Dear James: The grout in my bathroom tile is discolored and crumbling in spots. It look terrible. Do I have to remove all the tiles and start over or can I just repair the existing grout? -- Tracy G.
Dear Tracy: If only the grout is deteriorating and your tile is still in good shape, then there is no need to remove tile. It is important to repair crumbling grout. Moisture can get behind it and damage the wall underneath, requiring you to remove all the tile too.
Regrouting bathroom tile is not a difficult task. It requires a gentle touch, not the biceps of Arnold, The Terminator. You must be very careful not to scratch or chip the tile. If you do, replacing several pieces of tile is no picnic.
Unfortunately, you cannot just slap more grout over the bad spots. All of the grout, at least in a particular area must be removed first. You may get an effective functional seal by just replacing the crumbling spots, but it will be difficult to match the new grout to the old.
Removing old grout is a painstakingly meticulous task that requires a steady hand. Skip your second cup of coffee so you are not jittery. As you are working, just keep telling yourself that the fun part, applying the new grout, comes next, and you will get through it.
You can use either the tried and true hand removal method (chisel and hammer) or a small electric detail grinder like a Dremmel. If this is your first time attempting grout repair, stick with the hand method. The Dremmel can get away from you and quickly damage a tile.
Definitely wear safety glasses for this task because grout chips will fly. I use a narrow chisel. Some people use a thin screwdriver and pound on the handle, but a chisel transfers the impact to the grout crisper for quicker removal. Lay a drop cloth in the tub to avoid scratches.
Hold the chisel at a 45-degree angle to a crumbling spot. This weakened spot will be the easiest starting point. Be extremely gentle until you get about a one-inch section removed. Once this spot is open, you can get a little more aggressive with the hammer.
Always chisel out the next spot in the direction of the removed area and continue to work away from the cleared area. It is much easier to break out the grout if it just has to slip to the open area. If chiseling in the reverse direction, the grout will be compressed with each blow.
Although it is important to remove most of the grout, you needn't clean off 100 percent of it. There will still be some sticking to the sides of the tile. If you try to chip it off too cleanly, I can guarantee that you will chip a tile.
Now the worst is over and you can have that second cup of coffee. There are several types of grout that you can use. I recommend a dry set grout with latex adhesives. Make sure to get wall tile grout that has no sand.
Do not mix too much grout initially. Since you are a first-timer, you will work slowly and the grout will set up and be wasted. Mix in the water until the grout is the texture of icing. Using a hard rubber float, smear the grout into the gaps in a several square foot area. Don't try too big an area.
Take your damp grout sponge and rub it in a circular pattern over the tiles. Keep rinsing it in the water buckets and wiping until the tiles are clean. Now run the edge of the sponge along each grout joint to smooth it and you are done.
Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.