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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Leave a Comment

  • Donna

    I am having 12 x 24 floor tile installed on the wall around my linear fireplace horizontally without staggering the seams approximately 8 ft wide by 10ft high.

    I love the look of no grout line. What size grout line would you recomend? Edges on tile are sharp squared.

    Reply
    • Roger

      Hi Donna,

      I normally use 1/16″ on wall tile.

      Reply
  • bryan

    U mention not recommending no grout lines and I do understand the reason ..would it be possible to use a clear silicone between the tiles and butt them tight ..would this not give some resiliency against tiles when the move so they don’t Crack. .wondering what u think..thank u

    Reply
    • Roger

      Hi Bryan,

      You can do whatever you want, but I really wouldn’t recommend it. One of the reasons that I really didn’t emphasize above is that most tiles, no matter the type, are never really *exactly* the same size. So if they are off by even 1/32″ of an inch from one to another, butting them up over a 15 foot area will jog your grout lines off by about 1/2″. It is nearly impossible to keep butted grout lines consistent, they will ALWAYS run off. But yeah, you can do that if you want to. It may work, it may not. But if you have a method to prevent the possibility of any issues, like grout, why would you not use it?

      Reply
      • BRYAN

        thank you, if i just use some clear silicon to absorb between the stone, just a thin bead..not as a grout line..i was thinking it would maybe help from any cracking issues as well as and particles such as food , water from gaining access between the tiles ..and still get the final effect of no grout lines..it just would be nice to have that “one piece” floor look…thanks again for your advice

        Reply
  • barb

    Having granite tile installed on shower walls. I agree with you regarding not liking grout.
    1. You said something about another kind of grout that can be used, forgot the name I just saw on your sight. Is that different to install and does it hold up better?
    2. contractor using (not sure what brand of) cement board and told to use and also told not to use red -guard on cement board to waterproof it. Granite tile is heavy, thin set being used.
    2. A Should I use something like red guard or not? liquid rubber?
    2.B Will granite slip off?
    2.C How does the thin set get a chance to dry if the red guard is waterproof and 1/16″ or 1/8″ grout spaces (small space) and granite tile is used?
    3. I want to thank you for telling me about the test using my granite tiles to see what size spaces I can use. I will do this test to determine grout size space.

    Reply
    • Roger

      Hi Barb,

      1. SpectraLock epoxy?Yes, it holds up much better. It’s nearly bulletproof.
      2. Okay
      2a. Yes, redgard is just fine
      2b. No, the granite will not slip off
      2c. Thinset, as well as any other cement-based product, does not require air to cure. It cures through a chemical process called hydration, not through evaporation and oxidation like paint or regular glue.
      3. You’re welcome.
      4. There is no #4, but I was on a roll…

      Reply
  • Patsy

    I had porcelain wood-like tile installed. From a distance, I am satisfied. Up close I see tiny, hairline seems. I thought it would look much tighter, like the pictures…is it too late to fill in between the tile with grout?

    Reply
    • Roger

      Hi Patsy,

      What type of grout is it? Sanded or unsanded? If it’s unsanded it’s likely just shrinkage cracks, and can be filled with more grout. If it’s sanded it may be a larger issue.

      Reply
  • Jose

    Hi. I have a problem with my floor tiles peeling off and popping upwards. A lot of them have come undone already. I believe that happened because of expansion since they’re installed on the terrace, subjected to the elements. It only happened 3 yrs after installation. The tiles have about 1/4″ spacing. When I took off the loose tiles I notice they were wet underneath. Did that contribute in any way to the tiles coming off the floor? What’s the best thing to do so it won’t happen again?
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Roger

      Hi Jose,

      I would need a LOT more information to try and help. What is the substrate? What type of tile? What type of ‘elements’? How was the tile installed, what type of thinset. Is there any thinset on the back of the tile when it comes up? No, water will not cause the tile to become unbonded, but it can definitely contribute to the core reason (such as water retention not being allowed to dissipate or drain under the tile assembly).

      Reply
      • Jose Sebastian

        Hi Roger,
        I believe the tiles are ceramic but I’ll have to verify that somehow. The substrate is concrete slab and portland cement was used as adhesive. Practically none of the thinset came off with the tiles. The elements I was referring to was nature, meaning sun and rain, basically, since it doesn’t snow over here. Hope that’s enough info?

        Reply
        • Roger

          The photo you posted shows ‘tenting’. This happens when there is no compensation for expansion and contraction causing the tiles to expand against one another until the weak point in the assembly gives out – in this case the portland used as adhesive. Straight portland is not a suitable bonding product for a tile assembly. I would remove the unbonded ones and reinstall them, then dig out the grout line that runs between those two tented tiles all the way from one end of the installation to the other and install a soft joint. You also need to ensure that there is room for expansion around the perimeter of the installation, it should not be grouted between the tile and whatever vertical surface it ends up butting against. There should be about 1/4″ gap there.

          Reply
          • Jose Sebastian

            Hi Roger,
            I believe you identified the problem right diwn to a teepee (pardon the pun). Indeed the area was large, had no soft joints and the tiles were installed flush to the walls on all sides, leaving no room for expansion at all. Thanks for enlightening me on the right way of doing it. So, is there anything elf I need to know?

            Reply
            • Roger

              Yes! Never chew strawberry bubble gum after drinking a really hoppy beer – it tastes like absolute shit… :D

              Reply
  • Todd

    When you say 1/16″ grout line does that translate into using a 1/16″ spacer?

    Reply
    • Roger

      Hi Todd,

      Most of the time, yes.

      Reply
  • Douglas

    Rodger,
    I am renovating my shower. Using a stone tile on one wall its http://www.stonesource.com/lithoverde/ I have the 1’x2’x5/8″ tiles. If ever there was a stone that begged for almost no joint it is this. Instead of unsanded grout I was thinking of using a colored sealant. I tested GE Silicone 2 and it does not react with this stone and cause the wet look around joints.
    What do you think would be better for a small 1/32″-1/16″ joint. Laticrete unsanded with the 1776 additive or sealant?
    thanks

    Reply
    • Roger

      Hi Douglas,

      You know that ‘sealant’, or silicone, loses elasticity over time, right? That’s why you always see silicone pulling away from the tile and tub in corners, it has nothing to do with the brand or quality of the silicone or the installation (mostly). It will ALWAYS lose elasticity and shrink over time. What happens with your joints when that happens? I would use the grout.

      Reply
  • Phillip Ferreira

    Hi Roger,
    just finished laying the floor tile in my bathroom, and now will start the walls – had to be done this way because some grout lines from the floor will continue up the wall.
    Anyway, I was planing to leave the floor ungrouted till I am done with the walls, but covering it with construction paper, then plastic sheeting and finally a thin plywood sheet- trying to avoid any damage and/or contamination.
    Is ok to leave the tile this way for a few weeks, till I am done with the walls?
    (yes, eventually it will be grouted and sealed after the walls are)
    Thanks
    Phil

    Reply
    • Roger

      Hi Phil,

      Yes, you can leave it ungrouted for as long as you need to.

      Reply
      • phillip

        Thanks again Roger.
        where the elf we would be without your wisdom :0

        Reply
  • Radu

    thanks a lot for your article, it helped me a lot.

    Reply
  • Heather

    Hi Roger,

    I’m doing a backsplash project in my kitchen and I order some seamless tile, but every so often there are very thin gaps. Do I need to grout or can I just use a tile sealer?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Roger

      Hi Heather,

      A good sealer should work just fine.

      Reply
  • S smith

    Hi, we just moved into a new home and the previous owners laid tile in the kitchen with no grout. They butted the tiles up against each other, but you can see where there are some minimal gaps and it’s trapping dirt and debris. Is it too late to go back in with grout? Some of the tiles have no gap at all, so I’m not even sure we could get grout in there….any solutions?

    Reply
    • S smith

      Here’s a picture for reference–tight in some places, small gaps in others…

      Reply
    • Roger

      Hi S,

      Short of replacing it you can use unsanded grout in that. It should work just fine (until the expansion and contraction begins to chip tile…). :D

      Reply
  • Brian Walker

    Hi Roger

    I am having 60cm square ceramic tiles laid in a large hall. What do you think is the minimum thickness of grout? They are white and I hate grout but I have been advised that white 3 mm grout will get dirty so grey would be preferable.

    I would be very interested to know your opinion.

    Reply
  • Rick

    Hi Rodger,
    What’s your opinion on butting resilient tile together? My customer pretty set on no grout lines. I know not to butt other tiles together, because of moving. Never know about resilient tiles. I’m not sure if all the same size. Edges are beveled.
    Thank You
    Rich

    Reply
    • Roger

      Hi Rick,

      You can absolutely butt those together. The consistency depends on the manufacturer, though. I hope you get good ones otherwise it’s a pain in the ass.

      Reply
  • Matthew Cohen

    Hi Roger.

    Love your threads.

    So I have read most of them looking for comments related to showers and wood grain rectified tile.

    I understand that tile over tile can be done but is not suggested.

    I think I want to try it anyway for a small, 4’x3′ shower.

    If you “had” to do it…

    What suggestions could I elite from you?

    Thanks for your time…

    Reply
    • Roger

      Hi Matthew,

      You’ll need to raise the drain top, you can get a drain extension kit for tile installations like yours. It just screws right into the existing drain. Very handy.

      Reply