Regrouting the tile in Pat’s shower

#429 in a series of true experiences in real estate
June 2003, Hills Newspapers

This is perhaps an advertisement. If not that, it is certainly a celebration of competence, an enthusiasm for a job well done by a young man named Clemente who recently regrouted a shower stall in my house. I just can’t tell you how pleased I am — the shower looks fabulous.

The bathroom and the shower are original to the house, so they’re about 50 years old. Some of the ceramic tiles in the shower are cracked across their faces, and all of the grout had become dingy, blackened in places, pitted in others.
When my husband and I bought my house a dozen years ago, the floor outside this shower was soft with rot. We suspected that the shower pan was leaking, but we did not have the time and money to replace it then so we tried a stopgap measure.

First making sure the shower was clean and completely dry, my husband caulked the corners and bottom edges, then applied several coats of clear waterproofing liquid to all of the surfaces. After that, no water leaked onto the floor outside the shower. We replaced the subfloor and had new vinyl laid on top. It has lasted very well.

We intended to redo the whole bathroom, tear out the tile in the shower and elsewhere in the room and replace it with something else. But we never did.

It’s the main bathroom. No one wanted to do without that shower, and replacing the tile would be expensive and time consuming. And – you know how it is – decisions of color and material and workmen would have to be made, a large endeavor.

Plus, I was surprised to find that over the years, I had grown fond of the overall 1950s look of the room with its creamy colored tile. I didn’t want to change the room but I did want it to look less shoddy.

I had the old shower glass door replaced because it was ugly and was not safety glass. I found a company that does such things and, a few years ago they came to put in a clear glass door fitted in an aluminum frame. It looks nice but inevitably, soap scum clouds it. And, through constant use, the shower tile gets dirty with mildew appearing, especially on the caulk.

A couple of years ago, I did ask a grout restorer to come look at my tile and tell me if it could be renewed. I don’t remember who I called, but I do know what the man said: No.

After that, I stepped up my efforts to clean the caulk, grout and tile and to get rid of the mildew. I tried various things before finding that straight bleach makes everything very white. The fumes cause near asphyxiation, but I used it anyway, and it worked.

The glass door was another story. Once water drop marks appeared on it, they stayed along with streaks of soap and shampoo. Nothing I’ve tried has removed them.

Ah, but then Clemente entered my life through one of our recent listings. It’s a big house with an oversized tiled shower stall (almost like a small room) which the owner wanted to spruce up. From the phone book, he chose the Grout Doctor in Oakland and Charles, the owner of the company arrived, made a bid, and was hired.

Clemente was the young man sent to do the regrouting. Clemente, it was soon apparent, is quite the perfectionist. He honed in on every one of the many grout lines spending a whole day cleaning them out individually. Then he spread new grout and applied a sealer over all.

I had been waiting to see how well the regrouting was done at our client’s house, and I ran over to see. That shower looked brand new. Which is how I came to call the Grout Doctor and request that Clemente come immediately to my house.

I am so glad that I did. Clemente was at my house for 8 hours working on my shower. In addition to reworking the grout between the tiles, he removed and replaced all of the caulk around the inside corners and on the outside lip of the shower.

He also gave me new information. Clemente says that silicon caulk, which my husband had used, is the wrong material. For one thing, it is very difficult to remove.We should have used latex caulk that is siliconized, but is not silicon. He prefers latex caulk because it is easier to work and, unlike silicon caulk, has a longer set-up time. It can therefore be more easily applied in a uniform bead. At the end, Clemente smooths the caulk with a large sponge. The result looks machine made, it is so precise.

Clemente also told us that we should never ever use bleach, or any cleaner that contains bleach, on grout or tile. Bleach, he explained, does what it’s supposed to do – eats away the surface. This makes it momentarily white, but the roughened surface immediately starts to fill with debris, then mildew. That’s why the caulk and grout in my shower got black.

Clemente advises cleaning tile with Tilex or other no-bleach cleaner. And, he says, for shower doors, using a squeegee every time the shower is used, then cleaning with a non-abrasive cleaner should keep the glass looking clear. A razor blade, very gently used, can remove heavy soap scum.

So, I’m here to shout praises of Clemente. He’s good. He told me that he’s always been particular about his work because when he was a kid, he watched workmen hired by his mother for different home repairs, and was disappointed. Most of them, he thought, provided mediocre effort at maximum cost.

He thought that was wrong, and he determined that whatever his job in the future, he would perform it throughly and well. Value given for reasonable pay is what Clemente is all about.

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