Why do things have to be complicated?
You pick out a grout color and now you’re faced with another decision: sanded or nonsanded? Which kind of tile grout is right for your project?
First, we’re going to break down the tile grouts into two categories cement and non-cement. This post will examine the different kinds of cement grout that are on the market today.
Check out my next post on non-cement grouts like Epoxy or Urethane Stain Proof grouts including Fusion, Flexcolor, Spectralock, and more.
Tile Grout- so many choices…
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Cement grout is the most common and well-known type of grout. Advantages of cement grouts include:
- been around forever
- can be installed in almost any application
- easiest to work with
Drawbacks of cement tile grout include:
- Regular sealing
- Easiest to stain
- colors can fade over time
- Prone to discoloration problems
The discoloration problems can be caused by mixing:
- too much water
- too little water
- not mixing well enough
- mixed with hard water
- applied in too much heat
You get the picture.
Here are some of the different kinds of cement grout:
Also known as nonsanded grout. It’s used for thin joints or where scratching the surface can be an issue. Although rare, this can happen on sensitive natural stones and when installing glass tiles.
Common uses for this grout include ceramic wall tiles like subway tiles and also natural stone, such as marble, that is usually set with a tight joint.
The rule of thumb is if your grout joint is 1/8 inch or smaller then you want to use a non-sanded grout. Personally, I think 1/8″ is too big and would limit it to 3/32″.
I think it goes without saying that sanded grout has sand added to it. It’s for volume- the same way that you would add gravel to concrete.
Although probably still the most popular grout today the technology is always changing.
Applications for this grout typically include floors, large tile, pebble tiles, and anytime you have a grout joint 1/8 inch and larger.
High-Performance Cement Grouts
This is an actual category of cement grout. While still being in the cement grout category these are not ordinary cement grouts.
They have the best color consistency, no efflorescence, are the densest, and therefore, most stain-resistant of the cement grouts.
These are fast-setting grouts which can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing.
High-performance cement grouts can be used in grout joints as small as 1/16th inch and usually go up to 1/2 inch. This kind of grout is a sanded tile grout.
Some examples are Prism, Ultracolor Plus FA, and Permacolor Select. Note: when purchasing Permacolor Select make sure that you purchase both the base grout and the color as they are sold separately.
Even with the increased stain resistance, they should still be sealed with a grout sealer.
Update: Laticrete now has a product called Permacolor Select NS (unsanded) which is a really nice high-performance grout if you need a non-sanded option.
Grout sealer additives
There are some products out now that are liquids that are added to the grout (instead of water) when mixing and claim to make cement grouts stain proof.
Examples of these products are Grout Boost, Grout Shield, StainBlocker, and Mapei Grout Maximizer.
I don’t have a lot of experience with these products and it seems to me that the reviews have been mixed.
Maybe some of the kinks have been worked out by now but I would encourage you to do further research before committing to these.
Which tile grout is best?
The high-performance grouts are the best performers as far as cement grout goes.
Sanded and non sanded tile grout is just too finicky for my tastes and too prone to callbacks.
There are exceptions, like if the tile is likely to scratch, then I’ll use unsanded grout like Permacolor Select NS. But the bulk of my cement grout usage is Prism, Permacolor, or Ultracolor.
Until recently, the consumer had trouble purchasing these products because they weren’t available in the retail stores.
However, I’ve been noticing these grouts showing up in the aisles in places like Lowes, Home Depot, and Floor and Decor.
They are a little more expensive and are fast-setting which means it may be easier to get in trouble with them when you are installing them.
For these reasons, you may elect to go with a “normal” kind of tile grout. If so, I still recommend putting on a penetrating grout sealer or using one of the additives mentioned above.
Sandra Torralba says
I am installing 4×8 beveled travertine backsplash in my kitchen. What size grout lines is best?
Best bet is to see if there’s a manufacturer’s recommendation. Otherwise, 1/16th-1/8th inch is what I would look to do.
how can you prevent crack in joints between porcelain backsplash and granite counter tops?
Silicone caulk. The grout manufacturers carry silicone caulk that is matched to their grout colors. Home Depot even started carrying these which I am happy to see. The caulk is flexible and will allow for movement between the countertop and tile backsplash (a common cracking point).
Please make sure that you get 100% silicone caulk and not the color matched latex version. Check out my video on how to caulk.
Jeannine Smith says
I am installing a penny round tile, color gold, some are matte and some are more shiny. This is for the shower floor. So I thought I should go with a non sanded grout, but am having second thoughts. I was told I could use Prism sanded grout and it shouldn’t scratch tiles. Then I read you shouldn’t use non sanded grout on shower floors??? What is your recommendation?
Non-sanded grout is fine for a shower floor but it probably isn’t the right grout for penny tile. Non sanded can only go up to an 1/8 inch maximimum and the intersections in penny rounds are likely to be bigger than that.
Prism is a good grout and I would be surprised if it scratched but I can’t see the exact tile that you have. But that’s a better grout than Polyblend sanded or unsanded and would rather see you use it. Test it first, if you can, before doing the entire floor.
Karen Eggleston says
We are having stainless steel tiles on sheets applied. We need grouting. What kind of grout do we use so as not to scratch the stainless steel?
This is a good question and one that I don’t have the answer to.
There should be instructions from the manufacturer and the store that you purchased from should know this also.
I recommend doing a grout mock-up before fully committing grouting the main space.
In general, non sanded grout is preferred when scratching is an issue but it can only be used in tight grout joints (under 1/8 inch).
Hi! Thank you for your great blog, you’ve already answered many of my questions. I’m planning to use Custom Prism grout. I’ve read before that with a cement grout you should always purchase a color two shades darker than you want because the final result is usually two shades lighter than the sample. Do you find this to be the case with Prism grout also?
That’s never been experience with any cement grout.
Cement grout should be close to the color but it may not be the exact color of the sample.
In fact, I’ve noticed the samples can be different from each other.
Prism is a good grout for drying the same uniform color through the installation.
It may appear different on different walls because of lighting. It also may appear different than the sample.
But it’s one of the better cement grouts on the market
I am installing 12″ x 12″ porcelain floor tiles in our bathroom.
Can you tell me how wide the grout line shoud be and what is the best grout for this application. I’d like a good seal and low maintenance.
The minimum grout joint width is 1/16th inch.
But you’re asking what the BEST grout joint width is which isn’t as straight forward.
Smaller grout joints increase the difficulty of the installation.
Additionally, tile can vary in size. For example, I’ve seen variations of 1/8 inch and more. So wider grout joints will help the appearance of this installation.
And finally, the best performing grouts are the most difficult to install.
So you have to look at your needs and lifestyle, the tile that you want, the grout that you want, your skills as a DIYer, and maker a decision based on all of those things.
So what is the best grout joint size? It depends. I know that’s not the answer that you are looking for but it’s the best answer I can give with the information provided.
Shelley Venardi says
We are re-installing ceramic backsplash in our kitchen. We use our kitchen a lot and routinely foods (tomato based sauces, etc) splash up onto the backsplash/grout.
The subcontractor who initially did the tilework had a problem with the grout consistency and color. The contractor is removing the tile and starting over.. What are best stain resistant grouts? Is there a grout that will not require to resealing every year?
Yes! Take a look at my post on stain proof grouts and you’ll find that those don’t need to be sealed. Epoxy is usually the best choice if you want the highest stain resistance.
Do you recommend mixing Prism grout with an added liquid sealer in place of the majority of the water? Prism says its stain resistant and I planned to use a sealer after the grout set, but I wondered if adding a sealer during mixing was an additional recommeded step like you might with a standard grout?
I don’t have a lot of experience with the sealer-additive products. It’s my understanding that they are to be combined with normal sanded or unsanded grout. I don’t know how they will perform with a high performance cement grout like Prism.
So unless it says it’s OK for those types of grouts then it’s not something that I would recommend.
Thanks. I am following the bag instructions and just using water. I’ll seal it after.
The challenge with a complete noob like me when using some of these high performance products is how fast they set up. They definitely stress me. I chose to use custom prolite thinset (not even the RS version) on my 10×14 wall tile and now prism grout. Early on I determined I would only mix up small batches from the bag using the recommended water to weight ratio. Hopefully I didnt make too many mistakes. Its a learning curve I was willing to take.
I did the demolition, had to redo all the plumbing, put in a soaker tub, rework all the framing and plumb the walls, built in my own two shelf niche and tile it up. Next is the floor, My hope through all this is that holds up as well as it looks, I’ll be elated and grateful.
Thanks for the advice and suggestions. Keep the totorials coming! :)
I understand that it’s hard to know if you are doing everything correctly. There’s a lot of different components to juggle with the right products, having a plan, consistency of some of the mixtures, etc.
How I’ve learned has been mostly getting into trouble and then getting out of trouble. :-) Thanks for the comments!
I am installing a porcelain basketweave tile on a bathroom floor. The joints in the tiles are 1/8″. Would you recommend sanded or unsanded for that scenario? Here is the tile:
I would recommend what they call a high-performance cement grout. Floor and Decor sells Mapei Ultracolor grout. That’s what you want.
Hey there, great site (I refer to your thinset/trowel recs often). I’m installing some glass mosaic at the back of a niche. Used Adesilex with Keraply. For grout, do you think using Laticrete Spectrock Pro Premium will be an issue? Only 12×12” niche.
No. I think that would work just fine.
Thanks – worked out great!
Thanks for your help with the previous question. I actually mainly use Laticrete Pro Premium Epoxy grouts in general. For a kitchen backsplash with not a lot of moisture exposure, would it be fairly safe to use Mapei Flexcolor CQ? I see a few ppl using Mapei Ultracolor Plus FA and they say the set up time is quite fast. Trying to find an alternative to the intensive cleanup of the epoxies, but still have reasonable stain resistance and upkeep of color.
Yes, I like Flexcolor and use it quite a bit but it’s not the easiest of cleanups either.
But it does have good stain resistance and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance.
I have an installer scheduled to do my kitchen backsplash – a 3x 6 white subway tile- and need to pick up the grout, sealer and caulk. I would like a light gray and wondering if you have any recommendations on a good brand that stays true to color and offers a light gray. I’ve read many negatives on some grout drying to a very different color than the samples. Any recommendations?
My first choice would be to get Laticrete Permacolor Select NS (affiliate link) which is a non-sanded high-performance cement grout. The non-sanded will get into tight grout joints easier than it’s sanded counterpart.
Mapei Ultracolor FA is another choice with the FA meaning fine aggregate. Otherwise, the sanded version of the two grouts mentioned, plus Custom Prism, say they can get into grout joints as small as 1/16th inch.
These recommendations are assuming that your subway tile will have tight grout joints. All come with matching 100% silicone caulks and all have a line of sealers to keep everything in the same brand. I would go with a solvent-based sealer as opposed to water-based.
Roseanne Adams says
Thank you for your blog.
I just had white 6”x18” ceramic subway tile installed on my shower walls in a 50% running bond. The installer didn’t use any spacers. Instead, the tiles were butted directly up against one another. The width of the joint spaces between the tiles is inconsistent. Most joints measure about 1/32” or less; but some are spaced at about 1/16” or less. A thin razor blade or credit card (1/32”) won’t fit into a few of the joints.
You’ve mentioned that a few companies make cement grout with very fine granules, like Mapai FA. Ardex advertises a grout for joints 1 to 4 mm. However, 1/32” is a little under 1 mm. Also, there’s hardly any depth to the joints and I’m concerned that the crevice isn’t really deep enough to hold a cement grout and it will crumble and fall out.
My question is, could I possibly salvage this situation by using an epoxy grout? Can an epoxy be used in a 1/32” wide joint; which also doesn’t have much depth?
The 6×18 tile may have been installed properly. Some tile manufacturers have built-in “lugs” that allow for butting the tiles together. You’ll have to check the instructions for the tile that was purchased.
Your best bet to get into a small grout joint would be to go with Laticrete Permacolor Select NS, the NS stands for non-sanded. It’s a high-performance cement grout and much better than a standard non-sanded grout.
Kirsten Lungu says
Hi DIY Tile Guy,
Great info here! I’d like your opinion on a large format (12″x24″) shower wall tile job we’re doing…
When I worked at a tile shop years ago we sold 24″x24″ granite tile for counter top applications and told it could be installed with a 1/16th” grout gap and filled with silicone caulk instead of unsanded grout.
Is that silicone caulk something we could use for our shower wall tile? It’s a clean look, easier to clean and in my imagination, easier to apply that grout. Any thoughts? Thanks!
I suppose that could work but I think you’d be better off with a grout like Fusion or Flexcolor or even with an epoxy like Spectralock.
I am quite confused, hope you can help. We are going to be putting up a kitchen backsplash with 3×6 glass tiles. They are thinner, 4mm, and backed on mesh. It appears the space between the tiles is 3mm. The store where we purchased the tile says to use Mapei Flexcolor CQ grout. In my research I’ve learned that this is a sanded grout. Would you say this is the correct grout to use? Will it scratch the tile? I appreciate your advice, many thanks. Be well.
There are two questions here: the first is asking if the grout that you purchased is the right kind for your grout joints. On the back of the bucket of Flexcolor CQ it states: “For grout joints from 1/16″ to 1/2″ (1.5 to 12 mm)”.
The only way to know if it will scratch your tile is to try actually use it with your tile. So make a small mock up and grout it and see if you are happy with the results.
My guess is that this grout will work just fine.
Felicia Delandro says
Hello, I need to figure out the best grout for my ceramic textured floor which has some kind of slight Matt glaze on it… I want to use a stain protection, high traffic, no discoloration grout… wasn’t sure if I should use MAEPAI flex color CQ? or Fusion PRO? or any of the other single component etc grouts out there… I know they are harder to clean up which I’m kind of concerned about…. I’m haven’t grouted that many floors…. but I really need a grout that will work in the kitchen well, I can’t take how the grouts get so dirty even if you seal them,,,, also please let me know if I need to preseal the tile etc
I think the key is to start in a small area and try it out. Using a grout release can help but trying it out in an inconspicuous area would be best. Fusion and Flexcolor are what I would recommend for single component grouts.
Scott Randolph says
I am trying to find the best grout for a subway tile shower floor. The old grout was coming out but with such a small gap I am not sure what is best in this scenario?
If it’s a small gap then you’ll want a grout that is unsanded. I like Laticrete Permacolor NS for this but any non-sanded grout will be fine.
Hi Tile Guy, I posted but can’t see where the question is: so here it is again. I have a hard wood floor in the kitchen which is 3/4 thick I want to tile to it and keep the thicknesses the same between the tile and the hardwood floor. Should I use .5 inch clement board then tile which is 1/4 and mortar with 1/2 trowel the tile size is 12×28. I am worried that the clement board plus tile plus mortar will be higher than the 3/4 hard wood. please help!!
If you go on the home page and scroll down (on mobile) you’ll see “recent comments”. My comment is right below yours currently.
I have Bianco Carrara Marble penny round honed mosaic backsplash and it looks like I need to use a thinset mortar and an unsanded grout. Is this what you would recommend and what brands do you suggest? The area is small about 5 feet long and I only want to go up the wall about 12 inches.
Yes, I would use a white thinset mortar but I wouldn’t use the unsanded grout with penny rounds. I would look for a sanded grout or one of the high performance cement grouts like Ultracolor FA, Prism, or Permacolor.
What grout width do you recommend for 12×24 floor tiles?
This can be a complicated question. Technically, you’re supposed to take in the curvature of the tile into the equation and using that formula the grout joint is typically larger than what most people want.
So, 1/8th to 3/16th of an inch for most DIY’ers is probably a good compromise. Also, check with the manufacturer of the tile to see if they have a recommendation.
Thanks! I had already bought 3/16″ spacers. No luck on manufacturer’s recommendations. The tiles are not quite uniform in curvature when I place each on a flat surface.
What’s the word on sealing? I’ve read you don’t have to seal porcelain tiles, but you should always seal grout that’s in a wet area? Would you agree with this, and do you have any special recommendations regarding sealing?
Porcelain tiles should be considered impervious and wouldn’t benefit from a sealer. However, cement grout does benefit from a sealer. So, it’s difficult to apply a sealer only to the grout joint and that’s the reason that you want to buff it off with a cloth after the sealer has sat for about 5 minutes.
Keep in mind, sealer is a good idea on all cement grout joints whether it’s a wet area, or not. Sealer doesn’t help waterproof a shower and wet areas need a waterproofing layer under the tiles because tile and grout are not waterproof- not even with sealer.
Finished grouting the floor, 12×24 tiles. The grout is not quite level with the floor surface.
I believe because the factory edges of the tiles are beveled, my sponge cleared away grout so that the grout is level with the bottom of the bevel on the side of each tile.
Is this normal? I did not put much pressure off my cleaning sponge…
I used Mapei Fexcolor CQ and followed the directions.
It is normal but Flexcolor, and other grouts like it, are really, really sensitive to pressure. You might try going over it in spots where you just add grout to the joint without getting it all over the neighboring tiles. Let the grout dry a little too long then sort of rub it off. Try it somewhere less noticeable first to see if that might work.
As a rather elderly DIYer, your blog has been a huge help. I’m getting ready to do a tub enclosure with 3 x 6 white subway tile and 1/16″ joints, using Ultracolor Plus FA grout. You mentioned that because it’s fast setting, amateurs like me are more liable get into trouble with it. Do you have a post with advice on staying out of trouble?
I’m not in a hurry, so I don’t mind doing very small areas at a time! Just wondered if there was any other advice.
James Upton says
I think you’ll do just fine if you mix small batches and cover small sections at a time. Ultracolor is a nice grout.