How to keep your grout clean and protected

Posted12/18/2015 1:01 AM

Tiles are great for floors and walls, especially in bathrooms and kitchens. They are impervious to stains. The "weakest link" is the grout. It's porous and absorbs moisture, stains and will even grow mold and mildew! Here are the best ways you clean grout and protect it from future problems.

I know that bleach is problematic for some of you, so you can use vinegar or hydrogen peroxide, mixed with baking soda and lemon juice. You want to make a paste to spread over the grout. Allow it to sit there for several hours to remove any stains. You can use a stiff brush if you need some extra muscle to clean the grout.

If bleach is OK, you can mix it anywhere from half and half with water or full force. To use it on walls or surfaces that won't "hold" the liquid, soak paper towels in it and slap them on these areas. Again, allow plenty of time for the chemicals to work.

Another option that actually works pretty well is to spread toilet-bowl cleaner with bleach in it, the thick kind, on the grout and let it sit there for some time. The squeeze bottles make it easy to "paint" on the grout lines, which can make this stuff more cost-effective.

If the grout is too stained to ever be clean or if it's cracked or chipped, you may need to replace it. Use a hand-held grout saw to remove enough of the old grout to get rid of the damaged area. The area needs to be completely clean and dry before the new grout can be applied.

Once clean, you need to seal the grout. You can apply a liquid sealer to the whole surface, or you can use a special applicator to apply it directly to the grout lines. There are some paint-on sealers that are tinted white to really seal and make the lines look new again.

Keep in mind that both grouting and sealing need time to set up, cure and dry, so set aside a day or two where you can shower elsewhere. It will be worth it!

The smart way to store your sockets

Storing sockets for your ratchet wrenches all in one place is a smart thing to do. There are several ways to do this, some better than others. One way that I've used is pretty creative. First, you need to find a nut that is the right size for each socket. Once you have all of these assembled, line them up on a scrap of wood and glue them in place. Now you can set the sockets on the appropriate nuts. Make note of the sizes right on the wood in front of each socket, too. They will be in order and easy to reach when you need one.

Paint hard-to-reach areas

I still like to paint, but I'm not as fond of moving the furniture around to do it as I used to be. But I've found ways to get around some of this. To reach behind some appliances and other heavy pieces, you can attach a brush or paint pad to the end of a broomstick or dowel rod. This also is a great way to paint behind a toilet in a bathroom or behind your radiators in any room.

Super hints

• If you are working with plastics and need to make them more pliable for cutting or bending, try using a hair dryer to heat them up enough to make this happen. It's an easy thing to do and can make working with plastics a lot easier.

• I used to live in the country and had freezing problems in my kitchen drain. It wasn't a huge hassle, but more of a nuisance. I found out that you can put salt into your drain, which settles in the "P" trap and will prevent the freezing most of the time.

• If you discover an area that needs to be caulked outdoors, and it's too cold to do it, you can warm up the caulk by holding a heating pad against it for several minutes. This will help make it easier to spread, and as long as it's not below zero, it will cure just fine.

Q. Our mailbox was knocked down by a careless driver. I want to install it in concrete this time to prevent future damage. I'm concerned about the cold weather interfering with the setting of the concrete. What are your suggestions?

A. It's not a good idea to pour concrete when the temperatures are going to be below 40 degrees for more than a day or so. The warmer it is, the better cure you will get with the concrete.

Q. Our garage is attached to the house and off the laundry room. There also is a separate entry from the back patio. There is a light switch at the laundry entrance, but not at the other door. How can I add a switch to the other side of the garage?

A. It might sound crazy, but what about "The Clapper"? There also are motion sensors that can be installed on the lamps, and wireless switches. And there's always the possibility of hiring an electrician to add a switch.

Q. My neighbors' tree hangs over my roof, and every fall, my gutters get completely clogged with their leaves. What are my possible options?

A. Well, you could talk to them and see if they are willing to trim the offending branches back. They also might allow you to remove the overhanging branches. After all, if these branches fall, they might be liable to any damage they cause your home. You also can protect your gutters with screen covers or downspout guards, both of which are an inexpensive, easy fix.

Reader tips

• My husband and I made a new log holder for our firewood. We welded it ourselves. We were going to put it right next to the back door, but the guy who delivered the wood told us to move it away from the house. He said that rats and other pests like to make homes in the woodpile. He's seen it many times. So we moved the rack away from the house. It's a little less convenient to get the wood, but if we don't have to worry about pests getting into the house, it will be worth it. Last week, we did see a skunk near it, so we may have dodged a stinky bullet!

• I spilled some oil on my driveway when servicing my chain saw. Nothing serious, but a little bit of a mess. I tried to find something absorbent to put on top of it. I saw a bag of ready-to-mix concrete, so I poured that on top of the oil. It soaked it up well and was easy to pick up afterward. It removed all of the oil, so I didn't have to do anything else. Who knew? Maybe your readers will appreciate knowing about this tip.

• I painted the dining room before Thanksgiving. It looked great, but the smell was powerful. I didn't think the smell would subside before the big day, so I poured a big bowl of vinegar and set it on the table. I heard that this would help. It worked, and overnight, the smell was gone. It hasn't come back, either. Amazing stuff, this vinegar is.

• My brother told me that I could pull a dent out of my car with a toilet plunger. I thought it was a joke. It actually worked! The car is older and the dent was new, but I figured it was worth a try. It wasn't a deep, creased dent, but one that I thought might pop out. It worked with just one pull. I did wet the edge of the plunger in order to get the best suction. We should have filmed it! We'd have had over a million views by now, I'm sure.

• I have a tip to share with other readers. If you have to thaw out a frozen pipe, take your time and do it very slowly. You should also (and this is very important) turn on a nearby faucet, even though it's not working. As you heat up the pipe and water, steam can be created, which needs room to escape, and this open faucet will give it a place to do so. I learned this the hard way last year when my pipes burst while I was trying to thaw them out without doing this. Good luck!


• Speaking of leaves, they can be used to make SUPER compost. You can make your own compost pile and be "greener" this winter. This is so easy to do, and once you know the basics, you can have a steady supply of FREE plant food and mulch for your yard year-round. It doesn't cost much, and it's a great way to get rid of vegetable waste from your home, as well as many other items destined for the garbage can. And don't forget -- you can always get this and a lot of other super information at our website,, so come on by and check us out!

• I don't like centipedes but the Centipede Sawhorse is a super idea. It looks like one of those pop-up tents or chairs, but it's a sawhorse. This handy gadget folds up neatly and fits into its own carrying bag so you can store it and move it easily to just about anywhere, making it perfect for working on the remote job site. With a sheet of plywood on top, it can be used as a sawhorse, workbench or table, and it can hold up to 3,000 pounds. To find out more, go to

• Have they actually reinvented the shim? I didn't think it was possible, but the WinBag is something you need to check out. I've seen the large airlift bags used for lifting building materials, but this is cool. It's placed under the door, drywall or whatever you are needing to lift and hold up while working. Once in place, you can inflate it with the special bulb attached to it. It sort of looks like a blood-pressure cuff. Anyway, the WinBag works great, can be used again and again, and when removed after use, it won't scratch up your floors like wooden shims can do. Check it out and watch the video at

• Write to Kelly Carrell in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or visit online at

© 2015, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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