Use This Expert-Approved Technique Next Time You Need to Grout Tile
While the tiles you choose for a floor, shower, or accent wall might be the first design element to catch your eye in any space, the color, width, and type of grout used between them impacts the entire finished aesthetic. "In general, grouting is one of the easier steps in the tile installation process," says Luke Crownover, product expert at The Tile Shop. "If you're looking for a place to start your journey learning the tiling process and want to save some money while you're doing it, grouting is a great way to go."
Choosing Cement or Epoxy Grout
Cement grout—a choice that has been popular for decades—works for almost any application, from wide-set entryway tiles to intricate mosaic backsplashes, but does require a sealer after installation, says Erica Puccio, chief brand officer at TileBar. Meanwhile, newer epoxy grout, which doesn't require sealing, is a combination of two products (a base and activator) and is extremely durable—a pro for commercial installers and homeowners, alike. "It absorbs water, is chemically resistant, and has double the strength of traditional cement grouts—all this, and it doesn't wear down over time," says Puccio. "The one con is that application has to be done quickly due to the chemical reaction that takes place. This usually means that a professional should be hired for the job." (Furan, an even more chemically-resistant grout, holds up best against harsh chemicals and grease, but the installation almost always requires a professional, says Puccio.)
Sanded Versus Unsanded Cement Grout
Before deciding on a cement grout, consider the space you're working with—is it inside or outside, a floor or a backsplash, a wet shower or a dry fireplace surrounding?—and the width of your grout joints. "The most important thing for anyone choosing their grout is to understand their project and make sure the grout they are selecting is specified for that type of project," says Crownover. "Some grouts can be used in all grout joint widths, while others are formulated specifically for thin—usually 1/8-inch or less—or thick—usually 1/8-inch or more—joints." Cement-based grouts also come in two versions, sanded or unsanded. The addition of coarse sand in grouts labeled "sanded" leaves a rough finish that works best on wider joints, like those on floors, while the fine sand in "unsanded" options provides a smoother result most often used on walls, says Crownover.
The Tools and Materials You'll Need
The main tool used to apply grout is a grout float, a rectangular hand tool that you'll use to spread the grout into the joints. Plan to mix your grout in a bucket with a margin trowel or beater bar, and have plenty of sponges and clean water nearby to clean the grout off the tiles before it dries. "Most of these are fairly inexpensive, so buying them for your project is best," says Crownover.
How to Grout Tiles
Using tile spacers when you lay your tiles allows you to create precise joints in even widths—Crownover recommends 1/8-inch or larger joint widths on floors to help absorb the pressure of foot traffic, but decorative wall applications can show off any size joint. "The larger the grout joint, the more the grout will stand out, and the smaller they are, the more seamless the look will be," he says. "When it is time to grout, your tiles will already be set, and the adhesive used will be dried and cured, so the tiles won't be moving at all."
Mix the grout according to the recommendations for your specific brand. "There usually aren't exact ratios of powder to liquid when mixing," says Crownover. "Most recommendations on mixing grout are to look for a particular consistency—some say peanut butter or toothpaste to give a reference." When you apply the grout, focus on packing it into the joints, preventing air pockets that could cause it to crack later. "Don't just smear it across the entire surface of the tile," says Crownover. "Only grout in small areas at a time so you can wipe up the excess grout haze before it dries on the surface of the tile." After applying your grout, it will need time to dry (usually about 24 hours, says Puccio), but it also needs to cure before sealing, which can take three weeks or longer. "One of my favorite and least favorite parts of installing tile is the grouting process. It's my least favorite because it can be a mess and during the process it can look like you've made your tiles look worse," says Crownover. "But as you clean up the excess haze you start to see what the finished product is going to look like. That's my favorite part—it really takes your project across the finish line!"