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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Sandy D

Hi Roger.

I’ve learned a ton from you and have nearly completed my most successful tile job yet thanks to all your great advice. I’m having a bit of trouble with my local tile supplier (a small local guy, not a big box store) and would like your opinion. I ordered an 18 lb pail of QuartzLock premixed urethane grout, decided I wanted a different color, and took it back to the store (never opened the bucket). The owner agreed to exchange it for the new color (“Mushroom”). When I went to pickup the new grout, it was a completely different brand (Flextile ColourMax Plus) and color (“Beach Buff”). He said that it was exactly the same as the grout I ordered, same color, same type, just in a different bucket. QuartzLock is not cheap, so if that’s what I ordered…that’s what I want! Anyway, he said that he had to “eat” the cost of the first bucket because he couldn’t return it. I feel like he is not being honest with me. So, I have two questions for you: 1) Is grout color really that consistent between brands? 2) Is unopened pre-mixed grout NOT returnable? Thanks.

Reply

Roger

Hi Sandy,

1. Most of the time yes, it is very close if not identical.

2. Yes, it should be returnable. I’ve never had a problem returning any type of unopened product. That doesn’t mean he’s not being truthful, I have no idea where he gets his stuff, it may be out of his control. But I’ve never had that problem.

Reply

Jennifer

Roger,

The grout is sandy, appears to be cement based. I’m just hoping we don’t have to completely regrout the shower, but as the grout easily comes off with cleaning, I don’t see many other options.

Reply

Roger

That would be the first option, and it will work provided the grout is the cause of the issue and movement is not. The best way to tell, though, is to first regrout it and see if that solves the problem.

Sorry, I know that isn’t what you wanted to read.

Reply

Jennifer

We purchased a home with a newly tiled master bath, but after using it, the grout actually comes off when I am cleaning it. Is it possible the grout was not supposed to be used for showers, is there such a thing? Did they just not seal it? Is my tile brush too hard on the grout? I’ve never seen this happen before and is there any way to fix it without starting over?

Reply

Roger

Hi Jennifer,

It sounds like something with the way the grout was mixed or installed. Sealer has nothing to do with it, and all grouts that I am aware of are proper for use in showers. Is it a rough, cement based grout or does it feel ‘rubbery’? If rubbery it may have been a pre-mixed grout, not all of those can be used in showers.

Reply

Nick

Hi Roger,

I have been having a terrible time getting a tub that has not somehow been damaged through our local home improvement store. I have tiled all around the area but not including the area for the tub (for installation purposes) and am ready for grouting. Is it possible to grout the current tiles and come back later to finish grouting once the tub is installed without the grout looking different or should I wait until everything is in place? The tub could be another 6 weeks down the road and I would like to get started soon. I will be using Prism High-performance grout.

Reply

Roger

Hi Nick,

You can with the prism grout. It’s extremely color consistent.

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Jason

I’m tiling two showers in my home and I want to use the most durable grout I can. It’s porcelain tile with 1/16″ grout seams. I was planning to use the spectralock epoxy grout product but recently realized on their website they state: “LATICRETE SpectraLOCK Grout is a sanded grout. Use of sanded grouts in joints less than 1/8″ (3 mm) will result in a coarser surface texture as compared to wider joints.” Have you used this product with 1/16″ grout seams would your recommend it? If not what product would you recommend? Thanks, Jason

Reply

Roger

Hi Jason,

Yes, I have. I do it all the time, it’s just fine for 1/16″ grout lines.

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Carrie

Thank you so much for this website! I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned!! I really appreciate it, as I know it must be a lot of work.

I have 3 questions. My husband and I are redoing our bathrooms, and we want a modern/minimalist feel. We’re installing 12×24 white tile on the shower walls with 1/8 white epoxy grout lines. Our installer uses Laticrete SpectraLOCK Pro Premium grout, which I know is good, thanks to you.

Question #1: What is your current opinion about if SpectraLOCK’s Bright White grout has a yellowish tint? Would the fact that we’re using it against white tile bring out a yellowish tint?

Question #2: I’ve read your comments about possibly using Laticrete Plasma white grout instead. What are the pros and cons of Plasma versus SpectraLOCK? I’m assuming there is a con with Plasma, or else why would anyone use SpectraLOCK?

Question #3: Lastly, how “plastic” does the SpectraLOCK or Plasma look? Although my contractor “does” epoxy, he warned me that it really looks like plastic — i.e., it looks bad. I don’t know if he’s trying to scare me away from epoxy because it’s harder to use than normal grout, or if the epoxy just does look really bad?

Thank you so much in advance!! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it!

Reply

Roger

Hi Carrie,

1. I don’t think it does, some people do think it does. It does cure exactly to the shade of the grout sample, so if you see a yellow tint there you will see it in the grout. If you want a brighter white mapei’s flexcolor CQ is brighter and has the same properties as spectralock.

2. Plasma is a new product. Given the choice I would use it over the spectralock, and do. But it goes back to the yellow tint thing above.

3. It does not look plastic. It ‘feels’ plastic if you run your fingernail across it, but it doesn’t look plastic.

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Carrie

Thank you so much for your help, Roger! :rockon:

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Steve

Hi Roger,
Great article!! I am doing a bathroom renovation and I am using 12×12 Hampton Cararra marble tiles for the floor and 3×6 colored glass subway tiles in the tub. My installer said that marble should be installed as close together as possible. Is the spectralock epoxy grout ok to use with spacing closer than 1/16 since it’s a sanded grout? Also, I would like to use the spectralock epoxy on my 3×6 tiles as well, but I’m concerned that they might scratch the glass, AND, I am looking to use the Bright White which I understand has a yellowish hue to it? IS there any truth to this? I bought both the epoxy and plasma grout from spectralock. Which grout do you think would work best for both my applications and would have the best color consistency when using bright white? Thanks!

Reply

Roger

Hi Steve,

The epoxy will be fine for your installation, I have never seen spectralock scratch glass tile. Doesn’t mean it won’t, just means I’ve never seen it. Some people think it has a yellow hue, I don’t. If you are looking for the brightest white go with the plasma, it’s whiter and will work just as well as the epoxy.

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Lisa

Hiya Roger….
I have glass tiles in my shower area and the grout that the tile man did is in need of some TLC…I suppose i need to use the NON sanded so not to scratch the glass tiles ? the brand is TEC accucolor….I have both sanded and non sanded leftover…job was done about 2 years ago…Whats my best approach…Just apply to existing grout, right ? Its just in need (i think) of another application so it looks new again….Please advise…Thank you ! Lisa

Reply

Roger

Hi Lisa,

Go over it again with the non-sanded.

Reply

joe

I installed 13×10 tile on tub surround have some voids at tile ends. I have 1/4 grout lines. Can I use a caulk/ sealer to fill the voids?

Reply

Roger

Hi Joe,

You could, but it really needs to be thinset, not caulk.

Reply

Cory

Hi Roger,

I have just finished tiling our new bathroom and am about to grout the whole thing. I have the correct grout for the job but am wondering if using Polyblend siliconised matching grout will be good for around the tub and where the backsplash meets the countertop? Also, if it is OK to use, should I put in the sanded or the unsanded type? The grout I have for the tile is sanded. Thanks!

Reply

Roger

Hi Cory,

You mean the caulk? Yes, it will work fine. I would use the sanded, it doesn’t shrink as much.

Reply

Bill Hall

Roger:
A contractor just finished tiling my bathroom floor with 6 inch square tiles. He used sanded white grout as suggested since the space between the tiles is 1/8 inch. I am concerned about keeping the grout clean in the future since with the sand it seems rough. Could I grout over it with the expoxy grout you recommend? I would think a thin coat would fill in the voids and be a superior finish. Sort of like paving a street with asphalt. They first put down a rough course with large aggregate and then put the smoot finish coat down that his fine aggregate.
Thanks for your help.

Reply

Roger

Hi Bill,

A layer of epoxy won’t last over that. Your best bet is to get a really good sealer, that will do what you need.

Reply

Sean Crandles

Hi Roger

Great site! Extremely helpful!
I am installing a shower with a kerdi shower kit. Are there any types of grout or sealers etc that I should not use? If no real difference then i was wondering what my best options for grout would be considering i cannot get spreckralock pro. What do you think of mapei flexcolor cq? I would like something very good for shower applications. My bathroom is extremely large and the thought of the cost of doing the entire bathroom in epoxy is giving me a stroke. Also what about the mapei keracolor s sanded grout with polymer.
Thanks

Reply

Roger

Hi Sean,

Makes no difference to the waterproofing what type of grout you use. The flexcolor cq is a very good grout. The keracolor is also a good grout.

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Mary

Are you familiar with TEC power grout? My installer likes and uses it. I’m wondering if it’s safe for marble? I have carrera marble hex and subway tile in master bath, another bath with marble basket weave and calacatta gold subway marble in kitchen. Will power grout be safe to not scratch my marble and, when a second coat of sealer is put on after the grout has been applied, will the sealer still cover and adhere to the stone even though power grout might have been on surface of the stone?
Thx

Reply

Roger

Hi Mary,

The power grout is a very good grout. It should be just fine for your marble. And yes, the sealer will work fine as well.

Reply

Rod

Hi Rodger,

I want to say thanks for all of you’re helpful information.

I just finished grouting bathroom floor, using all of the tips I learned from you, and it turned out fantastic. This is my first tile job ever. I used Spectralock pro and it was easy, (I have no experience to to compare the difficulty level) all the sales people tried to talk me out of epoxy grout. Im really glad I didn’t take their advice.
I followed all the instructions to the letter. (except for one) I put a small portion of mixed grout in the freezer to use for repair and touch up latter, it worked great. The instructions say to protect protect part A and B from freezing, that must mean before mixing. I also divded a full unit into four into four mini units, and I kept the batch I was working with on ice. Such great advice. Again thank you so much! :dance:

Reply

Roger

Hi Rod,

Glad I could help. :D

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JOE

I’am using 10×13 tile on tub surround with 1/4 grout spacing. Can I use a water proof caulk to fill some of the grout space, then fill rest of space with sanded grout.

Reply

Roger

Hi Joe,

You can, but it won’t last. The caulk will eventually lose it’s elasticity and begin to shrink. And the grout bonds to the sides of the tile, not the substrate. It will not bond to silicone. Why do you want to do that?

Reply

Jerry

Hi Roger,
My shower walls have 4×4 ceramic tiles with 1/32″ grout lines (house built 1958). I have little experience. There are some pinholes and slight cracking/disadhesion from tile surface. How do I deal with regrouting 1/32″ grout joints? There doesn’t seem to be any power tool bits small enough to dig deep enough to remove the old grout. Unfortunately, I bought a diamond grit oscillating tool blade and opened up some joints to 1/16″, which I now realize cut into the tiles themselves (fairly cleanly with some very slight chips). So, two issues. 1- How to remove 1/32″ grout and what type of grout to use in the 1/32″ joints (if I can clean them out at all) and 1/16″ grout joints.

Reply

Roger

Hi Jerry,

About the only way you’ll clean out 1/32″ joints is with a razor knife. You need to use unsanded grout in them, sanded will not work.

Reply

Vicki

Hi Roger,
My contractor is recommending non-sanded for ceramic glazed wall tiles, spacing is less then 1/8, will this be ok with a glass mosaic border tile? I understand specraloc is great, but have heard it some times leaves a film and harder to clean, with a textured ceramic floor tile I’d rather not use it. What is your take on Laticrete’s Permacolor? What applications would this work for? I have a small residential bathroom and kitchen backsplash to do? -Thanks

Reply

Roger

Hi Vicki,

Yes, that will be fine for your border tile as well. Spectralock ONLY leaves a film when it is not properly cleaned as it’s being installed. That isn’t the product, that’s purely the installer. Permacolor is a very good grout, and has MANY applications. Your installation would be one of them.

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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?

Reply

Roger

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

Reply

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

Reply

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.

Reply

Nick

Ok, epoxy it is in shower with Travertine.

The bathroom floor is porcelain, I am considering the new Plasma grout. Have you used it yet and if so is that a good choice or should I just stick with another sanded grout in the Laticrete line?
3/32″ – 1/8″ grout lines.

Reply

Roger

Hi Nick,

I have used the plasma, it’s great stuff. Very easy to install as well.

Reply

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?

Reply

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.

Reply

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?

Reply

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

Reply

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?

Reply

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.

Reply

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.

Reply

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?

Reply

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.

Reply

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.

Reply

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