Learn the differences between unsanded grout and sanded grout, so you can decide which is the best option for your tiling project.
So you've finally narrowed down your favorite tile and even chosen the perfect grout color when you're left with a choice you didn't anticipate: sanded vs. unsanded grout. So what is the difference and which is right for you?
From the surface you're tiling to the type of tile you're using, there are many factors that determine whether you should choose sanded or unsanded grout. Even the width of your grout lines has an effect on this decision. Get to know the difference between sanded and unsanded grout, as well as which grout is best for your tile project.
What Is Grout?
Grout is a material that fills the gaps between tiles. After application, grout hardens, connecting the tiles to one another and strengthening the entirety of the tiled surface. Additionally, grout protects the substrate by keeping liquid and other foreign objects from penetrating the gap between the tiles. Grout is sometimes confused for thinset, which is the mortar that holds the tile to the substrate.
What Is Sanded Grout?
In the DIY realm, the term "sanded" might make you think of a material that's been smoothed by a sander. However, sanded grout doesn't refer to the grout being sanded with a sander. Instead, sanded grout is grout that has fine sand added to it. Sanded grout is generally less expensive than unsanded grout and can be used in most tile applications.
What Is Unsanded Grout?
Sometimes called non-sanded grout, unsanded grout is grout that includes no sand in its makeup. Unsanded grout is more expensive than sanded grout, but it can be a better choice in certain applications.
Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout: When to Use Which
For most applications, sanded grout will do the job. It's cheaper, stronger, and there are more colors to choose from. However, some tile jobs require unsanded grout, so it's worth getting to know the key differences before purchasing grout for a project.
Sanded Grout Is Best for Floors
Because sanded grout is stronger, denser, and generally more durable than unsanded grout, it's the preferred grout for tile floors. This is because of two things. First, tile floors generally have wider joints, which require sanded grout. Secondly, tile floors encounter much more wear and tear than tile walls, and they benefit from the supplemental strength of the sanded grout.
Sanded Grout Is Best for Wide Grout Lines
While you can easily work unsanded grout into a large grout joint, it won't perform well in joints larger than 1/8 inch, as it has a tendency to crack and shrink. Sanded grout is a superior option for joints ranging from 1/8 inch to 3/8 inch.
For tile joints beyond 3/8 inch, look for grout that's designed for use in wide joints.
Unsanded Grout Is Best for Narrow Grout Lines
Sanded grout is thicker than unsanded grout, making it difficult to work into narrow grout joints. Not only will this make for inefficient work, but it will also result in inconsistent fill, as the thick sanded grout simply won't fill the narrow joint.
While you might be tempted to add more water to sanded grout to make it easier to work into the narrower joints, doing so will lead to slumping and something called "pinholing", which is a result of the excess water evaporating as the grout dries, leaving cavities behind. The grout above the cavities will collapse over time, resulting in visible holes on the grout's surface.
Sanded Grout Cracks Less Than Unsanded Grout
Sanded grout performs better under pressure than unsanded grout, leading to less cracking and shrinking. This is what makes sanded grout better for applications like floors or any tile surfaces that will be subject to weight and pressure.
Unsanded Grout is Better for Vertical Surfaces
Sanded grout can be used on walls in most cases, but you'll likely have better results with unsanded grout. Unsanded grout's polymers along with its lack of sand make it stickier than sanded grout, helping it to stay in vertical grout lines without slumping. This makes it much easier to achieve great results when grouting shower walls and backsplashes.
Related: How to Tile a Backsplash Like a Pro
Unsanded Grout Won't Scratch Tiles
The sand that's added to sanded grout makes the solution coarse. If used on smooth tiles such as glass, marble, and limestone, sanded grout can leave scratches and swirls. Unsanded grout is smooth and doesn't contain the same silica aggregate, making it ideal for scratch-free application around delicate tiles.
Sanded Grout Costs Less Than Unsanded Grout
If cost plays a role in your decision-making process, look to sanded grout to save money. On average, unsanded grout is nearly twice the cost of sanded grout. This major price discrepancy comes down to the makeup of the two materials, as the inclusion of cheap sand as a filler cuts the cost of sanded grout significantly. Additionally, to make up the void left by the sand, unsanded grout must use more expensive polymers.
How to Keep Grout in Good Condition
Whether you choose sanded or unsanded, keeping grout in good condition starts with proper application. Pay special attention to the manufacturer's instructions when mixing and applying the grout and always heed the specified drying and curing times. Unless your grout says otherwise, always seal both unsanded and sanded grout to ensure water is unable to penetrate the grout and compromise the substrate.
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