How to Grout Tile: Grouting Tips and Techniques

Grout is one of the biggest concerns of homeowners undergoing a bathroom renovation. Will white grout discolor? Can anything help keep the grout clean? How does one repair grout if it cracks? What color grout should be used? Many homeowners will be concerned that they are installing tile that will just make the maintenance of the bathroom more difficult with all the grout involved.

Today’s grout has come a long way from previous products, however, making many of these concerns a thing of the past.

Choosing the Grout

The first step to any proper grout installation is choosing the right type of grout for the job. A grout joint that is 1/8” or larger, such as those used with tumbled stones, or mosaics, as well as any grout used with glass tiles, should have sanded grout applied. Grout joints less than 1/8” or tiles that are butted together, should use unsanded.

So while choosing colors for grout may seem like a job to be left to the contractor, or one to be hurried through before moving on to larger decisions, choosing the right, or wrong, color of tile grout can have a big impact on the final look of the design.

Complimentary Tile Grout Colors

In many tile designs, the easiest way to select a grout color is to find one that will blend in with the tile. This puts the emphasis on the tile itself, making the grout lines almost invisible. For mosaic grout, decorative tile designs and tile with a lot of character, such as marble it makes the most sense to choose a grout color that will simply fade into the background.

If an exact match of grout color is impossible to find, the easiest way to get a grout color to fade away is to choose a color just a shade lighter than the actual tile. For example, if using a mosaic blend of beach glass tiles in shades of blue and green, it’s going to be hard to find a color of grout that matches the colors involved. So choosing a grout color in a light blue green, such as Tec’s Sage, will ensure that the grout fades into the background of the tile.

Accent Tile Grout Colors

Occasionally, a contrasting color of grout can be used to make the tiles in a design really pop. This can be beneficial if using a very saturated or dark color of ceramic tile, such as cobalt blue.

While it may be possible to use a dark blue grout that will fade into the background, if this in a shower, a solid wall of dark blue may begin to seem oppressive. Therefore, a bright white grout will set off the blue tiles, making the cobalt seem brighter while lightening the entire design.

The key, in this case, is to go light against a darker color. While it can be tempting to try to set off a light color tiled with a dark colored grout, this frequently leads to the emphasis being put on the grout, rather than on the tile.

Selecting Floor Tile Grout

While there are stain resistant grouts on the market, floor tiles which see a lot of heavy traffic will also see a lot of moisture, dirt, and stains. Even the most well sealed and cared for grout may start to darken over time in places, which can lead to a dingy looking floor. Therefore, choosing a deeper complimentary color is the way to go.

A white tile floor should be grouted with a standard gray grout to minimize staining. A cream-colored floor tile should use a color of grout closer to almond than to cream; do not try to go too dark in this case as the attention will be drawn more to the grout than the tile, but a slightly darker shade can help to mask stains over time.

If using a light colored marble tile on the floor, try selecting a color of grout that matches one of the veins in the marble, rather than the body of the marble. For example, Bianco Carrara marble may look fine in a drywall application with an extremely light gray grout but will work better on a floor application with a medium toned gray that matches the gray veins of the tile.

Selecting Shower Tile Grout

The color of shower tile grout for the walls will depend a great deal on the type of tile being installed, and how close together these tiles are. Machine made tiles, which can be installed touching one another with very little grout, should use a color matched grout, even if the tiles are white. Handmade tiles, however, which use a much wider grout joint, should go just a shade darker than the tile to help mask water stains and discoloration over time.

The shower floor on the other hand, should either closely match the color of the tile for darker tiles, or go much darker than the tiles in the case of white or light colored tiles. Shower floors are at high risk for staining, as impurities can be wicked up from the below the shower and around the drain, as well as from above, so choase a dark colored grout to impede this staining.


The type of grout that is used will depend on the joint width. The standard for wall tile is un-sanded grout (up to 1/8” joint space) but some applications may require sanded thin-set (1/8” and wider joints).

Have a bucket of clean water and a mixing-bucket ready, along with a grouting trowel and hand trowel. The grouting trowel should have a rounded edge on one end for corner application.

In a tile repair situation, dry grouts can be mixed together for a custom color. Mix two colors together dry, adding the darker of the two in small increments until the dry mix has the same color as the existing grout. The dry mix is the color that the finished application will dry too.

Mixing the Grout

Mix the grout according to the instructions on the bag or box. However, it is better to start with less water than too much, as water can always be added. If the dry grout runs out, it will take a long time for the mix to dry. It may also become useless as well if too much water was added to the mix.

Be sure to mix the grout well, preferably with a drill mixer, and make sure that all of the grout is mixed evenly. However, it is hardly an exact science. If the grout tends to run down the wall, then it is too wet. If it does not fill the joint evenly and really has to be forced, it is too dry.

Add small increments of water to grout that is too dry, and add small increments of dry grout mix to grout that is too wet. Grout takes a very long time to set into the bucket, so there is no need to rush.

Spreading the Grout

Spread the grout into the wall by holding the grout trowel at a 45-degree angle while sweeping across the joints diagonally. If the grout trowel is used parallel to the tile joints, it will dig into them.

Check the drying time on the bag or box, and make sure to only spread an amount of grout that can be washed at the specified time. However, it is only a relative approximation, and having to wash grout that is too dry is both extremely unpleasant and strenuous. In other words, keep an eye on the condition of the grout.

If unsure, start with a small area to gauge the drying time, the time spent on the application, and the time spent washing the grout. Check on the grout in the bucket from time to time, and add more water as necessary.

Corners are difficult to grout and take some practice. Start from the top of a corner with excess grout, and force it into the corner using the rounded edge of the grout trowel. Use dryer grout (scrape some from around the inside edges of the bucket, if need be) for the corner application, and make sure that the outcome is a thick and solid grout line. This is the one part of the grout application that can dry almost excessively, and then be scrubbed down to a uniform width.

Use the bottom edge of the grout trowel to apply a thin strip of grout to the edge of the bull-nose trim one section at a time. Apply it as evenly as possible, holding the same angle and let this part dry well. It also needs to be scrubbed to a uniform shape.

Washing the Grout

Wash the grout with a sponge, one small section at a time to start with, lightly scrubbing the excess grout from the tile surface, while keeping the grout lines at a uniform depth. If the grout lines appear too deep after washing, the grout is probably too fresh to wash.

Rinse the sponge once, then wipe across the surface of the area that was scrubbed with a clean sponge. Use one side first in one continuous sweeping motion, then the opposite side, and rinse each time after both sides have been used. It is best to wash in a diagonal direction to the tile joints.

Although it may seem excessive to rinse the sponge this often, it is the only way to clean the grout haze from the wall. Change the water and repeat at least once. A third time is often necessary to remove the grout residue from the wall.

After the grout has cured completely, generally in 48 hours, the grout should be ready to seal. Wipe any remaining residue from the wall with a dry rag before sealing the grout.

Caulking should also be applied to all corners of the installation after the sealer has dried completely.

Sealing the Grout

One of the most important steps to ensuring a clean, stain-free grout is to keep the grout well sealed. Most grouts, with the exception of epoxy, are porous. This means that their surface is covered in thousands of tiny holes invisible to the naked eye. These holes mean that impurities in water, mold, mildew, and dirt can seep into the grout where a simple sponge and cleaning element can’t reach.

A silicone based, impregnating sealer, when applied to the grout, will fill up those holes keeping stains, dirt, and impurities on the surface and easier to clean away. Some new grouts, such as Tec’s XT grout will contain a sealer already mixed into the material. This grout is difficult to work with, however; so many contractors and installers will choose to work without it.

For grout that does not contain sealers, and for older grouts already installed, a sealer should be applied on a yearly basis to any light colored grouts.

To seal the grout, pour some of the liquid sealer into a small container and use a foam paint brush. There are specific grout sealers available, but any silicone based impregnating sealer will work, including those used on natural stone. If using a specific grout sealer, do not use the brush applicator attached; a foam brush will do a better job of working the sealer into the crevices of the grout.

Once the sealer has been applied to all grout lines, allow it to sit for up to an hour, and then wipe away the excess from surrounding tiles with a lint-free cloth. The sealer will have an unpleasant odor while it is drying, so proper ventilation will be required.

Cleaning the Grout

Timing is all-important. Logically, the less time the grout has been on the tile surface the easier it will be to clean. If the grout has splashed and you are immediately aware of it, quickly wipe the grout with a moist towel and discard. Be certain you have cleaned all grout residue from the surface; grout will be much harder to remove when it has hardened, even partially, so try to catch the problem early on.

DIY or Hire a Pro?

Consider your options. You may either hire a floor and tile professional or do the job yourself. An expert can drawn upon experience and repetition to analyze your problem and provide the best solution, so hiring a pro is the wisest option if the grout is partially or completely dried and if your floors are very valuable. If you decide to tackle the job yourself, there are many do-it-yourself books and internet sites that can arm a weekend grout warrior with expert advice.

Removing Hardened Grout From Tile Surfaces

If the stains are too deep to remove and a colorant is not an option, it is possible to remove the old grout and regrout the floor. This should only be done if the surrounding tile and the substrate are both in good condition. If replacing one or two old tiles as well, this is the perfect time to remove the old grout and regrout the floor.

To remove the old grout, use either a utility knife or the pointed edge of a church key or can opener. To gain purchase in the grout, place the point of the knife or church key into the grout and tap it lightly with a mallet. Pull the knife or church key along with the grout line, in short, even bursts to pull up the old grout in chunks. This is a time-consuming process, so don’t be afraid to move slowly and do it in sections.

Run a vacuum over the entire area once the old grout has come up to remove any dust and other loose chunks. Wash the area with a damp sponge or mop and allow to dry completely before regrouting the tile.

If grouting for the first time or replacing old grout, be sure to mix in a grout additive that will help impede staining in the future. Additives are easier to work with than pre-sealed grouts and epoxys and are mixed into the grout in place of water.

Care for the tile grout from the time of installation and know that it will continue to keep the tile job looking great for years to come.

Epoxy grout is extremely strong and difficult to remove. It is possible to remove most other semi-hardened grouts, however, by prying them up with a straight edge like a blunt-edged piece of wood. As a last resort, a professional flooring expert may decide to use an acid wash, but do not attempt this option, yourself. Acid washes can damage some tile types and can be harmful to the skin.

Clean and Seal Tiles

Clean and seal your tiles once the grout has been removed from the surface. Once the grout has been removed, thoroughly clean the floor and use a commercial sealant to protect the tiles. A flooring expert or home improvement center can recommend the best cleaners and sealers for your tile type.

Grout Repair

If grout has become cracked and is beginning to separate from the tiles, it may be necessary to replace it. Use a utility knife, or the pointed end of a church key to dig up the old grout. Try taking a small piece of the old grout along to a tile store for help in matching the original color.

Clean surrounding grout well, before applying new grout to the cracked areas. It may be necessary to use a grout colorant product on the entire area, once the new grout is dry, to blend the two areas together, in the case of stained or dirty grout.

Most new grouts are much better at resisting mold, mildew and stains that previous grouts. It is always beneficial, however, to add some stain resistor to the grout to help ensure its long life.

For floors prone to shifting, or for very small repair jobs, consider using a latex additive caulk, in a matching color to the rest of the grout. Caulk is available in small tubes, for repairs that a 10lb bag of grout would be excessive for, and can flex and bend better than grout, making it ideal for areas prone to movement. Caulk is available in sanded and unsanded varieties, in many of the same colors as grout.

Take steps to choose the right grout, seal and clean it well, and enjoy the beauty of the tile job for years to come.