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Q&A with Handy Mac: Re-grouting bathroom tiles

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Rita from Simon’s Town is renovating and asks:

Q: I am upgrading my bathroom. Although the room is tired, the old wall tiles are still perfect even though the grouting is 35 years old. I would like to re-grout to make it look clean and fresh. What is the best way to approach this and will the results give me the desired effect? Is white the best colour to use or can I use one of the coloured varieties that are available?

A: Mrs Mac is glowering over my shoulder as I write this reply because she has been nagging me to regrout in the iconic bathroom she is trying to create. As with adjustable shower heads, this is another of my pet hates, but I know I am going to be cajoled into doing it, so let’s look at the best method.

I would suggest calling a professional tiler – I am already exhausted just going through all the available information.

This is a highly labour-intensive process, which could lead to hours of cleaning as well as loss of leisure or drinking time.

But it does not appear that difficult if you have the right tools.

The overseas market seems to have a tool for everything, including all the safety equipment needed to undertake this dangerous task. Safety goggles, a dust mask and protective gloves are prerequisites, and you could add safety boots in the unlikely event that you drop a grout scraper on your foot. I think I’ll adopt the South African approach of an old screwdriver and takkies.

The first thing to do is to remove the existing grout. We are not just talking about scraping bits out – we are talking about getting “all” the grout out. It must virtually resemble a newly tiled surface with nothing between the tiles. You need a good deep clean surface to which the new grout can bond. A quick scratch and a bit of new grout is going to look worse than what you have.

There are many tools available, but your choice must be based on what you are confident about handling and how much time you have.

A power grinder will take a lot less time than a manual method. I would suggest a small cordless power tool like a Dremel. Always start in the middle of the joint and work towards the tile edges, being careful not to chip the edges of the tile.

Now comes the first hard part: the initial clean up. Make sure you have put down plenty of drop sheets before starting because there will be dust everywhere, and you know how difficult it is to get rid of fine white dust. Once all the grout is out, wipe down the walls to remove any dust or dirt – you don’t want dirty old grout mixed in with the new.

A word of warning before starting your re-grouting: ensure that if you are dealing with a porous, unglazed tile seal the tile first. Porous tiles will absorb the new grout and leave a terrible result.

Rita asks if she can use a coloured grout. The choice is up to you, but over the years I have seen that what someone thought was going to look stunning, for example bright red grout in white wall tiles, actually turns out to be a mess. Remember a dark or bright colour on a light tile will show up all the tiling imperfections. Unless your tiling has been done by a master tiler using A-grade tiles, stick to a grout colour that matches the tile. Avoid contrasts.

Another problem with vibrant colours is matching up from one mix to the next as tones will vary depending on how much water you add.

Consult a specialist tile supplier about which grout to use – types vary for use in showers for example – and also the width of joints. Grouts in wide-joint floor tiles, for example, should have more sand.

Once you have mixed the grout – following the instructions on the packet – spread it all over the wall with any one of the various tools available, ensuring that all the joints are properly filled as you don’t want any voids.

Wipe off excess grout quickly (another messy operation), and as the grout begins to dry, smooth off the joint with a round-edged tool to a uniform thickness.

Once the grout in the joints has set, you can start the next round of endless cleaning to get the remaining fine film of grout off the tiles. This takes a good couple of goes. Enjoy. Mrs Mac, you know where the phone numbers of my subcontractors are kept.

*Handy Mac, aka Don MacAlister, is our expert on household DIY issues. If you have a question for him, please send it to or SMS only to 082 446 3859. Find Don on FB:

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