Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout: Which Do You Need for Your DIY?
Don’t get caught at the home center trying to discern the difference between sanded and unsanded grout. Find out which type is right for your project with this guide.
Any homeowner undertaking a DIY tiling project will work with grout, a putty-like mixture that fills the space between tiles and keeps them securely in place. But while grout is commonly used for home improvement, many do-it-yourselfers don’t realize that it comes in two varieties: sanded and unsanded. Whether you’re installing a kitchen backsplash or laying an entryway floor, read on to see these options go head-to-head—sanded vs unsanded grout—so that you can make the right decision when it comes time to select your supplies at the home improvement store.
As its moniker suggests, sanded grout is held together with fine particles of sand. The sand gets suspended in place as the grout cures, leading to increased stability, better resistance to cracking, and less grout shrinkage. Sanded grout is widely available at home improvement stores and online (view example on Amazon). The gritty mixture is budget-friendly (since sand is a cheap filler) and typically comes in many different color options. Reach for sanded grout for any of the following scenarios:
- Flooring applications. Sanded grout is the standard option for interior flooring. It’s durability and stability allow it to stand up to the pressure of foot traffic.
- Thick joints. Since sanded grout bonds better and offers less shrinkage than unsanded options, it’s ideal for any tile with joints ⅛”- to ½”- thick. Trying to fit the bulky material into thinner joints may result in a messy and imprecise finish that’s prone to cracking. Another concern is that contractors may add too much water to sanded grout in order to achieve a better consistency for smaller joints. This often results in pinholing, which occurs when the excess water evaporates and compromises the structure of the grout. Also note that for joints 3/8”-thick or greater, you will specifically need a “wide-joint mixture” grout that is more heavily sanded.
Even though sanded grout has greater stability, some cases require the use of unsanded grout instead. This variety has a smoother texture because it doesn’t contain sand grains. However, it’s also more expensive, since pricier polymers are used as a bonding agent (view example on Amazon). Opt for unsanded grout if you encounter any of these scenarios:
- Narrow joints. Unsanded grout is thinner than sanded grout, so it’s easier to work into narrow joints. Therefore, homeowners should use unsanded grout for any joints less than ⅛”-wide.
- Scratchable surfaces. Always use unsanded grout when working with a soft, smooth, polished tile like limestone or marble, since abrasive sanded grout will likely scratch its surface. If the joints between the tile are 1/8”-wide or larger, look for an epoxy-based unsanded grout, which is extremely durable and better suited to the larger joints. Keep in mind, however, that epoxy-based options are less pliable than the cementitious varieties and will generally be pricier.
- Vertical installations. The absence of sand makes unsanded grout especially sticky, so it will stay put when tiling a shower wall, backsplash, or other vertical surface. Also, since vertical installations don’t need to stand up to the pressure of foot traffic, they can handle the decreased durability of unsanded grout without any issues.