- Ask Tim
Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are bearing down on you. Family is coming over. What about that cracked and crumbling grout in your bathroom or on your kitchen backsplash?
No worries, I’m here to save the day for you! You can have great looking grout in just a few hours if you don’t have too much to do. Let’s get started now.
Degree of Difficulty:
Step One: Gather the following tools. You’ll need a hard rubber float made especially for applying ceramic tile grout. You can find these at hardware stores, big box home centers and at Amazon.com. Get a special grout sponge while you’re at it. These sponges have rounded corners and edges. My favorite one measures about 7 x 5 x 2 inches. Do NOT use a sponge that has sharp 90-degree edges or corners.
Step Two: Purchase a bag of wall grout that matches the color of your existing grout. If your grout is dirty, clean it first and allow it to dry so you know it’s true color. Wall grout is different than sanded floor grout. Wall grout is made for grout joints that are 1/8 of an inch or LESS in width. Most wall tile has grout joints that measure about 1/16th of an inch. Wall grout is just a powder with no silica sand particles in it.
Step Three: You need to remove any crumbling or loose grout. You can use a flat-bladed screwdriver and a hammer if you need to. Be very careful you don’t chip or scratch the tile. You can use small power rotary tools that have bits that are made to remove grout. Once again, practice using this tool in an out-of-the-way location so you get comfortable with it.
Step Four: Once all the bad grout is removed, use a vacuum or brush to remove any small particles or dust. It’s time to mix the grout.
Step Five: Using a clean bucket, pour about a cup of the wall grout powder into the bucket. Add clean cool or cold water. Add it slowly and stir the water into the grout until the consistency of the grout is that of warm cake icing. You don’t want the grout to be so thin that it pours or flows easily. If you add too much water, the grout will crack and crumble and all your work will be wasted.
Step Six: Dip the hard-rubber float into some water and shake it off. Use a wide putty knife and scoop some grout from the bucket and put it on the wall tile where you’re grouting. Put on about one-half cup or so.
Step Seven: Hold the rubber float at a 30-degree angle to the surface of the tile and push the grout ahead of it much like a bulldozer pushes soil. Cross the grout joints at a 45-degree angle so the edge of the rubber float does not drop down into the recessed grout line joints. Push hard enough so virtually no grout is left on the surface of the tile.
Step Eight: Wait about ten minutes. Dip the sponge in clear water and saturate it with water. Squeeze ALL of the water out of the sponge. Lightly wipe the sponge across the tile to remove any grout paste. Flip the sponge over to reveal a clean surface and wipe again. Each stroke will make the grout joints look better and better. Rinse the sponge frequently and squeeze it removing all water.
Step Nine: When the grout joints look quite good, to get them to match the existing grout, try putting the grout sponge on a narrow edge and slide it back and forth along the grout joint until the grout profile and width matches your existing grout joints.
Step Ten: After an hour, use clean water and the grout sponge to wipe down the tile to remove all grout haze from the tile. Change this water frequently and fully rinse the sponge each time you go to use it over the tile. Once again, squeeze ALL water from the sponge before putting it on the tile.
Summary: Water is your enemy when grouting. If you put too much water on the grout when finishing the joints, you’ll dilute the cement paste and the grout will be weak. It will crack and crumble in time. After two hours, take an old towel and buff the tile to remove any grout haze from the ceramic tile. Congratulations, you did it! You grouted ceramic tile!
San Francisco–based firm Studio Revolution lined a bathroom in Fireclay’s Kasbah Trellis tile. Photo: Thomas Kuoh Photography
Wondering how to grout tile correctly? It’s a fair question, especially since grouting is a job you have only one chance to get right. Once your tiles are installed in a perfect grid or chevron pattern, it’s time to finish up the job with an application of grout. While it’s certainly not the most luxurious material you’ll use in a renovation, grout plays a big role in the final look of your tiled space. With an array of colors to choose from, grout can be used to add contrast or create a sleek single-shade space.
But before you break out the trowel, you need to be prepared for the task. After all, poorly grouted tile doesn’t just look bad, it is also less stable and more likely to chip or need repairs. So, to make sure you get the job done right the first time, we talked to Dan Chollet, contract and installation lead at Fireclay Tile. Dan has 40 years of experience working with tile and has supervised large installation projects in Silicon Valley and Las Vegas—including the Apple II campus in Cupertino, California. With Dan’s help, we’ve created a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to how to grout tile. Read on and you’ll be ready to grout like a pro.
1. Choose your grout.
There are three main types of grout: cement-based (with or without latex), epoxy, and urethane grouts. “All work, and all have their pluses and minuses,” says Dan.
The most common variety used in projects is a cement-based grout. Dan notes that these are also the easiest to use. If you have small joints between your tile (an eighth of an inch or less), you’ll use a non-sanded grout, while joints larger than an eighth of an inch call for sanded grout.
“Epoxy grouts are expensive, and are usually two-part mixtures with solids and color additives,” Dan says. “They are used mainly for commercial projects, and are much more difficult to install than cement-based grouts, and therefore take more labor.” They can also develop a hard-to-remove haze, and he does not recommend this type for first-time grouters. (He also cautions that some people can also be allergic to epoxies.)
“Urethane grouts are also expensive, and are premixed in buckets,” he says. “You open the bucket, remix it up, and use what you need. Close the bucket back up, and it should be good to use later. You need to use a very dry sponge when cleaning a urethane grout off tile during grouting.” Urethane grout also needs seven days to cure before being exposed to water, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking of using it in your only shower.
2. Gather your tools and supplies for grouting.
According to Dan, you should have these basic tools on hand before beginning to grout:
- 3 to 4 buckets
- Margin trowel
- Rubber grout float
- Drill and paddle (optional to mix)
- Closed-cell sponges
- Clean cloths or cheesecloth
- Grout sponge
- Rubber gloves
- Blue tape
- Tarp or paper to mix grout on
3. Mix your grout.
When it comes to mixing up your grout, you don’t want to wing it. “Read the manufacturer’s instructions on the bag or box, and follow them,” says Dan. Whatever you do, don’t add too much water. The less water you use, the better the grout’s consistency and strength will turn out.
In addition to using as little water as possible, you also want to mix as much as possible. A thorough mixing will help make sure the color stays true throughout the entire grout.
4. Do a practice run.
Before you start to grout your tile, do a practice run. “You should do a small area first to practice on,” he suggests. “It is always a good idea to make a mock-up. Use a board of around 18 by 18 inches with tile installed, which you can then grout to see what it would look like. I would recommend testing your techniques out on that first.”
Tiles come in many different sizes, and some homeowners like using small mosaic tiles in their decorating schemes. These look especially nice on the walls of large rooms, on backsplashes and in bathrooms, but if you’re planning to install such tiles, you will need to learn the specifics of grouting mosaic tile. These design elements are often sold connected to each other in small sheets, and Family Handyman explains that installing them and grouting them can be challenging, especially because mosaic tiles are often made of glass.
Setting the Tiles
Before setting the tiles, you need a completely flat surface. Use a straightedge to check and if there are dips, flatten them with a layer of joint compound. If you are working on a wall that will get wet (like a shower), use thinset instead, and once it hardens, you can start setting the tile. Remove any backing from the tile sheets that extends out; otherwise, it will get caught in the grout.
Glass or thin mosaic tile that is not painted on the back will need a layer of thinset; apply this with the flat side of a notched trowel. This will prevent air pockets and ridges from showing through the tile and will also keep the thinset from squishing out between the spaces. You will also have to cut some of the tiles to fit along the edges and other spots.
Before cutting, put on a mask, safety glasses and safety gloves. Keep a thin scrap of plywood beneath the mosaic tile pieces as you cut them on a tile saw, adjusting the depth as needed. After cutting, check for any paper, plastic or mesh backing on the mosaic tile. Trim this off as well.
Grouting Mosaic Tile
MSI recommends unsanded grout for mosaic tile since the grout lines are smaller. Sanded grout is stronger and is more appropriate for large tiles. Besides that, sanded grout can scratch glass tile. MSI also suggests latex or silicone-based grout if the tile is being used for a backsplash.
In addition to the grout, you will need two buckets, painters’ tape, a putty knife, sponges, soft cloths, a grout float, silicone caulk and grout sealer. Mix the grout with a putty knife in one bucket until the grout has a consistency like peanut butter. Use the grout float to spread the grout over the tile at a 45-degree upward angle and press it in firmly between the tiles.
Wait 15 minutes and fill another bucket with warm water. Dip in the sponge, squeeze out the excess water and wipe away the excess grout. Keep rinsing out the sponge as you work until there is no grout film left on the tiles. Let it dry overnight and then give it a good once-over with a clean, soft cloth to remove any remaining residue. Then, you can seal the grout and caulk in any spots that need it.
Grouting Mosaic Art
Mosaic artwork can be breathtaking, and Mosaic Art Supply states that artists can use the same kinds of grouts and sealers that are used for ordinary tiling. Choose a tile mastic glue or a silicone product that works well on nonporous surfaces. You can attach the pieces and use mosaic grout on wood and other rigid surfaces, like glass, ceramic or metal.
Total Mosaic explains that after you lay out your design the way you want it to look, get your supplies together and get started. Work in sections, applying the glue and laying down the pieces. Once that part is finished, you can follow the directions for grouting mosaic tile on a wall.
You will also need to sponge off the excess and wipe it clean. If you are not sure about the type of grout to use on your artwork, test a little bit on a tile that you will not be using. Allow it to dry and then rinse and dry it well. Finally, examine it for any scratches.
Fill the joints between your new tiles with fresh grout in four easy steps.
Maybe I’m the only person (at least over the age of three) who gets a kick out of making a mess, but I would still argue that grouting is the best part of a tiling job—and not just because you get to smear mud all over everything.
Grouting tile is when everything starts to come together. Your project stops looking like a collection of individual tiles and starts looking like a finished floor (or wall or counter). The mess isn’t a sign of a job done poorly but, rather, par for the course!
This part of a tile project can be DIYed with ease if you’ve brushed up on how to tile grout and if you begin with the right materials for your tile surface. We’re here to guide you on both.
Traditionally, there are two different types of grout: “sanded” and “non-sanded” varieties. The former is durable and often used in flooring applications, while the latter is best suited for wall tile with joints less than ⅛-inch wide. For the purposes of this tutorial on grouting tile, we’re talking about the mix-it-yourself sanded grout.
Before You Begin
Prep the project in full before you begin. With tile, you’ll start in one of two places:
- If you have an existing tile surface that needs re-grouting, you will first need to remove the old grout compound before you follow these simple steps on how to grout tile. A grout saw (like this hand tool on Amazon) or grout removal bit for a rotary tool (like this highly rated bit available on Amazon) are both good options.
- If you’re tiling a new surface, make sure all tiles are fully set and spaced as you’d like before grouting.
How to Grout Tile
Photo: Kit Stansley
STEP 1: Mix your package of grout with water in a bucket.
When mixing grout, you’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, of course. But here’s what I do to achieve just the right consistency: Pour only three-quarters of the recommended amount of water in the bucket and then add the grout. Once mixed, then add the remaining water until it looks like a waffle batter—something like this.
I find that working in smaller batches and hand mixing with a putty knife or stirrer stick is best, but you could also use a grout mixer attachment for your drill to speed the process along.
Photo: Kit Stansley
STEP 2: Use a grout float to press the grout into the space between tiles.
First, move the grout float—a specially designed smoothing tool that features a flat and mostly-firm rubber pad—across the spaces at a diagonal to make sure the grout line is filled.
Photo: Kit Stansley
Then do a second swipe over the top to clean off the lumps.
Don’t let leftover grout mar your bathroom renovation. Clear up the cloudiness that comes with newly regrouted tile in just four steps.
If you notice a cloudiness suddenly appear across your tiled surfaces only days after a bathroom renovation, it’s probably not a thick layer of soap scum that has accumulated in the very short time its been in use. More likely, this was left over from the day the tile was put in. Oh, you don’t remember planning this detail into your design scheme? Well, that’s because it’s often an unintentional one—and it won’t appear until a few days after you’ve installed your grout.
Grout haze is a byproduct of tile installation, during which the entire surface gets covered with grout. When the excess has not been properly cleared from the tile surface, what little that remains will eventually dry out, leaving behind a dull white film of just minerals.
Unlike dirt and grime that coats your bathroom floor from everyday use, this discoloration is not quite so simple to wipe up. Sure, some new grout haze can be removed with a damp towel; other instances, though, may be stubborn enough to require special products. Your best means of cleanup depends on the type of grout and tile you’ve used. So, refresh yourself on your renovation materials, then follow our guide on how to remove grout haze to clear up the cloudiness as quickly as possible.
How to Remove Grout Haze
You have four main tools at your disposal to get the job done. The methods ahead outline how to remove grout haze using:
- water and cheesecloth,
- a rubber grout float,
- diluted vinegar (on porcelain or ceramic tile only) and a nylon scrub pad,
- and a commercial grout haze remover.
Before you start removing grout haze…
- Allow grout to harden fully. Make sure your tile surface is completely dry before you attempt to remove any haze. This typically takes about 24 hours. Consult your installation professional—or, if you DIY-ed it, your grout’s packaging—for the exact amount of time.
- But do not wait more than 10 days to remove grout haze. If you do, harsher, full-strength removers may be required.
- Determine if your grout is epoxy-based or not. This type of grout is designed for maximum strength and stain-repellence, so the haze that forms will be harder to remove. You’ll likely require a commercial cleaning product (see Method 4). Contact the grout manufacturer if you have any questions about what type of cleaner would be best.
- Determine the material of your tile. This will also influence what type of cleaner you can use. Smooth ceramic and porcelain tiles can be exposed to acidic cleaners like vinegar, but porous stone and slate tiles should not. This makes haze removal a bit more difficult, but not impossible. You’ll have the best luck using a special cleaner.
METHOD 1: Remove grout haze with water and cheesecloth.
Protect your hands with rubber gloves, and dip your cheesecloth (or terry cloth) in water. Wring thoroughly, as too much water can damage grout. Then, wipe tile surface with the damp cheesecloth/towel. This method will help “reactivate” the grout haze, lifting it off the surface.
METHOD 2: If the damp cloth fails to lift the grout haze, break out the rubber grout float.
Homeowners who installed grout themselves can reach into their toolbag once more: The rubber grout float used for pushing grout into cracks between tile can come in handy when wiping away haze, too. Like a specialized squeegee (view on Amazon), it features a flat and mostly-firm rubber pad at the end of a paddle-shaped handle. Pull the edge of the float towards you across the tile surface, and its soft edge should drag those stuck-on grout minerals without scratching the tile or gouging the fresh grout. Repeat until all the haze is removed.
Go over the surface again with a damp tiling sponge (a larger, denser version of what you’d normally use on dishes).
Buff entire area with cheesecloth or terry cloth. Finally, check your work: Shine a flashlight on the tile surface to see if any dull, streaky residue remains. If you have yet to remove all the grout haze, continue to Method 3.
METHOD 3: In some cases, you can enlist vinegar.
If your tile is porcelain or ceramic, try a vinegar solution to remove grout haze. (With slate or stone, this is a no-no! Its acidity—which comes in handy when cutting through grease and mineral deposits—can damage these porous surfaces. Skip to Method 4.) Mix 1-part white vinegar to 4-parts water in a bucket or large spray bottle. Additional vinegar can be added for extra strength.
Depending on the surface area you must cover, use a mop or soft nylon pad. Clean the area with pure water following the vinegar-water solution.
If this doesn’t remove all the haze, you can move on to a commercial cleaner.
METHOD 4: Choose and use the right commercial product.
First, keep these two things in mind before you choose a product:
- If your grout is epoxy-based, pick up a product designed to handle its more stubborn grout haze (view on Amazon). Heck, even if your grout was not epoxy-based, you may benefit from enlisting a commercial product to help remove grout haze that won’t budge.
- If your tile is slate or stone, always choose a product specially formulated for those surfaces.
Whenever using a chemical cleaner, cover your face with a protective mask and wear rubber gloves. Read and follow the directions of your chosen product carefully. You may wish to dilute the product with water (50/50) before applying it to your tile surface: Spray the tile surface lightly with water, then apply your commercial cleaner. Leave for several minutes.
Use a nylon scrub pad to swirl the cleaner over the surface and loosen the grout haze. Lift the excess cleaner with a mop, then rinse the surface with clean water. Dry off with a soft towel or terry cloth and double-check your job with a flashlight.
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Travertine is a natural limestone-based stone that has been used for thousands of years as a building material, beginning with the ancient Greeks and Romans. It is one of the most expensive types of natural stone available and can be used in many applications, from exterior blocks and tiles used to line columns and skyscrapers to interior floor or wall covering. The grout method used to fill the gaps between stones is the same for walls as it is for floors.
Fill the bucket with water and use the sponge to clean the surface of the travertine. Dampen the sponge and lightly pull it over the surface of the travertine to clean any dirt or debris that might have collected. Allow at least 24 hours for the travertine to dry before sealing.
Coat the surface of the travertine installation with a layer of your preferred sealer to protect the natural stone from absorbing the coloring within the grout when you apply it and to keep the stone from sucking the moisture out of the concrete-based grout. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when deciding how many coats you should apply and how long you need to allow the sealer to dry before grouting the installation.
Mix the grout according to the instructions provided by the manufacturer, or use a pre-mixed grout. After the grout is ready for application, use the grout float to push the grout into the joints between the pieces of travertine, but avoid spreading the grout over the face of the travertine if you are dealing with natural, unfilled travertine that has natural holes. Work your way from the bottom up.
Allow the grout to set up within the joints for at least 15 or 20 minutes before cleaning it. Fill the bucket with clean water and use a damp sponge to lightly smooth the surface of the grout between the tiles. Use circular motions and rinse the sponge out regularly.
Rough wash the entire surface of the travertine installation using the sponge and bucket of water, then replace the used water with fresh water. Dampen the sponge and gently pull the sponge diagonally across the joints to remove the final layer of grout film from the surface of the stone.
Allow the grout to dry a minimum of 72 hours and apply a final coat of sealer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
A fresher-looking bathroom or kitchen is just one easy DIY project away.
While the tiles you choose for a floor, shower, or accent wall might be the first design element to catch your eye in any space, the color, width, and type of grout used between them impacts the entire finished aesthetic. “In general, grouting is one of the easier steps in the tile installation process,” says Luke Crownover, product expert at The Tile Shop. “If you’re looking for a place to start your journey learning the tiling process and want to save some money while you’re doing it, grouting is a great way to go.”
Choosing Cement or Epoxy Grout
Cement grout—a choice that has been popular for decades—works for almost any application, from wide-set entryway tiles to intricate mosaic backsplashes, but does require a sealer after installation, says Erica Puccio, chief brand officer at TileBar. Meanwhile, newer epoxy grout, which doesn’t require sealing, is a combination of two products (a base and activator) and is extremely durable—a pro for commercial installers and homeowners, alike. “It absorbs water, is chemically resistant, and has double the strength of traditional cement grouts—all this, and it doesn’t wear down over time,” says Puccio. “The one con is that application has to be done quickly due to the chemical reaction that takes place. This usually means that a professional should be hired for the job.” (Furan, an even more chemically-resistant grout, holds up best against harsh chemicals and grease, but the installation almost always requires a professional, says Puccio.)
Sanded Versus Unsanded Cement Grout
Before deciding on a cement grout, consider the space you’re working with—is it inside or outside, a floor or a backsplash, a wet shower or a dry fireplace surrounding?—and the width of your grout joints. “The most important thing for anyone choosing their grout is to understand their project and make sure the grout they are selecting is specified for that type of project,” says Crownover. “Some grouts can be used in all grout joint widths, while others are formulated specifically for thin—usually 1/8-inch or less—or thick—usually 1/8-inch or more—joints.” Cement-based grouts also come in two versions, sanded or unsanded. The addition of coarse sand in grouts labeled “sanded” leaves a rough finish that works best on wider joints, like those on floors, while the fine sand in “unsanded” options provides a smoother result most often used on walls, says Crownover.
The Tools and Materials You’ll Need
The main tool used to apply grout is a grout float, a rectangular hand tool that you’ll use to spread the grout into the joints. Plan to mix your grout in a bucket with a margin trowel or beater bar, and have plenty of sponges and clean water nearby to clean the grout off the tiles before it dries. “Most of these are fairly inexpensive, so buying them for your project is best,” says Crownover.
How to Grout Tiles
Using tile spacers when you lay your tiles allows you to create precise joints in even widths—Crownover recommends 1/8-inch or larger joint widths on floors to help absorb the pressure of foot traffic, but decorative wall applications can show off any size joint. “The larger the grout joint, the more the grout will stand out, and the smaller they are, the more seamless the look will be,” he says. “When it is time to grout, your tiles will already be set, and the adhesive used will be dried and cured, so the tiles won’t be moving at all.”
Mix the grout according to the recommendations for your specific brand. “There usually aren’t exact ratios of powder to liquid when mixing,” says Crownover. “Most recommendations on mixing grout are to look for a particular consistency—some say peanut butter or toothpaste to give a reference.” When you apply the grout, focus on packing it into the joints, preventing air pockets that could cause it to crack later. “Don’t just smear it across the entire surface of the tile,” says Crownover. “Only grout in small areas at a time so you can wipe up the excess grout haze before it dries on the surface of the tile.” After applying your grout, it will need time to dry (usually about 24 hours, says Puccio), but it also needs to cure before sealing, which can take three weeks or longer. “One of my favorite and least favorite parts of installing tile is the grouting process. It’s my least favorite because it can be a mess and during the process it can look like you’ve made your tiles look worse,” says Crownover. “But as you clean up the excess haze you start to see what the finished product is going to look like. That’s my favorite part—it really takes your project across the finish line!”
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When it comes to grouting the borders of an installation, whether you are talking about bullnose running along the baseboards of a floor, or the edges of a tile backsplash, the overall principles are the same. Although you grout a backsplash in a similar fashion to any other type of tile or natural stone installation, there are a few things you can do to simplify the process and help speed it along so you end up with perfect-looking edges.
Apply painter’s tape around the entire perimeter of the backsplash edges where they terminate against a countertop, cabinet or open wall. This protects wood or painted walls from grout discoloring the paint, stucco or wallpaper, and protects these surfaces from water damage while you are washing off the grout.
Mix the grout according to the directions provided by the manufacturer, or use a pre-mixed grout for the easiest application. Dip the tip of the grout float into the container of grout and scoop out some grout. Apply this to the joints between the tiles of the backsplash, as well as into the joint between the edges of the tiles on the end of the backsplash where it terminates against a countertop, cabinet or the open wall and tape.
Use the float to scrape excess grout from the surface and edges. Allow the grout to set up in the joints for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Check it to see if it is ready by lightly touching your finger to the surface of a joint. If it sticks, give the grout more time. If it doesn’t stick, you are good to go.
Fill a bucket with cold water. Do not use warm water as this causes the grout to harden abnormally fast, which can cause cracking. Dampen the sponge and use it to lightly smooth the joints between tiles, and clean excess from the face of the tiles on the backsplash. Use circular motions and frequently rinse out your sponge.
Use the L-shaped outside tip/corner of the margin trowel to cut off the outside edges and inside corners of the grout lines cleanly. Do this at the inside corners where the backsplash meets the countertop, the underside of the cabinets, and the outside edge where the grout is filling the slight void behind the edge of the tile and the wall against the tape.
Wash the entire surface with a sponge and water, paying attention to the inside joints and outside edges against the tape to ensure the joints are smooth. Apply pressure — but not too much or you will pull out the grout. Work diagonally with the face joints, and with the joints along the edges and inside corners. After you have finished washing, gently pull away the tape to finish the grouting process.