Tips for Choosing Grout: Tiled Bathroom & Kitchen Floors

When tiling a kitchen or bathroom floor many people spend days agonizing over the choice of tiles: What kind of tile (e.g., ceramic or glass); what shape (e.g., hex or penny round); and what color (neutral or colorful). Selecting the grout that will divide and frame the tiles is often a mere afterthought. But grout deserves more attention and respect…

… says David Goodman, a tile contractor for This Old House.

"Not only does grout fill the voids, it makes the floor, wall, or countertop stronger by bonding the tiles together and preventing the edges of a tile from chipping and cracking." Grout helps determine the functionality and durability of a tiled floor, especially in bathrooms and kitchens, which are often high-traffic rooms that are exposed to a lot of moisture and mess. But grout also plays a key aesthetic role; the color of grout will determine whether the eye is drawn to the beauty of the individual tiles or to the overall pattern and sequencing of the tiles across the surface.

What are some key considerations when selecting grout?

Choosing Type of Grout:
Cement vs. Epoxy:
Cement-based grout, most commonly Portland grout, is the cheapest, most commonly used, and most widely available kind of grout. Epoxy and Furan grouts are pricier, harder to find and more difficult to install. But they are more durable, and offer greater resistance to stains, water damage and damage by chemicals found in household cleaners.

Sanded vs. Unsanded:
Adding sand to grout makes it more resistant to cracking or shrinking. Sanded grout should be used if the spaces between the tiles (known as joints) are greater than 1/8 inch.

Sealing Grout:
This is particularly important with light-colored grout and for floors in high-traffic and moisture-prone areas. This Old House recommends using the more breathable "penetrating" sealers instead of “membrane-forming” sealers, which are more likely to peel or cloud up with trapped moisture.

Selecting Grout Color
Experts recommend choosing several color samples and spacing them around and in between your tile sample. You could also have your contractor mock up some sample tile-grout combinations, which will cost extra but will help you avoid even costlier mistakes. The Grout Selector Tool is also a great way to try out different color combos. Floor Talk offers some helpful tips, as does Home Remodeling Questions.

According to Ask a Floor Guy With Rob McNealy, there are three basic approaches to choosing grout color:
1) Matching: By matching the grout and tile color, the grout lines become less pronounced and the tile itself is accentuated. This is the best option if you have chosen a beautiful (and pricey) tile with a basic layout, he says.
2) Contrasting: By contrasting the tile and grout colors, you draw attention to the pattern and layout of the tile overall. This may be the best choice with detailed geometric or decorative patterns. These days we see a lot of white subway tile with darker grout. Some people love this contrasting, bold and historic look (and appreciate that darker grout is effective at hiding dirt). Others think the grout just looks “dirty” from the get go.
3) Neutral: Opting for light neutral colored grouts in grays, beiges and browns is probably the safest bet in many bathrooms. “You may not be madly in love with gray but chances are you won’t hate it, either,” says David Goodman of This Old House..

Choosing Between Light vs. Dark Shades
There are pros and cons to both ends of the spectrum. Darker grouts hide dirt and stains but are also more prone to fading and staining from harsh cleaners. Lighter grouts, on the other hand, are more likely to show dirt. Some experts recommend shades that are neither dark nor super light. Colors like tan, beige, light brown and grey are easier to keep clean and less prone to fading and discoloration.

Visualizing the interplay between tile and grout can be hard for the novice. After being frustrated with the process herself, Rechelle Unplugged has tried to spare others her "agony" by posting a series of photos (including the images above) comparing a hex tile with black grout and a hex tile with white grout. Thank you, Rechelle!

Image: Rechelle Unplugged.

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