Tile 101: Choosing The Right Grout For Your Tile

June 05, 2015

Grout is more than just the glue that holds your tile together– it is a vital part of the design. Often overlooked, grout selection is as important as your tile selection; it is the key to loving the end result.

Grout selections have grown over the years and, today, you can find grout in virtually every shade of the rainbow to blend or contrast with your tiles. By simply selecting a different color, the look of the tiles can shift from traditional and classic to modern and sleek.

Blended Perfection
Generally speaking, a grout that blends with the base color of the tile allows the detail of the tile to shine through; the tile itself becomes the focus. The color and tonal inflections, pattern, and veining of marble, travertine or porcelain tiles comes forward when the grout is matched to the tile.

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This works well in small spaces when you want to visually expand the room; instead of the installation pattern of the tile being the focal point, the graphic nature fades into the background, and the beauty of the tile itself shines through.

With marble or other natural stone tiles, sometimes the default choice is a grout color that matches the base color of the tile. This can be a great option when you want a simple and classic look that draws the eye into the marble’s natural color variation and veins. 

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But, when natural stone tiles, like the Greecian White Octagon marble seen below, is paired with a grout that is matched to the veining of the tile, the end result is much different. While still subtle, the pattern of the installation is more prevalent, giving a classic, old-world feeling to the whole room.

Greecian-OctFeatured: Greecian White 2” Octagon

Creative Contrast
Contrasting grout, on the other hand, highlights the graphic nature of the installation. But, using contrasting grout doesn’t have to be visually jarring. As in this kitchen below, when paired with a darker tile, light grout picks up the colors of the natural stone countertops and backsplashes, creating a cohesive and beautiful look.

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If you want a more contemporary take, using classic white subway tiles, gray grout is the answer. In fact, this is one of today’s hottest trends. White subway tiles are clean, simple, and classic; but this design twist, using dark gray grout, transforms the look and feel of the space highlighting the tile layout, as shown in this spa-like bathroom retreat.

Since the contrasting grout, whether darker or lighter, is going to bring the design pattern more into focus, consider a chevron, herringbone, or vertical offset pattern for additional visual interest. This photo below shows how to incorporate this look into your outdoor spaces as well.

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Choosing the right grout is more than just about color and whether to contrast , or not.  Make sure to pay attention to the type of grout you choose. The two most common are “sanded” and “non-sanded”.  Sanded grouts are less expensive, but can scratch certain tiles, including glass and marble, so be cautious.  They are, however, generally safe for porcelain. Non-sanded grouts tend to cost a bit more, but don’t let price be the sole determining factor. Work with your installer to choose the right grout for your specific project.

Quick Tips for Selecting Grout

  • Install tile on a piece of plywood, with a couple of different colors of grout. Allow it to properly cure, and then place it in the room to see how the lighting affects your choice. Colors look different depending on if the room is flooded with natural light, or is lighted with incandescent, fluorescent, or LED lighting.
  • Grout can take several days or even weeks to fully cure. If you have chosen a colored grout, give it time to cure before making final judgment.
  • White and lighter colored grouts should be sealed, particularly in heavy traffic areas, and in showers.
  • Darker colored grouts do a better job of hiding dirt and discolorations, but they can fade from direct sunlight.
  • Sealing grout helps to protect the color, but also helps to protect against mildew and mold.
  • Always keep a bit of grout (not mixed) from the installation in the event you need to make repairs in the future.

When designing your project, grout selection is an important step. As you start to narrow down your tile choices, start looking at the myriad of grout colors available. Ask yourself these key questions: “Do I want the tile itself to stand out, or let the graphic pattern take center stage?” “Do I want a more seamless appearance, or a more linear one?” For more ideas and inspiration on how to create your perfectly tiled space, visit our new online Inspiration Gallery!