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.

Update: The photos below were sent in by a reader asking why his tiles were cracking. They are travertine tiles and the cracking is a direct result of having the tiles butted against each other with no grout lines. This is what can happen.

photo-1 photo-2 photo-3 photo-4

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Kristine N

Roger,
I am buying a house and we noticed that the tiles were closely butted against one another. I don’t like it and to make it worse, it’s in the bathroom so I know it’s not going to be water-tight. Is it possible to use an epoxy or filler to seal between the tiles without tearing it up and needing to re-do entire floor?

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Ebeth

Hi Roger-
I have come across a flooring product I’m considering using in my interior reno. The product is a cast cement tile that is 5/8″ thick and a slightly irregular edge, mimicking antique Euro tiles. There are four or five sizes. The product is Peacock Pavers and has a nice pocked surface. They provide a layout guide for using with no grout. I have read your recommendations re. grout and ‘get it’. What are your thoughts re. a cement product that is this thick? The installation is in N Fl. on a 35+ yr. old slab, main floor. The potential for movement does give me pause, but wonder if expansion space is left around the perimeter of the room if I would be safe risking it. Thank you for this forum and the time you dedicate to it!

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Roger

Hi Ebeth,

I wouldn’t risk it. Concrete tiles also do not have the strength of modern porcelain tiles, which means that even if you leave the perimeter joint the tiles may very well chip, crack or cleave before that pressure even reaches the edge of the room.

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Michael

Hi Roger,
We are considering using a slate dry stacked stone in a shower. Since it’s not grouted it doesn’t seem like a good option. However we were advised that the mastic behind the tile would act like a grout and therefore it would be fine and create a waterproof shower. Do you have any experience/commentary on this?

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Roger

Hi Michael,

That is a load of BS. A very, very large load of it. You are correct, a stacked stone in a shower is a bad idea. Way too many little nooks for stuff to start growing.

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Michael

Thank you!

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Candice

Hey roger,
I just purchased 17.75 18×18 (?) sq ft porcelain tile for a bedroom. the edges are a straight cut. I hate grout seams! The local supplier recommended 1/4″ spacers. Could I go smaller and if so, how much smaller?

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Roger

Hi Candice,

Absolutely you can go smaller – 1/4″ is ludicrous. I normally use 1/8″ on floors and 1/16″ on walls.

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Ellie

I am just wondering if my tiles in the bathtub are too close together and if the grout space is too small. The space is around 1mm, so will the grout wash out and cause water damage? And what should be done to prevent this?

Ellie

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Roger

Hi Ellie,

You haven’t shown me a grout space in the photos, you’ve shown me a change of plane (wall changes direction), those need to be silicone. Grout has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with waterproofing. Nothing. Your substrate behind the tile should be waterproofed before tile is installed on it. Silicone has nothing to do with the waterproofing either. Grout does not ‘wash out’, movement causes grout to crack and come out of the grout lines. That is normally caused by improper waterproofing.

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John

Here’s an artical that explains how to do it.

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/lay-tile-grout-lines-49834.html

Tell me what u think. By the way the water intrusion that I get is from up threw the slab, so I have to consider Hydrostatic pressure. My thinking is letting the water come up through the gaps between the tiles is better than having grout blocking it. I’m ok with a few inches of water every year, as long as the tiles/ grout doesn’t pop loose. How does dirtra do with this pressure? Seems like it would get pushed up because it would block the water. Also the porcelain tile that looks like wood that doesn’t need grout, was on display in my local Home Depot.

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Roger

Something on display at home depot does not make it correct. Because you found a diy article on the internet about how to do it does not make it correct. I know how to do it, I also know not to do it. Had you read the article that I wrote above, you would know exactly why it is not correct, why it is not a procedure endorsed by the tca handbook, and why you should never do it.

Your concerns with the water affecting the tile bonding, or the grout are unfounded. Neither thinset nor grout are negatively affected by exposure to water. Again – ditra is a good solution to this particular installation.

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John

Hi Roger, looking for some advice (obviously). I am looking to tile my basement floor which is cement. It previously had some old vinyl or asbestos tiles down which were held down by some black mastic. After Hurricane sandy hit and they were under 4′ of salt water for a day, a lot of the tiles popped. I have since scrapped off the rest, used a solution called Beaniedoo to liquefy the remaining black mastic, and then used vermiculite to absorb that, and then used a degreaser on the entire floor after that. My question now is what is the best solution for tileing/ finishing the floor? There is a reoccurring problem of getting about an inch or 2 of salt water down there during Noreasters and even more during hurricanes, even with my 2 sump pumps going. I’ve looked at rubber tiles, epoxy (which I heard would bubble up), snap together porcelain tile (which sill needs to be grouted but not mortared), and porcelain tile that looks like wood that needs to be mortared but doesn’t need to be grouted (there installed edge to edge). Any input would b greatly appreciated.

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Roger

Hi John,

Perfect spot to use ditra. The tile isn’t actually ‘bonded’ to the ditra, it is mechanically locked into the dovetailed top with mortar. Properly installed it will outlast your issues. And I don’t know who told you about that wood porcelain that is mortared down and butted, not grouted, but that’s a line of BS.

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Aldo

Hi Roger
I’m retiling a bathroom flloor. The existing tile is in perfect shape (no craps or loose tiles). Rather than rip up the floor I was wondering if I can lay new tile on top of the existing tile using a mastic? Thanks.

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Roger

Hi Aldo,

Not using mastic you can’t. You need a mortar specified for a tile over tile installation (they’re expensive). And you’ll need to prep the existing tiles to accept that installation, grinding the finish off, etc. It is always better to simply remove what is there before installing new stuff.

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Gary

I plan on installing porcelain tile over concrete on our outside patio. How long does the new concrete need to cure before laying the tile?

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Roger

Hi Gary,

Minimum of 28 days.

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Luke Deardurff

Roger, hello.

My contractor has begun installing my marble tiled shower. I does not look like he has used any spacers here, and has placed the tiles very close. It does look like there is a thin layer of grout between, but a) is it enough? B) how do we solve/continue without it looking crappy? Can we start using 1/32 spacers?

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Roger

Hi Luke,

If he has butted the tiles (no spacers at all) then you’re going to have issues with it. The ‘thin’ layer of grout is likely only holding onto the 45 degree edges of the tile, it’s only about 1/32″ thick. You can use 1/32″ spacers if the marble is uniform enough and your substrate is flat enough, but there needs to be a grout space from the face of the tile all the way through the back to there is a complete grout joint all the way around every tile.

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Bob

Roger,

We are installing porcelain tile over a terrazzo slab floor. Although the porcelain tiles were set with a lashing system and do have space between the tiles with some thin-set adhesive squeezing out, the contractor forgot to grout between the floor tiles prior to installing a “dry” cabinet island over the tile. Are there any long term issues with this?

Thanks,
Bob

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Roger

Hi Bob,

No issues at all.

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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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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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