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 no 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.
When choosing a grout color 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 from the grout color charts to get the desired color when using 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.
You can see how the unsanded grout is lighter colored than the plastic grout color stick used to choose the grout color. The sanded grout color is also slightly lighter than the plastic grout color stick so this is something to consider when choosing a grout color.
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 and 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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