Handyman on Call

Is there a painless way to clean tile grout?

Q. I have slightly off-white tiles in my small shower. The grout between the tiles doesn’t stay white. Three years ago, I cleaned it. It was a horrible job. Then I covered it with a sealer, another terrible job as it dripped onto the tiles and stayed there. However, the protection it gave the grout lasted until now. Recently I had somebody clean the grout and seal it. In a little better than a month, some of the grout is getting “black” once more. Is there a “painless” way to clean the grout? And what’s the best way to seal it?


A. Keeping grout clean on a tiled wall is always a mystery and a pain. Here’s a thought: A physician called me and said how he got his dirty grout clean: Use straight bleach or bleach cut half and half with water. Then apply this solution and scrub it and scrub it until it cries uncle. Then repeat. Wear skin and eye protection when working with bleach.


What to seal the grout with: Any masonry cleaner, sometimes called tile sealer. With luck, it will last up to five years.

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The Handyman’s penultimate words: You and I know your tile is clean. Don’t worry about other people’s opinions. It’s none of their business.

The Handyman’s ultimate words: You can always chip and gouge out all the grout. Then apply the darkest unsanded grout you can buy, or stain it with a black or dark dye. You will have the sexiest shower in town and the naysayers will be dumbfounded.

Q. The walls are moldy in my finished basement. That’s bad enough, but worse is that my hot air heating system is picking up the mold smell and distributing it throughout the house. How can I stop that?

C. MILLS, Bridgewater


A. That’s a big problem. You could apply a bleach solution to the walls to kill the mold, and close the ducts in the basement to keep the odor from escaping to the living space. And keep the basement as cool as possible, which can restrict mold growth. Ventilating the basement can also help. How? Open windows for cross-ventilation.

Q. I’m having a lot of trouble dropping and breaking glass things on the ceramic tiled floor in a small kitchen and the bathroom. A man I hired suggested putting vinyl tiles over the old ceramic tile to soften the floors. Would that work?

ANNIE, from Brookline

A. That could work, but the ceramic tile floor might “ghost” through the vinyl. To help stop that, get the thickest vinyl possible. And a final idea: Buy items in plastic anti-break containers, or if some come only in glass, transfer the contents into new plastic bottles.

Q. My septic tank cap is 2 feet underground. Do you recommend installing a riser to bring the cap to ground level? Also, on average, how often should a 1,500-gallon tank with 2.5 people in the household be pumped?


MIKE, in Hotton’s chat room

A. It’s a double whammy question, but you’ll be OK without a riser, because the tank should be pumped every 4 to 5 years.

Globe Handyman on Call also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section. He is available
1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton (photton
) also chats online about house
matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to