What Is Grout?

A kitchen or bathroom renovation project often involves tile installation. With any type of tile installation comes the need to use grout, an adhesive material that not only makes a stronger bond between the tiles, but also contributes to the project’s overall aesthetic. Learn what grout is used for and how to pick the best option for your next tiling project.

What is grout? 

Grout is an adhesive mixture that includes water, Portland cement, and sometimes sand. It’s a must-have when installing any tile surface. While mortar is the adhesive used under the tiles, grout is used in the spaces between tiles. Standard grout comes as a dry material and is mixed with water to activate the adhesive quality. You can also use pre-mixed grout to save time and ensure a consistent finish. Once the floor or wall tiles are set in the mortar, contractors use a grout float to spread the grout evenly over the tiles. 

3 types of grout

There are several different types of grout, including these three popular options.

  1. Unsanded grout. Unsanded ground is a cement-based grout that, as the name implies, lacks sand. This makes it have a thinner consistency, and therefore should be used when tile spacing is less than ⅛ inch thick.
  2. Sanded grout. As the name implies, sand is included in the cement mixture. The added thickness makes it better to use when the tile spacing is more than ⅛ inch wide.
  3. Epoxy grout. Epoxy grout is primarily made from resin rather than cement. The hard finish makes it resistant to cracking and leakage, so it’s best used for countertops and floors. The drawback is that it’s harder to install and dries quickly, so contractors need to work in small batches. Epoxy grout also has a shinier finish that may not work with every client’s aesthetic.

How is grout used?

There are four main things grout does in for a tiled floor, countertop, wall, or shower.

  1. Keeps the tile clean. Flooring grout fills the gaps between tiles to prevent dirt from getting between and under the tiles. This keeps the adhesive stronger, so that the tiles are less likely to pop up over time. 
  2. Makes the tiling strong. Grout strengthens the tile adhesion from side to side. Using mortar alone under the tiles would eventually cause shifting. It’s nearly impossible to get a perfectly straight edge on a tile, especially those that are hand thrown or made out of natural stone. Grout makes up for those imperfections to prevent shifting between the tiles.
  3. Give it grip. Grout actually increases slip resistance, especially in shower areas. Even when using a slick porcelain tile, the textured grout line adds enough resistance to make tiled floors a little safer to walk on, even when wet. 
  4. Makes the tile look good. Choosing grout color is almost as important as choosing the tile itself. There are a number of colors available to choose from that can change the overall feeling of the space being tiled.

Considerations for selecting grout color and style

There are a few considerations to keep in mind when working with a client on a new tile project.

Contrasting vs. blended grout color

The first thing to think about is whether the grout color should contrast with the tile or blend in. For a minimalist look, go for a color that blends in with the tile. For instance, a traditional tile with tan shades would look good with a similar grout that’s in the beige zone.

To create a dramatic effect, pick a contrasting color, like black grout paired with white tile, or black tile and red grout. Contrasting colors also emphasize the tile patterns. 

Size of grout lines

Grout spacers come in a variety of sizes and can impact the look of your tiling work. Use thinner spacers for complex patterns so that the tile design (and your craftsmanship) stands out more. Tiles that are square and rectangular can have thicker grout lines, which, when paired with a unique grout color, can create a vibrant design on its own. 

Natural stone and handmade tiles with lots of variation should also have a thicker grout line to account for those imperfect edges—otherwise, the spacing may be off if two sides bump into each other. 

Ease of cleaning

Many clients may be concerned about the upkeep of certain grout tiles, especially in damp areas like bathrooms. A stark white grout may be harder to keep looking pristine. Neutral colors that are a little darker are typically easier to maintain, like beige or gray. Dark colors like black have become more popular in recent years, since they don’t show dirt as much as light colors. However, dark grout can fade over time.

Final thoughts

Grout is a key component of any tile installation project. Thoughtfully choose the best type and color to create a finished product your clients will love.

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