why tile grout matters

by clé tile | published: Feb 20, 2023

grout is typically seen as a functional element of tile installation, which is true. it does serve a functional purpose. but, there’s so much more to it than that. tile grout doesn’t get the credit it deserves in terms of its contribution to the entire design process. we’re hoping to change that attitude. tile grout also suffers the misconception of being simple, a “one size fits all” element to tile design. but, there are so many understated nuances to grout that choosing the wrong type or color can actually ruin a project. it’s always important to have design experts on your side when selecting both tile and tile grout so it doesn’t become a “do-over” situation.

why grout is integral to tile installation

choosing tile is a labor of love. all the hours spent analyzing samples, looking at pinterest posts, discussing design alternatives with your designer — the investment of time is essential. tile is going to be with you for a long while (or it should be, if it’s high-quality). so the decision is not one to be made lightly.

and yet, it’s never just about the tile itself.

for some reason, tile grout, a critical element of the whole design process, is often glossed over. the truth is that grout is one of the most important pieces of a tile project — and it can make or break (literally) your entire installation.

using particular grout colors with different tiles can make all the difference. on the left, a contrasting grout makes these hexes pop, while on the right, a perfectly matching grout keeps the focus on the pattern.

tile grout: construction junction, what’s your function?

grout is a necessary step to tile installation. you’re solidifying the space; preventing damage from the inevitable “settling” that occurs over time. this natural process could cause tile edges to move and crack—which then becomes not only an installation nightmare, but a financial burden.

while grout is often (mistakenly) interchanged with mortar and/or concrete, each is different and serves a unique purpose. grout’s concoction is cement, water, and sand. even though these are the same ingredients in concrete, the fluidity of grout is far greater. this is critical for filling in the entire grout space and not leaving any void.

grout is also unavailable in a non-sanded version, which is finer and produces a non-gritty final surface. the use of non-sanded grout really depends on three factors: the project itself, the designer, and the installer. some prefer to limit it to smaller grout joints, but that isn’t always the case. however, it’s widely accepted that non-sanded grout does work best for vertical tile installations. in general, sanded grout is less expensive and lasts longer than its non-sanded counterpart.

but wait… hgtv said i don’t need grout

there has been a recent trend to go grout-free — made even more popular by a design reveal by a well-known hgtv influencer, who used our zellige collection. we’re definitely starting to get more questions about this design approach. rightfully so, since it was our tile.

here are our thoughts.

there are instances when you can go grout-free. for example, grout can be eliminated when you’re installing tiles that have only slight sizing variations (cement, stone, zellige). however, we advise this approach be limited to decorative surfaces or non-sanitary surfaces. going grout-free in bathrooms or kitchens becomes problematic, due to the risk of moisture.

and, don’t forget the construction risk of not using grout. tile installers often refuse a grout-free project. the reason is many believe this type of installation falls outside of what they can insure as a “sound” install. it’s something to keep in mind when designing your project.

of course, we can’t simply ignore a “movement.” when we hear from clients who want to explore grout-free installations, we reiterate the best tiles/surfaces. we provide as much information about tile selection and the setting process as possible.

grout, tile: it’s all part of the design process

there are so many reasons grout is an integral part of the design process. at clé, we always aim to deliver looks that are ahead of the trends, not follow them. part of that involves our dedication to our customers’ entire projects. just as tile grout is never “just” grout, we’re not “just” a tile company. we provide solutions for your entire space.