Tile on walls and floors sometimes lose grout. We see installations that are many years old that never have lost any grout – and ones done last year that need attention. Installations or construction issues combined with settling are the cause. Our Fabricmasters grout repair experts recently saw a home built in the 1950s and the tile looked like they were new (they had in fact gone out of style and had come back in) and the install looked as perfect as it must have been almost 70 years ago.
How was the tile and grout installed?
Tiles are usually attached to the wall or floor (a majority of the time) using thinset.
Thinset is a process that uses a special adhesive to attach tile to a substrate such as water resistant wallboard or reinforced backerboard. When hardened, fresh grout is then forced into the spaces between the tiles with a rubber trowel and wiped clean.
If or when the grout fails the danger is water, finding its way to the thinset. This begins the process of releasing the tile from the substrate. Water can gather behind the tile and develop mold. This mold will eventually show back through the grout, and a shower will start to smell swampy. We see these every day. This is the reason it is imperative for missing grout (or caulk — we will get to that later) is to be replaced.
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Regrouting by a tile installer who probably installed many of the time bombs these situations represent (always check their references with contractors they sub for, as well as past customers, and you will find a great one) usually begins with trying to remove the grout. Often we see a razor blade/utility knife used to score the grout so it will hold the new grout. This process is doomed to failure, as the grout will look good at first, but will be washed away. Much sooner than the homeowner wants it to.
The tool we use to deeply remove the grout before regrouting is our key advantage. We use a carbide bit, shown in the picture, to cut deeply into the grout. A gentle oscillation removes the grout (not disturbing the tiles), and we are able to replace it in a manner that will last much longer than any method. Dust is kept to a minimum. We started using this method, after seeing the ineffective way grout and caulk is removed in most cases, leading to customer unhappiness when the grout disappears in a matter of months. Ineffective removal techniques include (attempting to score the grout with a utility knife as well as just skimming over the old grout) are only efforts to make sure at least some of what is applied sticks for a little while.
Another important consideration in regrouting is how the edges are treated. Edge and corners must be caulked. Grout begins to shrink as the water evaporates and cracks form. Caulk contains latex or polyester instead of water, and this insures (if applied properly) corners and edges will not form cracks. Your installer may tell you he has used grout in the edges for years and never had a problem. We hear this all the time as we are estimating showers with cracked grout in the corners. I suspect the reason for not caulking are twofold: 1- the trouble one must go to to acquire the caulk color necessary to match the grout 2- the skill of caulking requires patience not everyone has.
The first place we usually start in the regrouting process is to match the existing grout color, since it is only the rare circumstance where we will have to remove all the grout. This can be a problem in some cases, and if necessary we can apply a color seal to the grout to attain an even look.