Sanded Versus Unsanded Grout: How to Choose Correctly

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sanded vs unsanded grout

Whether you are a seasoned pro or a DIYer that wants to update the look of your home, tile is a great flooring option.

One of the biggest problems with installing tile, though, is choosing the right grout for the job.

In this article we will look at the differences between sanded and unsanded grout.

Not only will we cover the differences and specific applications, but we will also dive into the pros and cons, installation usages and maintenance tips.

If you need to install tile or have other uses for grout, this article is for you., Read on to find out whether you should use sanded or non-sanded grout for your next project.

Biggest Grout Considerations

Grouting a tile floor, wall or accent has a lot of complications. The biggest considerations when using any type of grout are outlined below.

  • Grout Thickness. Depending on which type of grout you choose the thickness will play a big role in your application.
  • Vertical or Horizontal Application. Specific grout is better for horizontal applications while others are best used on vertical installs.
  • Joint Spacing Size. Grout does experience shrinking so joint spacing is important for the grout you choose.
  • Smooth or Textures Tiles. Sanded grout has some unexpected complications with smooth tiles. Make sure you know what you are getting before you buy.

What is Grout?

Grout has a lot of different uses and purposes. But what exactly is grout? Grout by definition is a thin mortar used to fill cracks and crevices in masonry. However, there is more to it than that.

Grout is primarily a dense, thick fluid made of water, cement and oftentimes sand. It has many uses though, apart from sealing joints between tiles. It is also used as a reinforcement for existing structures and walls, used to fill voids, embed rebar in masonry and even connect sections of concrete.

For the purposes of this article, though, we will be talking about the sanded and unsanded grout versions used in home tiling.

Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the Best Grout for Your Project

buyers guide sanded vs unsanded grout

Before you head out and buy any type of grout, check out the following factors to help you decide what type of grout you need and what to think about when making your final purchase decision.

Project Size

The overall size of your project will determine how much material you need to purchase. Grout comes in many forms and sized containers. You can even get grout premade, as a powder and in industrial sized bags for extra large projects.

Vertical or Horizontal Install

One of the most important factors is where you will use the grout. In vertical applications like mosaics, walls and back splashes, you will need a grout that can handle the tug and pull from gravity. Floor grout, or horizontal application doesn’t need to be as thick or strong.

Tile Type and Size

Another consideration is the type and size of tiles you will grout. Some have extra large gaps or joint needs while others need very little. They even make groutless tiles that touch on all edges removing the need for the joint compound.

Joint Spacing Size

For the tiles with joints, though, that space needs to be filled with grout. The size of the joint spacing will be a direct correlation with the type of grout needed. In most cases (though not always) your spacing is measured either at or below 1/8th of an inch or more than 1/8th of an inch.

Colors

The most common color of grout is gray. However it can come in a wide variety of colors including white, black, green or even orange. Some brands will offer dyed grout where you can pick exact colors to match your décor or tiles.

Application and Drying Time

You also need to factor in the application time and drying time. Some grouts will need to be applied pretty fast and can dry to the touch or to holding strength in minutes. Other types of grout may take several hours. Make sure you have the right type for your specific needs and application location.

Cost

Grout, as a whole, isn’t very expensive. However you do need to purchase large amounts of it (based on the size of your project, of course). This cost, though, also includes other things. The mixing pail, bucket or tray, and coloring or special needs, the application trowels, clean up tools and equipment, and other items.

When tiling your floor, wall, or backsplash, make sure you know exactly what you need before you start and get everything ready. Avoid having to stop in the middle to buy more products and get the project completed in a single go, if possible.

Sanded Vs. Unsanded Grout

sanded vs unsanded grouts

As you can probably tell by the names, there is one big, glaring difference between the two types. In case you don’t see it, one type has sand added to the aggregate mix and one does not.

What you may not know is why this is important. Grout all comes with a cement and water base mix, and cement hardens, so it shouldn’t matter if there is sand involved or not, right? Well, technically and realistically, no.

You see, sand prevents the cement from shrinking as it cures. The more sand involved, the less the grout will shrink. When the grout shrinks, it pulls away from the tiles and towards the center. This can become so prominent that tiles become loose or even fall out.

So, you should always buy grout with sand in it, right? Also false. Non-sanded grout definitely has a need and a purpose. Because there isn’t any sand in the aggregate, unsanded grout is tacky, strong and has a powerful hold on vertical surfaces.

Where sanded grout is strong and durable, holding up to foot traffic, weight and pressure that would otherwise cause unsanded grout to crack, it can’t maintain adhesion under the pressure of gravity.

When working on vertical surfaces like accent walls, back splashes or shower walls, you will want to use unsanded grout. These tiles usually don’t have much spacing so shrinking won’t be a problem. However, you will need that extra tack and grip to hold your tiles in place for a long time.

There are certain exceptions to each case of use for the sanded and unsanded options. For example, sanded grout can easily scratch and mar softer tiles like marble, limestone and granite. For these applications you want to use unsanded grout.

If the joint spacing is larger than 1/8th inch, you will want to purchase an epoxy grout. These grouts work the same way but instead of water they use a resin hardener. This is basically your only option for large joints and it is quite expensive.

However, when using epoxy grout, you have to work quickly, and once it has hardened, it can’t be undone. For small projects with wide gaps, it is your only choice. Just be prepared to spend twice as much and work twice as fast.

At A Glance

Let’s compare sanded and unsanded grouts side by side to see where they are similar and where they differ.

 SandedUnsanded
UseSealing, filling and waterproofing tiling jointsSealing, filling and waterproofing tiling joints
Best forJoints 1/8th inch or largerJoints 1/8th inch or smaller
CompositionWater, Cement, ColoringWater, Cement, Sand, Coloring
Vertical ApplicationNoYes
Horizontal ApplicationYesNo
Drying Time24 hours16 hours
Multiple Color OptionsYesYes
DIY CapableIntermediate to ProBeginner to Pro
Price Range$0.50 to $5 per pound$2 to $7 per pound

Applying Grout

applying grout

Grout application is a process and it involves a lot of time and moving parts. The following is a basic outline of the grout laying process, but it assumes a few things. First, it assumes that your tile is already laid. It also assumes you have the buckets, sponges and tools needed to properly lay the grout and finally that you know what grout to use and how to mix it.

  • Mix your grout. Using one of your buckets, mix your grout so it is pasty and ready for application. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s mixing instructions on the packaging for the right water ratio.
  • Spread out the grout. Using a sponge or grout float, scoop the grout from the bucket and spread it over the tiles. You want to ensure that your joints are completely filled while removing as much excess grout from the tile surface as possible.
  • Allow the grout to set for a few minutes and when hard enough, use a clean, wet sponge from your water bucket to clean off the tiles. You will need to repeat this process two or three more times as the grout continues to dry. Failure to follow this step will result in dingy, faded tiles covered in a thin layer of grout.
  • Allow the grout to fully dry. Follow the times on the packaging according to the manufacturer. However, most grout will dry for use within 24 hours. Full cure of the grout can take up to a month (depending on application location).
  • Seal your grout with a proper grout sealer after the grout has had a few days to cure. This will protect the grout from staining, discoloration and damage over time.

Cleaning and Maintaining Tile Grout

Cleaning grout is as easy as cleaning your tiles the grout is holding. You want to avoid using harsh chemicals, stiff scouring brushes and abrasive materials.

When cleaning grout it is a good idea to check the sealant and reapply as needed, Usually grout sealant is good for a year or two, but this will vary depending on use.

You also want to take care when using steam cleaners on tiles as the heat and moisture can penetrate grout over time and cause it to crumble, resulting in loose tiles and major repairs down the road.

You can use a steam mop on tile,, but use the lowest heat setting, move over the tile quickly, and make sure to dry your floor directly after.

Whether your grout is on the wall, floor or countertop, you want to buy and use cleaners specifically designed for tile and grout. Not only will it help protect your grout and sealant, but it will prevent discoloration, and prolong the life of the grout.

Frequently Asked Questions

faq sanded vs unsanded grout

In this section we answer some of the most common questions about sanded and unsanded grout. If you have other questions or concerns, please use the comment section below the article.

Q. How long will grout last?

  1. A typical floor tile installation with moderate foot traffic and regular cleaning and maintenance will see the grout lasting 10 to 15 years. In some cases it can last longer and of course with more use or heavy cleaning it can require regrouting much sooner.

Q. What happens if I add too much water when mixing grout?

  1. Adding too much water can cause a lot of unseen issues. Aside from making the grout runny and hard to apply, it also thins the mix and prevents a solid hold on the tile. Watery grout also has a tendency to produce air bubbles which can prevent proper adhesion and premature crumbling or even discoloration.

Q. Where is the best place to buy sanded grout?

  1. You can buy grout of any kind in any hardware store around the country. You will find sanded and unsanded grout in big box stores and home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s, as well. For the largest selection, color choices and application styles of grout, though, you can shop on Amazon.

Q. Why is sanded grout cheaper than unsanded grout?

  1. Sand is cheaper to use and produce than concrete. Because there is less concrete in a sanded grout mix, it is cheaper to make and the savings are passed on to the consumer. Various brands, mix bag sizes and quality of grouts will have different prices, though, and it is possible to find sanded grout at a much higher price than unsanded.

Conclusion

When grouting tile, either on walls, floors or even mosaics, you will need to grout. The type of grout needed, sanded or unsanded, is determined by the product and joint spacing you have.

You want to ensure you get the right grout for the job so that it holds the tiles and prevents issues down the road. Grout can last a long time, often lasting as long as you have the tiles in place.

With the right mix, spacing and compounds, your grout project will look great, last a long time and be easy to clean and maintain.

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AUTHOR

Nora has more than 5 years experience in the floor covering industry, acquiring vast knowledge about installation and material selection. She now enjoys working as a writer and an interior decorator. Her work has been featured in The Spruce, Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Real Homes. See full biography here.

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