Grout Color Failure

March 13, 2017

Posted by D. A. Burns

Grout Color Failure

We see a lot of colored grout that is discolored from use which frequently can be cleaned to restore its appearance.

Unfortunately, we are often asked to remove discoloration that is actually a failure of color that was added some time after the grout was originally applied.

There are two common ways to color existing grout:  1) staining the grout with a dye, or 2) painting the grout with a “color seal” product.

Grout color failure

Lighter color is original.  Darker color paint was used to hide the grout staining.  

If the grout had been properly clear-sealed, the staining would not have occurred.

Grout Dyes
Grout dyes are designed to penetrate into cement-based grout (most common) and if applied to fairly new, clean grout the result may be a long-lasting color change.

Dyes will not penetrate a synthetic urethane or epoxy grout.  They will also not penetrate grout that is contaminated with soap residue, grout that has been sealed, or grout that had a strengthening additive mixed in when originally applied.  Any of these conditions will resist stain penetration, resulting in a blotchy color appearance.  This cannot be undone without removing all of the existing grout and re-grouting the entire area.

Grout Paints
Paints are just what they sound like, a surface application of color.  Sold under various names and known commonly as color seal, paints are only a temporary fix to discolored grout.

With good preparation of the existing grout, a color seal application can last a few months to a few years depending on the severity of use.  Color seal failure will occur fastest in areas subjected to water and foot traffic … shower enclosures and kitchen and bath floors.

The first sign of color seal failure will be tiny cracks where the tile and grout meet.  Gradually, sections of paint will peel, and when cleaned, more of the paint will be removed.  The problem is that the paint will bond unevenly, preventing it from being evenly or completely removed in some areas.  Again, the only fix is to remove all of the existing grout and re-grout with a product that has the desired color built in.

Unfortunately, many people are victims of color applicators that offer re-coloring as a pathway to quick profit, or house flippers who just want things to look good long enough to sell a home, leaving the new homeowner to deal with a potentially expensive repair.

How do you know if a color seal has been used?
Find an out-of-the way spot and scratch the grout surface with a nail file or screwdriver.  If the grout below the surface is a different color, a topical color has been applied.

Does it always fail?
If applied well, a color seal can last for several years.  Fewer color seal failures are experienced when it is used on a vertical wall (except a shower enclosure) or other decorative areas that are not subject to foot traffic or water.

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