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Why Are My Shower Tiles Turning Yellow?

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February 24, 2023

The grout and surface of the tiles in your bathroom or shower can turn white to yellow (even orange) for many reasons.

Products for Cleaning or Bathing and Time Itself Can Contribute to Tile Staining
You'd think that regularly cleaning your bathroom would prevent these unsightly stains. But actually, the issue might be the cleaning or bathing products you use to shower with and even the water itself.

Another contributor to tile and grout staining is time.

That is… time spent not knowing what causes hard surface discoloration so you can do something about it.

Because it doesn't matter if you've moved into a new home or you remodeled your bathroom/shower: stone, tile, and grout can turn yellow and even graduate to brown if it isn't taken care of properly.

We'll explain common causes of why stone, tile, and grout stain to colors you didn't intend to have. And why the bathroom/shower areas are places where hard surfaces discolor the most.

Trust us.

We've seen our fair share of showers, tubs, bathrooms, and other hard surfaces discolored beyond belief, and have transformed them back to their original color or a new one that beautifully complements the whole room.

Before diving in, if you don't know anything about stone, tile, or grout, here are some fast facts about them.

Quick Facts About Hard Surfaces

Floors, countertops, walls, and other hard surfaces are either non-porous or porous.

Cement-Based Grout and Certain Types of Tiles and Stone Are Porous
Porous hard surfaces have tiny pores (holes) in them, acting like a sponge that can trap dirt, debris, liquid, and whatever teeny particle can work its way inside if they aren't sealed.

Cement-based grout and certain types of tiles and stone are made of porous material.

Unglazed porcelain or ceramic tiles, and stones such as marble, granite, travertine, and concrete are examples of porous surfaces. They're all susceptible to damage and discoloration if they aren't sealed.

Let's take dirty floors with cement-based grout and tile as an example.

Over time, if the grout and tile floors aren't sealed and properly and sufficiently cleaned, dirt will continue to seep inside its pores. That's why the tile's crevices and grout lines darken in color and look grimy.

Here's another thing about porous surfaces. Bathrooms and showers are the wettest and most humid places for stone, tile, and cement-based grout to exist in.

When liquids are trapped inside the holes or openings of porous hard surfaces, they'll eventually harbor enough germs and dirt particles to promote mold and fungi growth and may deteriorate.

But also, stone, tile, and grout in your shower or bathroom can discolor when there's a build-up of moisture and mold growth.

That's why it's extremely important to seal porous hard surfaces, especially in your bathroom, shower, or other areas that are vulnerable to moisture, and to ventilate those spaces to dry if possible.

Learn more about why it's necessary to seal your grout and tile here to help mitigate some of those issues. Just keep these quick facts in mind about stone, tile, and grout as we show you more reasons why they stain.

Some of the culprits that cause hard surfaces to discolor you can control, while others are tougher to manage.

The Main Reason Surfaces Stain: Hard Water

Roughly 85% of homes in the United States have hard water coming out of their taps, but what is it?

Hard Water Is One of the Main Causes of Surface Discoloration
Hard water contains mineral salt deposits that are rich in calcium and magnesium and sometimes they have high traces of iron present, which can cause brown stains on surfaces.

Hard water is one of the main causes of surface discoloration. Stains vary in color, but hard water affects your bathtubs, shower floors, toilets, sinks, faucets/shower heads, and any area or thing exposed to or uses water regularly.

And it's a nuisance in general for water-using appliances like dishwashers, heaters, refrigerators, laundry machines, etc., as they clog pipes and valves with rocky scales.

Hard water also makes bar soaps, detergents, and shampoos work less effectively wherever it is used (even on you) and it's what creates soap scum in the first place.

This is minor, but, tannins in the water are another thing that can contribute to stains. It's found in groundwater and it's dissolved organic matter via the breakdown of vegetation. Visit www.watersystemscouncil.org site for information about tannins and groundwater.

Just know that hard water itself may be the problem.

So how do you recognize the signs early on of hard water discoloration? And since we use products for bathing ourselves in showers, what if it's a combination of hard water and soaps causing stains on your tile and grout?

Here are a few ways you can tell.

Signs of Hard Water Discoloration

The signs of hard water stains can vary based on the hard surfaces' material.

Most shower systems have stone, tile, and grout installed, and some have glass partitions/doors instead of curtains.

Those White Powdery Spots in Your Shower Can Be Signs of Hard Water
A common sign of discoloration on these surfaces is when hard water dries, leaving behind minerals. Those minerals form layers of white powdery spots called "efflorescence," and it's more visible on glass than it is on grout or tile.

Eventually, evaporated calcium and magnesium left behind from the hard water can get trapped in the pores of your stone, tile, and grout if unsealed. If you let the water dry without wiping the surface clean, it creates limescale formations, which then create stains that become difficult to remove.

The white stains on those hard surfaces (even caulk) could turn yellow to orange or brown when left untreated.

Now that you know hard water is public enemy #1 in damaging the appearance of a surface, here's what you can do about it.

What Can You Do About Hard Water Stains?


Keep your shower and bathroom areas as clean and dry as possible to avoid the leftover byproducts of hard water. But most importantly, seal your stone, tile, and grout wherever necessary.

To control the problems that hard water causes, consider investing in a water softener to remove the high concentration of minerals found in them. These water filtration systems may be costly, but there are inexpensive shower heads that can turn hard water into soft.

Water softeners remove minerals that react and bond with soaps, which form soap scum, and help mitigate the hard water stains and scales that form on objects. There are advantages and disadvantages to water softeners so the choice is up to you.

Let's cover how the products you use for bathing and cleaning may contribute to hard surface discoloration.

Bathing Products and Soap Scum

Now you know that hard water is the cause and catalyst for soap scum.

There are chemicals and ingredients in the products you may use to bathe yourself or clean your shower/bathroom that can contribute to hard surface discolorations. Keep in mind, if the product makes bubbles, then it probably creates tile-staining soap scum.

Bar or liquid soaps, shampoos, conditioners, etc.: Classic bar soap is made up of talc and fatty acids, and other ingredients that encourage soap scum as they react with hard water.

Liquid soaps, shampoos, conditioners, body washes or gels, etc., may contain synthetic detergents (surfactants), polymers, and other additives that discolor tile. With liquid soaps and detergents, you'll see a lesser amount of soap scum formed compared to bar soaps, but discoloration can still occur.

Either way, when you don't clean your shower's tile and grout regularly, every time you bathe, layers upon layers of evaporated mineral deposits from the water start to build upon the layers of soap film.



Now imagine dirt being mixed with soap scum plus hard water's negative effects, and you can see why tile and grout can go from a pristine white to a dingy yellow or brown.

Dyes: Products meant to retain or change your hair's color can stain hard surfaces. The same thing happens with shampoos that intentionally dye the product coming out of the bottle to look "appealing."

Now the degree of how bad these products stain can vary; it depends on the shampoo's material and also the dye.

Some products have dyes that are permanent or semi-permanent. Whether the product has dyes that are meant to last or not, both types can severely discolor your grout, caulk, tile, stone, and actually whatever surface it's left on permanently if it's not cleaned in time.

Oils: Surface discolorations may happen with products containing oils like lotions, but also body, skin, and hair oils carry dirt, soaps, contaminants, etc., that create that infamous yellow ring around the drain of your shower drain and tub.

To wrap up here, see what's in the bathing product to rule out if it is a contributing factor to grout and tile staining, but regularly cleaning your shower or bath is key. And keeping your shower and bathroom dry and well-ventilated are also key.

Harsh Cleaners Can Cause Stains

One cause of shower tiles turning yellow is wax. It's found in some bathroom cleaners and can cause a build-up on your tiles, stone, and grout, creating a yellow sheen at first and making the surface slippery too.

Harsh Cleaners Like Bleach, Ammonia, and Vinegar Can Stain Grout and Tile
But it's harsh cleaners like bleach, ammonia, and even vinegar and lemon that can damage your hard surfaces, causing discolorations. Avoid using highly alkaline and acidic products regularly and use pH-neutral cleaners instead.

Going back to dyes, cleaners that are colored pose the same issues of changing the appearance of your stone, tile, and grout.

Let's talk about natural stones. If you have it installed on your shower floors for example. Over time, harsh and highly acidic or alkaline cleaners can scratch and wear down the stone. This causes the stone's surface to have etch marks.

That means it makes small pores appear on the surface of the stone in the shower. It makes the stone look dull and opens up room for bacteria growth from the soap scum that causes stains.

In general, harsh cleaners create a recipe for disaster.

By now, you can tell that many things can contribute to stone, tile, and grout turning yellow, orange, brown, or whatever color of the rainbow. In fact, even the surfaces themselves can cause stains!

So what do you do!?

Take the Guesswork Out With Sir Grout

Some tiles and stones are more porous than others and can absorb or be affected by many of the issues we've mentioned: hard water, iron deposits, bathing/cleaning products, dyes, etc., and even tobacco smoke (the one we didn't mention).


Learn about the stone, tile, or grout you have installed in your shower or bath to know how to best keep it maintained and looking its best.

We can go all day about what's causing your shower tiles to turn yellow. But the best course of action if you find yourself in this situation is to get a professional evaluation and don't rely on DIY methods, which can make matters worse.

Sir Grout's team of hard surface restoration specialists can identify some of the root causes of why the hard surface discoloration is occurring with a plan of action to take care of it.

Because that small stain in the corner of a tiled shower might seem harmless at first. But if left untreated, or if you put matters into your own hands, then that tiny spot can turn into a wide, yellow stain that ruins the shower's entire appearance.

Let our team of hard surface restoration experts handle it. We'll deep clean the shower area and use a ph-neutral cleaning solution and steam vaporizer to remove any embedded dirt or grime on your hard surfaces.

If you have serious hard water deposits, we'll use strong solutions to break them down and clean the surface off. Grout that's seen better days can be replaced and you could even choose to have it colored with Sir Grout's ColorSeal.

We'll hone and polish your stone if you have it installed. But after deep cleaning your hard surfaces, we'll seal them for long-lasting protection, and ultimately, leave your shower clean, dry, and free of stains or damages.

Before we call it a day, you'll be walked through how to maintain our work so that it can last as long as possible, or choose our maintenance plans instead.

As a leader in the hard surface restoration industry, there's no job we can't handle.

If your grout is starting to weaken, looks dirty and dull, or needs to be replaced completely, call us at (866) 476-8863 to schedule a free quote or fill out the form on this page.
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