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Tile School: The Top Five Things You Should Know about Grout

Posted by: Lindsey • Jul 26

Tile School: The Top Five Things You Should Know about Grout


Tile Shown: Large Star and Cross in Tuolumne Meadows // Design: Lovely Indeed

We've definitely blogged about grout before, but today we're putting it all in one place for you! Here are the top five things you should know about grout (don't forget-- your Fireclay Design Consultant is still here for you if you have questions!). 

Find out who your Design Consultant is-- Get connected today

1. What type of grout should I use?
Grout type will play a huge role in your tile's lifespan, and different grout types will be appropriate for different applications, so let's go over all of your options:

Epoxy:  Epoxy grouts are the most durable of all grout choices because they are resistant to stains and water damage, and will hold up against harsh cleaners (please don't use harsh acidic cleaners on our tile!). Epoxy grout is a great choice where moisture and food will be present, such as in bathroom installations and kitchen backsplashes. Epoxy grouts can yellow or fade on exterior applications. Be sure to check with your specific grout manufacturer about outdoor use. 


Tile Shown: Glazed Thin Brick in Bitterroot and Black Hills // Design: David Baker Architects // Photo: Patricia Chang

Epoxy grout has two parts, the base, and the activator. When combined, a chemical reaction begins which means you have limited time to finish grouting before it sets and becomes too hard to work with. This is why we recommend hiring a professional tile installer when working with epoxy grout-- it sets very fast giving you less wiggle room to work with your material should you need to adjust things. Epoxy grout is also the most expensive grout choice, however, it doesn't need a sealer, which can save time and money in the long run.


Tile Shown: 6" Triangles in Rosemary, Salton Sea, and Frost // Design: Chase Daniel

The next two types of grout are cement based grouts-- which are still the most popular and used the most often by professionals and DIY'ers. 

Sanded: Sanded grout is a cement-based grout where sand is literally added into the mix. This sand creates a bond within the grout making it more resistant to cracking and shrinking, and also helps with slip resistance in wet areas. Sanded grout is most suitable for installations with grout lines wider than 1/8th of an inch, like our ceramic tile or glazed thin brick, to help prevent shrinkage and cracking. Sanded grout sets slower than epoxy making it a great choice for handmade tile. It allows for more wiggle room during your install to adjust things. 


Tile Shown: Glazed Thin Brick in Olympic // Design: Sarah Sherman Samuel for Sugar and Charm

Non-Sanded: Non-sanded grout is a cement-based grout used for smaller grout joints with spacing between 1/16th and 1/8th of an inch. If used in larger grout joints, a non-sanded grout may crack because of too much shrinkage and because of the lack of sand which creates a bonding effect. Non-sanded grout is easier to work with on vertical walls because of it's "sticky" properties and will stay put during application.


Tile Shown: Glazed Thin Brick in Lewis Range // Design: Amanda Jane Jones // Photo: Stoffer Photography

Pro-Tip: Plan ahead! Fireclay Tile does not sell grout and other setting materials. Know that you'll have to source those elsewhere. 

2. When and why should I seal my grout?
Sealing your grout is a must, especially in moisture-prone areas or when working with a light-colored grout. The only type of grout that doesn't need sealer is epoxy, which is inherently pre-sealed. Grout sealers typically come in two forms-- spray on sealers and applicator sealers. Applicator sealers are applied directly to the grout with a roller ball or a brush. Not as much precision is necessary with spray on sealers, however, they require more clean-up later on.  


Tile Shown: Large Star and Cross in Tuolumne Meadows // Design: Lovely Indeed

You will likely want to choose a penetrating grout sealer, which soaks through your materials creating an impenetrable barrier. There are also "Membrane Sealers," which form a layer on top of the tile and grout, however, these can become penetrable with age, and moisture can get trapped underneath, creating issues down the line. No matter which type of sealer you choose, always re-apply every few years to keep your tile looking its best.

Pro-Tip: A good idea is to always use the same brand sealer as your grout-- You'll have fewer complications if there are any warranty issues (if you can use one manufacturer for all installation materials, that's even better!). 

3. Which grout color should I choose?
Selecting a grout color can feel stressful, there are a lot of options, and the color of your grout can significantly affect your overall design. Grout color also has a huge impact on tile maintenance, for example, a darker grout will hide stains but can be prone to fading. It can also stain lighter colored or crackle tiles (we suggest first testing on a small area if you go this route), while a lighter grout will show stains and can be harder to keep clean. Color is everything, so be sure to take your time.

There are three main directions you can go with grout color:

Matching: If you want your tile color to be the center of attention, we suggest matching your grout color (or just get as close to it in tone if you have chosen a bright color). This will prevent the eye from being distracted from the pattern found within the grout line. Not ready to go all in on pattern? We recommend selecting a matching grout so your pattern, like the triangular one found below, becomes more subtle in the space: 


Tile Shown: 4" Triangles in White Wash // Design: Ola Austin // Photo: Lars Frazer

Contrasting: More of a bold type? Select a contrasting grout to highlight the pattern found in the layout and shape of your tile:


Tile Shown: Small Diamond Escher in White Wash // Design: Whitney Leigh Morris

Pro-Tip: Be sure to test your grout against your tile if you choose a contrasting grout color. Dark or pigmented grouts can stain your tile (keep scrolling to learn more about staining below!) 

Neutral:  A neutral grout is always a safe bet-- it goes with everything so it's hard to go wrong. The pattern will be more noticeable than a matching grout but not the main feature as seen with contrasting grout installations.


Tile Shown: 6" Hexagons in Calcite // Design: Sarah Sherman Samuel

4. What is grout release and do I need it?
Our tile is typically resistant to staining during the grouting process due to its smooth surface, and pre-sealed white clay glazes. However, whenever you are using a dark or pigmented grout with a light colored or crackle tile, there is always a chance of staining. 

Pro-Tip: Using too much water to clean your install after grouting is the biggest blame for discolored cement grouts after installation. Your sponges should be wrung out before washing the smeared grout off the tile.

Grout release is a removable, water-soluble surface coating that is used to protect the tile from staining when using pigmented grouts. It also makes grout clean up a little bit easier. You will always need grout release when you are applying a dark or contrasting color grout to a light color tile. This especially applies to glazes which have any sort of crackle or crazing. Grout release should also be used when applying a dark grout to our Handpainted designs that feature a light grey or white "dry line," such as in the install below.


Tile Shown: Handpainted Starburst in a custom colorway // Design: In Honor of Design // Photo: Rustic White Photography

Interested in creating your own custom colorway handpainted tile? Explore our Color It Tool!

5. What size grout joint is best?
When it comes to grout joints you should keep in mind that the tighter the grout joint, the more noticeable the size variation of your handmade tile/brick will become. Because we make everything by hand there is a considerable amount of variation in size and thickness from tile to tile (we say it can fluctuate by ~1/8" in any direction). With handmade tile, we always recommend larger grout joints to account for these irregularities. A very tight grout joint can make your installation look sloppy, which is why your tile installer may suggest a larger grout line for a straighter, more professional looking installation. Having more space between the tiles will trick your eyes into thinking the size is more uniform from piece to piece.

The size of your tile should also be considered when choosing a grout size. In general, there is more size variation in larger format handmade tiles, like the 6x12 below, so they need a bigger grout joint:


Tile Shown: 6 x 12 in Gypsum // Design: Studio McGee

Based on our products, here's what we generally recommend for gout spacing: 

3/16":  We recommend a 3/16" grout size for all of our ceramic tiles. This thickness leaves room for the natural variation in size, and the perfectly imperfect edges of the handmade tile.

3/8": 3/8" grout space is the industry standard for glazed thin brick. Learn more about brick spacing here!

 

1/8": A 1/8" grout space is the tightest we ever recommend installing your tile, and it should be reserved for tiles with rectified edges. The only product we make with rectified edges are our Handpainted Tiles. Rectifying our handpainted tiles leads to less irregularity so less spacing is needed between each piece. 



Pro-Tip: Where you are installing your tile should also be considered when choosing your grout size. For example, for floor installations, you should consider using larger grout lines for more traction.  Also, grout size should be considered when there is a difference in the angle of a surface. If your surface is not level, the grout will slope from one tile to another. You should keep in mind that when tiling over a corner, your grout joint will open up and when tiling into a recess, the top of the grout joint will narrow.

Tile Shown: Large Star and Cross in Daisy 

Have more questions about grout? Simply call, chat, or fill out our Design Assistance Form and one of our talented Design Consultants will get back to you shortly.

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