In my previous post about thinsets I explained what modified thinsets are and how they came about. That post actually started out as this post, I tend to get sidetracked by
beer my dog.
Unmodified thinsets, in one form or another, have been around forever. With the expanded use of modified thinsets, the unmodified version had nearly gone by the wayside with everyone except us hard-headed setters who bought unmodified thinsets and added liquid admixes to them – to create modified thinsets. I no longer do this for my modified thinsets, but it was a hard habit to kick.
The reemergence (I know – doesn’t even look like a word) of unmodified thinsets came about in November of 2001. At an NTCA / Schluter workshop the statement was made that the preferred method of installation over ditra is the use of an unmodified thinset.
Mass confusion ensued.
This has continued to this day with even seasoned professionals questioning if unmodified should be used, and if so – why and which unmodified to use. This problem is compounded for do-it-yourselfers who don’t have nearly the understanding nor material and product access that we do. It’s difficult to find and purchase. If it helps, it’s sometimes difficult for us as well.
So let’s see if I can shed a little light on the subject and at least let you know which ones to look for and where. This list WILL be a bit biased. If you’ve read anything here you know I’m a Laticrete diehard. It is, and will continue to be, my preferred manufacturer for nearly every tile and stone setting material needed. That
said typed, I do realize that other companies exist.
Just like modified thinsets, there are different levels or grades of unmodified thinsets. This is normally measured by the ratio or percentage of cement to sand in the mix. The higher the cement content, the better the thinset. More cement, more sticky, more stable.
It is also, in part, due to the type and percentage of whatever retention product is in the mix. For most thinsets (as far as I can tell – ancient guarded secret and all…) a powder called ‘hydrated lime’ is used. It is the same lime used by brick masons in order to retain water in the cement mix for a longer period of time, thus making the cured product stronger.
So that’s how unmodified thinsets are ‘grouped’ or graded – the ratio of those three items in the mix. Now that you know that, let’s group them in order according to how they are graded and perform. I’ll do this by manufacturer since most people only have one or two specific brands available.
Laticrete 272 is considered the premium (best) – then Laticrete 317. There is negligible difference in these thinsets unless an admix is added to make them modified. For use as an unmodified I prefer the 317. Although they classify the 272 as their ‘premium’, they’re nearly identical.
The difference in these two thinsets: “There is more portland cement in LATICRETE 272 and the sand in the
LATICRETE 272 is slightly finer so it is a little bit creamier.” (Thanks to Anita at Laticrete for this clarification) The 272 contains 25-35% portland while the 317 contains 20-30% portland.
On the consumer side Laticrete products often have a different name – you may be familiar with Laticrete MegaBond. That is nearly identical to the 317. I use 317 for almost all of my unmodified thinset needs.
Kerabond: This is considered Mapei’s premium unmodified thinset. It works very well for any Schluter product
Keraset: This is Mapei’s mid-range unmodified. It’s not ideal but it works if it’s the only available. Give it extra time to fully cure! If you use Keraset be sure to wait a FULL 24 hours, at least, before the next step.
Keraflor: The ‘economy’ level unmodified from Mapei. I would not recommend using it for any shower applications or any regularly used flooring surface over ditra. Best to find one of the other two.
Uncoupling Mat Mortar: This is Custom’s premium unmodified mortar made specifically for Custom’s spiderweb mat and other ditra-like products. It is difficult to find and has limited availability. If you can get your hands on it, use it.
Masterblend: Currently Custom’s only readily available (to my knowledge) unmodified thinset. It is available at most Home Depots. It’s a good sack of powder if you have a flood and need a makeshift levy. That’s it. Any reputable tile contractor will tell you not to use this for anything – ever. I’m one of them. The only really good thing I can say about it – It is an unmodified thinset.*
*This is by no means any type of intentional slander or slam against Custom building products! They make some great products. Masterblend, however, is not one of them in my opinion. And that’s all this is – my personal opinion. I do not consider this a viable product with which to install tile or stone over Schluter products.
Sturdi-Set: Tec’s premium unmodified. A good unmodified thinset for nearly anything requiring one.
Full-Set Plus: Tec’s other unmodified. Comparable to a mid-range unmodified. It’ll work in a pinch if needed, but ensure full cure time before the next installation stage.
Ditra-Set: This is the best product with which to set anything over kerdi or ditra – it was specifically manufactured for that purpose. The availability is extremely limited, however. Most professionals don’t have ready access to it, let alone regular homeowners. So just plan on not finding this.
If you are lucky enough to find it you’ll feel ecstatic, like the luckiest person alive! If you don’t find it you’ll just think ‘Well, FloorElf told me I wouldn’t find it…’. See – win-win for me. Yay.
So in the groups above it breaks down like this:
Laticrete 317 (Laticrete MegaBond)
Custom Uncoupling Mat Mortar
Works if limited options exist:
Tec Full-Set Plus
It’s last call – find something:
Go home alone and hold onto your wallet:
So there you have it. The most commonly available unmodified thinsets and where they rate on the scale of quality. As I stated, this list is biased. The list above is the order in which I would use them if given the choice. Regardless of the order under each heading (Best, Works, etc.) this is how they are rated by their respective manufacturers.
Do not be surprised if you cannot find one of the quality products easily. They are not commonly stocked by regular big box stores except for the Laticrete Megabond. The best place to look for any of them would be at a tile supply shop. If, however, you are limited to normal big box stores, you can find some of the common products there.
Lowes will either stock Laticrete or Mapei. Home Depot will only (currently) carry Custom products. Menards normally stocks Mapei. Beyond those three, I have no idea what you may have around you.
You can always check the respective company’s website to find the nearest supplier. Since you will be looking for one of the more uncommon products keep in mind that just because you have a supplier near you does not mean you’ll find that particular product there. It’s always best to call the customer service line and ask them directly where you can buy the product you want.
One last thing – before anyone asks: adding more portland cement to a particular product may or may not make it better. Adding more cement to masterblend, for instance, will not make it comparable to kerabond. It doesn’t work like that. These thinsets, as all tile installation products, are put together in specific ratios in order to accomplish what the company wants. It may work, and it may not work. Unless you personally know someone in the chemistry department of the manufacturing plant there is no accurate way to tell.
All thinsets, as well as any tile installation product, will have a specific ANSI (American National Standards Institute) number on the bag. This determines what type of product it is and what ANSI standard it meets. The number for unmodified thinset is A118.1. The ‘.1’ at the end determines the unmodified version. If you find a thinset you are curious about, and it is not on this list, look for that number. If it has A118.1 AND more numbers after that (with no mention of admix) then it is a MODIFIED thinset.
For instance, if it says on the bag that the product meets ANSI standards A118.1, A118.4 and A188.11 then it is a modified thinset. All modified thinsets meet the criteria set forth for unmodified thinsets as well, that’s why the A118.1 is on there.
ALSO! (I know it’s a pain, I live it) Most bags of UNmodified thinset have the A118.1 number as well as the A118.4, possibly A118.11 also If it does it will plainly state that it only meets the last two standards (for modified) when mixed with the appropriate admix. Masterblend states that it meets all three – with the addition of admix (liquid latex). Don’t let this confuse you. They cannot legally misstate the ANSI numbers.
I hope this helps clear up a little bit of confusion about these products and helps you determine which would be appropriate or best for your project. As always, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask them below. I answer them all. I’m just super cool like that.