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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Todd

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

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Roger

Hi Todd,

Most of the time, yes.

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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.

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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.

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phillip

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

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Radu

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

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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!

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Roger

Hi Heather,

A good sealer should work just fine.

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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?

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S smith

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

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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

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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

Roger

Hi Brian,

They need to be a minimum of 3mm. Have you considered using a grout that is stain resistant like spectralock?

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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.

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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

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