Yes, You Can Power Wash Tub or Shower Tile. Here's How.

Young woman cleaning bathroom with green cleaning products
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Bathtub and shower tile and grout can get notoriously dirty.  Dirty isn't even the right word; dirt is preferable to the slimy, moldy, alien lifeforms that accumulate on bath tile if it goes too long before being cleaned.

One day I happened to be pressure washing outdoors--where normal people tend to pressure wash--when I noticed my open bathroom window.  A wild idea entered my head:  Hmm, what would happen if I hit my tub tile with the pressure washer?

 

Soon, I found myself knocking out the screen and snaking the pressure washer into the bathroom.

A Dirty Little Secret

The genius that I am, I decided to read other peoples' accounts of pressure washing interior tile after I'd done it myself.  Still, I was gratified to hear that others were equally foolhardy (or innovative, however you choose to look at it).

Inevitably, the pearl-clutchers shriek:  "You'd have to be a moron to even try this!"  But you can also say that two Ohio brothers were morons for strapping themselves to a contraption made of wood and muslin and trying to...fly.

The best technical advice I found in a forum was to "wait until the wife is out of the house" because she would go "nutso."  Clearly, this isn't gender-specific, because later in the thread, a woman says that she had to wait until her husband was out of the house.

As it turns out, the world is filled with people who have discovered this dirty little secret of how to turn a filthy back-breaking job that makes you feel like a Victorian charwoman into a relatively simple (nearly labor-free) task that takes 75% less time.

My Experience, My Experiment

I don't care about my bath tile; it's ugly as sin and needs to be replaced some day.  The previous homeowners revealed their cheapness when, one day, I discovered extra tiles in the basement with Home Depot price labels:  $0.99 per square foot!  I figured that I had little to lose.

I hate cleaning my shower--I know, I'm strange in that way--and so a layer of soap scum had caked on the face of the tile and the grout was embedded with orange slime.  I'd once tried to steam-clean my grout and the results were satisfactory, but certainly not amazing.

I went into the bathroom, cleared everything from the tub/shower unit, took the pressure washer gun in hand, and began washing it down.

I first hit the tile grout with a wide spray, methodically moving through the entire grid.  The washer easily blasted off the orange slime and attendant flecks of black somethingness.  Within five minutes, I had finished the grid.  Tile grout:  done!

Next I worked the spray across the tile face, row by careful row, starting at top and working down.  Thin soap scum is invisible, so it was difficult to see if it was coming off.  But thicker accumulations near the soap dishes were quite visible:  one pass with the gun and it melted off like magic.

Advice

  1. Wide Spray.  The biggest danger is that you'll chip away tile grout.  Pressure washers are strong enough that this can easily happen.  Keep the spray in a medium-wide position.
  2. Low Pressure.  Widening the spray reduces pressure.  But it also helps to have a cheap, electric pressure washer that maxes out at around 1,400 psi. 
  1. Keep Outdoors.  Do not run gas-powered washers indoors, ever.  Due to water leakage in the connections, you'll even want to keep the electric power washer outdoors, if at all possible. 
  2. Careful Of Overspray.  Obviously, you want as much water as possible to drain back into the tub and away.  But you will have overspray, and it will end up on your bathroom floor.  Limit overspray by never pointing the gun perpendicular to the tile.  Instead, keep it at a 45 degree angle, more or less, and always point down or sideways.  Have plenty of large beach or bath towels nearby to mop up water.
  3. Stay Away From Refinished Tub Surfaces.  Refinished tubs are basically tubs that have been painted, though with fancy long-lasting tub paint.  Be especially careful and stay well away from refinished tubs or showers.
  1. Be Careful Around Caulking.  While you probably shouldn't hit caulking with the washer, I widened the spray as far as possible and ran it across caulking where tile and tub meet.  No caulking peeled away.  Filthy, slick, black gunk practically disappeared.  Still, be careful with this area.
  2. Best With Open Window.  This is a warm-weather event because you'll want to keep the bathroom window open for a few hours to promote drying-out.
  3. It's a Rare Event.  I do not recommend making this your normal tub-cleaning ritual.  Setting up the washer, cleaning the tile, and cleaning the mess probably equal the same amount of time spent with the traditional process of scrubbing on your hands and knees with a toothbrush.  Scrubbing:  like that Dickensian charwoman.  Get it now?