Choosing the right grout for your backsplash is one of the most important decisions when designing your kitchen or bathroom. The grout lines act as the mortar between the tiles and can really make or break the look of your backsplash. With so many options on the market, it can be tricky to know which type of grout is best for your particular tile and design aesthetic. This comprehensive guide breaks down the pros and cons of different grout types to help you select the perfect product.
What is Grout?
Before diving into the specifics, it’s helpful to understand precisely what grout is and why it’s an essential component of any tiled backsplash.
Grout is a cement-based material that is used to fill the seams between tiles. It creates a water-resistant barrier to protect the substrate behind the tile and prevents moisture from seeping underneath. Grout also serves aesthetic purposes, as it produces defined lines that complement the pattern and design of the tile.
There are a variety of grout formulations on the market, but most contain roughly the same basic ingredients:
- Cement – Usually Portland cement, this binds the grout together.
- ** Pigments** – Mineral-based pigments provide color.
- ** Water** – Water starts the curing reaction.
- Polymers – Latex or acrylic polymers make grout more flexible.
- Sand – Fine silica sand fills out the mix.
Other additives like perlite or calcium carbonate may be added as well.
When mixed with water, these components chemically react and harden into a solid, finished grout. Finding the right grout involves balancing factors like color, texture, width, durability, stain resistance, and ease of application.
Grout Characteristics to Consider
There are a few key characteristics of grout that you’ll want to keep in mind as you shop for options. Consider the following:
Obviously, color is paramount. You’ll want grout that complements your tile selection and matches your overall kitchen or bath decor. There’s an incredibly wide range of grout colors available, from basic white and black to bold reds and blues.
Popular choices include classic whites, warm grays, and earth tones that highlight natural stone or ceramic tiles. It’s a good idea to view grout color swatches in person rather than relying on photos online.
Look for grout that offers the texture or finish you desire. Standard smooth grout provides clean lines and works well for glass tiles and mosaics. Sanded grout has a gritty texture that’s ideal for wider grout lines between large format tiles.
You can also find specialty finishes like metallic grout with a shiny, sparkling appearance.
Consider the spacing between your tiles and select grout for the proper joint width. Most grouts work for grout lines 1/8 to 1/2 inches wide. Use unsanded grout for narrower joints under 1/8 inch, as it easily flows into tiny crevices. Sanded grout with fine sand is best for wider grout lines over 1/8 inch, since the sand fillers prevent shrinkage cracks as it cures.
For backsplashes in high-moisture areas like behind sinks and stoves, durable grout is a must. Look for cement-based grout with high flexural and compressive strength. Epoxy grout is extremely durable and waterproof. Stay away from acrylic latex grout for wet areas.
Spills and splatters are inevitable, making stain-resistant grout a priority for backsplashes. Epoxy and urethane grouts provide superior stain resistance. Cement grout treated with sealers can also repel stains. Stay away from non-sealed, cement-only grout if stains are a concern.
Consider whether you’ll be DIYing your project or hiring a professional. Pre-mixed, ready-to-use grouts are the simplest to work with. Cement grout requires precise mixing and fast application. Epoxy grout has a short working time before hardening. Pros can easily work with any product, so focus on the finished look you want.
Now that you know what to look for in grout, read on as we break down the pros and cons of the most popular options!
Types of Grout for Backsplashes
Cement-based grout is a go-to choice for most tile installers. It provides a durable finish at an affordable price point. Here are the pros and cons:
- Inexpensive compared to specialty grouts
- Available in nearly any color
- Can be used for joint widths from 1/8″ to 1/2″
- Creates a durable finish
- Can be sealed to increase stain resistance
- Not inherently stain proof
- Requires sealing every 12-18 months
- Needs precise water ratios for proper curing
- Dries fast, making application tricky for beginners
Cement grout is sold in sanded and unsanded formulas. Sanded grout has fine silica sand in the mix and is often used for wider joints. Unsanded is best for narrow grout lines under 1/8”.
For the strongest backsplash that won’t easily crack or crumble, use cement-based grout with latex or acrylic polymers added. This increases flexibility and adhesion.
Avoid grout with only Portland cement. While budget-friendly, it is prone to cracking and crumbling, especially in wet areas. Spend a few extra dollars for a polymer-modified formula.
Cost: $0.50 – $1.50 per lb
Epoxy grout is renowned for its intense durability and stain resistance. Here’s an overview:
- Extremely durable and scratch resistant
- Stain proof and waterproof
- Resists mold and mildew growth
- Creates bright white grout lines
- Long lifespan with minimal maintenance
- More expensive upfront cost
- Requires skill to apply correctly
- Can be difficult to work with as it hardens fast
- Nearly impossible to remove entirely if redo is needed
Epoxy grout is actually a 2-part epoxy resin, not a true cement grout. The two parts (hardener and resin) must be precisely mixed together per the manufacturer’s directions.
Once mixed, epoxy has a short working time before setup, usually 30-40 minutes. Speed and skill are needed to fully pack joints before hardening. Using epoxy grout is ideally left to professionals.
The high performance comes at a price – expect to pay around $50-$100 per gallon. But the near lifetime durability outweighs the upfront cost for many.
If you expect heavy use and abuse, few products can match the resilience of epoxy grout. It’s the gold standard for industrial and commercial kitchens. The glossy finish and UV resistance keep white grout lines looking pristine.
Cost: $50 – $100 per gallon
Urethane grout offers performance nearly on par with epoxy. Here’s an overview:
- Extremely durable and scratch resistant
- Stain proof
- Resists mold and mildew
- Won’t yellow over time
- Long lifespan
- On the pricier side
- Requires some skill to apply
- Longer cure time than epoxy
- Hard to remove completely
Like epoxy, urethane is actually a resin, not a cement. It offers similarly impressive strength and stain resistance. Brands like Mapei’s Kerapoxy and Laticrete’s Spectralock are well-known options.
Urethane grout sets slower than epoxy, giving you around 45 minutes of working time. This makes application a bit more beginner friendly.
While costing slightly less than epoxy per gallon, urethane is still one of the pricier grout options. Yet the unmatched performance and longevity make it worthwhile for many applications.
For backsplashes that need to stand up to years of heavy use while maintaining a pristine look, urethane is an optimal choice.
Cost: $30 – $90 per gallon
Acrylic latex grout offers a budget-friendly alternative to cement grout. Here’s an overview:
- Extremely inexpensive
- Already contains polymers for flexibility
- Resists shrinking and cracking
- Easy water clean-up
- Not as strong or durable as other grouts
- More prone to staining
- Should not be used in wet areas
- Has potential for mold growth
Acrylic grouts like Custom’s Prism and Mapei’s Ultracolor Plus FA contain acrylic polymers instead of cement. This makes them highly flexible and resistant to cracking. Their ease of use makes them ideal for DIYers.
While great for walls and dry areas, the lower durability makes acrylic grout a poor choice behind sinks, stoves, and in bathrooms. It can degrade faster when exposed to consistent moisture. Staining is also more likely.
If working in a protected area and cost is a top concern, acrylics offer a serviceable grouting option. Just don’t expect the highest performance levels of other products.
Cost: $10 – $30 per gallon
Choosing the Best Grout for YOUR Backsplash
Now that you’re familiar with the pros and cons of various grout types, it’s time to narrow down your options. Keep these tips in mind when selecting the ideal formula for your backsplash:
- For heavy use areas like kitchens, opt for highly durable epoxy or urethane grout. Don’t compromise on longevity and stain resistance.
- In bathrooms, moisture resistance is key. Avoid acrylics and go for well-sealed cement or epoxy.
- Match grout texture to tile size – unsanded for tinier tiles and mosaics, sanded for larger tiles.
- For polished stones like marble or travertine, use unsanded grout to avoid scratching.
- Pick a grout color that complements your tiles. Contrasting grout highlights tile patterns. Matching grout creates a seamless look.
- Consider hiring a pro if selecting epoxy or urethane. DIY cement or acrylic grout if you want to tackle the project yourself.
And if you’re still unsure, don’t hesitate to ask the tile store associates for recommendations. They can point you towards grouts that work best for your specific design.
How to Apply Grout for Backsplash
Once you’ve selected the ideal grout for your needs, proper application is key to achieving a successful result. Here’s a quick overview of basic grout application steps:
Step 1 – Prepare the Joints
Before grouting, ensure joints are clean and free of excess adhesive, dust, or debris that could impede adhesion. Run a grout saw or pointed tool along joints to remove any dried thinset.
Step 2 – Seal the Tile
Sealing natural stone, unglazed, or porous tile beforehand prevents staining and creates easier clean-up. Use a penetrating sealer suited for the tile material.
Step 3 – Mix the Grout
For cement grout, carefully follow package directions to achieve the right consistency, mixing only enough for use within 30 minutes. Epoxy and urethane grouts require precise mixing per manufacturer instructions.
Step 4 – Apply Grout
Holding a rubber grout float at a 45° angle, firmly pack joints full by dragging diagonally across tiles. Fill any low spots. Remove excess grout by holding float edge flat and drawing diagonally across tiles.
Step 5 – Clean Grout Haze
Once grout loses its sheen, use a sponge and clean water to gently wipe diagonally across tiles. Rinse sponge frequently. Polish with a soft cloth once haze is gone.
Step 6 – Seal & Cure
After final cleaning, allow cement grout to cure fully for 72 hours. Apply a penetrating sealer for stain resistance. Epoxy and urethane grouts don’t require sealing.
Follow these tips, take your time, and you can achieve gorgeous, long-lasting grout lines perfect for your backsplash installation.
Grout Maintenance Tips
To keep your backsplash grout looking fresh, be sure to:
- Seal cement grout every 12-18 months
- Immediately wipe any spills from grout
- Use a gentle pH neutral cleaner for routine grout cleaning
- Re-apply grout or use caulk for any cracked or missing areas
- Consider grout coloring to refresh old discolored grout
With proper care, quality grout can last for decades!
Frequently Asked Questions
Many homeowners have additional questions when selecting grout. Here are answers to some of the most common queries:
Is white grout or black grout better for backsplash?
This depends on the look you wish to achieve. White grout provides a clean, bright finish. Black grout offers dramatic contrast. Neutral grout colors like grays and tans are also popular backsplash choices.
Does grout go on top of backsplash?
Yes, grout is applied after the tiles are set to fill the spaces between them. The grout bonds to the edges of each tile to form seamless finished grout lines.
What color grout is best for white subway tile?
Classic white grout matches white subway tiles seamlessly. Gray or tan grout can also complement without too high contrast. For more pop, try a darker grout color like black or navy.
Should I use sanded or unsanded grout for backsplash?
Use unsanded grout for tiles spaced less than 1/8″ apart. Sanded grout works for joint widths 1/8″ or larger. Match grout texture to the tile size for the smoothest finish.
How long does backsplash grout take to dry?
Cement grout takes 72 hours to fully cure and dry. Epoxy and urethane grouts cure much quicker, typically within 24 hours. Avoid getting grout lines wet while curing.
Enhance Your Backsplash with the Perfect Grout
From elegant marbles and natural stones to handmade artisan tiles, the grout you choose can make or break your entire backsplash design. Take the time to select the right formula for your specific needs.
Pre-mixed cement grout offers an affordable and beginner-friendly option for protected areas. Epoxy and urethane grouts provide ultimate durability for high-traffic zones. For a seamless finish, match grout color and texture to your tiles.
With proper application and routine care, your backsplash grout will maintain its like-new appearance for many years before ever needing replacement. Achieve kitchen or bath dreams by choosing the ideal grout for your next backsplash project.