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Grout: A Comprehensive Guide to Types and Maintenance

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Get to Know Grout

It’s hard to imagine getting excited about grout, right?  It can be pretty uninteresting as far as materials are concerned, and your primary experience with it may be trying to deal with grout that is discolored, cracked, or coming loose from its proper place between your tiles.

However, despite the fact that people rarely acknowledge its importance, grout continues to secure the tiles of your floors or walls together, keeping water from seeping through and causing trouble.  Even more importantly, its role as a bonding agent actually multiplies the strength of your floors or walls and prevents physical damage to your tile.

So, while we may not be able to get you fired up about grout, hopefully we can give you some information that will assist you with your next project or even help you care for the grout you have so it can continue to perform the job it is intended to.

Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout

There are essentially two different types of grout: sanded and unsanded, and your decision to use either one depends less on the tile you are using and more on the space you plan to use between them.  When this space, also known as the joint, is slim (less than or equal to 1/8 inch), your best bet is the unsanded style of grout.  In contrast, anything larger requires a sanded mixture to increase volume and keep the joint from shrinking between your tiles.

The only exception to this rule may appear when discussing the appropriate grout to use between polished stone like granite or marble.  Even if the job requires thin joints, you may think twice before using a sanded grout because there is a potential for it to scratch the surface of your stone.

A test on an inconspicuous section of your tile should give you a good idea on whether it is safe to use the unsanded variety of grout.  When it looks like unsanded grout may cause harm, you may want to go with epoxy grout, which we will discuss later.

Sanded or unsanded, most grout today includes cement and the addition of polymer ingredients that help to keep it from becoming brittle and looking irregular in terms of color and texture.  Older grouts that did not include these additives were often predisposed to becoming cracked and drying inconsistently.

Unfortunately, grout is still a porous material and thus susceptible to becoming stained, even with the addition of polymer ingredients.  As such most experts suggest that it be sealed after it is dry to keep it from becoming discolored shortly after it is installed.

When to Use Epoxy Grout

Particularly harsh areas may call for something even stronger and resilient than sealed grout with polymer ingredients.  Typically, these areas would equate to those that are regularly subjected to oil or strong acids, and most experts agree that epoxy grout is the way to go for these environments.  

This type of grout is actually made of an adhesive like resin and a hardener, and it also comes in unsanded and sanded styles like cement based grout.  

The advantages to using epoxy grout really come from its resistance to harsh substances and staining.  In recent years, some versions of epoxy grout have incorporated detergents into their ingredients, which have led to grout that is easy to clean and maintain.

Epoxy grout also has a reputation as a tough and sturdy material, making some types of epoxy grout ideal for use in high traffic areas or for use in counter or backsplash installations.  

There are also disadvantages to using this type of grout.  First, it is much more expensive than the average cement based grout, but they also often have a longer shelf life.  Additionally, you should take care when using epoxy grout with unglazed tile, as it has the potential to stain porous surfaces.  To avoid discoloration, most experts recommend sealing your tile before grouting.

Choosing Grout Color

Choosing the right grout color is an important step in the grouting process.  Those who haven’t taken on a grouting project in awhile may be surprised to find you are far from being limited to neutral shades of white or gray, and there is quite a wide range of grout colors available.  

Despite the bold choices available, you may ultimately be happiest with a safe, neutral color that doesn’t overpower the look of your tile.  When going for bold, make sure you test the way it looks with your tile in the same lighting conditions that you plan to use it.  Different types of light can produce varying results, and once the grout is down, it may not be easy to remedy a bad color choice.

Caring for Your Grout

When grout becomes stained, it doesn’t just become unsightly; the dirt that naturally builds up over time can also be accompanied by the existence of mold, which can actually have a negative impact on your health and be quite tricky to fend off.

In some cases, the damage to grout is not repairable, and the only solution available is the installation of new grout and occasionally new tile.

Professionals can also be used to clean and restore grout in less extreme situations.  Because certain cleaners can damage the appearance of your grout or even cause material damage, a professional cleaning service that can distinguish between the grout you have and offer the appropriate solution may be the best way to revive the look of your grout.  Often, these services can also be used to seal your grout and ensure you aren’t forced to deal with the same problem in the near future.

In terms of basic maintenance, you should never use cleaners with bleach ingredients to clean any type of colored grout.  This can easily damage the appearance of your grout and cause the color to fade very quickly.  Additionally, make sure that spills are tended to as quickly as possible, as the longer a spill is left on the surface of your grout, the more likely you are to be left with unsightly stains.

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