How Large Should Grout Lines Be?

by Roger

The size of grout lines for tile is something that comes up on almost every tile installation. The secret no professional will tell you is there is really no set or absolute proper size for your grout lines. There are some guidelines that need to be followed but the actual size is more of a personal choice than it is a set width.

Grout line guidelines

Since grout line widths are generally a personal preference I’ll let you know what mine are. I separate most tiles into three different categories:

  • Small format tile – Tiles up to and including 8 X 8 inches square.
  • Regular – 12 X 12 up to 16 X 16 inches square.
  • Large format tile – 18 X 18 inches and larger.

These are not technically official category names for tile sizes – it’s just what I call them. I’m weird like that.

Small format tile

A lot of smaller format tiles are self-spacing. That means that on either two or four sides of each tile there are what are called “lugs”. Lugged tile have small bumps or protrusions on the sides which are set directly against the tile next to it. Most of these tiles are made specifically for vertical applications, those are shower walls, backsplashes, etc., rather than floors.

The lugs on the tiles allow them to be stacked atop one another and keep the grout lines consistent throughout the installation. For tiles with lugs on only two sides of each tile you must make sure they are all stacked in the same direction, that the lugs are not butted against each other. Normally the lugs will create grout lines that are 1/32 to 1/16 of an inch.

For small format tiles that do not have lugs I will usually use 1/16″ spacers. Depending upon the texture and consistency of the tiles I may use 1/8″ spacers on occasion. For instance 8 inch slate tiles will usually look better with a slightly larger grout line.

If you prefer larger grout lines but have lugged tiles – don’t panic. You can still use spacers with the lugs. To ensure consistency you need to make sure that you either put the spacers between all the lugs or between the spaces the lugs are not. In other words do not put a spacer between the lugs on one tile and between spaces where there are not lugs on another. To figure out the size of your grout lines you also need to add the size of the lugs to the size of the spacer if you use the spacers between them.

Regular format

Regular format tiles are what I install on most of my jobs. More often than not I will use 1/16″ grout lines on vertical surfaces and 1/8″ lines on floors. I just think it looks better and as long as the tile is consistent enough, that’s what I’ll use. I will usually use the smallest grout line the tile will allow.

The best way to figure out how small you can go is to lay out nine tiles in a square and measure from corner to corner in both directions. If they are within 1/16 inch you can go that small with your grout lines. Some tiles such as slate and some quarry tiles will not be consistent enough to use a grout line that small. The largest grout line I will use is 3/16″ unless otherwise specified by the builder or customer.

Large format

Large format tiles are a bit tricky. These, more than either of the other two, are more dependent upon the tile itself. While most people will purchase larger format tiles specifically because they do not want a lot of grout lines, sometimes the tile will not allow it. Although this is rarely a problem, you need to be aware of it and make sure you check the tiles before you try to go with a very small grout line.

The easiest way to check larger format tiles is simply to measure corner to corner in each direction to ensure squareness. As long as they are the same in both directions, they’re square. Then measure several different tiles from different boxes. With a very good tile you should get exactly the same measurement every time. If that’s the case, you can use a 1/16″ grout line and not have any problems.

Large format tiles with 1/16″ or 1/32″ grout lines and a grout that matches the tile color closely looks great! If done correctly it will almost look like a single large slab of tile.

Which do you prefer?

As you can see there is really no absolute answer. If you like smaller grout lines, as long as the tile will allow it, use them. If you prefer larger, use larger. As a general rule do not go larger than 3/16″ although under certain circumstances such as some slates and quarry tiles, 1/4″ is acceptable.

If you choose to use smaller grout lines you must ensure the tile will allow it. If you don’t you may end up with lines that “jog”. That means the lines will not be perfectly straight and will jump over just a bit with every tile due to inconsistencies in tile sizes.

If you prefer larger grout lines you need to take into consideration the “grid effect”. If you do not use a grout that somewhat matches the tile color you may end up with an installation that looks more like a grid made of grout than tile with a grout accent. The smaller the tile, the more pronounced this effect may become.

No matter which you choose, you must make sure you use the correct type of grout. If your grout is chosen and installed correctly your good tile installation can turn into a great one. Make sure you consider your grout as much as you consider your tile. It can make or break your whole look.

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Tim

Hi Roger, great site you have here. Completely stumbled in and gained some good knowledge. Perhaps this question is not applicable to the forum but here goes.
Once the weather warms slightly we will be laying century old brick as flooring in a section of an old barn – roughly 1200ft2 (bricks could be regarded as thick stubby tiles?). Under the brick, and not yet poured, will be simple trowelled concrete with in floor heating.
Do you have recommendations for installation? I was thinking simple mortar (with adhesive) for the base and 3/16-1/4′ grout lines. We would lay the brick in herringbone fashion, probably seal (mat finish) them without grout like tile and clearn, then reseal again over the grout. I’ve got some minor experience with tile but this is new for me and I’d like it done right the first time. Any insights would be appreciated.
Cheers
Tim

Reply

Roger

Hi Tim,

I would actually create a mud deck for that rather than concrete. You can embed the heat in the mud, let it cure and you’ll have a nice flat substrate for your brick. You can use regular thinset for that as well.

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Tim

Hi,
Thanks for your input Roger. I don’t really know what a mud deck is and looking up online illustrates other’s confusion with the term too. Can you elaborate?
I’m up in Canada, southern part mind you, but I’ve got plumbing and electrical conduit under the floor in the native sand of the barn floor, vapour barrier, 3″ ship lapped styrofoam blue insulation, probably wire mesh, and then the MUD or concrete subfloor before the brick. Does that change the proposed application? With my square footage, can I still truck in the mud for I don’t relish mixing say 3.5-4″ over the footage by hand. Apologies for my ignorance here.

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Tim

Of course, after posting I found YOUR SITE telling me what a mud deck is. I guess my question still stands, on that footage 1200ft2, would it be possible/practical. I’d love to save some $$ where I can but labour by hand would be killer.
Cheers
Tim

Reply

Roger

You can mix it in a cement mixer. Concrete would work as well, but deck mud would be the best option in my opinion.

Reply

Roger

Deck mud. It can not be trucked in, and it doesn’t need to be that thick unless you need it to be for a specific reason.

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bill s

I put 12 x 24 tiles down planning on a 1/4 in grout line. Which type grout should I use?

Reply

Roger

Hi Bill,

Use sanded grout, but that is a HUGE grout line, I would use probably 3/16″ at the most. I know it’s only 1/16″ difference, but it is considerably noticeable in a grout line.

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frank

I’m doing a floor on a very old floors, not very flat at all. My underlayment has 1corrected most of the problem, but the it’s a handicap situation and the floors from other rooms must be flat, no elevated threshold. the floor tiles are 6″ and was thinking on a wider grout line so I can fool with the tile where needed., the tile has a rough surface. what’s the largest grout line I can get away with, note the tile is a grey mix and the grout will be a grey also.

Reply

Roger

Hi Frank,

The largest you’ll probably want to go is 3/16″

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Monte

Roger. Thank you for your instructions on my shower pan. Looks good! I also found a pebble tile for the shower floor. The pebbles have been shaved down to a uniform height. However, besides looking good for this application. And being less slippery (Maybe).——– After reading your reply to Curt. About high and low spots. Also with so many grout lines, could there be a problem in the future? Should I look for something else?

Reply

Roger

Hi Monte,

As long as they are flat on both the top and the bottom you won’t have any problems with them at all. Most of the issues derive from the stones with the rounded bottoms.

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Curt

Roger-
Your nfo has been invaluable to me in doing my first tile shower. I’m done with floor and ready to lay tile. I’m considering using natural river pebble tiles. Is there any special technique for grouting this kind of tile because the irregular surface? I’m concerned I’ll have low spots in the grout that will result in puddles of water.
Thanx in advance!

Reply

Roger

Hi Curt,

You will have high and low spots in the grout, it’s inherent to the product. Not really anything you can do about it. That’s one reason I HATE rounded pebbles.

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William Villacres

Dear Roger,

Can you please confirm the minimum size of grout to use for my floor porcelan tile, size 24″ x 24″ x 1/4″ thickk;the size of the toilet is 7′-0″ X 5′-0″.
I personally would like for the grout line to be 1/32″ wide, but my contractor is stating that sanded grout should be used on the floor and the sanded grout can not fit in the 1/32″ grout joint. He says that he can use unsanded grout in the 1/32″ grout joint for the floor but in the future the joints will crack because the unsanded grout is not strong as the sanded grout.
Please advise, as i have to make the decission to go with 1/16″ (Contractor recommendation) grout or 1/32″ (My preference) to see the floor as only one slab.

Thank you,

William

Reply

Roger

Hi William,

The strength of the grout has absolutely nothing to do with your tile installation at all. Nothing. The only difference between sanded grout and unsanded grout is…wait for it…sand. :D The required grout joint for your tile depends on the facial consistency of your particular tile. 1/16″ is pushing it for a tile that size (and that’s a damn thin 24×24 tile). I would recommend AT LEAST 1/16″, I would strongly recommend a minimum of 1/8″

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Emma Jane Minnich

I purchased ceramic floor tiles 12×24. What is the perferred grout distance from tile to tile?

Reply

Roger

Hi Kathy,

Yes you can.

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Gabor Seres

I’m about to lay 760 squer feet of 12×24 glazed tiles… Home d, just delivered all the materials including 6 bags of sended grout. I would really like to do 1/16 grout line I hope that sended would work with these tiles. I also have heard that in Mexico a lot of the times they don’t use a grout gap at all….. That really pusled me……
Any good advice would be much appreciated.
Thanks
Gábor

Reply

Roger

Hi Gabor,

You need a grout line. 1/16″ will work if your tile is consistent enough and your substrate is flat enough. 1/8″ would be better. Sanded grout would be fine with either. An installation with no grout line is improperly installed and will cause issues.

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Carlene Rowson

Dear Roger, I have recently had quarry tiles laid on my kitchen floor and the grout lines are much wider than I had anticipated up to 10 mm in places. I would have preferred narrower grout lines. Is this a bad job or is this normal? I don’t know whether I can complain or not. Thank you. I am unable to load a picture as file size too large.

Reply

Roger

Hi Carline,

That is actually a normal grout line for quarry tiles, as they are inconsistently sized.

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Andre

Hi I’m tiling my shower walls and want to know if I can put the tiles sitting one on the other, with no grout line, but I realize I have to have some grout to prevent water penetration, so I was thinking of putting a small amount of grout on time edge and squeezing next tile on top… Similar to brick laying… Is that something that can be done or am I totally out to lunch on this? :-? :-?

Reply

Roger

Hi Andre,

You’re taking a lunch break, at least. :D Grout has absolutely NOTHING to do with preventing water penetration – it doesn’t. But you DO need a grout line.

Reply

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