Easy Steps for a DIY Regrouting Project
Ceramic tile is one of the most versatile and attractive finishes for countertops, shower and tub walls, and floors. With a virtual limitless selection of colors, textures, sizes, and patterns, ceramic tile will add decorating flair and at the same time provide a durable and long lasting finish that, with regular maintenance, will continue to look good for years.
In as much as maintenance is concerned, the tile itself doesn’t require much. A little regular cleaning with a damp cloth along with some mild detergent should be all that’s required.
On the other hand, the grout that surrounds the tile is where most homeowners spend their energy in an attempt to keep the entire surface looking good. Unfortunately, regular cleaning of the grout is only part of the overall maintenance job and comparatively speaking is the least important part.
The grout, a cementicious product composed of sand and Portland cement, is used to trim out a tile installation. It is not only decorative, but also serves a very important purpose in helping to minimize the amount of moisture that is allowed to travel behind the tile to the frequently vulnerable substrate below. Simply put, the grout is the finishing touch that literally pulls all of the pieces together and gives the finished product a look of uniformity.
As a cementicious product, grout, over time, will develop cracks. Some of these cracks will be large enough to see with the naked eye and may even result in chipping or the displacement of grout leaving large caverns for water to pool. While these cracks are obviously important to repair, it is the hundreds of small fractures that are not readily visible that are of equal concern. It is through these small fractures that water is sucked into the substrate below via capillary action.
The most obvious question is “How do I know if my grout has any of these microscopic cracks?” Rather than suggest that one portray Sherlock Holmes and traipse around the house with a magnifying glass, our suggestion is to assume worst-case scenario posture and perform some preventative maintenance by periodically re-grouting. In addition to providing more substantial waterproofing it will also serve to renew the color and uniformity of the grout as well. It’s sort of the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
Unlike most tile installation projects, re-grouting tile is not something that generally requires a professional. In fact, on the contrary, with the proper tools, a little patience, and a lot of elbow grease, it’s a project that can be accomplished in a weekend and for a minimal investment.
The best way to begin is by gathering the tools and materials required. They are: a grout saw, gloves, safety goggles, a vacuum with small suction attachment, a grout trowel, a sponge, a bucket, cheese cloth, and grout sealer.
Make sure that the tile and grout are both completely dry before beginning this project. Avoid using water in the area where the work is to be performed at least a couple of days in advance. Once the area has dried, use a grout saw to remove approximately the top 1/8″ layer of grout. (This is where the elbow grease comes in.) The grout saw is a small hand-held tool that has a short (about 1 1/2″) coarse blade. The grout is removed by working the blade back and forth in the joint using caution not to go too deep or damage the surrounding tile. It is here that the gloves, safety goggles, and dust mask come in handy.
After the entire upper layer of all of the grout has been removed, the entire area, including tile, should be thoroughly vacuumed to remove the excess. A new layer of grout can now be installed over the existing that remains.
While grout can be purchased premixed and ready for application, it is typically found in a dry powdered state that requires mixing on the site. Our preference is for the latter. It allows for a greater selection of colors and can be mixed to the preferred consistency. The grout should be mixed with water in accordance with the instructions provided by the manufacturer. The addition of some latex will make the grout more impervious by water and will also improve its elasticity making it less likely to crack under normal conditions.
Once mixed, the grout should be installed with a hard rubber grout trowel. The grout should be forced into the joints with the trowel in a diagonal direction to the tile. Any excess grout should be wiped off with a damp sponge, which is wrung out frequently to keep the tile clean and grout free. Any grout that may remain on the tile will dry to a haze and should immediately be wiped off with cheesecloth.
Finally, after the grout has had the opportunity to dry (a week of so) the entire surface, grout and tile, should be sealed with an acrylic base tile and grout sealer. This, too, will add to the waterproofing of the surface and will help keep the tile and grout looking good indefinitely. A sealer should be applied at least once annually.
A little preventative maintenance can go a long way. Instead of spending time soliciting estimates from repair contractors for the replacement of a rotting tile shower, you’ll be able to spend that time showing off the beautiful tile to guests in your home and spend the money that you’ll save entertaining them.
Some things never change – Repairing a damaged ceramic tile floor [infographic]
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