DIY tile installation can be a messy process. When you’re finished, you may step back and discover that there’s grout where you hadn’t intended to put it, like on the surface of the tiles. For your tile project to look as great as you want it to, you’re going to need to remove the excess grout. It’s doable, but it does require knowing how to remove dried grout from tile. Otherwise, you risk damaging your brand-new wall, floor or counter.
Before you start, familiarize yourself with the steps to remove dried grout from tile. Then, gather your supplies and get to work. With a bit of elbow grease, you can restore the clean and polished look of your tiles.
Best Time to Remove Grout
Cement is one of the main ingredients in grout. You probably know that cement becomes hard and strong when it dries. The same goes for grout.
The longer grout sits, the harder it becomes. The sooner you remove it, the easier the job will be.
Ideally, you’ll clean up grout messes right away. If you get to them while they’re still soft, you can wipe them away with a damp sponge. Keep a rag nearby as you work, and use it whenever you spot a smear of grout. By keeping up with the messes in this way, you’ll make life a lot easier for yourself in the end.
Of course, it’s not too hard to miss grout marks until you’ve almost wrapped up your project. In that case, it will take a lot more effort than a quick sponge swipe to deal with them. Even still, sooner is better. Grout starts to harden quite quickly, but it will then continue to get harder over the next while. Some varieties of grout don’t fully cure until several days after installation. If you remove dried grout from tile as soon as possible, it may soften and lift off more easily than if you wait a week or two.
What Not to Do When Removing Dried Grout
Once dried grout has taken up residence on your tiles, rushing through the removal process probably won’t produce the results you want. It might be tempting to scrub vigorously with an abrasive pad or chip the grout away with the forceful strike of a metal tool. Unfortunately, those methods are likely to damage the underlying tile.
Instead, block out a good chunk of time for grout removal. Invest in a heaping supply of patience, put some good music on in the background, and settle in for the long haul. You’ll have the best results with grout removal if you opt for the slow and steady approach.
How to Remove Dried Grout from Tile with Sugar Water
If you’re looking for a cheap way to get the dried grout off of your tiles, the sugar method might be it. Sugar water will moisten and lubricate the grout so that it will be easier to scrape or scrub off of the tiles. Water alone might be sufficient, but adding sugar can make it more effective.
To make the sugar water:
- Fill a bucket with 1 gallon of hot water.
- Add 1.5 cups of white sugar.
- Stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar.
First, choose a spot in an out-of-the-way corner to test the sugar water on your tile. Wait a bit to make sure that the mixture doesn’t cause any damage to the finish.
If it passes the test, you can then use a sponge or a rag to generously dab the sugar water over all the grout that needs to be removed. Apply enough to saturate the grout.
Walk away for 60 to 90 minutes. When you return, bring a scraper and a scrubber.
Options for scrapers include wooden paint sticks, razors or metal chisels. A wooden stick is the least likely to damage your tiles, so it should be your first go-to.
Scrubbing tools include sponges, nylon scouring pads and steel wool. Nylon scouring pads are the best choice for most tiles, but sponges may be a careful alternative for particularly delicate tiles. Steel wool may be a last-resort option since it’s the most likely to cause damage.
Use your scraping tool to remove as much of the grout as possible. Hold it at as narrow an angle to the tile as you can. Moving the scraper up and down increases the chance of denting the tile. By sliding the scraper nearly parallel to the tile instead, you may be able to work it under the grout. Your goal should be to push or lift the grout from the tile.
Once you’ve removed as many big sections of grout as you can, switch to your scrubbing tool. Moisten the scrubber with water, and then gently go back and forth over the grout to lift off smaller bits.
If the scrubber gets caked with grout, rinse it in clear water. Hopefully, you will make good progress with grout removal and will need to rinse your tool several times.
For extra scrubbing help, sprinkle some dry sugar onto your tool. The sugar’s abrasive nature may help loosen the grout.
Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe away any remaining residue. With another cloth, dry the tile.
Take one more look at the dry tile to see if any grout remains. If so, repeat the process by applying more sugar water and scrubbing with your scouring pad. Once again, finish by rinsing and drying the tile with clean cloths.
Alternative Lubricants for Removing Dried Grout
Many homeowners choose sugar water because it’s one of the gentlest lubricants for grout removal. Also, it’s a cheap kitchen staple, so it may save you a trip to the store.
However, if you’re interested in a lubricant that packs a little more punch, your options include:
- Sulfamic acid
- Commercially prepared brick and patio cleaning solutions
All of these materials are acids, so they’re more prone to causing tile damage. Test them in an inconspicuous spot before applying them throughout the room. Also, don’t let any of these solutions sit for an extended period of time. While you should give sugar water an hour to penetrate the grout, you’ll want to start scraping right away if you use an acidic formula. Keep an eye out for any splashes or spills outside of your immediate work area so you can wipe them up before damage sets in.
Also, these acid-based products present more health and safety hazards for the user. Open a window for ventilation before you begin. Wear protective gloves, safety goggles and old clothes while you work.
Once you’ve applied an acid-based cleaner, you can follow the same steps for grout removal that you used with the sugar water. First, use a wooden stick held close to the tile to scrape off the grout. Then, use a scouring pad to scrub at any remaining residue.
One important tip: These methods are only effective for cement-based grout. If you have an epoxy-based material instead, then you’ll need to work with an epoxy remover.
How to Remove Dried Grout from Tile with Wood
There’s another, somewhat different, approach to grout removal that you can try. For this method, you’ll need a small piece of hardwood lumber. Oak is a variety that will work for this job. The piece you choose should have at least one flat end that was sliced at a 90-degree angle.
Your piece of lumber may work just fine as-is, but lumber with a heavy grain may not lift grout away evenly. Sandpapering the wood can take care of this issue.
Get the grout wet. Let the water soak into the dried-on material for a bit.
Lay the wood on the floor so that the edge touches the grout spot. Use firm yet gentle pressure to push against the dried grout. Slowly scrape away large pieces of grout.
Follow up with a scrubber as you would in other removal processes. Rinse the area with clean water and buff it with a dry towel.
Check for any remaining grout and repeat the above steps as needed.
Dealing with Excess Grout in Grout Lines
The above methods are useful for pulling grout off of the tiles. What should you do if there’s too much grout in the grout lines? You certainly don’t want clear it all away. Instead, you just need to smooth down what’s there.
A piece of hardwood lumber will be useful for this task as well. Use a piece of sandpaper to smooth and round one corner of the wood. Wet down the grout, and then position the rounded-off corner over the damp grout line. Using moderate pressure, slide the lumber back and forth over the grout line to smooth it out.
With a damp rag, wipe any dust or particles that accumulate. Dry the work area thoroughly after you’re finished.
Taking Out Old Grout
The above method isn’t one you’d use to remove dried grout that’s reached the end of its lifespan. If you need to dig out old grout in order to replace it, you’ll use a special tool called a grout rake instead.
When Grout Removal Isn’t Working
Hopefully, one of the above methods — or a combination of them — will do the trick to remove dried grout from tile in your home. There’s no surefire method for taking care of all grout problems though. If it seems that you’ve tried everything to no avail, it might be time to swap out the ruined tile instead.
For this project to be successful, you’ll need a supply of replacement tiles on hand. Hopefully, you have some left from your installation project. (When laying new tile, it’s always a good idea to keep some extras on hand in case you need to replace cracked or damaged pieces at some point.)
Here’s what to do:
- Prepare the area. Lay a drop cloth to collect broken bits, and place tape over the surrounding tiles to protect them.
- Use a grout rake or grout saw to dig out the joints surrounding the tile.
- Using a hammer and nail, make a series of nail holes across the tile.
- Drill into the prepared holes to break the tile into pieces. Be careful not to drive the drill past the tile level, or you may damage the surface beneath it.
- Use a scraper or a chisel or pry up the tile pieces.
- Smooth out the surface to which the tile was attached.
- Spread thinset mortar in the opening and on the back of the tile.
- Set the tile in place.
- Apply new grout in the joints.
You can recruit a professional for help if tile replacement seems out of your league.
Final Considerations for Removing Grout From Tile
In most cases, it is possible to get dried grout off of tile surfaces. It’s not easy, though. Make sure to come armed with patience and persistence.
A set of knee pads or a soft cushion can be worthwhile as well. Sitting or kneeling on a tile floor for long stretches can be uncomfortable. Adequate padding will make the job more tolerable.
Also, you might want to consider calling a pro for your tiling job. If professionals make a grout mess during installation, it will be their job to clean it up. Even if you laid the tile yourself, you may find it beneficial to recruit professional help for tough grout removal. An expert may have the necessary tools or experience for lifting off dried grout without damaging the underlying tile.
Above all, though, just remember that grout removal isn’t an automatic process. If you’re willing to invest time, effort and elbow grease, in many cases, you’ll be able to remove dried grout from tile successfully.