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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Nick

Roger,

I’m planning ahead and not there yet but which do you recommend for a travertine shower? These may be considered ‘honed’ as they are matte type finish out of the box.
Secondly, do you fill the various holes and divots in the face of travertine? If not, what do you do?

Reply

Nick

The previous questions were for grout. :)
Also, what size grout line would you suggest? I’ve been planning on 1/8″ but the more I read…maybe 1/16th would be better?

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Roger

Grout line size is a personal choice. I use 1/8″ on floors and 1/16″ on walls normally.

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Roger

Hi Nick,

I would use epoxy or regular sanded grout on those. If you are using them in a shower yes, you absolutely need to fill all the holes, you get grout in there, or stuff grows in them. Grout is better. :D

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Nick

Thanks Roger. After reading more, travertine might be a risky choice for us in a shower. Wife loves it but I don’t want a maintenance nightmare.
1. What’s your take on travertine in the shower? (I’m using Kerdi)
2. Is several coats of some type of sealer required before grouting?
3. Does it need repeated seal coats?

Reply

Roger

Travertine is just fine in a shower in my opinion. You don’t NEED sealer on it at all, although it is always a good idea. Sealer only assists in cleaning. If the shower is regularly maintained it won’t be a nightmare at all.

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john

I have been using Laticrete spectralock successfully for some time now but now I have a problem grouting some white marble stone. It seems the epoxy grout is staining the stone. have you seen this happen before? Any suggestions?

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Roger

Hi John,

I assume you’re speaking of the ‘picture-framing’ effect? Where the liquid from the epoxy is soaking into the sides of the tile and making the edges darker? If so, that will dissipate in a couple of weeks. If that isn’t what you’re speaking of I’ll need more specifics – like what color grout you’re using on your white marble.

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John

Hi roger. Yes it is picture framing that I am referring to. I hope you are correct that it will dissipate in a few weeks.

For the next batch of this stone I am thinking of trying to seal the stone and the edges first with a good sealer. Have you ever tried that before?

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Roger

Yes, and it works a bit better, but with white marble you’ll still likely see a bit of picture framing. It will dissipate, it just doesn’t feel that way right now. :D

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Shay

I want to use little/mini pebbles for a shower floor but do not want to use grout but rather have a clear sealant- I have search and found nothing that will work in doors like poolside (pebbletek)would the epoxy you refer to work with out adding color? of curse the usual membrane etc would be the pan- then the mini pebbles on top if tin set and then the epoxy and finally a good stone/grout sealant. Thoughts?

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Roger

Hi Shay,

Epoxy without the colorant will be light yellow. There is no clear grout and nothing of which I am aware that can be used to accomplish that. I would find a grout that matches your pebbles.

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matt

Hey Shay you may want to look into Lexel by sashco it’s more of a caulk but dries completely clear, and 100% waterproof it does take some time to cure if it goes on thick and is pretty sticky to work with.

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John

Hi Matt, in regards to this Lexel product, is it easy to clean up… for example if I use it instead of grout on small glass mosaic tiles, will I be able to fill in the spaces and then scrape off the excess with a blade as I can do with clear silicone?

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Allison

Hi Roger,

Ugh! Lowes tile guy told me to use unsanded grout with my glazed 3 x 6 beveled white subway tile because he said the sanded would scratch it. Problem is, my grout lines are slightly larger than 1/8″ and now that I am one third of the way finished I can already see a tiny bit of cracking in a few of the joints. I’m guessing you’re going to confirm what I fear… I need to scrape it all out and redo with the Epoxy? I haven’t done the wettest part of the shower yet, so I could switch to the epoxy now but I realize it won’t match which will make my OCD self crazy. The cracking isn’t awful… Tempted to just go on with it and see how it holds up. At least I used a liquid membrane behind it… What would you do? Thanks, Allison

Reply

Roger

Hi Allison,

You need to use epoxy, urethane, or regular sanded grout. I have RARELY seen it scratch ceramic tile glaze, although you should always test first.

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Chris

Hi roger,
We just finished a tile job in my kitchen done by a contractor. I picked 1/16 spacers and used unsanded grout. Over the past days the grout is cracking on only some of the tiles, when I push on the corner of the tiles they move up and down. He has come to replace them but another one just showed up. Is this a problem of using unsanded or is this a thin set issue? His work is sloppy and some of the grout lines look bigger than 1/16. He also added more grout over all the floor with three days in between, I just want to remedy this problem any suggestions. He also told me he added a sealer into the grout the first time but not the second!

Reply

Roger

Hi Chris,

It’s a thinset/bonding issue, it has nothing to do with the grout. Added grout over grout with sealer likely won’t last. If the tiles move AT ALL – that’s your problem. And it’s an installation issue, not the product.

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