can make or break the visual cleanliness of a room.
Most tile floors or walls have grout lines holding the tiles together, and most of this grout is made of a mixture of cement, water, and sand, all of which are very porous materials. Even when sealed, grout can be tricky to clean.
Why Grout Gets So Dirty
Grout is at a slightly lower level, rather than even with the tile, creating convenient little concavities for debris to build up.
On the walls or floor of your shower, for example, this could be soap scum, skin flakes, and even mold as particles from general bathroom use and moisture build-up. On your floor, it's more likely to be your garden-variety floor dirt that, for example, you've tracked in on your shoes or dropped while cooking. But residue from cleaning products can also build up since some cleaning methods will leave behind small puddles in those depressed grout lines.
Both sealed and unsealed grout can have these issues, but if your grout is unsealed, it's going to be extra susceptible to buildup. Consider sealing it to both make it easier to clean and hopefully require less frequent maintenance.
Options for Cleaning a Tile Floor
You have several choices when it comes to cleaning your tiles.
- Standard mopping. You've seen this before. Just fill a bucket with water and some kind of cleaning solution, dip your mop in, and spread the solution over the floor, continually rinsing both the floor and the mop. The problem with this method is that most of the time you're just spreading dirty water and soap around. When the liquid dries up, it will dry in the low areas—within the grout line. Over time, unless you've spent a lot of time rinsing post-mop, soap and soil will build-up on the tiles.
- Stick steam mop. This will likely still leave your floor wet with puddling in the grout lines. It doesn't get down into the grout, and can still leave a residue on the floor if your system requires a chemical cleaning agent beyond just water.
- Steam vapor. Steam vapor cleaning uses low-moisture steam with high surface temperatures for its purposes. The steam vapor does not leave residue or any buildup in the grout lines; the steam carries the heat to the surface and penetrates the porous surface, forcing the soil up and out.
Is "Steam Vapor" the Same as Steam Cleaning?
Not exactly. The process that cleans car engines, grocery carts, and other similar large-scale processes is referred to as “steam cleaning” and uses gallons of water per minute. Another so-called "steam cleaner" is really a chemical and water extraction cleaner that doesn't use any steam at all, but instead, sprays water and chemicals onto the surface and then sucks it back up.
Steam vapor cleaners, on the other hand, use a boiler to superheat water. This leaves much less moisture on the surface since it is actually heat doing all the work. "Dry" steam vapor, as it is called, is less than 6% humidity; it's very low moisture steam with surface temperatures between 200 and 220 degrees Fahrenheit.
Benefits of Cleaning Tile Floors With Steam Vapor
Steam vapor cleaning offers a slew of benefits for your grout-cleaning routine.
- Less water use. The Ladybug system uses less than a quart of water for 30-40 minutes of cleaning, versus mopping, which can use gallons. You don't even need to run the faucet beforehand as you wait for the water to get hot.
- Minimal rinsing. Since chemical cleaners are never used in a steam vapor machine, there's nothing left behind to rinse away.
- Longer-lasting results. The lack of residue means nothing sticky is left behind to collect soiling, so you can enjoy the results of your labor longer.
- Cleaner grout. Rather than dirty water and chemical residue settling in the grout lines, steam doesn't settle or leave residue behind. Instead, it carries the heat into the grout line and helps the dirt rise out of the grout for easier removal.
- Physically easier. Rather than scrubbing on your hands and knees, a steam vapor system with ergonomic extension handles let you clean while still standing upright with no scrubbing.
- No degradation. Because there are no harsh chemicals or acids involved, your grout won't degrade over time.
How to Clean Tile and Grout With a Steam Vapor System
Some of this information relates specifically to the Advap Ladybug system. If you're using something else, make sure to consult your manual and know that some of the processes may be different, though the general ideas should still apply. But if you are using the Ladybug, read on.
Step 1: Set up your system.
Your Ladybug should have two extension handles, a large floor brush, a filler pad that lies between the bristles, and a terry towel attached to the floor brush. Make sure they're all attached and ready to go, with the floor brush attachment on.
Step 2: Run the brush.
The cleaning process is extremely straightforward. Just move the floor brush across the tile at a speed slightly slower than you would vacuum. The steam will clean, sanitize, and deodorize the floor simultaneously. There's no need for an extra rinsing step and the floor should dry quickly, without any excess moisture or residue left behind.
When the Grout Lines Really Need to Be Cleaned
Sometimes just running the brush over the tile won't get as deep into the grout as you need. On those occasions, follow the following steps.
Step 1: Run the brush.
Attach the nylon nozzle brush to the extension handles. Run the brush down the grout line at a low steam volume setting. You should run the brush back and forth along the grout lines of an approximately 3-foot-square area.
Step 2: Pass the towel.
Turn the steam off and place the nozzle on a terry towel. Turn the steam back on, and run the towel over the same grout lines you covered in step one. The heat will draw out any moisture or soil left behind.
Step 3: Tackle the tough spots.
This step may not even be necessary if you got all your gunk out in step two. But if any additional soil is left behind, you can try using the more aggressive brass brush rather than the nylon brush. Since it's metal, it will reach a higher temperature and be a little more aggressive when removing soil particles. Attach the brass brush and repeat the process from step one.
What About the Grout on Shower Walls?
Not an issue! The grout in your shower tiles is the same as the grout on your kitchen or bathroom floor, just installed in a slightly more vertical location. But the extension handle should be long enough to allow you to follow the steps detailed above. Just hold the brush or nozzle parallel to the wall to direct the steam onto the surface you want to clean.
The Best Steam Cleaner for Tile and Grout
Ladybug steam vapor systems use a continuous fill system, which means you can add water at any time and don't have to wait for it to heat back up to support more steam. The accessories are ergonomically designed for more comfortable cleaning.
The Ladybug system is also equipped with TANCS, which stands for Thermal Accelerated Nano Crystal Sanitation. This factory-installed internal component modifies the crystal structure of the minerals in tap water to clean and disinfect, so your floors will also be fully disinfected as well as sparkling clean.
The Bottom Line
You have a few options when it comes to cleaning both your tiles and the grout between them; the three main methods are a standard mop, stick steam mop, or steam vapor.
Steam vapor stands out from the list as an easy, fast, and eco-friendly way to get both your tile and its grout lines clean and keep them clean longer, no matter if they're in your kitchen, bathroom, or porch.
Consider a Ladybug steam vapor cleaner for spotless grout lines and plenty more cleaning power.
Or if you clean grout for a living, take a peek at our commercial-grade VaporJet steam vapor system. It's the tool of choice for tile and grout cleaning pros like national franchise The Grout Medic.