Bleached Grout [Archive] - Ceramic Tile Advice Forums - John Bridge Ceramic Tile


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06-10-2001, 12:51 PM
Recently I had my poarch tiled with quarry tile. THe installer told me to clean with vinegar & water before applying the sealer. The tile grout which was originally red clay is now white in certain spots. I have rinsed and rinsed and it seems to be getting worse!! The installer says he has never known of this to happen, and says he will have to re grout it. (this will be a big expense) and i am really upset that my pretty poarch doesn't have the red clay grout consistently any more. I wouldn't have thought that house hold vinegar would bleach the grout. I don't know if I should keep rinsing or if i'm doing more damage. Any comments or advice appreciated

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John Bridge
06-10-2001, 01:05 PM
Hi Deloris,

It sounds like "efflorescense" to me, and it's usually caused by either too much water during the grouting process or temperatures that are too cold (50 degrees and below); or maybe even a combination of the two.

It might be possible to use a stronger acid (vinegar is acid) to clean it up, but I would have the installer do that. If he thinks it's bad enough to re-do, he may be right. You shouldn't have to assume any additional expense, though. Whatever it is, it's an installation problem.

Let's see what others have to say.

Thanks for stopping by.

P.S. Just looked at your profile and noticed you have an interest in gardening. You might like our gardening page (John' Jungle). Here's the "pic of the month."

[Edited by John Bridge on 06-10-2001 at 03:08 PM]

06-10-2001, 01:27 PM
John is absolutely correct.Certain brands of grout are/were,more susceptible to effloresence than others.Some companies, such as Mapei,have taken steps to eliminate this problem. I don't believe that the vinegar caused this at all.It may not be necessary to regrout the entire job though.It IS an installer problem though and I agree with John that he should take care of it at no extra charge to you.

Bud Cline
06-10-2001, 09:59 PM
I don't know if "three" is a concensus here or not but I to say it's effloressence. This is a common problem. Acid (vinegar) should clean it but maybe only temporarily.

I think the atmospheric changes will cause the natural salts to rise when moisture is reintroduced to the grout. You may not be able to readily detect the moisture but it's there. Your concrete may also be rising salts because it will also rehydrate itself from time to time.

Actually I believe this will stop in time but who knows how much time. This is a natural phenomenon unfortunatly. If you are rinsing with hard water this to can contribute to the whitening appearance. You might give it some time and see what happens.

You might also try some grout stain but it may not totally seal out the problem. I wouldn't think to totally regrout would be the answer. If your installer doesn't readily recognize efflorescence then he hasn't done much exterior tile work. In his defense though I would also say that the hard colors are naturally going to display the problem more-so than a natural grey grout would. In the future I would recommend "Delorean Grey" for an exterior grout color, it hides efflorescence very well.

06-11-2001, 04:54 AM
Good Morning
Thanks so much to all of you for your advice. Now, at least I know it wasn't the vinegar. I kept thinking what could I have done so wrong? Just wonder if I keep rinsing will that make it worse? What about a sealer/ I don't want to put a sealer on this washed out color. Will it hurt not to put a sealer on for a while.

John Bridge
06-11-2001, 05:41 AM
Good Morning, Deloris,

Forget the rinsing. It's not going to help. And quit using the vinegar. It's weak, but it is acid.

Sealing won't do anything either at this point. If the floor is in a protected area, you might consider using grout colorant -- not out in the weather, though.

I would have the installer attempt an acid clean. But on the same token, I wonder if he knows what he's doing. A botched acid job could actually make things worse.

I'm sorry we're not able to fire the "silver bullet" and make everything right.


Bud Cline
06-11-2001, 10:01 AM

"BE CAREFULL"! When people around this business mention "acid" I think most people automatically think "Muratic Acid" (hydrochloric acid). This can be some pretty potent stuff.

I would first try (suggest) "sulfamic" acid. This can be purchased at most big hardware stores and comes in crystal form. Follow the directions to the letter. Where ever this acid is purchased also ask for the "MSDS Sheet" that is by law required to be made available to you when purchasing and/or handling such materials. This will give you all necessary information to protect life and property from these chemicals.

John Bridge
06-11-2001, 12:47 PM

I wasn't suggesting you do the acid cleaning yourself, but if you were going to, then yes, I would use the sulfamic/phosphoric acid.

Rob Z
06-11-2001, 07:28 PM

What was the amount of time between completion of the grout and the application of vinegar?

Was there any discoloration at all before the vinegar was used?

What brand was the grout?


06-11-2001, 08:28 PM
Hi John
Thanks for your words of caution. I am having great concern about the credentials of the installer since he had never encountered this problem before. You are right, if he doesn't know what he is doing he may well do more damage. What a disappointment. My last 3 remodeling projects have turned out to be very unsatisfactory. Will be very hesitant before I can trust someone again with a major project. I am very disappointed. Thanks

06-11-2001, 08:30 PM
Hello Bud
I don't think I will try to clean with the acid. I am really fearful that I will make things much worse.

06-11-2001, 08:34 PM
Hi Rob
The grout came from Home Depot. The installer purchased it so I am not sure of the brand. Before the vinegar the tile and the grout looked great. I had to go out of town so there was a period of 3 weeks before I actually cleaned with the vinegar and then I was going to seal it. It wasn't until the next morning that I realized the grout appeared to be bleached out in most places particularly the steps.

06-11-2001, 09:26 PM
Ask for and check references! A professional installer,like those on this forum,takes great pride in their craft and are proud to have a prospective customer call a reference.If you ask for references you should get the feeling that the installer WANTS you to call them.

Rob Z
06-12-2001, 05:41 AM
Hi Deloris

I'd start by contacting Custom Building Products's technical people for advice.


Custom is the brand that I have seen in every HD that I've been in, so that's my guess for your grout. Go to the HD closest to you, or wherever you think the installer would have picked up the material, to verify that they have Custom and the color number.

I have found Custom to be very helpful in the past, or at least they try to help. Sometimes, I have gotten someone on the line that doesn't seem to know very much. Find out what they have to say and let us know.

Since it was three weeks after grouting before the vinegar/splotching, I think the grout was nearly fully cured. The only thing that I can think of is maybe the installer grouted over places in the grout joints where the thinset was left thick compared to the rest of the joints. In these places, the grout would be very thin compared to other parts of the joint where it is full depth. The thin places in the grout may be more susceptible to chemical attack than the thick, full grout joints.

You mentioned this is on a porch. Does it/has it gotten exposure to rain and sun? Is water getting under the tile and soaking into the substrate? What is under this tile?

Let's hope we can solve the problem for you.


06-13-2001, 04:58 AM
Good Morning Rob
thanks for your reply. I will check wwith HD and verify color,etc before contacting CUstom.
The tile is over a concrete poarch. The steps are outside the roof so they are exposed to sun and rain. The poarch is covered, but gets direct sun also. The steps were concrete. I don't know if it could be getting wet underneath, how could I tell? I did find out that the installers son did the job! I was out of town on business so I assumed the installer had done the job. Although I did notice some of the tiles to be uneven but I thought it was an old poarch and perhaps it wasn't level. The installer had done a previous job for me in my kitchen. No problems with it. thanks again

Rob Z
06-13-2001, 05:33 AM
Hi Deloris

Let us know what the Custom people have to say.

How old is the concrete under the tile? Recently poured? Or years old?


06-20-2001, 07:50 PM
Hi Rob
The concrete is old, about 25 years in fact.

Rob Z
06-20-2001, 08:16 PM
Hi Deloris

25 years old-I asked because if the concrete was "green" it could cause problems.

Did you ever get anyone to help you at Custom?


06-21-2001, 05:48 AM
If the tile and grout looked great after 3 weeks and then the vinegar was applied and the problem arouse.

Why don't we think that the vinegar was the culprit?

Maybe pigment was removed from the top of the grout when the grout joint was cleaned/scrubbed with the vinegar.

Why the contractor recomended the vinegar in the 1st place puzzles me.


Bud Cline
06-21-2001, 09:42 AM
Art, I've been using vinegar forever and know of no problems with it. I recommend its use all the time.

06-21-2001, 09:51 AM
FOR? Making pickles? Cleaning windows is a good idea.

Grout joints?

Would you recomend it for a new shirt as a spot remover?

Hey, Dave your out there, what do you think?

Art Phenis

[Edited by flatile on 06-21-2001 at 11:53 AM]

06-21-2001, 09:59 AM
When you did the vinegar cleaning, was the sun shining?

Did you rinse the vinegar solution off or just clean and then came out the next day and saw the light areas?

John Bridge
06-21-2001, 04:44 PM

What if she did it under the light of a full moon at precisely the stroke of midnight?

06-22-2001, 02:11 PM
Who sang that any way?

Would any of you leave vinegar on your grout to bake/boil in the sun, and not expect the possibilities of adverse reactions?

It wasn't the "KING" was it? Maybe Inglebert Humperdink!

And we thought we had tough names to grow up with, Bud!


Just whipped up a batch of your special recipe pop corn, good stuff!!!!!


06-23-2001, 09:11 AM
I used the vinegar as I was instructed by the Installer. It was used in the sun, but it was immediately rinsed thorougly several times. When I called the installer he reported this had never happened to him before and he had been using vinegar for years!!!
It seems to be getting worse daily. I had been keeping it rinsed two or three times a day initially because I was afraid the vinegar had not been rinsed enough. Some areas are worse than others. My once beautiful poarch looks horrible.....I don't even enjoy it anymore, because it looks so bad.
Do you really think it was the vinegar? I would never have thought it to be caustic. Why would it happen to me and not to any of the installers other jobs? When someone has been in the business for a number of years with excellent references, I didn't think to question his instructions.
Next time, I will make pickles instead.

06-23-2001, 09:55 AM
I am only speculating on the vinegar being the culprit. The fact that you didn't have any problem for the 3 weeks and then had it after the vinegar wash, seems to me to be a leading suspect still.

I am truly sorry that you haven't ended up with the results that you had wished.

I would recomend a product called H & C concrete stain, it is availabel at Sherwin Williams and they can color match it for you. It should cost around $20-25.00 and will no doubt be enough to stain your joints.

A little tedious to apply, but the results should be rewarding.

Good luck,


Bud Cline
06-23-2001, 11:51 AM
"IT IS EFLOURESCENCE". I'm ALMOST positive. Stop rinsing the damned thing for a while and allow it to dry. The eflourescence is coming from either your slab or possibly the grout itself, more than likely the concrete slab. This is natural salts naturally rising to the surface, it will more than likely stop in time. What is the hardness of your homes water you are rinsing with, this may be the cause of the (white stuff)? How many grains of hardness (ppm) are in your water? "IT IS NOT THE VINEGAR".

06-23-2001, 01:17 PM
I agree with Bud 100%!!! The vinegar did NOT cause this! The culprit is just what Bud said,EFFLORESCENCE:A growth of salt crystals on a surface due to evaporation of "salt-laden water."

That's why it is white.

Stop wetting it down and let it finish curing.Once the curing is complete you can take steps to remove the salt residue.C-Cure makes a non-acidic cleaner just for this.

You just have to be patient for now.Take comfort in knowing that it can be fixed.