How to clean the grout around my 50s and 60s bathroom floor tiles? Sleeping Bee Alice finds an answer

After Zep

After Zep

Before ZEP

How to clean old grout in retro bathroom floor tiles? Sleeping Bee Alice plays the role of Queen of Clean. Thanks, Alice, very impressive. I do want to caution – as I have been doing cleaning research, too — to be very careful about what you use on the glazed tile itself. That glazed finish can come off, even with a scotch brite pad, so treat it very carefully. More on tile cleaning to come.

Read on for Alice’s solution (pun!) —>

Hello Pam,

I’ve made a discovery that perhaps some of your readers could benefit from.  You’ll recall the blue tiles in my bathroom (the ones PSS wanted to duplicate).  I had scrubbed the grout with every cleaner imaginable and then was easily convinced when someone told me that the grout in this bathroom wasn’t actually white, it was “bisque”.  However, just recently a friend asked if she could try a little product on them to see if she could brighten them and voila!, we actually do have white grout!  I have attached the photos so you can see the before and after difference.  One hour and half a bottle of Zep (that’s the name of the product, available at Home Depot) later, and I have a blue and white bathroom – not blue and bisque!

Hope this is useful to your readers.  What a great site RR is…thanks for keeping up the good work.


p.s. Lest you think that I am a neat freak or something, since all of my questions to you have been about cleaning, that’s just the phase we are in of our move in process to our mid-century home. Really, it cracks my husband up to think there is a group of people out there that might have the impression that I’m all about cleaning :)

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  1. says

    Cleaning tips are always welcome, this is a great one! When my white kitchen sink was looking cream colored (even after scubing with cleanser), I tried a product from the dollar store made to remove hard water stains and rust from shower tiles – Viola! it worked great, even got the grime off the drain.

    I’ve used Simichrome polish for shining up chrome and even plastics:
    it brought some luster back to my formica countertop in the bathroom too. Via products that work!

  2. DanaMc says

    I have that same tile in grey-blue.
    (I’m sure there’s a vintage name for it. Dusty blue? LOL)

    And, while I’m not a clean freak by ANY stretch of the imagination, it has always bothered me that the grout was beige – just like in your picture! I, too believed it was probably never actually white grout.

    I’ll be buying some of that ZEP today! Woohoo!
    DanaMc in Chicagoland

  3. izzy says

    Hi — I was wondering if someone could tell me where to find tiles like the blue ones in the pictures above? I’m trying to restore a kitchen countertop made from tiles of a very similar color – in a house built in 1948…and I’m striking out so far. Please help!!

    Thanks ~
    Izzy in San Diego

  4. says

    Izzy, Definitely try B&W Tile. They have three locations: Gardena (LA), Riverside (east of LA), and Lake Elsinore (a small town off I-15 north of San Diego).

    You might also try DalTile. Though more expensive, their ColorBody Porcelain tiles in the PermaBrite, PermaTone, and Keystone lines come in shades of blue that perfectly match the colors of Alice’s floor, though it may require some adaptation in terms of tile sizes. DalTile’s Ocean Blue exactly matches my 1958 blue bathtub, sink and toilet. I’m sure they have a color that will match your kitchen.

  5. San Diego Amy says

    Izzy ~ Definitely try Daltile in San Diego before making the trek up to Gardenia. It’s in the Clairmont Mesa area and the ceramic tiles are most definitely not as pricey as all the other stuff people are currently interested in (i.e. glass, stone, etc). Once you find exactly what you like there – you can look for the best price somewhere else since it’s just a design center : )

  6. says

    I was excited to try Zep, but the two places I want to use it are on terrazzo floor tile and shower (wall) tile. According to the instructions on the Zep Grout Cleaner, you cannot use it on vertical surfaces or terrazzo tile! Hmmm…any suggestions?


  7. sleepingbee says

    kittymommy, I have not found the solution to vertical cleaning of the grout. I tried a small spot of the Zep on the vertical surfaces and it just didn’t penetrate well enough to work (and wastes product).

    I would reiterate Pam’s caution to us: the light glaze on the tile surfaces can easily scratch. Mine were already scratched so I took the risk and it was worth it…and the tile condition did not worsen. Try to be very exact with the application of the product as it is a form of acid, so it could possibly etch your tile as well.

      • pam kueber says

        ckwest, read all the comments carefully! be sure to follow manufacturer’s direction regarding use of this cleaner! And know: Just cuz it worked well for someone else doesn’t mean it will work well for you. Be sure to test in small, out of the way location first!

        • ckwest says

          thanks Pam. i am trying it behind the toilet :-)
          wonering if you could help me with another question…
          I have a bluish bathroom (i would attach a picture but do not know how on your site) and the toilet seat has cracked for the second time. we ere lucky enough to find a good match made by Church but home depot and the local pluming supply store has discontinued the blue color line–well all but the sky blue. the toilet lid is mared M54. It looks more greenish blue. Where can i find the colors for that periot tolet. i saw a toilet knob posting on rr that mentioned regency blue and it looked just like my tolet color. is that anaccurate description? Cause i need another toilet lid pronto:'(

  8. laradevil says

    For those of you who have not discovered the Grout Scrub Brush – it is a must have. It really helped me clean the grout in my bathroom without touching too much of the tile. This might help for those that are concerned about damaging the tile. I think I bought it at Menards – but any home improvement store would have it.

    I would also like to add – I have a similiar blue tile in one bathroom & pink tile in another. I had a couple areas that I am going to try the zep on that I could never get clean!

  9. bepsf says

    I use a Mr Clean Magic Eraser on the tile and grout in my bathrooms – I’m always amazed at how well it works…
    …it removes the hard water spots from the glass shower doors and chrome faucet hardware too!

  10. says

    Please… if any of you need 4″ ceramic tile to finish/repair a project(it generally truly measures 4 3/8″), send me a pic, and I will let you know if I see it at my ReStore. They have a ton of it and are threatening to throw it away. I’ve vowed to buy it all before I let them do that! I have tons of pink on auction, but there are many other colors available. Email me at karmi_woolfe (at) yahoo dot com and I’ll be glad to keep you in mind as I search.

  11. Brownie says

    I was way excited about the Zep cleaner but got spotty results. I followed the directions on the bottle. Any tips with this cleaner would be appreciated. How long to keep it on, How many applications, ETc…

  12. Dan says

    Zep is great stuff, but you have to be careful. Its active ingredient is oxalic acid. Oxalic acid does the same thing as chlorine bleach, but more strongly. It chemically releases oxygen when you use it. It’s really oxygen that does the whitening. But all such treatments, this includes Zud, a similar cleaner, have to be used with care. They can release powerful fumes which can be toxic. Always use them in well ventilated areas.

  13. daviskyle001 says

    I am having wonderful luck with the zep. I will upload photos if I can later. I have found that it helps to scratch the grout surface with an exacto blade. My tile is 50 plus years and has never been taken care of. I am sure I can reseal the grout later!! I have also taken off a disastrous shower door. It looks wonderful and makes the bathroom feel so much larger!!! Oh, and by the way, my tile is pink!

  14. Sirbunsalot says

    I was wondering if there is any way to reglaze the tile ? I’m renovating a bathroom built in 72′. There is salt and pepper tile on the floor and around the tub but the tile on the floor seems a little dull.

      • pam kueber says

        Hi Christine, find out what they are made of and get advice from a manufacturer of that type of flooring. Note, RENOVATE SAFE: Our vintage houses may contain vintage nastiness such as lead and asbestos – get your own properly licensed professionals to help you determine what you have and are working with so that you can make informed decisions.

        • Stefan says

          I redoing my parents 50’s ranch back to the way or close to the way it was when I was a kid. Pulling up the stick down tile my Dad put over the bathroom floor tile. Its been covered up sometime in the 80’s. The grout lines are super narrow and at some point my Mom waxed the floor ..bad idea. Getting the yellow wax film out of grout is not easy…going to try the Zep or maybe CLR to clean the grout. I had to use paint thinner to get up the glue of the stick down tile. That helped some.

  15. Shelly says

    Thank you SO much for the tip. I have the same (maybe worse) problem with the SAME tile in our guest bathroom. I have tried, and ignored, and tried again to get it clean. As soon as we get a chance we are heading to Home Depot!

  16. sue says

    my boyfriend tried telling me it was supposed to be that icky color also! lol i’m going to have to try some of these ideas and see what happens. men! lol

  17. Amanda says

    Did you only clean the grout with Zep or the entire tile? I have original bathroom tiles from the 1940s and they are in serious need of a deep clean. Standard household cleaners have not cleaned the floor. While I’m sure the floor is clean, it doesn’t look it. Can you use Zep to clean the tiles?

  18. Roanna Bamford says

    Hi, so funny I happened upon this blog, as I just finished scrubbing the “mud job”
    (one inch square tiles) on the floor of my 1950’s bathroom and walk in shower. The tiles are white, yellow and gray. I used a scrub brush, comet, kaboom and a very small, thin wire brush for the corners and hard to clean edges and grout. It worked out beautifully, although it was hard work and I had to go over a few spots a second time. We are keeping the original 4×4 tiles and having them regrouted . We are putting in a new white pedestal sink, toilet, medicine cabinet and lighting. So excited, thanks for your sharing your helpful info!

  19. ginny Poladian says

    I noticed all this talk about grey grout leaching and turning white in places. I have that problem. However, my grout is pink . I have a 1952 Ranch style house in an old neighborhood in Central Phx. When I moved in with my boyfriend( now my huband), I absolutely fell in love with the original light pink and burgundy ceramic tile in his hall bath. I used this as the color scheme for the entire house. I used alot of pink/shades of pink/and earth colors throughout. IE: blue,rose,sage green etc. My hall bath was partially re-done,removing the horribly ugly old linoleum and replacing it with 6″ white hex tiles with Burgundy dots and pink grout. The small bath was gutted. then re-done with a 1907 claw foot tub painted burgundy,a white pedestal sink,and a high boy toilet. I had stained glass put in the bathroom window and the same floor put in as the other bath . The kitchen has a mauvey/rose color porcelain counter tile,large pink ceramic floor tile with pink grout. The walls are covered with wallpaper of roses. I must admit, this house is adorable. It reminds me of an English Country cottage. I guess I’m not the only one that thinks it’s cute,it’s been in the paper twice for my use of so much pink. I even have a rose colored picket fence out front. So,long story short, can this product be used also on pink grout without bleaching it out? When the grout get’s dirty,which is VERY often with 11 rescued dog’s and cat’s!,it looks grey. I also would like to clean the vertical shower surface that has the original tiles with white grout that looks beige. So, with so many experts out there, how about some educational help here. Thanks!!!

    • Bob says

      That’s good to know. The ones that don’t test on animals are not guaranteed to be safe, very important if you have small children or pets.

  20. ckwest says

    OMG!!! I’ve been looking for a way to clean the grout on my blue tiled vintage floor. I’M HEADING TO HD right now. Thank you Alice! I have both a blue bathroom and a pink one too:-)

  21. ckwest says

    yay! I tried it on a 12×12 ares under my sink and it work. Alice, woul you know the best american standard colored toilet lid thay woul match the color of your tile. I have the same coloe tile and toilet, sink and tun to match. Thanks a million for the grout cleaner tip.

  22. Amanda Young says

    Tried the Zep cleaner on my 1955 black and white tiled bathroom with poor results. Used a brush and scrubbed – still poor results. Any ideas?

  23. marie felix says

    I’ve used bleach and a toothbrush. It’s time intensive and as I age, it’s not so easy. Once you do get your tile clean, use car wax on the tile to polish it and have the water bead up esp. in the shower. Just be careful on the floor, don’t want anyone to slip. Marie

  24. Richard Black says

    My bathroom tiles were a sight for sore eyes,the grout was stained and looked a bit filthy. Sadly I couldn’t afford to replace the grout for the entire bathroom. I found out about Nugrout products and decided to give it a try. I am amazed by how new my bathroom now looks with the new grout color, and how affordable the entire process was. Check out their website at, I highly recommend them.

  25. Claire says

    My green bathroom floor and wall tile is circa 1957. I make a paste with Barkeeper’s Friend and use a deck brush to scrub it. The tile comes up clean and the grout is white once more. Barkeeper’s Friend is inexpensive and will clean old porcelain and tile that may or may not have all of its finish intact, and won’t scratch the surfaces. It’s also gentle to hands and has no odor (unlike the liquid version, which also works but smells like bleach).

    • pam kueber says

      Beware abrasives and acids they will destroy the finishes of the services. See our other stories on the Kohler recommendations they say no to barkeepers friend

    • Lizzy says

      Barkeeps Friend is oxalic acid. It’s not gentle. An occasional use of it is likely OK, but it’s no everyday cleaner. It’s a destroyer of worlds, especially yours in your house. Be cautious with it.

  26. says

    I’m a restoration contractor and our go-to mix is baking soda/vinegar/lemon juice.

    I mix it unitl it looks right, you can find various recipes with proportions for various tasks around various places. Didn’t see it mentioned, thought I would share. This outperforms nearly everything we’ve ever tried when dealing with old dingy grout.

    Could be mildly abrasive on sensitive tile. Never noticed an effect on anything glazed.

    • Lizzy says

      Baking soda is the original abrasive cleanser. You can scrub the finish right off the glazed tiles. Vinegar is acetic acid, plus the citric acid in lemon juice, I’m sure it does work! And it can do damage. When I was a bike wrench in college we used a citrus degreaser in the parts washer – it ate the paint off. We went back to mineral spirits.

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