Where To Install Grout Versus Caulk In A Tile Shower

Grouting Vs Caulking Tips

By Troy Cantini

Grout and caulk both have their respective places in a tile shower.   It is common for people to confuse these two substances and put grout where caulking should go or vice versa. Generally grout should be used on the shower walls and floors and all other vertical or horizontal shower planes. Caulk should be used between the tile planes or anywhere there might be movement between the tiles and the adjoining shower surfaces.

grout vs caulk in shower

Caulk can be color matched to match the existing grout so it can be difficult to distinguish it from the grout.  Caulk also comes in sanded and non sanded textures to match the existing texture of the grout. In a new tile installation with colored and textured caulk it is difficult to tell where there is grout and where there is caulk. It is usually only after the caulking starts to get moldy over time that the caulking starts to get distinguished from the grout.

It is usually necessary to periodically replace the caulk after it has become dirty and moldy over time. The grout on the other hand should last much longer and should typically last for the life of the shower. The shower grout can be periodically cleaned or restored with a grout colorsealing procedure to make the grout look like new again. There is now way to effectively clean caulking and it must be removed and replaced with a shower recaulking procedure to make the caulk look like new again.

Grout is a hard durable substance that is used between the tiles.  Shower grout is typically a cement based substance that is extremely hard and durable. Synthetic grouts like epoxy and urethane grouts are also hard and durable and these synthetic grouts are gaining popularity in many tile installations. While grout is hard and durable it is not very flexible and it can easily crack and break when flexed. Caulk should be used between the tile planes where there is flex and movement between the tile planes. Caulking is much more water tight and will not allow water to get between the tile planes and leak behind the shower. Caulk will also flex much more than grout and will not crack and break when there is movement in the caulked areas.

shower with grout and caulk in it

In any shower areas between the tiles and non-tile surfaces caulking should always be used.  Where tiles butt up against non tile surfaces there will typically be a lot of movement between these surfaces. Where tiles are installed around a bathtub the bathtub will move up and down when water and people are present in the bathtub. This will create a lot of movement between the the bathtub and the adjoining tiles so caulking should definitely be used in these areas.

Where tiles meet up against vinyl shower pans and other non tile floors these areas should also be caulked.   It is important that grout is not used in these areas that could potentially crack and allow water to seep into the walls of your home. In tile showers it is best to only use a 100% silcone caulk like latacrete latasil for recaulking a shower. 100% silicone caulking will be more flexible than other caulks and it will not easily grow mold and mildew like other types of caulks.

using caulk or grout around shower floor

An area of controversy has always been whether to caulk or grout around the base of a tile shower floor.   On one hand there is little chance for movement around the base of a properly installed tile shower floor. A properly installed tile shower should always have a 6 inch lip liner going up around base of the shower walls. Water should not be able to leak into the walls or down below the shower even if there is not grout or caulk installed at all around the base of a tile shower floor. Therefore grouting around the base of a tile shower floor seems to make a lot of sense. Grout is much easier to clean and maintain and it will not grow quickly get mold and mildew in it like caulk can.

There is still a chance that there will be some movement around the base of a tile floor that causes the grout to crack.   It is for this reason that the TCA standards for tile showers call for caulking around this area. Still there are many tile installers who always grout around the base of a tile shower floor. This area gets a lot of water and this are this is where the caulking will need to be replaced most often in a tile shower. In the end it is the homeowners choice of whether to caulk or grout around the base of a tile shower floor.

Many tile showers have grout where caulking should be installed and grout where caulking should be installed.  The best way to tell if there is caulk or grout installed is to insert a sharp object into the grout or caulk. Caulking will typically be much softer and allow the sharp object to penetrate it. Grout on the other hand will be much harder and will not allow a sharp object to penetrate into it. Also grout and caulk behave differently when they get wet. Grout will typically get darker when wet and dry to its natural color. Caulk on the other hand will not change its color when it gets wet.

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