Cleaning & Minimalism

5 Ways to Clean + Lighten Grout

Do you have wall or floor tile grout that has seen better days? Check out these 5+ ways to clean and lighten grout, plus tips to avoid it too!

long matte white subway tiles

Do you have dingy or dirty grout in your house?  I love tiles and tiling… but dirty grout is just the worrrsssttt.  And unfortunately, if you have tiles anywhere in your house, whether on the walls or floors, you will have to deal with dirty grout!  Today I’m sharing more than 5 ways to clean and lighten grout that’s gotten dirty AND my tips on how to avoid dingy grout in the first place!

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I have been on a mission to fix the tile grout in our basement apartment.  We rent the space as an Airbnb, and I am always cleaning everything thoroughly.  (By comparison, our house is way messy, ha).

5 ways to clean and lighten grout text overlay on white tile tub surround

Even so, the tile grout has been bothering me since day 1.  I used a new-to-me product, and I’ve regretted it ever since.  It was a hassle to install, the grout haze is permanent, and it’s just off-white, you know?  And next to the white tiles and white silicone, it looks dingy.

white subway tile tub surround with wood ledge

During the install, I ran out of the off-white grout and had to switch to my tried and true white. You can see the transition behind the toilet area, and above the ledge. It’s much whiter!

Because we have short-term tenants, I couldn’t schedule a big block of time to do everything at once.  Essentially, I’ve been trying a different method each time there’s a break between guests – but it’s a slow-going process.

tub with long white subway tiles

Ready to find out all the different ways to clean & lighten grout!?

I’m going to go with the quickest/easiest to more intense methods.  But feel free to choose whichever works for you :)

1. Traditional Cleaners

Remember, I have been cleaning the shower regularly.  In my case, I wasn’t dealing with dirty grout in so much as off-white grout.  (Although, I did hope that it was just dirty, ha).  If you have dirty grout, you can attempt a good scrub with some traditional cleaners.  Things like Scrubbing Bubbles, Thieves Cleaner, soap/water or even Windex could all work to clean up dirty grout and tiles.  I also use Clorox Cleaner with Bleach every once in a while.  PS: don’t mix any of these chemicals!

using yellow steam cleaner on white tiles

2. Steam Clean the Grout

I purchased a steam cleaner a couple of years ago after hearing so many reviews that they were the best at cleaning grout.  While I’ve had some success in the past, it really didn’t do anything to this grout. Basically, a steam cleaner is really good at cleaning dirty grout, like weird red water stains, mould growth and soap residue.  But my problem was that the grout wasn’t bright white in the first place.

white subway tile grout before after

It did work for some of our water stains near the faucet, as you can see in these before/afters.  Does anyone else’s water turn everything red!?  It’s so annoying…


3. Baking Soda and Peroxide

Remember my post on testing DIY stain cleaners for carpets?  Well, I wanted to do something similar, minus the whole me testing everything part.  This was a very comprehensive list about testing DIY grout cleaners – and her top pick: baking soda and peroxide.  So, I went to work scrubbing a section of my grout with the mix.  It didn’t whiten the grout as expected and was hard to keep on the vertical surface.  (As opposed to trying this method on floor grout – you could really leave it on for a long time).  Also again, I was in between guests so I couldn’t leave it indefinitely.

NOTE: A LOT of websites advised against using vinegar (or straight bleach) on tiles.  The vinegar acidity can eat away at the porous grout – and you do not want that :)

closeup of white and off white grout

Can you spot the area where I brushed on the whitening marker?

4. Grout Whitening Marker / Grout Whitening Paint

Grout whitening markers/pens are exactly as they sound.  A marker that colours your grout.  You can buy them in a variety of colours, but you know I was going for white.  Unfortunately, our local store only had one white pen – and the nub disintegrated before I could do 1/4 of the tiles.  But it looked like it was working!  I just needed more of this – and maybe in a paint format – because the marker tip was not lasting long.  (And yes, I did follow the instructions to only colour in one direction).

Enter the grout whitening paint.  I picked mine up at Home Depot, and the only white colour they had was “snow white”.  The colour swatch image was not promising, but the name sounded right.

white subway tiles in shower with grout paint

Unfortunately, I think the paint was the exact same colour as our grout.  Notice how you can see the just-added paint in the image on the left?  If anything, it may have slightly tinted the grout to a greener hue as opposed to red.  But maybe I’m just seeing things…

Ideally, I’d get a “bright white” colour for my tiles, but I have to locate some first!  (I know it exists because I browsed several manufacturer websites and they have whiter colours listed than what I used).

And yes, I did test the white grout paint on nearby gray grout and it worked fine.  If you still want to use the “snow white” to lighten your darker grout, it would be good!


long white subway tiles in tub surround with black faucets

5. Tile and Tub Paint

For the bathroom at our house, I painted the whole tub using an epoxy tub and tile paint. I love love love the high-gloss look, especially over the grout.  It’s no longer porous, and everything cleans and wipes away so well.  BUT there was/is a big problem: our paint started yellowing a few months later.  I’ll be honest, it doesn’t look great.  I reached out to the company to see if they’ve had that complaint or knew how to fix it – and they refunded me.  It may have been one bad batch, so our plan is to repaint it in a year or two and see if it happens again.

For the tile grout at our apartment, I considered for a brief moment using the paint just on the grout.  The cons would have been having to mix the correct amount of product (epoxy requires a specific ratio) since I wouldn’t need the full containers AND the toxic fumes/dry time.  We have upstairs tenants, and the ventilation is shared, so definitely a no-go.  Plus, what if the white is really off, or I accidentally painted on the tiles?

Similar things I considered: white nail polish, regular white acrylic paint (here’s a post on someone who did that), and porcelain chip touch-up paint.


clean and lighten grout text overlay on shower ledge with soaps

How to Avoid Dingy Grout

  • Do not use white or light grout in a high-traffic area
  • Seal your grout after install, and possibly yearly after (I’ve never re-sealed, but something to consider!)
  • Wipe up any spills immediately
  • Keep up with cleaning regularly, and see my tips above for cleaning suggestions!
  • If you have white tiles, choose white grout to match!  (Or something with more contrast)
  • Regrout if needed

I’ve realized after testing all these things, and then editing the photos that either a) I am crazy and no one thinks the grout looks bad, or b) it totally looks dingy and I should continue my search.  I feel like it’s similar to those teeth whitening shade guides where you start at one point and go closer to white.  And you’re like okay… but I want to have the whitest teeth.  (Just me?)

So what are the plans going forward? 

I’m going to check local tile/flooring stores for the “real” white grout paint.  If they don’t have any, I may either order some online OR try acrylic paint.  I also debated going with a more contrasting colour, like gray or black – but then it wouldn’t really match the white silicone… so would that matter?

We shall see :)

clean and lighten grout text overlay on white tiles and white grout

Either way, I hope all the grout cleaning and lightening tips and tricks come in handy!  Even in our newly renovated kitchen, we have some yellowing grout near the stove, so I’ll be referencing this soon enough.  I don’t think I’d use a grout stain/paint because the tiles are marble, and I’m pretty sure they’d absorb the colour.  Guess there might be some scrubbing in my future!

Let me know if you have any dingy or dirty grout at your house :)

(Or, if you have newly cleaned grout, ha!).

PS: Check out the basement apartment bathroom here, the basement apartment tour, details on the long subway tiles and pattern, and even the basement bathroom moodboard.

see you next time nicole text image

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