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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Jaren

I need some friendly tips on grout. I picked a natural stone tile on mesh backing for a shower. The stones are round and leave pretty large areas that need grout. I am begin to regret my decision. I am worried that the larger gaps for grout leave more room for failure and water leaking through the tile. I used diamondback for my substrate and silicone caulk over all the screws and in every corner, including near the top of the tub. I know that sanded grout is a good option but was wondering if epoxy would be best. I have never worked with epoxy grout and have a feeling on a shower wall it could be a nightmare. If I decide to use sanded grout what would be the best sealer for the stone and grout?

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Ken

Hi Roger: We are tiling our kitchen backsplash with onyx and marble and are concerned about grout scratching, especially the onyx. We understand that the unsanded grout shrinks so are leaning against that but aren’t sure if we should use epoxy instead. Can we find a good brand of it in a big box store? Thanks for your help!

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Charlie

So Roger, I’m reading up on the Fusion Pro Grout (I like pre-mixed). Also looking at the Spectraloc (requires mixing).

So my amateur assessment comparing the 2 goes like this:

Fusion
pre-mixed, small patches at a time (30 minutes then a beer break), must dry for 3 to 5 days before use.

Spectraloc
need to mix, larger areas, 80 minutes of working time, faster dry time before use.

Some of the complaints I read from the reviews talk about the Fusion crumbles and comes out of the joints. Naturally, customer reviews leave out a lot of details so it could be an installation problem.

Any thoughts on these two products? (I am doing a shower, bathroom floor, and the walls)

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John

Is epoxy grout doable for a diyer or should I stick to sanded grouts.

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Roger
A.Perry

Hey all,
We’re tore up the junk tiles the builder installed 7 years ago and are putting down 16×24 Happy Floor tiles. We’re excited but want to reach out for some of your advice. Our current configuration is: Installed on 1/3 offset, Flexset Thinset, Laticrete grout 1/16″ wide. Does anyone see any problems with this config? Maybe a different thinset or grout? Now is the time to make changes since installer just informed us of a 6 week wait time on the tiles!

Thank you in advance

A.Perry

Reply

Roger

Hi A,

I don’t see any problem at all with that, provided your substrate is properly built (and you have a proper bonding substrate for the tile).

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Caitlin

Hi Roger, :)

I thought I posted a question on this thread a couple weeks ago, but now I can’t find it, and I never received an email notification of your response, so must be my original post got magically disappeared by the internet monsters. :lol2:

Anyhoo, my question WAS:

Can I get away with using FUSION PRO Single Component Sanded Grout for grout joints of less than 1/16 inch?

I am getting ready to attempt my first ever tile installation – I’m tackling a tub surround with 3×6 inch LUGGED subway tile (from Home Depot). When doing a mock-up of the butted tiles using a standard pattern, the lugs appear to generate a 1/16″ joint.

HOWEVER (being a rebel!), RATHER than go with a standard running bond pattern, I was hoping to do a staggered effect, offsetting each row of tiles by 2″ instead of 3″… (YES, I always have to make things more difficult.)

This staggered layout affects where the lugs line up (or DON’T exactly line up, as the case may be), resulting in a grout line that appears to be possibly slightly LESS than 1/16″.

So my questions are:

1) IS it okay for me to do my beloved nontraditional staggered pattern? Is it OKAY that the lugs are misaligned a little, which seems to result in less “gap” areas within the joints (aka: less space for the grout to actually FILL)? There are still gaps, they are just somewhat irregular. (Kind of like ME) :lol1:

2a) If it IS okay to use this layout, then CAN I get away with using the PRO FUSION, even though the joints may end up being slightly less than 1/16″? And even though the staggered lugs mean slightly less gap space to work with? (The bucket states “for grout joints 1/16″ – 1/2″)

2b) If you think this approach CAN work, any tips for getting the sanded grout properly worked into such tight joints?

3) If this approach is NOT a good idea, then does that mean I need to buy spacers to compensate for the staggered pattern to keep the joints wider? (I was hoping to get away with relying on the lugs and not having to mess around with spacers.)

4) Am I insane??? :roll:

Thanks very much for your help, you are a Savior. :dance:
Cheers,
Caitlin

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Loren

Here’s my two cents, if Roger’s advice differs from mine, go with what he say’s, he seems to know more than I will ever know I want know about things to know about tile.

1) Do the staggered pattern, different is good.
2a) I don’t know about that tight of joints. I liked using Pro Fusion in SMALL areas (see my question in this thread), read the directions and use caution (about 5 min to fill joints then start cleaning (tile and tools)).
2b) I don’t know about that tight of joints.
3) When I have used lugged subway tile (running bond) they were not uniform enough for my very picky personality ( I also work with level and plumb a lot and can see mistakes). I cut my own spacers from thin hard plastic (like clear plastic clam shell packaging). They were about 1/2″ x 1″ by the thickness of the plastic, about 1/64th of an inch. I found I needed them for about 1/3 of the tile. I would slide them in the low spots as I checked a whole row I had just set.
I also like the 0-1/8″ wedge spacers you can buy. If you use them, use them between the lugs (zero is equal to about 1/32 in the real world).
4) If your not insane, you may be after this tile job. :dance:

Good luck, have fun,
Loren

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Loren

To clarify above:
about 5 min to fill joints… = about 5 minutes to fill joints…

When I say to use the wedge spacers between the lugs I mean use them in a place on the tile that does not have lugs, that already has a gap so it will be pushed in part way before it even starts to spread the tile apart.

When I use my homemade 1/64th spacers, sometimes I use two or three stacked.

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Roger

Hi Caitlin,

1. Yes.
2a. Yes.
2b. Just take your time and pay attention to every inch of the grout lines while cleaning. Easier to fill then than after it fully cures.
3. Yes, if you want consistent grout lines
4. Probably. But it likely has nothing to do with tile. :D

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Caitlin

Thanks Roger!! (and thanks Loren!)

I did notice some inconsistencies with the lugs, so I have been compensating with the wedge spacers to keep everything level and keep the grout lines more even – seems to be working great so far.

I appreciate the advice!!

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Loren

Please share any thoughts on
Custom’s “Fusion Pro” single component grout.

I used it on a bathroom glass mosaic backsplash with 1/8″ joints, the matting varied so some joints were on the wide side of 1/8″, I had planned on using a non-sanded traditional grout but read your above article and tried to get an epoxy but couldn’t in the selected grout color.
For a slow worker I liked very much that I could get out a cup or two of grout, reseal the pail, finish the grout to the initial clean, clean all tools, and repeat. Small areas (3-4 sq/ft), but for in corners, under a low medicine cabinet, and tight behind faucets, this was perfect for me.

On the recommendation of the guy at the tile supply house counter I used it instead of color matched caulk in a vertical tile corner (change of plane, two tile walls meeting), also at the joint between tile and fiberglass shower surround.

Do you use your epoxy grout in joints at transitions of materials and change of plane joints (tile ones, not the bars in airports).

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Roger

Hi Loren,

Rarely, I normally use silicone (color-matched). I would just leave it, if you start to have cracking just dig it out and replace it with silicone.

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CliffStoll

Epoxy grout for tile widths that vary from 1/32″ all the way up to 3/16″?

Our shower’s field tiles have 3/16″ wide grout lines. A lot of details have grout widths of 1/32″ to 1/16″. Many of these lines intersect – narrow grout lines intersecting wide grout lines.

Laticrete website sez “LATICRETE and LATAPOXY® epoxy grouts can be installed into joints from 1/16″ (1.5mm) to 1/2″ (12mm) wide. However, since these grouts do contain sand, narrow joints will appear with a coarse texture when compared to unsanded grouts.”

Is there an epoxy grout without any sand?

Suggestions? Ideas?

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Roger

Hey Cliff,

No there is not. You may want to check out a urethane grout.

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anon

Hi Roger,

My contractor is using the spectralock epoxy grout but lost the initial wash packets. I read that we may be able to use vinegar to substitute the packet. Do you have any experience with that and know how well that works? Also, do you know if the initial wash packets and final wash packets are the same thing? Thanks so much!

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Roger

Hi anon,

No, the packets are not the same thing. You can use vinegar as the initial wash and powdered dishwasher soap as the final wash.

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logan

Roger, Im grouting a floor in my house and I have already begun with non sanded grout without doing any research on the matter. Other than a few videos on the actual process. I have done a third of one room and it has been sitting for around 12 hours with unsanded grout. A couple of the wider joints have begun to crack already. If i pickup the exact same colour grout except sanded could i go over it again tonight with that and fix the issue and finish with sanded grout? or is it too late?

Reply

Roger

Hi Logan,

You need to scrape the unsanded out of there. The sanded grout will not bond to the unsanded in any reliable manner, it needs to bond to the sides of the tile. You need at least 2/3 the depth of the tile.

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Leo S.

Roger,

I had a contractor have an extremely tough time with the TEC Power Grout. He mixed according to the bag and let sit in the bucket for the recommended time. The grout was immediately un-workable. Have you ever seen or heard of this before? We used the same grout on the floors just in a different color and it went down fine. Thinking we got a bad 25lb bag. Thoughts?

Reply

Roger

Hi Leo,

It could be the grout. Power grout seems to be touchy stuff to me. Some days it works really well and some days I just want to toss it in a field. :D You can call tec and give them the serial number on the bag (should be printed on there) and they can tell you if there are problems with that batch. I have found that the darker grouts tend to be more difficult to work with and a hell of a lot more touchy.

Reply

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