Differences Between Sanded and Unsanded Grout

Sanded vs Unsanded Grout

By Troy Cantini

The difference between sanded and unsanded grout is that sanded grout has sand in it while unsanded grout does not have sand in it.  Sand in the grout reinforces the grout to make it much stronger and less likely to crack. Sanded grout is best used for wider grout joints over 1/8th inch wide while un-sanded grout is best for more narrow grout lines less than 1/8 inch wide.

light buff sanded vs unsanded grout

Unsanded grout will have a smoother texture while sanded grout will have a rougher more grainy, rough texture to it.  You can generally tell if you have sanded or unsanded grout just by looking at the grout and feeling it with your finger. If you look closely at the sanded grout you will be able to see the sand in the grout. Unsanded grout will have a much smoother texture with no appearance of sand in the grout. Unsanded grout works better in stone tile installations with soft stone tiles because there is no sand in the grout to scratch the tiles when grouting them.

The general rule is to use unsanded grout in grout joints less than 1/8 inch thick and use sanded grout joints for 1/8 inch thick or wider grout joints.  The technology of grout is changing so that there are newer types of sanded grout that have smaller pieces of glass sand in them. The smaller picece of sand allow you to use this type of sanded grout in grout joints as narrow as 1/16 inch. Sanded grout will always be harder and more durable than unsanded grout so if you have an option to use sanded grout over unsanded grout you should choose the sanded grout.

tec custom polyblend and laticrete color charts

When choosing grout it is important to understand that the unsanded grout will typically dry lighter than the sanded grout color.  It is difficult to achieve a full, rich color when using unsanded grout. The water used to clean the grout will often remove much of the colored pigments in the unsanded grout. It is usually recommended to choose a grout color slightly darker than the grout color charts to get the desired color when using unsanded grout.

Sanded grout can also sometimes dry lighter than the grout color charts.  Sanded grout will present a truer and richer color that is closer to the color in the grout color charts than unsanded grout. You should still understand that the applied grout will usually be lighter than the color displayed in the grout color charts. Many people are not happy with how light their grout looks after it has been installed. Very few people feel that their grout color looks too dark or darker than the color chosen with the grout color chart.

tec light buff sanded vs unsanded grouts
tec sandstone beige sanded vs unsanded grouts

It is much easier to apply sanded grout and produce more even looking grout joints when using sanded grout on larger grout joints.  There is not any reason to use unsanded grout when doing ceramic or porcelain tile installations when there are wider over 1/8th inch grout lines. These types of tile installations will benefit from having a stronger more durable grout that is less likely to crack.

When you have narrow grout joints of 1/8th inch or less then you should use unsanded grout.  With smaller grout joints the sanded grout will not fit into the narrow grout lines. Most standard ceramic shower tile installations with 4 inch or 6 inch tiles will have narrow grout lines requiring unsanded grout. With the narrow grout lines there is not much chance of the grout cracking when using un-sanded grout.

For many types of stone tile installations it is better to use unsanded grout.  Most polished stone tile installations have narrow grout joints to make the stone tile installation look better. When using sanded grout on these types of tile installations the sand in the grout can actually scratch the surface of the tiles while grouting the tiles. This is particularly evident on some of the softer stones such as marble, limestone and travertine. Slate, saltillo and terra cotta tiles can not be polished so these types of tile installations will have wider grout lines requiring sanded grout.

If you ever decide that you want to refinish your stone tile installation it is almost impossible to polish stone tiles when sanded grout has been installed.  Rotating and oscillating diamond pads will be needed to bring back the shine to your stone tiles. If you have sanded grout then during the restoration and refinishing process some sand will become dislodged from the grout and scratch the stone tile surface. It is virtually impossible to do any type of professional stone restoration process on stone tiles when sanded grout has been installed.

Often times unsanded grout will become dirty and dingy and also develop cracks in it.  In shower tile installations over time mold and mildew can grow in the unsanded grout that is impossible to clean. In these cases it is best to remove and replace the grout with a professional regrouting procedure. Regrouting is typically not an option with sanded grout due to it being too hard to remove with standard grout removal tools. For restoring sanded grout a grout colorant can be used to paint the grout to restore it and make it look new again.

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