Can Dirty Tile and Grout Really Make you Sick?

There are a lot of posts out there that want to grab your attention with scary headlines. But even if your odds of having health issues related to dirty tile and grout are minimal, there are reasons to follow a maintenance routine for the cleanest and healthiest hard surfaces.
Closeup of dirty mosaic tile.

The ‘Dirt’ on Dirty Tile

There’s “dirty tile” and then there’s DIRTY tile. Granted, bathroom and kitchen floors, entry areas, laundry rooms, mudrooms, are all high-traffic areas. So of course they are likely to see their fair share of garden-variety dirt and debris. But that sort of superficial dirt can be removed by regular sweeping, vacuuming or a damp mop. The real concerns arise when tile and grout are exposed to, then infected with, more serious contaminants.

Over time, and with less-than-optimal cleaning and maintenance, dirty tile surfaces – and particularly the grout betwen your tiles – can become breeding grounds for the real ickies. Read on to learn more about the issues you want to target to make sure your hard surface flooring passes the healthy home test.

Why is Grout so Easily Contaminated?

Closeup of dirty tile and grout on vertical tile design.

Generally, the tile in your room is pretty impervious to contamination. If it is a ceramic or a porcelain tile, those surfaces are pretty protective, unless there are cracks, chips or other damage that allows water to travel to areas that are easily infected. Stone is a more absorbent surface but it can be sealed to prevent moisture incursion. It is really the grout that is the danger zone.

To understand grout’s vulnerability to contamination, you have to look at the structural make-up. Grout is created using water, cement and sand. This combination is extremely porous and can easily trap moisture. When you look at grout, you can see how it channels the liquid on hard-surface flooring. The space between tiles is lower than the surface of the tile which traps moisture in areas that are less likely to respond to air-drying or a quick wipe-down. Ultimately, the chronic dampness coupled with superficial cleanings creates the perfect condition for mold growth. If you see your light grout changing to a darker color, be warned. And if your grout is dark to begin with, you’ll need to be extra vigilant to smells in the space that indicate the presence of contamination.

Dirty Tile may be Vulnerable to Mold

Closeup of mold growing on surface.

Mold tends to grow outside but the spores can travel into our homes through open windows and on our clothes and the soles of our shoes. And while black mold has the rep for the worst impact on the health of a homeowner, all molds have the potential to cause health issues. Whether they are toxic or non toxic varieties, molds can cause nausea, rashes, headaches and dizziness. Older people, people whose immunity is compromised and young children are the most likely to be effected by mold. How do you know you have a mold problem? We can help.

There are many types of mold. Any places we install tile, places most likely to be exposed to moisture, are also vulnerable to contamination by mold. Start by asking yourself what areas of your home features tile flooring. Mold likes to grow in warm, wet places. How do you know if you have a mold problem? Look particularly at the grout. If you see hints of blue, black, green or pink discoloration, chances are you have the beginnings of a mold colony. In addition, do you noice loose or eneven tiles? Mold can grow under a tile surface and compromise its structural integrity. When investigating signs of mold, use your eyes and nose. If you notice chronic leaks near faucets, tubs or toilets, or water stains on ceilings or walls, you’re looking at prime real estate for mold growth. If you smell a musty odor in a room, a mold problem may be to blame.

The key to avoiding the formation of mold colonies is regular cleaning and airing out of moisture-prone spaces. Once you identify mold growth, you will want professional help to remove it. Professional tile and grout cleaning can help protect your home from mold contamination – though cleaning can only address the top of the tile floor and grout lines. When moisture has penetrated that top layer and leaked under the shower pan, or worse, has compromised the shower base, professional cleaning will not be able to rescue your tile.

Beware any cleaning company that promises absolute success removing and obliterating your mold problem. Watch to see if the cleaning proves temporary. If you quickly see a re-growth or darkening of the grout lines, the mold may have penetrated the grout and set up residence below the tile surface. In this case, a tear-out may be necessary to prevent further damage to your home and home environment.

Bacteria is More Likely to Grow on Dirty Tile

View of microbes under a microscope.

Think for a moment about the areas of your home that are most likely to be exposed to bacteria. Did your bathroom or kitchen come to mind? You are on to something. Entries too are daily exposed to bacteria being tracked through the door. Each of these spaces commonly features hard surface flooring like stone and tile. And both of these flooring materials require grout for their joints. The grout is the most vulnerable part of these floors, when it comes to infection. Depending upon the room, some bacterias are more prevalent than others.

What kind of bacteria is most likely to infect your home’s surfaces? Salmonella and E-Coli are bacterias that are commonly spread via food and water. No surprise then that these are often present in kitchens. But both are also found in bathrooms. Salmonella is most likely to effect children and people with weakened immune systems. Symptoms of infection may include chills, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. E-Coli takes those gastro-intestinal symptoms to the next level of urgency and is most often spread from children to adults.

Other common bacterias found in grout include Streptococcus and Staphylococcus. “Strep” is the most prevalent of these two and is airborne. Though it commonly causes a wicked sore throat, Strep can cause more severe illnesses as well. Staph infections are both dangerous and very contagious. Staph is often found in hospitals and bathrooms. It is spread through skin-to-skin contact and leads to skin infections like cellulitis, blisters and boils.

The point of naming all these bacteria is not to set our hair on fire. It is just to remind us that serious stuff can be present on dirty tile and grout. All it takes is a splash of contaminated water onto a surface with grout to start the contamination process. That’s why regular cleaning and periodic professional cleaning are both recommended, to send all bacteria packing. Hmmm, regular cleaning again. Are you sensing a pattern here?

Removing the Dirt You Can See is Key

Tech scrubs grout of vintage tile floor.

Contamination starts with surfaces that are already dirty. And let’s be honest, cleaning grout lines, especially in installations with small tiles, can be exhausting. That said, a homeowner can clean grout, with the right solution and the right tools. You want to start with a cleaning solution that is safe for your hardsurface. Keep in mind that porcelain tile, ceramic tile and stone tile have different needs and even if you are only cleaning the grout lines, your cleaning efforts will impact the edges of your hardsurface.

First and foremost, call a reputable local tile and grout cleaner for the most up-to-date and specific cleaning information. Then vet any online sources that suggest you create a cleaning solution from “everyday household products.” A combination of baking soda and vinegar can be applied to grout lines. Some experts advise that you allow a first application of vinegar and water to sit for several minutes before a first brushing.

Professional cleaning for shower stall.

Be aware that vinegar can cause damage, including staining, to hardsurfaces. Stone tile is particularly sensitive to anything acidic. As with any home remedy, do a trial run in an inconspicuous area to make sure the acid in the vinegar is not too strong for your particular hardsurface. You may read articles that say hydrogen peroxide is an effective substitute for vinegar, especially for fragile or highly stained grout, or any grout that is more porous than average. Test that in a less visible area as well.

Finally, your cleaning mixture needs to be applied with a grout-specific brush or a toothbrush that can get deep into the joints. Then, when you clean the entire surface you’ve already dealt with the most challenging areas. It can be helpful too to apply the most effective cleaning solution on a regular basis, as you are stepping out of the shower. Running a fan or opening a window can be an effective, everyday strategy to help dry out the surfaces that are the most vulnerable.

Professionals Know How to Tackle Dirty Tile and Grout

Cleaning Pro Cleans Ceramic Tile

You may be asking yourself, “If I can clean my hardsurface flooring myself, why pay for professional cleaners?” Well, the key is that you do the cleaning regularly. Depending on your efforts, and the type and condition of your hardsurface area, you may only need a professional visit once a year. Some household conditions may make more regular tile cleanings advisable. If for no other reason, schedule a professional service to have your groutlines re-sealed which will make them more resistant to contamination and extend the lifetime of your hardsurfaces.

If the dirt, mold or mildew in your home is truly superficial, a reputable local cleaner can remove most if not all of these contaminants. Bacteria is harder to spot, but still, the cleaning products and protocols of the professionals are likely to get the best results for removing harmful microbes. That said, many good cleaning companies do not offer re-grouting or grout repair services. Do a little legwork online or get some referrals from friends and neighbors that have had really positive experiences. Nextdoor can be a place to start, when looking for the most trustworthy pros.

We are happy to provide additional input about choosing the right company for your cleaning needs. Once you connect with the pros, have them talk you through their tile and grout services including cleaning and sealing. And if you live in the Nashville, Tennessee area, please reach out to the folks at Pro-Care. Our commitment to excellent customer service is second to none and our technicians are highly experienced and certified in all cleaning categories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.