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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Debbie

I have small 2×2 tiles on my shower floor. The grout in a few places is cracking – shower is 12 years old. The grout was bone.
How should I attempt to fill the cracks and with what type of product.

Thank you.

Reply

Jeff

Mr Floor Elf I really need your help. I installed backsplash marble mosaic tile and before grouting I sealed the whole thing. I used sanded tec power grout and followed all instructions. So far everything went ok… but after the final clean up I realized that the marble lost its original sheen and everything looked dull or opaque. I let it dry and I tried to do a more meticulous clean up but to my surprise the damage was done. Is there any way that I can restore the original sheen to the mosaic tile? Thanks and waiting anxiously for your response.

Reply

Roger

Hi Jeff,

You can buff it. Just like a car, with an electric buffer, but you don’t use any chemicals or wax. You can use sealer when buffing.

Reply

Craig

can I use caulk for all my grout lines, is this an expense thing why not to just caulk or just a bad idea all the way around.

thanks

Reply

Roger

Hi Craig,

No. Caulk is not a permanent product. It will lose elasticity over time and pull away from the tile. I’m sure you’ve probably seen the results of that around the bottom of a tile wall in a tub – it grows all sorts of nasty stuff. It can be easily replaced in the changes of plane, as it should be, do you really want to do that every 5-7 years in your entire shower? :D

Reply

john

Roger, Is Fusion Pro any good?? What are your favorite uerathane grouts?

Reply

Roger

Hi John,

I prefer technicolor by tec (it’s actually acrylic-based) and Laticrete plasma. But fusion pro is also very good, I’ve used it a few times.

Reply

Kay

Any reason why I can’t or shouldn’t use an epoxy grout on my 3″ polished marble hex tile, over Ditra Heat? I can’t seem to find anything saying no on the internet, so that must be the case right? And any thoughts on what size trowel for laying? 3″ is between a lot of the recommendations I see for a 2″ or 4″ tile – which side do I err on?

Reply

Roger

Hi Kay,

No reason at all not to use epoxy. Proper Trowel size.

Reply

Rose

Thank you! I wanted the epoxy after reading but it was a 14 day special order and I didn’t give myself enough time. The epoxy was 15lbs and it was $119 and the unsanded was $12 for 10lbs. Hope that helps others! Order ahead.

Reply

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