Efflorescence or...? Grout too light

evelyn.annJuly 23, 2013

Apologies for cross posting here & at John Bridge, but I didn't get any responses over there yet.

I just had tile installed in my basement and the grout has dried about 3-4 shades too light. The color *should have* almost matched exactly the color of the tile, but now have almost white grout lines.

I'm wondering if the too-light grout could be efflorescence? I did notice that at the very edges of the room against the walls, the grout color looked OK. But everywhere else it was too light.

For example, in the attached photo at the top right, my contractor had grouted between the marble threshold and the tile; and also under the door moulding; and those grout lines are the right color (which is why you can hardly see them there in the picture as they blend in); whereas everywhere else the grout lines are obvious.

The color is not uneven or blotchy looking -- just too light. When the tile is wet, it looks exactly how I want it -- but then it dries light again. I tried scratching at the surface; not sure if I went deep enough but the color underneath did not appear any darker.

We used sanded grout from The Tile Shop together with their recommended "flexible grout admixture". The tile is installed in a basement on top of a cement floor. Two different types of thinset were used, grout appears the same (too light) in both areas.

First thing I tried (on the recommendation of the Tile Shop whose grout it was) was an enhancing sealer (Aqua Mix Enrich 'n Seal). I did a test area and it came out terribly uneven and blotchy looking.

My next plan was to do a sulfamic acid wash, but I'm not positive I'm dealing with efforescence here. I suppose it can't hurt?

Then plan C will be to use a grout colorant.

Would appreciate any thoughts -- thank you!

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I doubt if it's efflorescence, as efflorescence is typically not that uniform. Efflorescence is from moisture below the tile carrying dissolved minerals up through the grout, to the surface of the grout. When the moisture evaporates, it leaves a "powder" of minerals behind on the surface of the grout.

The Tile Shop's sanded grouts have a very coarse sand. If too much water was used during clean up, you could be seeing more sand than "color" as the grout color can be washed away with the other fine particles during clean up.

You can get the same result if a post-grout cleanup was done with an acid wash. The acid can dissolve the fines in the grout, taking away some of the color.

This should be an issue between your tiler and the Tile Shop. He installed it. The products were bought from them. The more you intervene on your own, the more responsibility you assume for repairs.

Based upon your description, your best bet for resolution would probably be to use an epoxy-based film-forming grout colorant. A penetrating "dye" colorant would likely give unsatisfactory results due to using a grout admix.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 10:38AM
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Thank you mongoct! Good advice, all around.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 6:02PM
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We had the same thing happen in our basement. The culprit was the tiler's helper who used too much water for clean up. Our GC had the tiler apply a liquid to darken the grout, but it didn't really change anything. Our basement is under a guest house and not used too much, so we accepted the error and moved on. The main floor was done properly and looks perfect. If this is a space that is more important, then I would aim for total grout removal/replacement or it will never look the way you planned.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 1:19AM
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Just to close the loop on this thread: I ended up using Aqua Mix Grout Colorant to paint the grout a darker color to match the tile.

The photo shows before and after: at bottom is how the grout initially came out (too light) and then the top is painted with the grout colorant (the uniform look I wanted).

They sell colors to match grout colors from several different manufacturers; we ended up with a Maipei color that seemed to be the closest match.

The application was straightforward but very time-consuming and tedious; I used a toothbrush to paint it on and rub it in. You have to be careful to not let it sit too long before removing the excess or it's a real pain to get it off the tile. But, once I had a good system going it was easy, if mind-numbing, work. I also used painter's tape to mask off the baseboards (visible in photo).

It's now been several months and it has held up to foot traffic and my steam mop. We have extra in case it does ever need to be reapplied. I was very glad to find this solution as there was no way our contractor was going to agree to remove and re-grout.

Anyway, I really recommend Aqua Mix's grout colorant (epoxy-based); their customer service was very helpful too. I had to buy online from stonetooling.com as I couldn't find a local retailer who would sell to homeowners directly. Also good experience with that online retailer.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2013 at 1:14PM
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A follow-up post? Thanks for coming back and closing the thread. That doesn't happen to often around here.

FWIW, Aquamix Grout Colorant is the one I typically recommend. Good choice!

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 12:40PM
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The fix looks very uniform and well applied. Thanks for the update with your remedy, experiences, and brief "how to".

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 8:34PM
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