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When cleaning tile and grout you can encounter some unexpected problems. Once concern is a white haze left on the grout or on the tile after the floors dry. Two factors can produce this haze: efflorescence and sealer haze. Efflorescence appears as a white power, normally on the grout. Sealer haze appears as a milky white haze where sealer has pooled and dried on the surface rather than penetrating the grout or stone. It is easily seen on dark colored grout. Efflorescence can occur anytime there is moisture in masonry material – grout, concrete or ceramic flooring. It may happen even after a thorough cleaning. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the possibility of efflorescence forming:

  • After cleaning floors, dry them quickly using air movers.
  • Seal grout lines or porous tiles after the floors are dry. This helps to keep out the moisture that can infiltrate as a result of daily maintenance cleaning. A seal breathes and allows any moisture remaining below the surface to escape.
  • Because efflorescence is more easily seen in dark colored grout, reduce the amount of water in the grout by choosing a sealer with a solvent carrier.

If, despite your best efforts, efflorescence appears, don’t worry. Foot traffic will remove some efflorescence, which may be an acceptable solution if the problem is mild. Otherwise, you can often remove this salty deposit by simply brushing the grout with a stiff brush. In cases where brushing doesn’t work, you can remove efflorescence with acid products. There are a variety of products specifically designed to remove efflorescence. Apply the acid with a damp sponge or slightly damp mop. Keep in mind that water is a necessary ingredient to produce efflorescence, so try to use a minimum amount of water when removing it.

Stone and grout sealer is intended to penetrate the porous surfaces and fill the capillaries. This prevents water or oils from getting into those same pores and staining the surface. However, if something prevents the sealer from penetrating the surfaces, such as previous sealer applications, the protective coating can dry to a milky haze and leave behind a sticky residue. Unfortunately, grout sealer does not wear out with foot traffic.

Your first step in preventing sealer haze is to determine how much sealer is appropriate for each job. A simple test in a small area should answer that question. Select a test area that has received average traffic. Apply a few drops of water to the grout lines and observe how quickly the water takes to penetrate. If the water penetrates quickly, there is little or no sealer present. If the water does not soak in, then the floor does not need additional sealer. Next, apply sealer to an area. When it has dried, you can determine if there is enough sealer or perhaps too much. Avoid the temptation to apply a thick coat of sealer to get the job done quickly. Remember, it will always be easier to add another thin coat than to remove excess sealer.

EcoCare is a commercial cleaning company in Austin, San Antonio and surrounding areas and we are proud to offer grout sealing as one of our many services. (Cleaning & Maintenance Management magazine by Scott Warrington)