Grout Expectations – Mastering Sanded vs Unsanded Grout

Tiling can be a tricky process, especially for first-timers. While selecting beautiful tiles is the fun part, properly installing them requires care and precision. One of the most important steps is choosing and working with the right grout. From mixing and application to final cleanup, grouting makes or breaks the end result.

So how do you know whether to use sanded or unsanded grout for your project? We’ll walk through the key differences, pros and cons, and ideal uses for each type. Let’s set the grout expectations so your tiles look flawless.

What is Grout?

Before diving into sanded vs. unsanded grout, let’s cover the basics. Grout is a cement-based material used to fill the spaces between tiles, called grout joints or grout lines. Typically a powder or premixed thick liquid, grout hardens to seal tiles together into a continuous surface.

Grout serves several important functions:

  • Binds tiles together and seals the joint
  • Provides a finished look by filling seams
  • Allows for slight movement between tiles
  • Creates a waterproof surface

There are many grout options, but sanded and unsanded are the most common for residential and commercial tiling jobs.

sanded vs nonsanded grout

Difference Between Sanded and Unsanded Grout

Sanded Grout

As the name implies, sanded grout contains fine silica sand. This sand fills space within the grout and provides structural strength. Sanded grout is often called cement grout.

Unsanded Grout

Unsanded grout does not contain any sand. It relies solely on the cements and polymers for its structure. Unsanded grout is preferred for jobs with narrow grout lines.

The main differences between the two:

  • Sanded grout has sand, unsanded does not
  • Sanded provides better structural strength
  • Sanded is lower cost and more widely available
  • Unsanded works better for thin joints under 1/8 inch
  • Unsanded provides a smoother finish

When to Use Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout

Choosing the right grout type depends mainly on two factors:

Grout Joint Width

The width of the spaces between your tiles will determine whether sanded or unsanded grout is more appropriate.

Use sanded grout for joints 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch wide. The sand fills the space evenly. Sanded grout can be used for even larger joints in some cases.

Use unsanded grout for thin joints less than 1/8 inch wide. The sand particles in sanded grout can show through and create an uneven finish with narrow grout lines.

Tile Type and Location

Where your tiles will be installed also impacts the grout decision.

Sanded grout is ideal for most floor tile installations. It provides great durability for high-traffic floors in kitchens, bathrooms, and hallways.

Unsanded grout is often preferred for wall tiles, especially in bathrooms with shower enclosures. The smooth finish is easy to clean. Unsanded grout also works well on walls with grout lines less than 1/8 inch.

For delicate surfaces like glass tile or marble, unsanded grout prevents scratching or hazing. It also resists shrinking or cracking on these tiles.

Mixing and Applying the Grout

Once you select the right grout type, it’s time to mix, spread, and clean.

Follow these steps for smooth grouting:

  1. Prepare the tiles by wiping dirt or dust.
  2. Mix the grout to a thick, creamy consistency.
  3. Hold the float at a 45deg angle and force grout into joints with a firm rubber float.
  4. Remove excess grout held on the tile face with edge of float.
  5. Wait for grout to firm up and haze to form.
  6. Wipe diagonally across tiles with a damp sponge to clean grout haze.
  7. Rinse sponge frequently and change water often.
  8. Allow grout to cure fully, then seal if needed.

Grouting larger areas like floors is easiest with sanded grout. Unsanded can be tricky to spread before it firms up. Consider mixing unsanded grout to a thinner consistency.

Be patient during cleanup. Wiping too early can pull grout from joints. Allow time for haze to form before wiping tiles clean.

Grout Color Considerations

Both sanded and unsanded grout come in a variety of colors. Choosing the right shade can enhance the look of your tile.

Neutral grout colors like gray and beige are popular options. They provide a clean, understated look that matches any tile.

Bright white grout can look great when first applied. But it tends to get dirty over time and requires frequent cleaning.

Dark grout colors contrast nicely with natural stone or light-colored tiles. But they can also emphasize grout haze and imperfections.

Select a color that complements your tile rather than matching it exactly. This creates subtle contrast between the tile and grout.

Grout Maintenance and Repairs

Keep your grout looking fresh with proper maintenance.

For day-to-day cleaning, use a mild pH neutral cleaner and soft brush. Avoid excessive abrasion.

Re-sealing grout every 1-2 years will protect it from stains and damage. Pay close attention to high-moisture areas.

Cracks or holes in grout can be patched with new grout. First remove loose material and clean thoroughly before patching.

Regrouting may be needed if damage is extensive. This involves removing old grout and replacing with new.

Cost Comparison: Sanded vs Unsanded

Sanded grout is the more budget-friendly option in most cases. A 25 lb. bag of sanded grout costs $10-15 on average.

Unsanded grout is typically sold in smaller buckets and costs $15-25 per gallon. The lack of sand makes unsanded grout pricier.

Consider potential waste as well. The finer texture of unsanded grout makes it harder to work with. Any grout left to harden in buckets can’t be reused.

Pros and Cons of Each Grout Type

Sanded Grout


  • Provides great structural strength
  • Easier to spread and work into joints
  • Ideal for most floors and larger joints
  • Stays evenly mixed in bucket longer
  • Lower cost


  • Not for narrow grout lines or delicate tile
  • Can scratch fragile tile if excess not cleaned
  • More prone to surface cracks over time

Unsanded Grout


  • Creates smooth finish on narrow joints
  • Less likely to scratch tile surfaces
  • Resists shrinking and cracks
  • Easier clean up on vertical surfaces


  • Not as strong or durable as sanded
  • Difficult to spread before drying
  • Can be tricky for beginners
  • More expensive

For most tiling projects, sanded grout is the simplest option thanks to its strength, durability, and ease of use. But unsanded grout shines for thin joints, delicate tiles, and vertical surfaces.

FAQs About Grout

New to grouting? Here are answers to some common questions:

How long does grout need to cure before walking on it?

Allow 24-48 hours for grout to cure initially before light foot traffic. Wait 72 hours before heavy use or moving furniture onto tiled floors.

Should I use epoxy or cement grout?

Cement grout is most common and affordable for floors and walls. Epoxy grout is more durable and stain-resistant but costs more. Use epoxy in high-moisture areas like showers.

Can I use multiple grout colors?

Absolutely! Using two or more colors to create patterns is a fun way to accent the tiles. Plan colors and layout before grouting.

How do I get rid of grout haze?

Use a soft sponge and grout haze remover. Agitate lightly and rinse often. Avoid excessive rubbing. Haze will release as cement cures.

Choosing the right grout takes careful consideration – sanded for most floors and wider joints, unsanded for walls and thin spaces. While sanded grout works for most tile projects, unsanded brings finesse to detailed, delicate tiling.

Now that you know what sets these two grouts apart, you can pick the perfect one for your next tile project. Just remember these key points:

  • Sanded contains sand, unsanded does not
  • Match grout to joint size
  • Sanded offers heavy-duty strength
  • Unsanded creates smooth finish
  • Prep and seal grout for long-lasting results

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