Can I Install Tile Without Grout?

by Roger

This is a question I get asked from time to time. The short answer is no, you should not. Although grout does not add to the stability of the tile installation (unless it is epoxy grout), you still need to grout it.

Why you need grout

A lot of natural stones, namely granites and marbles, are manufactured to be consistently sized. For the most part all the tiles are identical.  This makes a lot of people want to install them without grout lines. Although in some people’s opinion butting the tiles against one another looks better than having even the smallest grout lines, it is not a recommended installation procedure.

Even if all the tiles look like they are the same size I can nearly guarantee they are not. Unless they are “rectified” they will differ, even if only a tiny amount, from tile to tile. Attempting to butt the tiles will result in a “jog” of the lines between them. The larger the area, the more those lines will run off. By leaving even 1/32 of an inch grout line you will be able to compensate for the difference in tile widths.

You also need grout to ensure that nothing can get between your tiles. Look at it this way: would you rather have a very small grout line filled with grout or a very, very small grout line filled with spaghetti sauce? No matter how tightly you attempt to butt the tiles, there will still be the tiniest space between them. Not grouting them leaves open the possibility of all types of unruly things filling them. Then you have to clean them out risking the possibility of damaging one of the tiles.

The final reason I’ll throw out there is that no matter what substrate you are using there will always be movement. Always. Placing the tiles against each other will eventually damage them. If you continuously rub the edges of two tiles together one or both will eventually chip (and you need to get out of the house more, or at least find another hobby). The expansion and contraction of wood or concrete will do the same thing. Although you can minimize this using different underlayment materials, it will still move.

I hate grout, I really do. If it were up to me I would install most tile and all granite and marble with no grout lines at all. I can’t do it. Even though it will look better initially, eventually it will ruin the tile. The best thing to do is use the smallest grout line your particular tile will allow and get a grout that closely matches the tile. For most granite and marble tile I install I use either 1/32 or 1/16 inch grout lines. In most other tile I will use 1/16 or 1/8 inch lines. I try to use the smallest grout lines the tile will allow.

To figure out how small you can go, place nine tiles in a 3 X 3 foot square butted against each other. Measure corner to corner diagonally both ways and see how close they are. If they are within 1/16 inch that is the size grout line you can use safely.

Please resist the temptation to install your tile without grout. Grout sucks, believe me, I know. By choosing a matching grout, though, you’ll be happier in the end and your tile will last significantly longer.

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Franklin

To answer this question, I have to preface by saying I broke every single rule in the tile book, but yet I managed to install a beautiful large format tile and I walked on it for more than a year with no problems whatsoever.

I had to break every rule including:
Thou shall not install over particleboard.
Thou shall not install over uneven and patched surfaces.
Thou shall not install without grout.

The surface on my old manufactured home was so uneven and unstable with plywood patches that there was no way a conventional install would hold up. So what did I do? I invented an entirely different way of installing tile that allowed for a ‘floating’ installation with no mortar or grout.

In short, I just placed the large format 16 x 16 tiles directly on the subfloor and I painstakingly shimmed each tile to be even with the adjacent tile. The floor wasn’t flat and I skim coated some of the worst areas, but every tile was butted directly against the other tile with no gap and these tiles weren’t anything special from Home Depot but they all lined up across the entire floor with no creeping gap at all. After shimming, a bead of ordinary caulking was applied around the perimeter and around the rest of the tile to support it and it was stuck back down. Caulking was then forced between what remained of the cracks to make it waterproof. Getting everything to match up exactly took literally weeks of work and rework, but the result was a masterpiece of unconventional tile work with zero grout lines. Now in 5-10 years, maybe this will fall apart, I have no idea what the long term results will be, but if it does, you can literally just pull the tile off the floor and recaulk it to fix it.

I came up with this method to solve the problem with grout breaking on uneven and unstable floors. The solution is to get rid of the grout so it can’t break and replace everything with flexible caulking instead so the floor can float and move as needed. It would have also generally been impossible and unadvisable to do a conventional install on such an unstable substrate. So, something new had to be invented to make this possible. I think if you break enough rules, it’s OK.

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Vincent silveri

I have one inch title layed in concrete size area six by four bathroom want to put ten by ten title ok to put the title on over the title already there . Do I need to do any thing special to the floor . What type of glue to use . Using one eight grout lines. Appreciate the help thank you so much God bless Vin ps: gonna cut around the toilet not lay underneath is that ok.

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Jeannie

I am having a full kitchen remodel. they are installing the tile and cabinets the same day. they put no grout on the tile under the cabinets and said it does not matter. I think it does matter and that they should have let the tiles set before starting the cabinets and walking all over the floor.

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Jarrod Marquez

I would never recommend installing cabinets over tile on the same day because the tile should set and then grouted and time allowed for grout to set also for a great finish. They are rushing to get paid and do not seem to care about quality. Good Luck

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Katie

It took me over a year to find the perfect tiles for my bathrooms – imagine 8 octagons in the shape of an “H” (3 on each side, 2 in the middle), they are beautiful – Lowe’s Caloca was the name. I get them home, lay them out and realize they are made to butt up against one another in a diagonal pattern – nothing can be easy for me LOL. Even butted up against each other, you can see tiny spaces in the corner areas – it needs grout. I just fear that the spaces are so tiny the grout won’t really get in there. I read on another blog to use invisible groutline grout? Is this what I should be looking for? Thanks!

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James Lazzaro

Use unsanded grout.

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Anne

I have a professionally installed walk in shower,about 8 years old. Porcelain tile walls , small 1-2 inch river rock floor. Today I noticed tiny ants have chewed a very small hole through the grout in the floor! Now, I know how to get rid of the ants, and we will be crawling under the house tomorrow to look for any leaks( pray for me). My question is,once the initial cause is discovered and corrected, should I seal the Rock and grout? I’ve been reading your very informative blog and understand that sealers will not waterproof. But, would it be beneficial? I’m not worried about staining my shower floor with cherry koolaid. Thanks for any advice. Anne

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Bill

Roger
We are attempting to lay a Victorian tiled floor
Each tile is individual
Problem looks great with no spaces between the tiles and they fit together
In straight lines put any spaces in and the tile lines are lost and it looks a mess
Tried the thickness of paper and the line altered
We plan to set them on sticky tiles before laying on the floor
Help !

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Pat

We just put the glass tile put in for a backsplash on the mesh sheet looks good does it need grout? Also does it need to be sealed? That’d take forever considering all the separate spaces so my husband says it doesn’t. I would like a real answer. They told us to use a bottle with a pen type end that you squeeze on it. We’ve looked everywhere but too many different opinions.
We are learning as we go along. ?

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porter

Hi Pat-
I just did a tile mosaic backspash and grouted it in with a single component, epoxy hybrid type of grout that is stain resistant and NEVER needs to be sealed. It was a little harder to work with than standard grout, but I think it will be worth it in the long run. It’s also quite a bit more expensive, but never having to go back and seal the lines made the decision pretty easy.
Good Luck!

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Carol

Roger,
Our contractor is installing a kitchen backsplash & stated that our glass/stainless tiles would keep its 3 dimensional look if grout is omitted. He said that this particular tile can go either way with grout. He says that it is up to us. How do I find out more about this specific tile?

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Roger

Hi Carol,

Contact the manufacturer. You NEED grout. :)

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Carol

Ok. Thank you. Actually, the contractor came back the next day & said the same thing. He & his guys installed all of it with grout. It looks fantastic!

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Marla

Our contractor installed the transition to carpet and the closet door rail onto our tile floor (6×24 tiles) before it was grouted. We questioned this and were told it was just fine without the grout. Is this true? We have been dealing with poor work throughout our entire master bath remodel. (Thin-set in grout lines at tile level and had to be sanded out, lippage, chipped tiles partly because they left spacers in for days and the tool used to get them out chipped the tiles and other chipped tiles due to grinding thin-set out, voids between wall tiles and much much more)

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Roger

Hi Maria,

Yes, it’s fine.

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Yev

Hi Roger,

I am about to install 8 x 48 plank tiles Unicom Starker Stage line in our kitchen using a 1/3 offset and TLS system. However still deciding whether to do 1/8 or 1/16 grout line, would like thinner but concerned it may be more than I can chew. I’ve done tiling but not this size. The subfloor is a 16 oc joists, with 3/4 plywood and 1/2 plywood on top of that. Ditra Heat underpayment on top of 1/2 inch ply. What would you suggest.

Thanks

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james lazzaro sr.

I would get both spacers dry lay both of them with both spacers one on one side of the room one on the other. you’ll be able to tell which ones will look better and which ones will install better. Sometimes the look is not necessarily the easiest installation.

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Claude

Hi Roger,
Redoing kitchen. I used Ditra on my 12in porcelain floor and it worked great. Using Ditra again on the counter for 12in Granite tiles. Wife of course wants no lines. My question is, can the use of colorized silicone be used in lieu of grout? I was told that I could use silicone between each tile and butt them up against each other squishing the silicone out and making a fixative between the tiles. Is this really possible? Is silicone a better grout for kitchen areas? Would silicone allow for more play between tiles than grout?

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Janey

I am almost two years into a to the studs home renovation. We’re now on finished work. My contractor never discussed grout size with me. I showed him and his tile installer photos of large format tiles with a seamless look and said this is the look I want. The tile I purchased was large format “rectified” tile so I thought we were good to go but he put 1/4″ grout lines in every shower so the look is anything but seamless. Why would anyone do this?

Also, in all of the shower niches the shelves are two tiles stuck together with a grout line in the center like a creme sandwich. Is this normal? To me it looks hideous. I hate all of my showers. Every time I look at them I fantasize about smashing them with a sledge hammer. Not the mood I was hoping to illicit being in my new house. Is there any way to remove tile without totally destroying it so that it can be re-installed with a thin grout line? If the tile cannot be salvaged does everything need to be ripped out and re-prepped or can you tile over existing tile?

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Roger

Hi Janey,

I have no idea why anyone would use 1/4″ grout lines on anything but saltillo. It looks like crap. I’ve seen (and done) those shelves, I’m not fond of the look either. The tile will likely be destroyed if removed and everything will likely need to be reprepped, but that’s up in the air as I have no idea how the substrates were prepared to begin with. Yes, you can tile over tile, I would not recommend it.

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Janey

Thanks for taking the time to reply. What a bummer, I guess I’m SOL :(

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Zahid

Hi Roger
Means Grout Line is needed even if we use Rectified Tiles because of tiniest spacing left or movements. Am I correct?

Zahid

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Roger

Hi Zahid,

Yes, you are correct.

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Zahid

Thanks Roger.

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Jeff-O

Hi Roger-

I’m installing 24″ deep modular granite tiles on a counter top (I know, I know – why not a solid surface), and I am aware of options to use narrow grout lines, or butt-up the tiles and bond them with actual epoxy. This is my very first tiling job, so I’m nervous about the epoxy route just in case I don’ t get the tiles PERFECTLY level in the mortar bed. Any advice? Also, I was recommended a stain-proof, single component grout, but it is sanded and my tiles are polished stone. Yet another plea for input!

I’m dealing with 11 tiles and 10 seams running perpendicular to the counter edge, all the way to the backsplash.

Gotta love Fort Collins! Not native to the city, but 12 years makes it feel that way for sure!

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Roger

Hi Jeff,

You NEED a grout line. Whoever told you that you can butt them is full of it. :D And yes, you can use that single component grout on polished granite tiles.

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James (in NC)

Do you have a post on how to grout? If not do you know of someone else who does, that you would trust sending us to…. Or a Youtube video; you know, that you would trust sending us to watch….

Thanks

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James (in NC)

Or is there a section in your ebooks teaching this that I have not gotten to yet….

Looking at spectraLOCK Epoxy Grout. Need to get that one right the first time.

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Roger

Hi James,

Not anything specific yes on how to do it. I don’t know anyone who has that, and haven’t looked for it. The grout manufacturers may have some videos if you look around.

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James (in NC)

Found these videos for SpectraLOCK from LATICRETE Int. Inc. over the weekend. They are 5 years old and state an open pot time of 80 minutes. I thought I remembered one of your posts talking about SpectraLOCK having a pot time of 40 minutes.
Are these a good representation based on your experience?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7NshdYSxLk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7iPWbWwhhc

:corn:

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Roger

Yes, they are. It *technically* has an open time of 80 minutes, but realistically you’ll have about 40 minutes of actual easily-workable time before it begins to stiffen up.

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Danny

Good to know, thank you. I have a question though. Based on the fact that tile sizes are inconsistent, how are people able to use spacers effectively. Seems that spacers would not produce a consistent line if they are placed against the various tile edges???

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Roger

Hi Danny,

Experience. :D Control lines (chalk lines) and not relying on the spacers only (like tile directly against each consistently). Paying close attention as you set the tile, and straight-edges.

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Brian

Do you use chalk lines on all floors or only really big ones?

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Sue

Thank you for explaining this. I dislike grout lines but now I see that to do my counter tops in tile, it is important that I do use a grout line. Now I need to know what kind of grout is best for kitchen counters?

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Roger

Hi Sue,

I prefer epoxy. But you can read through this: Correct grout

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Sharon

roger,
I have installed a glass backsplash in my kitchen. do I need to add a grout reinforce to mix the unsanded grout or will clean water do?

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Roger

Hi Sharon,

Clean water will work just fine.

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