Q: Our 20-year-old townhouse has yellow tile in the bathroom that is still in great shape. However, the grout is 1980s dark brown and is discolored. I tried to at least get it all one color with a grout-coloring kit I bought in a tile shop. But the grout took the color unevenly. Now I am wondering if there is anything I can do, short of replacing the whole thing. I don’t want to do this because I like the tile.
The grout is about 3/8- to 1/2-inch wide and it is my shower surround. Is there an etcher or a drill that can remove most of the grout so I can re-grout with a different color?
A: There’s good news, bad news and good news.
The good news is that you don’t have to rip out the tile in your shower surround. The bad news is that this is a labor-intensive and time-consuming job. The good news is that it doesn’t require special skills and it’s inexpensive.
You’ve got several things going for you. The wider grout lines will make it easier for you to dig out the old grout. The porosity of the grout indicates it’s on the softer side, making it easier to remove. And, the color of the replacement grout, although a lighter shade, is similar to your existing floor grout so total removal may not be necessary.
To do the job you’ll need a couple of saw blades, a paint scraper, a small grinding stone, a grout trowel and a grout sponge. They’re all inexpensive and available at hardware stores and home centers.
You’ll be able to remove most of the grout using power tools. A Carborundum blade attached either to a lightweight circular saw or a power drill does the bulk of the work.
For the finishing touches, you’ll have to convert to man/womanpower and a handheld grout saw. These tools look like a straight razorblade attached to an offset handle. The blade is diamond studded and cuts through grout lickety-split.
Finally, use a paint scraper with a teardrop head to clean the edges of the tile and for other finer work. A small grinding stone is useful for removing the last of the old grout from the edges of the tile.
The grout removal process is simple, but messy. Before you start, remove everything from the bathroom you don’t want full of grit and tape a sheet of plastic over the doorway to separate the work area from the rest of the house.
Cover the tub with a drop cloth so that you don’t grind the grit into the tub and damage the finish. Wear a dusk mask and eye protection.
Start on a horizontal grout line at a comfortable working height; for us that’s about shoulder-height. Cover the tile on each side of the line with a 2-inch piece of masking tape.
With the saw or drill, cut down the center of the grout line. The depth of the cut should be a little more than half the thickness of the tile. Avoid cutting into the Sheetrock or backer board under the tile.
Use the grout saw and the scraper to reach areas you can’t get at with the power tools and to remove the grout along the edges of the tile. Repeat this process for the rest of the grout lines.
When all the tile edges are clean, it’s time to re-grout. Do a small area first to make sure you’re happy with the result.
Mix a small amount of grout and apply it to the wall with the rubber grout trowel. Let it set up for a minute or two and wipe off the residue with sponge and clean water. After the water dries, polish the tile with a clean rag.
Once you’re satisfied with the result, grout the rest of the tile. We strongly recommend sealing the grout once the re-grouting is complete. Two coats of grout sealer, applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions, will seal the tile and help resist the buildup of soap scum.