If you’re the type of homeowner who pays attention to little details, you might find that there are sections of your bathroom grout that don’t look as good as they used to. Specifically, you might find a crack or two, especially in joints where the wall meets the tub, shower or floor.
Cracks may develop as a direct result of age, but they can also be products of problems during tile installation or when mixing the grout. Read on to learn why grout cracks, how it can be repaired and when it should be replaced.
When you see grout cracking only or primarily in joints, the root cause is usually movement between two surfaces. Houses are constantly moving in tiny increments as a result of foundation settling, humidity, temperature and other factors. If the grout in a bathroom is an inflexible material, as most grout is, cracks can develop when a bathtub moves one way while a tile wall moves another way.
There are also ways in which installation can doom grout to failure, underscoring the importance of putting bathroom tile projects in the hands of a trained, qualified installer. For example, if grout is improperly mixed with too much water or additives, it could leave air pockets after the grout has fully dried. These make the grout weak and brittle, leading to cracks.
Grout can also crack if too little adhesive is used to install the tiles. If a tile pulls away from the wall after the adhesive dries, it’s up to the grout to hold it in place – and that stress is liable to cause cracks.
Patch It Up
If you just have a few isolated areas of cracked grout, you may be able to repair them yourself. The first step is to completely remove the old grout from the affected area. If the grout is truly crumbling, this might not take much effort. But if the grout isn’t coming out easily, use a grout saw or grout removal tool to finish the job. Vacuum the crack thoroughly to capture any dust left behind.
Next, choose a replacement that is less likely to crack – silicone caulk. The primary benefit of using caulk is that it’s flexible. If your cracks are caused by shifting surfaces, a line of caulk may survive where grout failed. You’ll want to choose a color that matches your existing grout, which will probably necessitate a trip to a tile shop or large hardware store. Make sure it’s a mildew-proof caulk designed for use in wet environments.
During the application process, it’s essential to follow the caulk’s directions to the smallest detail. While this job isn’t beyond the reach of DIY amateurs, experience counts. Silicone caulk sets quickly and can be difficult to work with. Practice on scrap materials first if you’re unfamiliar with the process, and if in doubt, call in a pro.
A Fresh Start
Not all grout problems are quick fixes. If cracking is widespread, too severe or caused by major underlying installation problems, you should have the situation assessed by a professional. You may be able to get by with regrouting only, a days-long process that involves removing all existing grout, reinstalling new grout, allowing it to cure and finishing up with sealant.
If there are problems beneath the tile, though, the job will never be done right until you rip the tile out and start over. And when things look that dire, you may as well think big -- what else isn’t working out in your old bathroom? What begins as cracked grout could lead to inspiration for the dream remodel you’ve always wanted. And a quick call to your local Benjamin Franklin is an important step toward making those dreams a reality.