Sunday, March 28, 2010

DIY project: Kitchen backsplash step 6

Here we are, almost done with the backsplash, and as luck would have it, I think this nearly final step is probably the worst. Yes, I'm talking grout. People had said it would not be fun, and they were right. It's not so much the grout itself that presents the challenge. It's the nearly Sisyphean task of cleaning it that is the worst. Fortunately, though, this step is now complete, and Matt and I are still married.

I've already shown you how our kitchen went from this

To this, after we installed the tile

And now I'll explain how we finally arrived at this, after we grouted.

First of all, when I wrote about the supplies we needed, I said I would blow everyone's mind with the information that we were told by a sales associate at Home Depot not to get a grout float and use just a putty knife instead. Well, that was bad advice. So, yesterday on the way home from lunch, we picked up this mid-range rubber grout float for $6.99.

Then it was time to get to work. We laid some paper towels around the countertops and taped them so they were able to trap any grout that might fall through the cracks.

Step 1: Mix the grout.
We were working with sanded grout because we were working with slate tile. Our friend Thom, who restores old homes for his job, recommended we add more water to our grout mixture than we think we need, and that we wait 15 minutes for the mixture to settle before applying it to the tile. Thom was right. When Matt first mixed the grout it was way too dry and difficult to adhere to the tile. So, he added more water, remixed, and waited, and then it was time to grout.

Step 2: Apply the grout to the tile using the grout float.
This is where I began to get sick to my stomach, because as you apply the grout it looks like this:
It feels like you are messing up everything you just spent all this time trying to perfect in all the previous steps.

The keys to this step are to:
1) Really cram the grout into the spaces between the tiles. In our case, we inevitably missed some spots in nearly every section of our kitchen, so we had to reapply to one small spot each time.
2) Take off excess grout using the grout float held at a 45 degree angle once you have applied grout all over an area.

Step 3: Let the grout settle for no more than 15 minutes before you go over it with an ever-so-damp sponge.

By this step the grout will look like this
Still kind of scary, right? I know, my heart was racing. What if we just screwed everything up?

This is why this step is best for a perfectionist like me. When you go over the tile with that ever-so-damp sponge, you remove more excess grout to help even out the grout lines and, of course, start to clean up the tile. At this step, make sure you have a bucket with water so you can rinse your sponge out frequently (and you will need to do this often).
Soon, your tile will look like this.

There is still a haze on the tile from the grout, and apparently this is totally normal. So, we went over the tile about 30 minutes later with that same slightly damp sponge, and it got a little better. Then we tired to buff it with a cloth as we had been told, and it only improved minimally.

But then I still felt like we had failed. It wasn't perfect. Maybe it's not perfect because we did it ourselves. Maybe it's not perfect because it's not really possible to make our specific tile look perfect. Either way, when we went to bed Saturday night I was pretty annoyed.

Little did I know Matt was up investigating what to do to make me happier (reason number 378 he's a great husband). So he discovered...

Step 4: Go over your tile with an equal parts warm water and vinegar solution on the scouring side of a sponge to remove any excess haze.

Now our project is mostly complete. The haze is mostly gone, but we'll do a little buffing here and there to hope we can still make it as pretty as possible. We need to seal the grout and tile again, but you're supposed to wait 72 hours after installing the grout to do that. We also are going to look into either buying new outlet covers in a stainless steel color, or we'll spray paint the ones we already own. Finally, I have some lights to install underneath the cabinets to highlight the backsplash, but I'm going to make that the finishing touch.

Stay tuned later this week for the big reveal!

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