We often spend an excess of time considering the specific tile we’d like to use for a home improvement project, comparing various options and thinking about how the color and style will match the space. But grout, the substance that fills the spaces between tiles, is often no more than an afterthought.
Today, we’re diving into various grout choices and how they can affect the look and durability of your tile. Grout can be used to make a design statement, and it’s also crucial to the tile’s structural integrity. We’ll focus on when you should use sanded versus unsanded grout and how to select the perfect grout color for your desired aesthetic.
Sanded Vs. Unsanded
The two main types of grout you’ll encounter are sanded and unsanded.
There are a few rules of thumb to remember when choosing between sanded and unsanded grout.
When you’re working with glass, polished marble, granite, limestone, or metal tile:
Use unsanded grout, as the sand particles in sanded grout may scratch and damage the tiles.
When the spaces between tiles are ⅛” or less:
Use unsanded grout, as it’s ideal for precision work (unless you’re installing glass, polished marble, granite, limestone, or metal tile).
When the spaces between tiles are larger than ⅛”:
Use sanded grout, as it’s less prone to shrinkage and cracking.
When the area will experience heavy foot traffic:
Use sanded grout, as it’s more durable.
When you’re installing wall tile or working with other vertical applications:
Use unsanded grout, as it’s stickier and easier to work with.
Sanded grout, sometimes called cementitious grout, is often considered the go-to grout choice. It can be used for grout joints that range from ⅛” to ⅝”, and it’s highly resistant to shrinkage and cracking. It’s thicker and more durable than unsanded grout, and it’s better suited to standing up to pressure in locations where there’s heavy foot traffic.
Another advantage of sanded grout is that it’s inexpensive–often half the price of unsanded grout. If your only concern is cost, then sanded grout will likely be the choice for you.
However, one thing to note about sanded grout is that, as you may have guessed, it contains sand–which means it can work similarly to sandpaper when applied to tiles that can be easily scratched. For this reason, you should never use sanded grout with tile made of glass, granite, limestone, polished marble, or metal.
In addition, precision work with grout joints that measure less than ⅛” shouldn’t be completed with sanded grout. The sand can make this grout bulky and challenging to work with in tight spaces. Sometimes, to compensate for the bulkiness, contractors add extra water to the grout. However, this can result in pinholes and should be avoided.
Unsanded grout may not be the most commonly used option, but it still has its place. When you’re working with softer tiles that can be scratched by sand, unsanded grout is your top choice. Always use unsanded grout when you’re installing glass, polished marble, limestone, metal, and granite tile. Contractors often use epoxy-based unsanded grout for smooth, polished tiles like these.
This type of grout is extremely sticky and, therefore, excellent for vertical tile applications, such as backsplashes, shower tile, and wall tile. Another reason it’s well-suited for vertical surfaces is that it’s easy to spread evenly, so you can focus on getting the perfect tile placement rather than dealing with unruly grout.
Still, this type of grout has its drawbacks. It’s prone to cracking under pressure and can shrink as it cures. For this reason, it’s vital to only use unsanded grout on tile joints that are ⅛” or less, so any shrinkage won’t affect the finished project. In addition, thanks to the expensive polymers that must be added to unsanded grout, it can cost twice as much as sanded grout.
While the most common grout color options are black, white, and gray, you can find grout in nearly any color–there’s even glitter grout on the market these days. Depending on the color and design of your tile and the overall look you’re going for, you’ll want to select a different shade of grout.
If you’d like your design to blend together seamlessly:
Choose a light-colored grout.
If you’re all about drama and visual impact:
Select a darker grout. Black tile with black grout is just about as dramatic as you can get.
If you’d prefer to unify your tile (as with a wood-look tile floor):
Opt for grout that’s a close match to the tile’s color but one shade lighter.
If you want to highlight the pattern of your tile (herringbone, hexagon, etc.):
Choose grout in a contrasting color.
If you’d like to highlight a specific color in your tile:
Choose grout that’s a similar or slightly lighter shade.
If you’re installing tile in a high-traffic area:
Select a darker option, as grout in high-traffic areas tends to darken with time.
If you want a classic subway tile look:
Pair white tile with dark grout.
If you’d like to complement rooms with wood, leather, or brick:
Try brown grout for added warmth and subtle coordination.
If your goal is to make the space appear larger:
Choose a grout color that matches your tile. (Learn about other ways to make rooms look bigger with tile here.)
If you’re working with multicolored tiles:
Select grout that matches the most prominent color in the design.
If you can’t make up your mind and prefer the safest choice:
Opt for grout in a neutral shade, such as cream, tan, beige, or gray.
Grout Color Pro Tips
Here are a few final considerations to think about before you make your decision.
- It’s possible to create custom colors by purchasing tintable grout.
- Always look at your tile and grout side by side before installation to ensure they mesh well.
- Note that porous tile may absorb the grout’s color, darker grout may fade over time, and lighter grout should be sealed to prevent stains.
- White grout has a tendency to turn yellow over time, but you can get a nearly-identical look without the yellowing by choosing a light gray grout instead.
- Contrasting grout and tile can appear visually overwhelming in large spaces.
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