Cleaning, Organizing, & Eco

How You Like Me Now, Grout?

That’s right. Picture me giving one of these (*strikes a talk-to-the-hand pose*) to the grout in our foyer and half bathroom.

As you might recall, for the past six months that we’ve lived here, it has looked like this.

Over the last half of a year, I gave nearly every method under the sun a shot to make that grout look clean. After repeatedly scrubbing the heck out of it, I knew that it was actually very (very, very) clean… it just was so discolored and stained in certain areas, that no amount of blood, sweat, or tears (I even tried a wire brush to literally sand off the top layer of the grout) could make it look that way.

Some of my attempts included (but weren’t limited to):

So I did what most people would do and I gave up and ignored it for another few days (what’s a few days after six months of no-dice results?). And then I finally faced facts. The grout either needed to be scraped out and regrouted entirely (which makes for a pretty messy job, especially in the main hallway of our house which connects the entire upstairs to each room downstairs) or it needed to be refinished.

Thankfully a few of you tipped me off to a product you’ve used with success called Polyblend Grout Renew. Let me just skip to the punchline: it worked, and I wish I had tried it before spending six months scrubbing my mind out. 

The cost? A cool $11.95 from Home Depot. Can I get a what what? Note: this might sound like an ad for the stuff, but Grout Renew doesn’t know us from Adam – I’m just beyond grateful that it worked.

Although it did take nearly eight hours to apply. But since I had easily spent 25 hours trying various stain lifting methods before resorting to this, eight hours with a bottle of Grout Renew was a small price to pay for VICTORY.

That’s right, there were mic drops. There was shoulder dusting. There was a full on pregnant-lady end zone dance.

There were several colors to pick from, but John and I decided on Oyster Gray after admiring similarly toned grout at a neighbor’s house during a Christmas party (they had the same foyer tile that we do, but it spanned all the way into their kitchen with sparkling light gray grout that brought tears to my eyes). We actually brought home a darker option too, but it was so close to the stone color – and some of the dark stains in the grout – that we worried it would be a lot of work for grout that still looked kind of muddled and dingy.

Oh and the Grout Renew was low odor and low-VOC, so this pregnant lady could get down with it. I did wear a respirator, along with opening windows, just because I’m into added ventilation and bad Bane impersonations.

Anyway, the first step was to clean the floors thoroughly. I’ll pause while you laugh since I had already done that TEN MILLION TIMES. Next it just said to use a toothbrush to apply it into the grout lines and then let it dry for 24 hours. I went with a thin craft brush because I had way more control (read: way less mess on the tile surface) and started in the half-bathroom because I figured I could work my way out of the room and close the door behind me so it could dry.

Even with a small craft brush there were still times when it got on the surface of the tile, and there was a very short window for wiping it off before it set (and then had to be scrubbed with a fingernail, which was a huge pain) so I literally would do one or two cracks at a time and then quickly follow up to smooth both sides of the seam out with a small piece of toilet paper (this would remove any from the surface of the tile as well as make the sides of each seam nice and straight looking).

It was the opposite of fast. But it worked. Slowly I eked my way out from around the toilet and right out the door, which took about an hour and forty five minutes. That was day 1. Note: this stuff looks lighter/more high-contrast before it dries, so even though it looks white here, it dries to be a softer gray color.

Day 2 involved three more hours of line painting and wiping, and I opted to do 50% of the foyer in a strategic way so we could all still walk on the other half of it. In other words, I did half of the hall, half of the area in front of the steps, one of the two closets, and half of the area leading into the office, so we could all still walk on “the dirty grout” sides to get around. Here’s a shot to show you how hilarious John is. I said: ok, get creative with this picture so my giant respirator doesn’t look weird. I like his version of getting creative – just lop off the whole head area.

The second day was the hardest day by far, just because I was still kind of sore from contorting my pregnant body around in the small half bathroom the day before, and the little knobby parts of each of my ankles were dragging on the tile as I scooted around like a dog with fleas, so there was that. But it was all worth it. Worth it and then some!

Day 3 was another three hour process, but it was the most exciting day because I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The end of the longest-running house battle that I had ever waged was near. I just worked my way around the foyer doing the other half of those pathways that I had done the day before, and I ducked into that last closet while pausing occasionally to fist pump and work on my Oscar acceptance speech clean grout speech (“I’d like to thank the academy, and the grout gods who invented this $12 bottle of miracles and unicorns”).

Then we just gave that last application the same 24 hour drying period, and made sure nothing got wet for 72 hours (since that was another warning on the bottle) and it seems to be stuck like glue. It’s a good deal lighter than the old grout was, which still makes us say “whoa now” when we walk through the hallway, but we think it’s just our eyes adjusting, since we loved the lighter grout in our neighbor’s hall and kitchen. Maybe after 6 months our brains just can’t get over the fact that it finally looks clean!

It has really good five star ratings everywhere we read about it (here are some on Home Depot’s site) so I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll have the same long-lasting luck with it (I still have about 1/4th of the bottle leftover for touch ups in case we need them down the line). I’ll definitely update you guys if anything funky happens, but so far it has been great.

Update: A few people have asked if we plan to seal it, and after hearing from some commenters who’ve used this and had awesome results with occasional sealing it, we’re planning to do the same. Will keep you posted on how it holds up! Also, since a few folks have asked us to add the “way back” before shot, just for fun, here ya go. It’s crazy how much bluer the tile looked with the brown stained grout and all that blue trim.

Is anyone else waging war on something stubborn that’s taking more than a few attempts? Do you have any secret remedies to share for a house battle that had you stumped?



Who Needs Coats When You Can Have Toys?

The closet next to our front door was an obvious place for our coat closet when we first moved in. But since our definition of “coat closet” seems to include random stuff like cleaning supplies (vacuum, dust buster, etc) as well as miscellaneous files and bags, we quickly realized that it was smarter for us to use the deeper closet under the stairs for that stuff instead. It’s slightly closer to the garage anyways, so it’s actually a more convenient spot for daily coat access (not that I’m ready to admit summer’s over yet).

But that left this lonely guy next to the door without a job to do. And what’s the opposite of having a job? Playing with toys. That’s what.

Well, not so much playing with them as storing them. I’ll get to the “why?” of this toy closet in a moment, but let me start with the “how?” since it was kind of lacking in the shelving department. We considered building some more shelves like the existing one up top (i.e. nailing wood braces to the wall and resting a board on top). But we decided we wanted something with more flexibility (so that we could alter the shelf spacing over time). So after perusing the options at a couple of stores, we landed on this Rubbermaid option at Home Depot (but with wood shelves, not wire ones).

Installation was pretty straightforward. Pun intended, since you do have to be careful about keeping your tracks straight and level when hanging them so your shelves don’t look all wonky. I used my laser level to help me mark my drill spots so they lined up and the shelves would be nice and straight.

Rubbermaid sells a hardware pack that comes with anchors and screws, so it was kind of a no brainer. I just drilled a hole in the wall at each spot, tapped in the anchor, and then screwed the track securely in place.

When placing the second track I again wanted to make sure it was level with the first. Don’t mind the green slime on my yardstick. It was a victim of this paint spill in the garage.

Once both tracks were in place, I clipped in the brackets and rested the shelves right on top of them. Our closet was just an inch-ish narrower than the 36″ stock white shelf they sold, so it did require a quick cut on the table saw for each one.

Certainly not the sexiest shelving unit I’ve ever laid eyes on, but considering it took me about an hour to install and it’ll be behind a closed door most of the time, we’re satisfied customers. Especially since it made this closet approximately 89.542% more functional, and we can move the shelves to be closer together or further apart, depending on what we’re storing. Here’s the cost breakdown:

With “construction” done, Sherry gave the existing blue shelf and baseboard a couple coats of white primer and paint and then loaded in the toys after everything dried.

We know some of you might be scratching your head at this. A toy closet in the foyer? And with things she can’t even reach? Plus, where can I get one of those panda hats? Well hang on to your bear-less heads, for I will explain…

Clara’s at an age where it’s tough for more than a few favorite toys (like her play kitchen or her dolls) to keep her interest for more than a minute or two. So she can be that typical three-year-old tornado that burns through an entire jumbled basket of cars, balls, puzzles, and games in five minutes. We also have a few things that we don’t keep readily accessible to her since they’re supervised activities, like painting, markers, play-doh, etc. So that’s where the idea for this toy closet, er, toy library comes in. We figured we could still keep a basket of her favorite toys out in a few rooms where she plays (along with larger things like her dollhouse and play kitchen) but the rest of those easily-dumped-and-ditched items might feel more special and exciting to her if they’re not always jumbled up in a basket that’s right under her nose.

We call it a “library” because it’s meant to have the same effect that library books have on her versus the books that we have around all the time. Library books seem special and new, keeping her excited and attentive longer. So we’ve taken a bunch of her existing toys and activities out of the everyday access spots and organized them in this closet (which is centrally located, so it’s actually a convenient spot). Here’s how it works:

  1. Clara often plays with a few favorite toys that are still out in baskets, but if she decides she’d like something from the closet, she just asks us and we help her get the item that she wants
  2. She can only “check one thing out” at a time, so one thing must be returned before another is taken out (this is already really inspiring her to clean things up before asking for something else)
  3. We hope this will work for us long-term (growing up Sherry and I both had a closet with shelves full of board games and movies, so we think even for older kids this could come in handy – especially since we can adjust the shelf spacing).

We debated organizing with cute image or photo labels (since Clara can’t read the words yet) but since it’s a grown-up guided activity (meaning we’ll be the ones getting things off most of the shelves for a long time since they’re out of her reach anyway), we stuck with text labels for now. Sherry even repurposed a frame to make a little “menu” of what’s inside so she can quickly offer up some suggestions to Clara without digging through all the baskets and bins to remember what’s in there.

The toy library closet has actually been in use for a couple of weeks now (we wanted to wait to report on how it’s working for us – just in case it was a huge bust and we decided it was a better tool closet or something), and so far it’s working even better than expected. I sort of anticipated this being one of those “a 3 year old won’t bend to your need for systems and order, Petersik!” moments but Clara actually loves it. It seems to be helping with her attention span and how long she plays with things (we’ve had a couple marathon marker coloring sessions lately) – and it’s definitely helping her better grasp the concept of cleaning up one mess before making another.

So yes, we may be the weirdos who greet our guests with a basket of finger paints and an over-sized dinosaur puzzle, but the former library employee in me is quite proud of our little closet. Ooooh, maybe we should make library cards?! Too far, Petersik. Too far.