Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

Ah yes– another winter day in sunny Florida. I think it’s going to get down to 60 today. Brrrr! Sorry to brag to all my iced-in northern friends, but the next case I’m about to discuss will make you more jealous. (Hey, it’s tough being the Stone Detective!)

As usual for my morning routine, I was at my local greasy spoon having a heated discussion with Flo about for whom I was going to vote for in the upcoming presidential election. Sorry folks– I won’t tell you who.  

My phone rang, and I found myself speaking to this guy with a very thick, British accent—don’t know, Cockney or Liverpool —it was really hard to understand him.  He finally got across that he was an owner’s rep for a condo that had some problems with the grout in the bathroom. I asked him what kind of problems. He said there were random areas in the grout that had turned pink. I asked if he could email me some pics. 

Within minutes I had the pics, and looking at the “crime scene,” I was puzzled. That’s what makes my job in the stone industry so exciting. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and I still get stumped every once in a while. I looked at the pics and could not figure out why the grout had turned pink. I called Mr. Churchill back (not his real name) and asked all the standard questions. He said the grout was epoxy, and it had turned pink several months after installation. I told him it was difficult to figure out without seeing it in person. He asked if I could come take a look. (Now for the part where you’re going to get jealous.) The condo was in the Cayman Islands.  I’ve done a lot of inspection and troubleshooting work in the islands, look forward to any chance to go there, so of course, I told him I could come take a look. I gave him my proposal, which included a fishing trip, and made my plane reservations for the following week.

I arrived in the Caymans with the sound of a steel drum band playing as I got off the plane. Ah, I love the tropics; it’s a nice change to the Florida cold (LOL!).  I took a cab to the development where I was greeted by Mr. Churchill, who was driving a fancy Rolls-Royce golf cart. He was a tall and slender man wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and sandals. Where else can you dress like this for work, other than the islands?   

As we rode along, He proceeded to tell me in a rapid mix of English and island slang about the install, and how the grout was applied. I think I only caught a few words, but I caught the gist of it. When we arrived at the condo, he gave me a tour of the $25 million apartment. 

This place had the works! I could spend an entire article or two describing all the fancy features this place had, but I’ll let your imagination take over here.  

After the tour, he led me to the master bath and pointed at the shower area, and the floor outside the shower. Sure enough, some of the grout was pink. It was supposed to be white. The odd thing is that it was only pink in random areas, which did not make sense.  I scraped off some of the pink grout to do a chemical test and discovered that the pink discoloration was only on the surface. 

My first thoughts were they had used a bad batch of epoxy, but that didn’t make sense, either. I was totally puzzled. Then Mr. Churchill said we would be meeting with the installer in about an hour. He offered to take me to lunch, which I gladly accepted. 

After lunch, we went back to the condo, where we found the installer waiting for us. He told me that the reason it was pink was because too much hardener was used. Now, this was puzzling since it was supposed to be epoxy, and not polyester. Epoxy uses a one-to-one or a two-to-one mix, where polyester uses a two percent hardener. So my next line of questioning would be to determine what he actually used. 

After several questions I discovered that it was, in fact, epoxy. The installer said he was going to replace the discolored areas. I asked him what they used to clean up the excess epoxy, and he said acetone.  The next thing he did answered my question and solved the mystery. He said he used acetone, and pulled a rag out of his pocket and motioned with a wiping action. My eyes lit up like a deer caught in the headlights. I asked if he used similar rags on the project, and he said yes. Are you ready for this?

The rag was a red. Just like the ones you get in the Bag of Rags at the big box stores. I asked to borrow his rag and some acetone. I poured the acetone on the rag– and sure enough, the red dye came right off. Another mystery solved. Now, for that fishing trip!