Monday, March 3, 2014

Old Bathroom, New Look

I spent the Saturday night of Mardi Gras hugging the toilet.

It was just like Mardi Gras that one year when I was in college, except this time I was (1) sober, (2) pregnant, (3) not puking.

You guys. I worked on a little project over the weekend that may be the most satisfying, least expensive, bigggest impact improvement we have made in this house. The only downside was that it did require me to spend a lot time up close and personal with the toilet--mostly straddling it and squatting beside it.

But let me back up. A few weeks ago, I saw on Young House Love that they had used Grout Refresh in their entry way. My brain filed this away, and when we were at Lowes over the weekend (unsuccessfully trying to buy salt to melt away the ice--they were sold out--and successfully letting Zuzu pretend she was driving a car until she was "All done! All done! Uppa!") I picked up a bottle for our half bath on the main floor.

I'm assuming the bathroom and its tile were original to the house, which means that it is going on 70 years old. And let me tell you, 70 years of grime built up on formerly white grout means that it hasn't been white for a long time. In fact, if I think about it too long, it can really start to gross me out. I had scrubbed the tiles in this room when we moved in--the walls and the floor--and while my efforts at cleaning perked them up a little, there's no way that 70 years of built-up dirt between little tiles comes clean, no matter how hard you scrub.

A refresher of our powder room before, for those of you who don't pee in it daily:

The grout on the walls was off-white at best, beigey brown in places.

So dingy that I actually thought the tiles themselves were off-white.
A sexy close-up of the grody grout.
The grout on the floor was mostly black.

The floor. I had already started experimenting on the back corner. Made it harder to pretend that the grout was originally black.
Honestly, I was skeptical that this Grout Refresh stuff would work. I figured that the blogger who had used it successfully was working with newer tile, and I just wasn't sure how this was going to go down. But, it was cheap, and I didn't have any other ideas about what I could do to improve the looks of the bathroom since I have no interest in retiling it or regrouting it all together.

So I gathered my very technical, high-grade supplies: a paper plate, a Crayola craft paintbrush, a paper towel, and my bottle of Grout Refresh (which costs $11.87 at Lowes).

I had only planned at first to do the walls--I really thought the floors were beyond fixing. I started at a low place on the wall that is tucked out of sight behind the sink. I figured if it looked weird or crappy, I'd just stop there and no one would notice it. But it looked AH-MAZING.

I could hardly believe how good it looked. Making the grout white made the tiles look white. Even though there are a few that are cracked, just by making the grout white, it made all the wall tiles look new.



Seriously--that's the same lighting, the same flash, the same spot on the wall with the crack running through those two tiles.  Photos of this room are pretty dismal--there's very little natural light, but you get the idea.

I followed YHL's method of applying the grout refresh with a small paintbrush and quickly wiping the excess off the edges of the tile. It's tedious, yes, but also a very satisfying process with instant and pleasing results.

I started around 6:30 pm, began by thoroughly cleaning the walls by scrubbing them down with a vinegar/water mixture, took a couple of breaks to eat a bite and put Zuzu to bed, and it was nearly 10pm when I finished. But the walls had gone from this:

To this:

I know it looks like different lighting, but I SWEAR--same camera, same picture taken after dark with the bad little over-sink light on and the camera flashing.

I was so high on the improvement that I decided I had to try the floors. I experimented on a little corner and decided that it would be worth the hassle. The only thing that stopped me from tackling them right then and there was that the surface has to be very clean, and I just couldn't bring myself to sweep and mop and scrub the bathroom floors after 10pm.

So I got up Sunday morning and tackled them. I took a slightly different approach to the floors because the tiles are so much tinier and set closer together. The instructions on the bottle say that you can apply the Grout Refresh with a toothbrush, let it set for 30-60 minutes, mist it with water, let that sit for 5 minutes, and then scrub the tiles clean. I didn't try this with the walls since I just followed the YHL method with success, but I knew it would take me forever to wipe down each teensy little tile as I edged around it, so I decided to do the whole floor at once and then wet and wipe it all up.

Working my way out the door.

Weird angle of floors behind the toilet--it took a bit of gymnastics to squeeze my arm back there, let me tell you.
In retrospect, I think the apply and wipe immediately technique is the better one. Although it's more time consuming (I was able to "paint" the entire floor in two hours instead of the three-and-some-change it took me to paint and wipe the walls), I really had to put my back into my scrubbing in order to get the Grout Refresh off the tile, and my clean-up ended up removing some of the grout refresh so I had to go back and do a lot of touching up. I'm not convinced it ended up being much of a timesaver at all, plus it was really discouraging to think I would be finished and then have to go back and re-do several places in the bathroom.

Places I had to go back and fix
When I re-did the squares, I painted and wiped immediately with a paper towel, just as I did on the walls. It was trickier with the teensy little tiles, and the fact that they are blue rather than white  (like the wall tiles) so you could see the edges of the grout more clearly. The final result is not perfect by any means, but I figure that no one will ever study this tile as closely as I did over the weekend.  In the end, with $12, about 6 hours, and a little bit of elbow grease invested in the project, I still think it was totally worth it. I am thrilled with the results.

And remember the before?

Feel free to ooh and aah over the after:

I still have at least half a bottle of the Grout Refresh leftover after doing the entire room (it's a small room, yes, but still, a lot of tile!).

David and I keep peeking in the bathroom, awed by the difference it makes. The whole place just looks brighter and cleaner. You'd really think we put in new tile, except it's still got all of its "vintage charm."

In short, it was literally a pain in my butt (from sitting on the tile floor) and it was definitely tedious and time consuming, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Huge bang for the buck and I'm so pleased with the way it all turned out.


  1. I, aloud, gasped and said "whaaat????" At the after photo! Best 12 dollar bottle of goo EVER!!

  2. WOW That is seriously amazing!!!! I can't believe it is the same room!

  3. That is incredible!! And, like you said, you got to keep the awesome vintage floor tile. Projects like that are so gratifying!

  4. Oh my god that is so awesome!! And I'm sharing this with my boss at the 200 year old hotel I work at because chilling on a bathroom floor with a toxic bleach solution was not my favorite way to spend an afternoon. I'll never get those brain cells back.

  5. Looks so good! And yes, brand new!

    I kinda can't believe you have the energy while pregnant!

  6. Amazing! I love yhl and so glad that this worked for you!

  7. Brooke, this is your best work ever! Most inspiring! I, too, have the grout blues, with ugly, cheap tiles that won't stay clean. I'm going to see if they sell this/something similar here in Aus! Will totally tell them you sent me :-d

  8. Ooooo you can really see the difference in the corner and near the base of the wall. All that ick turned it.

    My bathroom upstairs is as old as the a 1950's built...we lemme see... Yeah. I'm uncomfortably assuming the grout was originally yellow. .. :\

    Love the new colours on the blog as well :)

  9. I wish I knew about this stuff BEFORE I made Joe regrout our whole shower in our bathroom. AMAZING though! Definitely going to do this!

  10. Okay I guess I am convinced I need to go by that grout refresher and then scrub my tile with vinegar and water. It looks soooo good!

  11. Wow! That is amazing! Looks awesome! And, I'm going to have to check out that show!