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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Tony Armstrong

Roger,

I have just finished tiling my new shower stall. I have 12″ tile with a 12″ ribbon of glass tile going around. The grout width is 1/8″. Would it be okay to use sanded grout with the glass tile? I could and probably should test it on a spare piece to see if it scratches the surface first right?

Second, the tile is a grey and the glass tile is a mixture of greyour, clear, and other similar colors (used to tie in darker granite counters). It should be okay to use the same grout for both areas (same gap etc as the regular tile at 1/8th – or so).

Cheers,

Tony

Reply

Jen

Hi,
I had a contractor regrout my shower floor. It’s 4×4 tiles with ~1/16 grout lines, from a late 1970’s house. He said I could use it the next day, but I have another shower so I let it cure for a week. When I went to use it, there was a smear of dry grout I wanted to see if I could chip away, but my thumbnail easily scratched it into powder. That surprised me so I checked a few other lines and if I rub a finger back and forth across the line or scratch a nail across the surface, it comes up covered in powder and my thumbnail can gouge a line in the grout. Running water over it doesn’t result in silty drainage, it’s just soft enough to scratch. It’s unsanded grout. I was under the impression that cured grout is as hard as cement and you shouldn’t be able to scratch it that easily. Am I wrong (maybe because it’s unsanded) or did it set improperly? I had him come take a look and he said it’s normal, but he did sloppy work with the caulking and I’m not sure if he would know if he did this wrong. I’m sure you know the type – the nice old guy that thinks he did his best work for you, but you’re kind of disappointed because you’d’ve done a better job if you’d known it was that easy. He had kept a cup of the mix to make sure it set okay and said it did. I’m just not sure whether it’s supposed to be that soft or not. Thanks for your time and expertise.

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Autumn McCall

You didn’t talk about my favorite grout…..Quartzlock2 urethane grout. It comes completely mixed and ready to apply. It’s fantastic! Very expensive but my contractors and clients love it!! Give me your thoughts on urethane grout

Reply

John Walls

Roger,
I’m trying to get my sub to use epoxy grout for a tile shower.
He says he uses something better. I’m skeptical.
He uses Bostik TruColor (a premixed water based urethane).
He claims that it requires no sealer.
So, is this just a fancy (maybe improved) sanded grout and not in the same quality category with epoxy grout?
If I insist on epoxy and he’s not used to using epoxy, would that possibly lead to a poor quality job—learning curve for epoxy use? I don’t want to be his training ground if using epoxy is difficult to get good at it.
I would appreciate your opinion.

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Brenda

Thank you for the info!

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helen

I believe my tile installer did a switch and bait on the materials for my install. I paid extra for the Laticrete Spectra Lock Epoxy grout. The grout is staining and no matter how hard I scrub I can’t get my grout which is Laticrete bright white clean. Secondly, I’ve had a few flooring contractors come in to give me an estimate to fix the bad workmanship from my installer and a few have said it looks like sanded grout. It’s very course.

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Jeremy

Install tile for a living. For about 17 years now. All grout stain if not sealed. Expecially bright white us installers have a hard time keeping it white while we are floating the floor with it. There are little things that could also change the color of your grout. If you mix a batch of grout and then after used routed half the floor and it starts to thicken. Some installers will add water or add water and some more grout. This is a big No-No in the tire world. Adding water or grout to an existing mix you have already made will change the color. You will not notice this till after it cures. It is a definite No-No to make different batches. For instance if he is grouting the living room and then half way he runs out and he makes another batch. You probably will not be able to notice it till after it cures. But for your problem now you will have to scrape all the existing grout and re-grout it. Me personally I get HDX( high traffic )commercial grade sealant. Mostly because I do a lot of marble and travertine. So I can put the sealant over both the tiles and grout.

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Jon

Hope you tile better than you schpell and fraz :bonk: e. Omg.

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Harmonica

I am not able to find SpectraLOCK from Laticrete in my area (no hits on the Laticrete website for suppliers), can you recommend any other epoxy grouts? I am writing from Quebec Canada. I will be using this on wall and floors tiled in marble. thanks!

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Rick

Is there a good way to use two different grout colors on a shower wall? I’m using white on the white field tile and would like to use dark grey on a glass mosaic band that goes around the three walls. Which would you do first and how do you keep them neatly separated. Use tile spacers at the junctions and do the dark grey first? Then remove them and grout with white to the dark grey? Thanks for your help.

Reply

Laura

My kitchen floor tile was installed with Laticrete sanded grout and Laticrete grout enhancer. When I rub the grout to clean soiled areas it seems to erode onto the cloth. Is this normal?

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