The beauty, functionality, durability and longevity ofceramic tileare all for naught if the location of the installation is not properly considered. Wet areas present significant challenges that must be addressed prior to the start of the installation to ensure that the properties mentioned above are provided.
Standard Cement 
High Performance 
Chemical Resistant 
New Grouts

The selection of grout is sometimes made only to fill the space between the tiles. Conversely, if a decorator or designer is involved, the grout color choice is critical to the overall “look” of the project. While functionality and color are certainly a part of this process, there are many features and benefits that are derived from this choice.

When I started in the retail tile sales and installation business in 1980, we carried a sanded cement-based “floor” grout. Our selection was a vast array of five colors, including black, gray, chocolate brown, tan and white. Our cement-based non-sanded “wall” grout was a similar small color pallet of chocolate brown, tan and white. When I left there in 2007, we stocked over 20 colors out of a possible 33 colors that our manufacturer produced. Times have certainly changed.

Today, many of these manufacturers continue to produce 20 to 30 plus grout colors. This ever-growing and always changing color pallet is driven by decorators and consumers who have an insatiable hunger for the new color combinations that evolve. However, the exciting news about tile grout is not the color selection, but the vast array of new additions to existing categories of grout as well as new categories, which are now available.

The products we will examine are factory prepared rather than on-the-job mixes which are listed in more detail in the 2013 edition of the TCNA Handbook on pages 19 to 21, and also in the ANSI Specification under each of the category listings. Much of the information contained in this article comes directly from the Handbook and ANSI Specifications which should be consulted prior to starting any work.

Standard Cement Grouts ANSI Specification A118.6

Unsanded Standard Cement Grout is a factory-prepared mixture of cement, fine aggregate and other ingredients to produce a water-resistant, dense, uniformly-colored material meant for joints 1/8 inch in width or less.

Sanded Standard Cement grout is a factory-prepared mixture of cement, graded sand and other ingredients to produce a water-resistant, dense, uniformly colored material meant for joints 1/8 inch in width or greater.

These products are generally mixed only with potable water per the manufacturer’s recommendations and are suitable for use on walls and floors subject to ordinary use. On stone and glass tiles, be certain the surface will not be scratched by sand in the grout. Unsanded grout may be required in order to minimize scratching. Please refer to the “Natural Stone Tile Selection and Installation Guide” and/or the “Glass Tile Selection and Installation Guide” in the Handbook for additional details. These grouts have been on the market for many years and have functioned well, but may have issues in areas of heavy use and freeze-thaw applications.

High Performance Grouts ANSI Specification A118.7

Unsanded High Performance Tile Grout is a factory-prepared mixture of cement and other ingredients, including a redispersible latex/polymer powder, to which only water is added at the jobsite, or a liquid latex admixture. When added in a latex form, it is added as a replacement for part or all of the mixing water.  These grouts are designed for installation in joints 1/8 inch in width or less.

Sanded High Performance Tile Grout is a factory-prepared mixture of cement, sand and other ingredients, including a redispersible latex/polymer powder, to which only water is added at the jobsite, or a liquid latex admixture. When added in a latex form, it is added as a replacement for part or all of the mixing water. These grouts are designed for installations in joints 1/8 inch in width or greater. However, check with the manufacturer to verify allowable joint width.

The addition of latex to these products provides improved characteristics such as increased bond strength, flexural strength and lower water absorption, which aids in resisting frost damage.  Numerous manufacturers have enhanced their product offerings in this category by adding fast setting properties, mold and mildew inhibitors, reduced or eliminated efflorescence, high stain resistance which eliminates the need for sealers, and only require the use of neutral pH cleaners for routine maintenance.

On stone, especially tiles that are highly polished, and glass tiles, be certain that the sand will not scratch the surface of the tile. Again, check the applicable tile guide in the Handbook and the manufacturer for complete details before starting the grout installation.

Chemical Resistant, Water Cleanable Epoxy Grouts ANSI Specification A118.3 

This category is a 100% solids epoxy grout (contains no Portland cement) that employs epoxy resin and hardener portions, often containing a coarse silica filler, especially formulated for industrial and commercial installation where chemical resistance is important. These grouts also provide high bond strength, impact resistance and improved stain resistance. High-temperature, chemical-resistant formulas are also available. The chemical and stain resistance properties can vary between epoxies, so consultation with the manufacturer as to suitability of use, such as exposure to ultraviolet light or maintenance recommendations, is advised.

This category has expanded greatly in recent years with constant upgrading of features and benefits. The consumer demand for lower maintenance and designer-inspired appearance has driven this market. On the installation side, tile mechanics are looking for grout products that perform well and are quicker and easier to install. The major grout manufacturers have done a great job of meeting this challenge.

Many of today’s epoxies provide the consumer with excellent stain resistance for use on countertops, high-traffic areas and areas where chemical resistance is desired. They are color consistent, highly durable and will clean to the original color. Most epoxies contain antimicrobial additives that inhibit the growth of mold and mildew. They are easy to clean with a neutral pH cleaner and water, resistant to cracking and require no sealers.

These epoxies are significantly more user friendly to installers than in years past. They are non-sagging and non-slumping in joints up to 3/8 inch on walls and floors, allow a working time up to 80 minutes and are easy to apply and clean up with water and a nylon scrub pad. The clean up method is, however, different than a cement-based grout, so be certain to read and follow the package directions. Epoxy grouts outperform cement-based grouts due to the characteristics listed above and are efflorescence free.

Some limitations do apply to these epoxy products, including use in high heat areas, locations where harsh chemicals are present and where aggressive cleaning methods are used. Always consult the manufacturer for explicit recommendations on usage and characteristics.

New grouts with no ANSI designations

Premixed grout can be a one-part ready-to-use grout that requires no mixing with water. These grouts may contain various types of water-based polymer, including acrylics or urethanes and fillers that may be sanded or unsanded. The appropriateness of these grouts for commercial, water-exposed and exterior applications varies widely, so consult the manufacturer for their suggested use.

The products in this category do not presently contain an ANSI product or installation reference number. This does not infer in any way that they are of a low quality, but that they are not tested to an established test standard.

Urethane grouts are generally water-based and may be used in both residential and commercial tile installations. They offer color accuracy, stain resistance, crack resistance, chemical resistance, require no sealers and come pre-mixed. It requires only hand mixing with a long margin trowel to redistribute the milky liquid which may appear on the surface of the grout in the bucket. Since they are UV stable, they will not yellow, darken or fade, and the quartz aggregate is color coated, which means that the color pigments cannot be washed away. The pre-mixed feature also allows the left over grout to be returned to the original container for use on the next job, which lessens the waste factor. The minimum grout joint size is 1/16 inch for floors and walls, while the maximum joint width is 1/2 inch for floors and 1/4 inch for walls. This grout does not contain cement-based components that contribute to efflorescence.

Urethanes are similar to epoxies in that the grout clean up method is very different from cement grouts. If the area being grouted is done by one person, an area within arm’s reach -- approximately 10 to 15 square feet -- should be cleaned prior to grouting the next area. This clean up must be done with a sponge that is wrung out extremely well (almost dry) and contacts the tile surface only once. The sponge should be rinsed and wrung out before continuing to clean up the tile surface.

Urethanes should not be used in heavy industrial applications where harsh or persistent chemicals are used or areas exposed to very aggressive cleaning routines such as pressure washing or steam cleaning. Wet area interior applications (showers) must be protected from moisture and allowed to cure for seven days before use, while outdoor installations must be protected for seven days by tenting the grouted area.

As you can see, grout selection -- both in color availability along with extensive features and benefits -- can really enhance your next tile project.