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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Lance

Thanks for the tip on laying out 9 tiles on the floor and measuring diagonally. I bought rectified tile 18″ square for my new shower walls. My nine tiles measure 75″ each way so it seems I could go as narrow as 1/32 for my grout line. So I have to decide between 1/16 or 1/32. If I did 1/32 would that be much harder than 1/16? This is my first time installing tile.

Reply

Roger

Hi Lance,

Yes, it is harder. MUCH harder. I would recommend at least a 1/16″ grout line.

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Ryan

Roger, I’m installing tile in my bathroom. On the threshhold, I have the 1/4 in hardibacker butted up against the 1/4 plywood subfloor under the carpet outside the bathroom(the carpet is 3 inches back from the edge of the plywood). I initially taped and mortared the hardibacker to the wood subfloor just like you would tape/mortar all the hardibacker joints together. Will this be a sufficient bond between the two different materials, or should I cut out 3 inches of the plywood subfloor (up to the carpet) and put hardibacker there?

Reply

Roger

Hi Ryan,

Ideally you need to remove the plywood and replace it with backer. The three inches of ply will likely be fine, but I definitely would not guarantee that. May as well eliminate any potential problems while you have the ability to easily do so.

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Joe

If the Lady wants a professional installation (looking) floor your best bet is a complete reinstallation.

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Roger

Hi Joe,

Thank you for your opinion! However, no one here has any idea to which comment you may be referring as you did not reply to that comment but rather posted a new one not attached to another. You may be absolutely correct! :D

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Soloman

Roger,

I now work at a home improvement retail chain and was told by a customer that he always uses mortar as a grout. I tried to sell him unsanded grout as it was intended for that purpose but could think of no real arguments against the mortar other than color. Assuming the customer is ok with the basic white or grey, are there any major differences between using grout or mortar? Assistance would be appreciated, thank you.

Solo

Reply

Roger

Hi Soloman,

No real reason at all not to use it. It’s how all tile use to be grouted before 1950 or so before the introduction of modernized ‘colored mortar’, and later modern grouts.

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WTaylor

I’ve just installed wall tile backsplash in my bathroom that comes in one square foot sheets. The tiles on the sheets are 1″ x 2″ and extremely varied in texture and depth. Some look like porous stone, some look like brick while others are polished granite. The sheets come with no grout lines between any of these tiles. I was able to install these tiles with no spaces greater than 1/32″. The spaces I do have are very few and far between. I cannot see how I can grout this tile without destroying its look by filling in the character of the stones with grout. Also, there is no way to use a float since the tile surface is like the texture of a stone driveway.
Any comments or suggestions.

Reply

Roger

Hi WTaylor,

Some mosaics are just not made to be grouted. It sounds like you have one of those.

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Jeff Ruyle

Dear Roger.

I recently installed some Armstrong Alterna Luxury Vinyl Tile for a customer. When installed the client said she wanted the tiles butted against each other (against my wishes and advice not to). Now after the tile is laid and rolled and tight in place, she decides she would like the grout lines now. Is there any way at all to cut grout lines in the existing tile?

Reply

Roger

Hi Jeff,

None of which I am aware. A rotozip may work but I would call armstrong and see if they have any methods for that.

Reply

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