Rehabilitating Vintage Kitchen Tile and Grout

A landlord wanted me to refurbish the kitchen counter before renting out the property.  This kitchen featured the original ceramic box trim tile in a contrasting color.  Here you can see I thoroughly cleaned the grout and re-grouted low and missing grout joints.

There had been a previous tile repair by others long ago on either side of the sink.  The repair person did not try to match the original pink vintage tile color.  Next to this old repair was a row of pink tiles on either side of the sink that were heavily damaged.  Instead of searching for vintage tile to match, the homeowner chose a white color that would match the sink color.  I then cut out and removed the two rows of destroyed pink tiles and installed white tiles.

I also cut out the dirty, messy caulk between the tile and the sink, bleached the area, neutralized it with water, dried it out and then replaced it with siliconized acrylic caulk.

Renovating a Slate Stone Water Feature

I was recently asked for a consultation from the current homeowner to see if anything could be done about this neglected water fountain.  The slate installation was at least 15 years old and the previous owner had not properly maintained it.  All the grout below the water line had degraded and turned to sand.  

Also, it was evident that a top surface-coating sealer had been applied, rather than a penetrating solvent based stone enhancing sealer.  This surface coating was peeling off in flakes.

Here you can see that all the grout disintegrated in the joints below the water line.  It appeared to me that the original installer did not use modified grout in between the slate tiles.  Modified grout contains ingredients to increase its strength.  This grout here appeared to be just sand and cement, which does not hold up well under harsh conditions.

In order to apply sealer, the stone and grout should be thoroughly cleaned first.  Here I am applying alkalai-based soap to the stone and grout.

After applying the soap, I used an industrial steamer to heat up the surface and clean the slate and grout joints.

Here is the re-grouted, cleaned and sealed water feature.

Here you can see that the colors in the stone are richer and deeper.  This is because I used a solvent-based enhancing sealer made specifically for natural stone.

Challenges of Setting Long Lengths of Tile

I was called out to inspect various tile and grout issues on this job and write a technical report for the general contractor, as his current tile contractor had abandoned the job.

The tile on this wall looks rippled.  There is lippage on this installation.   “Lippage” is defined in the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard A108.02, Section 4.3.7: “Lippage refers to differences in elevation between edges of adjacent tile modules.”  In other words, it refers to tiles that are out of plane with each other by more than a dime’s thickness.

This is not the fault of the installer; the actual tiles are curved in the center, and when you stagger them above and below each other the curve is accentuated by the natural crown of the tile.  Lippage occurs on stagger-set installations because the ends of the tile are flatter, and adjacent to the center crown of the tiles above and below it.

Also, lippage tends to be a common problem when installing plank-length floor tiles as well.  Examples of this would be 6×24″, 6×36″, and 6×48″ sizes, usually finished to look like wood.

One way to lessen the lippage is to stagger set in thirds.  This photo shows a stagger set in halves.  Lippage occurs with a stagger set layout in thirds, but it will be greatly reduced.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Marble

The homeowners wanted an antique looking tile for their 1940’s home.  I encouraged them to pick out this porcelain mock Carrera marble tile. 

The tile had a honed finish rather than a typical shiny finish on the top of the tile.

The benefits to selecting this porcelain tile over real marble are:

  • Real marble needs to be frequently sealed, especially Carrera due to its porous nature.
  • Real marble is soft and scratches easily.
  • Real marble can stain permanently with products that contain acid, even when sealed.
  • Carrera marble absorbs water from your feet and shower splashes and darkens the marble noticeably until it dries out.

Hairspray Stains on Tile

I was called in to inspect a floor that had mysterious white spots on the darkened tile.  Plumbers had worked under the homeowner’s vanity and she thought that the plumbers had done something to her floor.

I grabbed some scouring powder and a damp rag and made a circle in the center of the tile with the powder and some elbow grease.  The dark finish came right off, revealing the bright original finish of the tile.

Moral of the story:  make sure you put a large mat or beach towel down before using hairspray over a tile floor!

Black Mosaic Glass Backsplash

This homeowner chose a black mosaic glass backsplash to match his darker counters.

There was no trim available for this glass backsplash.   I pulled off longer strips of tile and ran them perpendicular, length-wise, at the open edges of the backsplash to serve as trim pieces.

Ceramic Subway Tile

This tile shows its luminescence quality in good lighting.  The actual edges of the tile are a little bit darker than the interiors of the tiles.

The homeowners chose to have the tile installed before the hood so they could have complete coverage behind the appliance.

Grout Transformation

When a person walked into this house the first thing you saw was a high contrast grid pattern of grout versus tile.  The owner of the home wanted the floor grout to look more subtle and better match the tile color.  In my experience, the best and most durable grout colorants contain epoxy and are ordered from specialty tile stores.  I avoid buying grout stain from the big box stores as they do not contain epoxy.

It is important that the grout be cleaned well to accept grout staining material.  This before and after picture shows the tremendous difference when white epoxy grout colorant is applied.

Also in this picture the grout joint running front to back on the far right side of the counter was too wide for non-sanded grout.  I cut out the dirty substitute caulking that someone had applied there and replaced it with a sanded white grout.


This counter was so dirty that the grout on the decking looked like an entirely different color from the backsplash, like tobacco brown versus a nutmeg brown.  Again, the homeowner did not like the highly visible grid pattern.  To save the homeowner money, we chose a color that was as light as it could be for just a one-coat application.

An added benefit t0 epoxy grout colorant is that it is also an extremely durable sealant.  Spills of staining material do not have to be immediately wiped up from the counters to protect the grout.  The grout colorant forms a very strong barrier against staining, therefore, many landlords choose this option before renting out a house.



How to Remove Grout Film on Non-glazed Porcelain Tile

Sometimes, when using heavily pigmented grout over a non-glazed surface you get a grout film, despite your best efforts to prevent it. 

Here I used clean wash water, and I didn’t let the grout sit too long on the tile surface and I still got heavy grout film.

I waited four days for the grout to cure.  Then, fortunately a mild dilution of phosphoric acid took care of the problem and brought it back to a nice clean surface.

Dirty Tile Shower to Clean

If you look closely at the lower half of these walls in the photo on the left, you can see the buildup of white soap scum on the tiles.  The photo on the right shows the tile after the soap scum has been cleaned off.

These pictures show the tiled shower pan, before and after cleaning.  I use a heavy-duty alkali cleaner which cuts through the soap scum on the walls.  The shower pan grout did not come perfectly clean, so I applied a colorant to the grout joints which closely  matched the color of the tile.