Sanded vs unsanded grout, is one better than the other? Is it OK to use sanded grout in a shower? When should sanded be used instead of unsanded? These are just some of the questions people ask as they begin a tile or floor project.
When it comes to interior flooring, sanded grout is the standard, and it can also be used in a shower, but it might not be the best choice. Unsanded grout is better suited for projects such as shower walls and kitchen backsplashes where the joints are less than 1/8" wide.
What is Sanded and Unsanded Grout
Once the tile has been set, grout is used to fill the joints between the tiles. Grout provides a number of benefits, such as providing strength and rigidity to the installed tile; preventing dirt and debris from collecting between and under the tile; and giving your floor (or wall) a sharp finished look.
There are three basic types of grout: Sanded, unsanded, and epoxy. We'll focus on the first two and leave epoxy grout for another day.
Selecting the right grout for the application is critical. The space between the tiles is generally the determining factor on whether to use sanded grout or unsanded grout.
Is best used for grout joints that are over 1/8" wide.
Because the joints are wider, the grout needs to be stronger to provide reinforcement and reduce the likelihood of cracking and shrinkage. If an unsanded grout is used, it will shrink and pull away from the joint, thus leaving the joint not properly filled.
Sanded grout has aggregate sand material added, which makes it thicker and more durable than unsanded grout. It also means that there's less shrinkage because the sand locks in place as the grout cures and forms a solid and durable joint.
Sanded grout is most commonly used on flooring, but can be used on vertical walls with joints over 1/8".
Is best used for grout joints that are less than 1/8" wide.
Because unsanded grout does not have aggregate sand added, it's thinner and very sticky. This makes it easier to spread onto a vertical surface, and it'll stick as you work with it. Shrinkage isn't an issue with unsanded grout because the tiles are placed much closer (1/8-inch to 1/16-inch), and therefore won't impact the tile's durability.
Unsanded grout is frequently used on vertical walls with ceramic tiles because it has a smooth texture and its ability to cling to a vertical surface. In addition, since vertical surfaces don't have foot traffic, cracking is rare.
It's excellent for tricky projects because it's easier to work with then sanded grout and you can get an even spread.
Watch the Video
As a general rule, sanded grout should be your go-to grout when it comes to tiling floors and walls. With the exception of a few projects that require the use of unsanded grout, sanded is usually your best choice.
Sanded grout is less expensive and widely available, it comes in many color options, and has less shrinkage. In addition, it simply holds up better than unsanded grout, because the sand particles lock together and form a sturdy joint.
Sanded grout is an excellent choice for the following projects provided the joints are 1/8" or larger:
- Bathroom Floors
- Kitchen Floors
- Shower Pans
- Shower and Bathroom Walls
- Kitchen Walls
Keep in mind, that sanded grout requires sealing which will make it waterproof and prevent mold and bacteria growth. It'll also help keep your grout looking good. A water-based, pH-neutral, penetrating sealer such as this one from Black Diamond Stoneworks will do the job. It's an easy job and it'll also add a level of protection against staining.
Unsanded grout is designed to be used for tiling with grout lines that are less than 1/8-inch and as thin as 1/16-inch.
Without the aggregate filler, unsanded grout is easier to use when tiling walls, this is because it sticks better to vertical surfaces and has less slump than sanded grout.
Unsanded grout is an excellent choice for the following projects provided the joints are less than 1/8" wide:
- Bathroom or Kitchen Walls
- Shower Walls and Pan
- Decorative Tiles that Easily Scratch
As mentioned earlier, sanded grout should be your default choice. But that doesn't mean it's the best choice for every project.
Joints less than an 1/8-inch should use unsanded grout. In addition, unsanded grout is excellent for vertical applications, as well as tiles that are prone to scratching.
Whether you choose sanded or unsanded grout really depends on your project.
Pros and Cons of Sanded Grout
Sanded grout has several advantaged and disadvantages over unsanded grout. They are as follows:
- Less expensive than unsanded grout.
- More color options to choose between.
- Structurally stronger and builds denser joints.
- Can be challenging to apply to thin seams.
- The sand can scratch the surface of some tile materials.
- Requires sealing to prevent water seepage and staining.
Pros and Cons of Unsanded Grout
Unsanded grout is a great choice when used correctly. Here are some of the primary advantages and disadvantages of this grout:
- Easy to work with on vertical surfaces due to its sticky composition and lower level of slump.
- In many cases, sealing is not necessary.
- Will not scratch tile surfaces, making it an excellent choice for tiles that tend to scratch.
- More expensive.
- Fewer color options.
When it comes right down to it, the main differences between sanded grout and unsanded grout is how they are used. Because sanded grout is thicker and has aggregated sand material added, it has more strength and is used for tile joints 1/8-inches and wider.
But unsanded grout is easier to work with on vertical projects, and without the addition of aggregated sand material it is thin and stickier. It's used for tile projects that have joints 1/8-inch or less.
Sanded Grout vs Unsanded Grout
Let's compare the differences between sanded grout and non-sanded grout head-to-head.
Best for joints 1/8-inch or wider.
Best for joints 1/8-inch or less.
The added aggregated sand makes sanded grout thicker.
Without the added aggregated sand, unsanded grout is thin and has a smooth texture.
Very little shrinkage.
More shrinkage because it is cement based.
The sand adds durability and strength.
Excellent for flooring.
Excellent for walls.
Sanded grout is excellent for joints that are larger than 1/8-inch, but trying to use it on smaller joints is not advised. The aggregate sand material makes sanded grout thicker and difficult to form a small tile joint. If you need to do precision work, you should almost always use unsanded grout.
Can You Water Down Sanded Grout?
Sometimes contractors or DIYers want the durability of the sanded grout so they try to water down the base to make it spread easier in the smaller joints. But the added water creates pinholes.
Pinholes are tiny pockets left behind after the water evaporates or dries.
Can You Mix Sanded and Unsanded Grout?
If you're looking to improve strength and durability, your better option is to mix sanded and unsanded grout together.
Start with unsanded grout and mix in a little sand. The added aggregate material will reduce the shrinkage once it cures.
Also, stick with similar colors or you'll have a difficult time matching if you need to mix up more grout.
Is Grouting a DYI Project?
If this is your first time grouting, you may want to choose a sanded grout project. It's a bit more DIY friendly, and you won't need to worry about scratching the tiles.
Working with unsanded grout tends to be a little tricker for inexperienced DIYers, and frequently the tiles used in these projects are made of materials that are prone to scratching.
Will Sanded Grout Work for Wide Joints?
For joints larger than 3/8" you'll want to use a wide-joint grout, which is simply a heavily sanded grout. It'll provide added protection from cracking and reduce shrinkage.