Grout holds tiles in place and creates a solid seal between tiles. Installation is fairly straightforward, but it must be done carefully to avoid problematic leaks and unsightly gaps. Grout must also be chosen carefully based on the style and color of your tiles, as well as the location of the tile surface and your desired finished product.
If you ask for basic, standard grout at a hardware store, you will probably get a gray, gritty cement-based grout. Though the grout industry has expanded the color and material options, basic grout is relatively easy to install, and it may be ideal for some layouts. Gray, sanded grout looks good in a classic tile layout, particularly in older homes. It also leaves a nice neutral shade between different tile colors. Sand helps make the grout thicker and less likely to shrink while setting. However, it will not fit in gaps of less than 1/8 inch.
For smaller gaps, get unsanded grout. It is smoother, but it's harder to install. However, if you are able to set the tile and grout properly the first time, thinner spacing can make the tile surface easier to maintain. Grout is more susceptible than tile to leaks, stains and erosion, so thinner grout can pose fewer potential problems.
There are both sanded and unsanded epoxy grouts, which are all harder and more resilient than standard cement-based grout. Epoxy grout has additional resins and hardeners. It is ideal for kitchen surfaces, including counters, backsplashes and floors. It will withstand the grease and acid spills that can permanently stain traditional grout.
Epoxy grout has a reputation for being difficult to apply and use. However, new epoxies have built-in detergents, which make them easier to install and clean. They are more expensive than cement-based grout: Epoxy grout can cost about four times as much as cement grout, but it will not need to be replaced as quickly.
A couple of extra notes about epoxy grout: Be sure to seal porous tiles before adding epoxy grout, as it can stain porous tiles. Also, wait about three weeks before sealing epoxy grout to make sure it has fully cured.
Finally, there is now a wide range of grout colors to accompany the wide variety of tiles. You can also use colorants to dye either cement grout or epoxy grout to practically any color.
If you are using solid, flat stone or concrete tiles, you can match the color and create the appearance of a solid surface. On the other hand, if you want to show off mosaic work or the unique shapes and angles in your tile, choose a contrasting grout.
Cement and epoxy grouts, which are each available with or without sand and colors, are available for varied tile applications. Choose the right grout for the location, color and style of your tile layout. No matter which type of grout you use, be sure to seal the grout to help block stains and water penetration.