Spring is here, and that means it's time to take a close look at the tile in your tub or shower. If it looks like the image above, it's time to call your landlord... Grout is what turns tile into a relatively waterproof surface for the walls of your bathroom or shower. Note that we said relatively: most grout is actually designed to be slightly water permeable. That's so that any water that gets behind the tile through a small or large crack can get back out instead of contributing to mold and mildew in your wall. That also means that it needs periodic maintenance, or you can end up with a mushy wall.It's a good idea to look at your shower or tub walls about once a year and honestly assess their condition. If the grout is intact, good news: all you need to do a deep cleaning. Green tip: try scrubbing on a paste of 3 cups of baking soda moistened with water before advancing to toxic bleach-based cleaners. If there are a few spots of grout missing here and there, it's time for a deep cleaning, as many days of drying out as you can manage (start to befriend your neighbors now!), and a bit of repair. And back away from that tube of caulk you just picked up! We'll cover why the only place caulk belongs is in the corners. If you're the unfortunate soul who happens to own the tile above, we pity you. We hope you're the masochistic sort who likes mind-numbing, back pain-inducing DIY projects. If not, you'll want to call a good tile installer... or stock up on your painkiller of choice. >>Go to The Grout Chore, Part II to find out more about caulking!