Should you use sanded or unsanded grout for your shower tiling job? The joints on the floors of your bathroom require a different level of strength compared to those of vertical shower walls and backsplash. So, what is the difference between sanded and non-sanded grout, and which one should you use?
Sanded grout contains silica sand and is best used for tile joints that are wider than 1/8 inches because sand particles lock together to form a strong joint.
Unsanded (or non-sanded) grout has no sand. It is thin and sticky, making it suitable for tile joints less than 1/8-inch-wide such as backsplash and vertical shower walls.
Grout caulks the gap spaces between tiles. It enhances the structural integrity of the tile flooring work and prevents debris from being stuck inside the space between tiles.
Mortar and grout are distinct materials used to bond tiles to their substrate. Grout is visible while the mortar is on the lower part of the tile. But what is the difference between sanded and unsanded tile grout?
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Sanded vs Unsanded Grout – Differences
The main difference between sanded and non-sanded grout is in the uses – where sanded grout is used for tile joints wider than 1/8 inches due to its thickness and strength.while unsanded grout is thin and is used for joints that are thin and smaller than 1/8 wide.
Here’s a table that summarizes the differences between sanded and non-sanded grouting:
|Sanded Grout||Unsanded Grout|
|Sanded grout is thicker because of the addition of sand in its mix.||Unsanded grout is thin with a smoother texture.|
|Sanded grout is suitable for tile joints wider than 1/8 inches.||Unsanded grout is recommended for tile joints less than 1/8 inches wide.|
|Great for tiling bathroom floors and most horizontal surfaces.||Great for shower walls, backsplash, or tiling other vertical surfaces.|
|Sanded grout contains sand that shrinks minimally, making it much more durable.||Unsanded grout is cement-based and shrinks much more than sanded grout, making it less durable.|
|Costs less due to more sand content as opposed to cement.||Non-sanded grout is costlier than sanded due to more cement content.|
Sanded grout contains fine sand particles that hold it together. The sand particles get suspended as it cures, increasing its stability, reducing shrinkage, and improving resistance to cracking.
Unsanded grout on the other hand has no sand. Its generally costlier than sanded grout, and is best used for thin grout lines on delicate surfaces. Unsanded grout doesn’t require sealing like sanded grout.
But which is the best grout? From experience and my research, I’ve put together this guide to explain the differences, pros, and cons of sanded vs unsanded grout.
Sanded grout is thicker and coarse because of the addition of aggregate sand material while unsanded grout is thinner with a smoother texture.
For this reason, sanded grout is easier to apply in wider tile joints compared to unsanded grout which is preferred for narrower joints.
You might want to first seal stone tiles before applying sanded grout because the coarse texture can scratch and damage their surface.
Sanded grout is durable and more stable to withstand heavy foot traffic pressure. It forms thick joints and bonds better with less shrinkage than unsanded grout.
Sanded grout is good at resisting cracking and shrinkage. Unsanded grout can be prone to severe cracking when pressure is applied to it, this makes it unsuitable for many flooring applications.
While both can be applied by careful DIYs, sanded grout tends to be more DIY friendly since the tile surface scratches are not the main concern. It is an added advantage for DIY’s who aren’t confident but ready to learn more about grouting skills.
Unsanded grout requires more experience since it is usually recommended for easily-scratched tiles like natural stone, travertine, glass, ceramics, and certain porcelains.
Areas of Application
Sanded grout is best used for large joints more than 1/8 inches. There is a special mixture for 3/8 inch gaps or larger. It’s more resistant to grout cracking and shrinkage which makes it the best for large gaps and wider joints.
Unsanded grout is better used in joints that are not more than 1/8-inch-wide. It has a smoother texture and clings well to vertical surfaces. This makes unsanded grout great for use for ceramic wall tiles grouting.
In many cases, the joint space or gap determines the type of grout to use, however, the tile type may also influence the decision. For highly polished, easily scratched tiles such as marble, we recommend unsanded grout to be used. Sanded grout will damage these types of tiles.
Besides, the unsanded grout is not the best option for floor tiles since it cracks and may break under the high pressure of flooring traffic. However, it makes the best choice for walls and vertical gaps.
Both grout types can be used in the kitchen, bathroom, and shower pan. In general, sanded grout will go with many projects, but unsanded grout works better in shower walls, bathroom walls, and honed stone tiles.
Below are the best application areas for sanded and non-sanded grout for tiles.
|Area of installation||Sanded grout||Unsanded grout|
|Bathroom tiles flooring||best||best|
|Kitchen tile flooring||best||best|
|Honed stone tiles||poor||best|
|Polished stone tiles||poor||best|
|Walls (bathroom and shower) tiles||poor||best|
Thickness and grout widths
First, determine the width of the grout line that requires filling. Thereafter, the width will help determine between sanded vs non-sanded grout.
For a grout width above 1/8 inches, use sanded grout because it resists cracks due to minimized shrinkage. For grout lines with a width less than 1/8-inch non-sanded grout is the best option for you. Sanded grout doesn’t compact well in thinner grout spaces.
Thick grout takes long to heal and dry up, so if there’s any grout haze to be removed, you might want to allow adequate time before cleaning it up.
Sanded grout is cheaper than non-sanded grout because sand costs lower than cement. Unsanded grout, however, is almost or over twice as expensive as the cement grout counterpart-sanded grout.
Unsanded grout requires polymers that are more expensive that must be added to get the final unsanded tile grout.
Can you mix sanded and unsanded grout together?
You can mix sanded and unsanded grout to make your grouting job more durable. Since unsanded grout is thin and shrinks when it starts to dry, you can add a little sand to it and mix to improve strength and durability. With a better ratio of aggregate material, the grout won’t shrink as much when it cures.
Mixing different colors of unsanded and sanded grout is not recommended because you’ll mess up the colors of your shower walls and floors when the tiling settles in and the grout dries up.
It is best to mix similar colors in case your sanded grout runs out when you’re doing your bathroom remodel job.
Pro tip: When you think your unsanded grout is too thin, you can mix it with sanded grout to make it a little thicker. Also, a mixture of the two is more pasty and easy to apply when creating tile joints.
Sanded Grout Pros and Cons
Sanded grout is the cheapest, readily available, and most widely used grout. The sanded grout is held together by fine sand particles that get suspended once the grout cures. These fine particles increase grout stability, reduce shrinkage, and offer better resistance to grout cracking.
Sanded grout is great in resisting cracks and shrinkage and best used for gaps wider than 1/8 inch on the floor. Heavily sanded grout mixture can be used for 3/8 inch or more, check for “wide-joint mixture”. However, it requires sealing after installation.
|Pros of sanded grout||Cons of sanded grout|
|Prevents shrinkage and cracking.||Difficult to work with small grout lines.|
|Best for large gaps, larger than 1/8 inch.||Require sealing to improve water permeability.|
|Affordable/ cost friendly.||Silica can scratch and ruin the tile surfaces.|
|Available in variety of colors.||Leaves pinholes in grout lines in large gaps.|
Unsanded Grout Pros and Cons
Unsanded grout is a type of grout that contains no sand. A non-sanded grout is best used for thin grout lines less than 1/8 inch for delicate tile surfaces like glass tile.
The grout is not ideal for large grout lines, it will slump, crack and not fill properly in width more than 1/8 inch.
The grout is smooth textured and best for highly polished stone like marble and vertical tiles such as in the bathroom or shower walls. Sealing the non-sanded grout with caulk is not necessary though it is recommended.
|Best for small spaces less than 1/8 inch.||Not suitable for wide seams.|
|Smoother than sanded grout.||Expensive than sanded grout.|
|Works well in scratch-able or sensitive tile surfaces.||Have fewer color choices.|
|Good for vertical installation and clings well to vertical surfaces.||Not suitable for wide seams.|