Grout is a thin mortar used to fill the spaces between tiles and support them on the surface of installation. Generally speaking, it is a cement-based material and comes in various colors and shades. Grout constructs hard, dense joints that will keep your tiles from expanding and shifting with the change in temperature and moisture level.
Your considerations when picking a grout will depend on your specific job, but it’s good to think through at least five important categories:
- Types of grout
- Choosing a color
- Performance properties
- Ease of installation
- Cleaning grout
CHOOSING TYPES OF GROUT
There are three traditional types of grout available for tile installation, but sub-categories and grouts engineered toward color-consistency or durability are on the market, as well. While you should always research a grout that caters to your specific project, the basic three types are sanded, non-sanded, and epoxy.
- Best used for any spacer size larger than 1/8th
- Resistant to cracking and shrinking
- Best used for any spacer between 1/16th - 1/8th
- Often used with most stone tiles with easily scratched surfaces (i.e. - limestone, marble)
- Non-porous alternative to sanded and non-sanded grout
- Short working-time during installation; must be used quickly to avoid drying out/stiffness
- Easier to clean but more expensive to buy and install
With recent advances in grout technology, there are options on the market that combine the benefits of epoxy and urethane grouts in a single product. Newer products can offer a more consistent color-lasting guarantee and durability that wards off mold and mildew that naturally occur from traditional grout - particularly grout that isn't actively maintained with a sealant.
CHOOSING A COLOR
Grout color is an important consideration for your tile installation. The grout color you choose is going to frame and divide your tiles, so the decision deserves some forethought. In determining the grout color that’s right for your design, consider whether you’d like the grout to be matching, contrasting or an accent tone.
If you match your tile and grout colors, your lines blend together, and the grout is less noticeable. It creates a less pronounced and more continuous appearance in your design.
Contrasting your grout against your tile will draw attention to your pattern and layout. This is a technique seen frequently, e.g. - light tiles with dark grout. Contrasting, bold choices can add a distinct look and charm to a design.
Choosing a grout color can be a challenge when you have multi-colored tile or a mosaic tile with several hues in a color family. In this case, any grout color in the spectrum of colors of the tile will accent and complement the overall installation job nicely.
Even though grout can enhance the aesthetics of a design, it’s really there to keep your tiles securely in place and maintain a quality installation. Because tile and stone products are often a lifetime choice, it’s imperative that the grout you choose perform well long term against moisture, stain and mold.
It's crucial to seal grout that is not epoxy-based, especially in high-traffic and moisture-prone areas such as the bathroom or kitchen. Not only will a sealant protect the grout from absorbing moisture and picking up particles in the air, but it will help maintain the color by preventing unnecessary stains.
You can use tile and stone in an array of places (walls, floors, wet areas, outside, etc depending on product specifications), but depending on the location, they may be exposed to moisture, which can lead to issues of mold and mildew. It's crucial to consider location and moisture level when selecting grout. Most grouts are porous and can retain moisture unless they are epoxy-based or are installed with a sealant.
Many grouts are naturally porous and absorb spills, so beware of potential staining issues when selecting grout. From stains associated with heavy foot traffic to those associated with spills of liquids and beverages, grout can be a harbinger of unwanted discoloring, so rely on your installers’ expertise to minimize potential risks.
Crossville highly recommends working with experienced, certified tile contractors to achieve the best installations possible. If you do choose to do it yourself, there are an array of installation guides and best practice resources available online.
Grout’s propensity to crack is one reason it’s wise to rely on a trained professional for your installation. Grout can crack due to movement of flexible substrates, poor bonding during installation, the wrong kind of grout being used for grout joint widths, missing expansion joint in large area installations, as well as inadequate grout coverage/fill-in. Experienced professionals are more likely to avoid these common errors, resulting in a better quality, longer lasting and worry-free tile project.
If you are determined to DIY, you can find grouting tips and techniques anytime through online searches. An important key to successful grout installation is to select the right grout for your space’s aesthetic and performance needs. Next, you need to have the proper tools on hand and must take time to read all the grout manufacturer’s supplied instructions prior to starting your project. The extra time you take to carefully follow step-by-step pays off in the end when your grout work effectively and beautifully complements your design.
Because most grout is cementitious and, thus, porous, sealing is an excellent option for ensuring grout installations stay as clean as possible. Even sealed grout requires maintenance to look and perform great long term.
Clean your tile and grout installations regularly, being sure to use non-acidic, phosphate-free cleaners. Occasional, intensive cleaning is advisable, using a specially formulated tile and grout cleaner (there are several on the market today).
Epoxy grouts are not porous and require less cleaning, balancing their initial costs and installation challenges they require. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s official cleaning recommendations for epoxy grouts to maintain installation integrity long term.