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Q.I often hear clients complain that they like the look of their tile kitchen counters, but that it’s too hard to keep the grout lines clean. Is there any kind of grout that resists staining, or a sealer that works?

A.Michael Byrne, director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, responds: The problem with discolored grout in kitchens is all too common, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are three main issues: Choosing the right grout and grout color, installing it correctly, and sealing it with the right product. Tile choice can also make a difference.

Before choosing a grout color, you need to know how heavily the kitchen will be used. In a kitchen that sees only light cooking and cleanup, you should be able to use any color. Use pink if it makes the client happy. But if a lot of cooking is going to go on, you should probably choose a grout the color of dirty dishwater — gray — because that’s the color the grout will want to turn. If you put a white grout in that kitchen (the worst choice), you’re essentially making the homeowner a slave to keep it clean. Black and other very dark colors are also bad because they show up light stains and deposits. Steer your client toward cement gray. The most durable grout is an epoxy, which is available in gray. But if your client just has to have that dark green grout she’s seen in a friend’s kitchen, use a latex grout — you’ll have a better color choice.

Next, you have to apply the grout properly. Make sure you mix it according to instructions, and make sure to use a grout trowel so the material is forced into and completely fills the joint. A step that is usually neglected is striking the joint. Most installers use only a sponge for grouting, which has the effect of removing the fine Portland cement and sand filler and exposing the sharp edges of the silica aggregate — leaving a very rough and abrasive grout surface. Imagine dropping a peanut butter sandwich on a piece of sandpaper and trying to clean it — this is what the homeowner will be faced with in trying to clean that grout surface. Striking the joint, with a tool like a brick mason uses, compacts and smooths the grout, making for a much smoother, less absorbent, and easier-to-clean grout line.

If you don’t install the grout properly, sealing is a useless exercise. But assuming you’ve tooled the grout correctly, now apply an impregnating sealer. A good choice is 511 Porous Plus (Miracle Sealants, 800/350-1901). This is a solvent-based sealer used on stone buildings to make it easy to clean off graffiti. It requires 72 hours of curing, but once cured, it’s food-safe. Two other good choices would be Sealer’s Choice 15 or Grout Sealer from AquaMix (800/366-6877). Grout Sealer is an acrylic product that leaves a smooth, easy-to-clean surface; Sealer’s Choice is a commercial-duty product with a 15-year service life. I would avoid using silicone sealers, which are ineffective.

Sealers will have to be maintained, depending on use. And tile needs to be cleaned for staining just like any other surface — if you spill some wine in a grout line, sponge it up.

Tile choice is not usually the contractor’s decision, though if your client wants a tile counter but is concerned about grout staining, you might recommend using oversized tiles on the counter to reduce the number of grout lines.