Using the Correct Type of Grout

by Roger

There are three basic types of grout available for your tile installation. They are:

  • Non-Sanded (also known as Unsanded)
  • Sanded
  • Epoxy

Choosing the correct grout for your particular installation will not only complete the job correctly, it will also cut down on maintenance. Properly installed and sealed grout will last for the life of your tile. So which to use and when?

Non-Sanded (or Unsanded) Grout

Unsanded grout is made specifically for grout lines smaller than 1/8 inch wide.  This is a general rule. I use unsanded grout only in tile with grout lines smaller than 1/16″. Unsanded grout (all grout to different degrees) will shrink as it cures. The reason for only using it in smaller grout lines is the wider the grout lines, the more grout must be used to fill them. The more grout you have, the more it will shrink. If you try to fill grout lines that are too large the grout will shrink enough to pull away from the sides of the tile.

Unsanded grout is easier to work with, especially on vertical surfaces such as a shower wall, because  it is “stickier” than the sanded variety. You can spread it onto the wall and it will stick there while you force it into the grout lines. It is also much easier on the hands than sanded.  Although it is easier to work with, you need to make sure that the application for which you are using it is correct.

Sanded Grout

Sanded Grout is used for any size grout lines 1/8″ and wider. Although the specifications state unsanded grout be used in grout lines that are exactly 1/8″, you really should use sanded for them. It will ensure proper adhesion to your tile and guard against too much shrinkage. No, not Seinfeld shrinkage, grout shrinkage.

Sanded grout has fine sand added to it. This prevents the grout from shrinking too much as it cures. That’s why it is used for larger grout lines and should be used for the majority of tile installations.

If you have a polished stone such as granite, marble, limestone, and some polished travertine, you should be careful about using sanded grout. While sanded may be the correct choice for the size of grout lines, it may not be the best choice. Depending upon the polish of the stone the sand in the grout may actually scratch it. If you decide to use sanded make sure you test it in an inconspicuous area first to ensure it will not scratch your finish. Or use epoxy which would be a better choice anyway.

Epoxy Grout

Epoxy grout is the top of the line and best choice for any tile application. It can be substituted for sanded or unsanded grout.  It is more sturdy than both as well as being waterproof and stain resistant.

Epoxy is a two or three part chemical consisting of the base and the activator. With some brands the color is an additional part that must be added. Once the parts are mixed a chemical reaction begins. From that point, depending on the brand of epoxy, you have only a limited amount of time to get everything grouted before the grout becomes stiff enough to be unworkable. When it reaches that point, if you do not have everything grouted you are SOL.

To help slow the cure time you can mix your epoxy then put half of it in the freezer. The cold air will slow the chemical reaction and lengthen the working time. You can then work with the other half until it is all used. Clean it up, wipe everything down, then grab the second half out of the freezer and finish up. When you first pull it out of the freezer it will be, well, frozen. It thaws quickly, though, so should be workable within a few minutes. This essentially doubles the working time of your grout and ensures you don’t have to rush through it.

Since most epoxy grouts do not contain sand (or at least not in the classic sense of sand) it will normally not scratch your tile. If you have highly polished granite or marble that’s important. Be sure to test first anyway!

Different brands of epoxy have different working times as well as some being more difficult to work with than others. The brand with which I have had the most luck and the only brand I ever use is SpectraLOCK from Laticrete. It has a longer working time than any other epoxy grout (at least any I’ve ever used) and is virtually stain proof. Please don’t take that to mean the you can grout a jacuzzi with it, fill it with cherry kool-aid, and expect it not to be pink (Don’t do that). It just means that for all intents and purposes it will not stain without concerted effort. In my opinion it is the best on the market.

The only drawback of epoxy grout would be the price. It is fairly expensive. When weighed against the upside, however, it is well worth it. Low maintenance demands and high durability of epoxy grout make it well worth the money.

Picking the correct grout for your application is a key part of a proper tile installation. If you choose incorrectly you could end up with a multitude of problems and headaches. Grout, chosen and installed correctly, will complete your tile installation and push it from a good tile job to a great one. Do not underestimate the power of the grout.

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Marc

Hi Roger,
I’m installing a light 12×24 Porcelain tile with a black marble Pencil & chairail. It’s a 1/2 wall in a bathroom capped with a pencil, mosaic strip and ultimately a chairrial. the problem is i need a light color grout to match the tile, but the light color grout will look terrible (in my opinion) with the black pencil & chairrial.
cna i use 2 different color grouts or will that be too difficult to keep the transitions clean? or possibly use clear silicone in between the black marble pencils & chairrails?

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randell

i just completed a shower stall using four inch subway tile. this is the first time that i ever did any tile work, while i do consider myself a handyman i had never did tile.it turned out great. i used a single component grout, stain resistance, never needs sealing,the name brand is fusion pro from home depot. it is expensive but well worth the few extra dollars.i used a white grout with white subway tile. the only down side is you must clean up every five square feet or so. it is easy

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SEAN MURPHY

I am about to grout my shower enclosure and my grout joints are 1/8″ more or less. I am planning to use a mixture of 75% sanded/25% unsanded grout based on some other tiling videos and forums. Do you think that’s okay?

Reply

Roger

Hi Sean,

No, I don’t think that’s okay. Why would you do that???

Reply

Sean Murphy

Because My grout joints aren’t perfect with some smaller than 1/8 inch so I used a combination of the two. Too late. It’s done now. Hopefully it won’t be an issue. It looks like everything is properly filled and sealed so I think it will be fine.

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Robert

Hey Roger-
Just found your site, great info… I’m getting ready to grout 3×6 subway tiles in my bath/ shower… 1/6″ joints, white ceramic tile, white grout. I’m considering using epoxy due to the possibility of well water staining (rust etc.)

[Pause for sip of beer]

I’ve done a couple of tile jobs in the past but never used epoxy. The working time or lack there of scares me a bit. I’ve read a couple of horror stories from some first timers.

Question is, after reading this am I understanding that I have to grout all of the joints in one fell swoop “Or Elfs!” :arrow: I mean “Or Else!”

Is that to keep it locked together in one big epoxy grid or am I just [Pause for sip of beer] misunderstanding you?

Also I’ve heard that the epoxy grout can look a little shiny/ plasticy?

-Thanks

Reply

Roger

Hi Robert,

The reason is because you don’t have the working time to install some, clean it up, then install more. The stuff won’t wait around while you clean up some of it. You don’t really need to do it all at once, if you work fast enough you’ll be fine. The easiest way is simply to mix up smaller batches, that way you can use it all, clean it off, mix up some more, etc. It has nothing to do with locking it all together, you can do some one day and do the rest the next day if need be. It may look a bit plasticy, if you stare at it and that’s what you’re looking for. To most people it looks just like regular grout.

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Robert

Thanks Roger…
Just out of curiosity, if it is an epoxy product then how is it (in a sense) not water proof? That is, can water penetrate it or is there still just a lot of little gaps that water can get through here and there between the grout and tile?

And if not water proof, does it need to be sealed?

Thanks again!

Reply

Roger

Because the tile itself isn’t waterproof. The epoxy is, no you don’t need to seal it.

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RJ

Hi, first, thank you for publishing this site. It is extremely helpful.

I have installed 6″x12″ carrara marble tiles around a tub, and am trying to decide on the best type of grout to use. The grout lines are 1/16″. Cost aside, is Spectralock still the best choice for this application? I’ve read elsewhere that epoxy grout can be difficult to work with on marble applications and may be “overkill” given the need to periodically seal the marble. I’d greatly appreciate any thoughts. Thanks!

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Roger

Hi RJ,

Spectralock is still my first choice. There are also many acrylic-based grouts out now that are actually pre-mixed – they work very well also. As far as the need to reseal – read through this: Sealer information

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kelly

Roger,

Thank you for providing this web site and resource. I installed 4X4 Dal tile on my bathroom walls and 5″ hexagon tiles (similar to Dal but a different brand) on the floor. I’m ready to grout and thought that in the past you had discussed the various brands. I can’t find that now. I used Custom’s Polyblend on my last bathroom (same types of tile) and didn’t like it. I went to my local tile shop to get laticrete unsanded grout but they didn’t carry it. They talked me in to buying Prism, but I’m not sure that is what I want. After reading your site today I see that you prefer Spectralock. Would you also recommend spectralock for my installation? Thank you.

Reply

Roger

Hi Kelly,

Spectralock is simply my preferred for epoxy. The Prism is a very good grout. Just make sure you follow the directions exactly – they aren’t kidding about some of that stuff. :D

Reply

kelly

Thank you Roger. I was concerned because Prism is sanded and I thought I was supposed to use unsanded grout. Are you saying it really doesn’t matter?

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Roger

I have rarely had a grout scratch my marble. I ALWAYS test first on an extra piece or in an inconspicuous area, and you should. But it’s not normally an issue, and prism is actually better than most sanded grouts in that regard.

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kelly

Thank you again Roger. But. I don’t have marble. I have 4X4 Dal tile on the walls and another similar hexagonal (4-5″) on the floor. The wall tiles are spaced with the bumpers built into the tiles. The floor is 1/8″. Would you use Spectralock in this instance, or Prism, or unsanded?
Kelly

Reply

Roger

Oh. :D The spectralock or prism. The prism is actually likely a better option for that one.

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kelly

Is is interesting that unsanded grout is no longer the standard for this old-style tile. I appreciate your help Roger!

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Curtis Wilson

I’m getting ready to install stainless cap mosaic tile with mesh backer for kitchen backsplash Was wondering on grout. I do not want to damage the stainless which scratches pretty easily

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Roger

Hi Curtis,

If it scratches that easily you may want to contact the manufacturer and ask them for their recommendations, they can tell you what will work. If the grout lines are under 1/8″ you can use regular non-sanded grout, but they likely are larger than that (I assume).

Reply

Zachary

Any time you are working with fragile tile surfaces or ones that scratch easily, like glass tile, you want to avoid sanded grout. That will almost guarantee scratches. Unsanded and epoxy are you only options.

Reply

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