What Type of Grout for Subway Tile Backsplash

Choosing the right grout for your subway tile backsplash is an important decision that will impact the overall look and durability of your installation. The type of grout you select should be based on the tile material, color, width of the joints, and look you want to achieve. Here is an overview of the most common types of grout for subway tile backsplashes and the key factors to consider when making your choice.

Background on Grout for Tile Installations

Grout is the material used to fill the joints between tiles. It is a cement-based powder that is mixed with water to create a dense, durable material to bind the tiles together. Grout provides structural integrity to the tile installation and prevents moisture from penetrating and compromising the substrate.

There are a few main categories of grout:

  • Sanded grout – Contains fine silica sand particles and is best for joints 1/8 inch and wider. The sand provides strength and durability.
  • Unsanded grout – Does not contain sand so it can fill narrow grout lines 1/8 inch and smaller. Easy to apply smoothly.
  • Epoxy grout – A two-part grout consisting of epoxy resin and hardener. Extremely durable and stain resistant. Used for thin joints.
  • Urethane grout – Single component grout that contains urethane for flexibility. Resists staining and cracking. Used in joints up to 1/4 inch.

The most common choices for subway tile are sanded and unsanded cement grouts. Epoxy or urethane grout can also be used for their performance attributes but may be overkill for some applications.

Factors to Consider for Subway Tile Grout

When selecting your grout, keep the following factors in mind:

Tile Material and Joint Width

  • What material is your subway tile made from? Softer or porous tiles like natural stone often require wider grout joints for stability.
  • Measure the width of the joints. Grout joints 1/8 inch and smaller take unsanded grout. Wider joints need sanded grout for strength.


  • Choose a grout color that complements or matches your tile. White grout highlights white subway tiles. Gray grout can minimize the grid look.
  • Contrasting grout colors are also an option to make the joints stand out as part of the design.

Performance Needs

  • Consider epoxy or urethane grout if you need extremely durable, chemical-resistant, non-porous grout.
  • For lower maintenance needs, traditional cement grouts offer good durability at a lower cost.

Appearance and Finish

  • Matte, satin, or glossy finishes are available. Matte is the most subtle option.
  • Grout can be tinted with pigments to achieve custom colors.

Application and Cure Time

  • Some high performance grouts have specific mixing instructions and extended cure times. Factor this into your installation timeline.
  • Standard cement grouts offer ease of application for DIY projects.

Recommended Grout Options for Subway Tile

Here are some top options to consider for your subway tile backsplash based on common material types and joint widths:

Classic Ceramic or Porcelain Subway Tile

For classic 3×6 inch glossy ceramic or porcelain subway tiles with 1/8 inch joints, the following grouts work well:

  • Unsanded cement grout – Offers an inexpensive and easy solution well-suited to the thin joints. White is a popular color choice.
  • Epoxy grout – A nearly indestructible option for maximum stain resistance. More difficult to work with.
  • Sanded cement grout – The sand provides extra durability for heavyweight applications like behind a cooktop.

Natural Stone Subway Tiles

Stone subway tiles with slightly wider grout joints, around 1/8 to 3/16 inch, pair nicely with:

  • Sanded cement grout – The most compatible choice for junctions between uneven stone edges. Withstands expansion and contraction.
  • Urethane grout – Flexible, stain-proof formula made for natural stone. Increased longevity and maintenance ease.

Small Format Subway Tiles

For mini or stacked bond subway layouts with very narrow grout lines under 1/8 inch, use:

  • Unsanded cement grout – The go-to option for thin grout joints. Matches the delicate tile style.
  • Epoxy grout – The highest bonding, most durable grout for tight gaps. Costly but prevents staining between tiles.

Subway Tiles with Contrasting Grout

To make a bold statement with contrasting grout:

  • Sanded cement grout – Available in a huge array of pigmented colors from bright white to black for dramatic effect.
  • Epoxy grout – Offers even more color options from neon hues to earth tones. Allows creative freedom.

Grout Maintenance Tips

Proper care is crucial for your grout to stay looking fresh over the long term:

  • Allow full cure time before cleaning, usually 28 days for cement grout.
  • Seal cement grout annually to protect from stains and improve cleanability.
  • Use pH neutral cleaners instead of acids or bleach. Harsh chemicals degrade cement grouts.
  • Re-apply grout into cracked or missing areas to prevent moisture issues behind the tile.

Choosing the ideal grout involves balancing factors like application, appearance, performance, and maintenance. With subway tiles, the most foolproof options are quality unsanded or sanded cement grouts in standard white or gray. Consider epoxy or urethane for more durable, stain-proof grout. Always follow manufacturer instructions for best results. Investing in the right grout for your subway tile backsplash ensures it stays looking pristine for years of beauty and enjoyment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common grout used with subway tiles?

For most standard ceramic, porcelain, or glass subway tile installations, unsanded cement grout is the most common and recommended choice. It’s optimized to fit the thin grout joints, offers good durability, and keeps things simple for DIY projects.

Should I use sanded or unsanded grout with subway tile?

In general, unsanded grout is preferable for grout lines less than 1/8 inch, while sanded grout is better suited to widths of 1/8 inch or larger. Measure your tile spacing to determine whether a sanded or unsanded formula is appropriate.

What color grout looks best with white subway tile?

White and light gray are the most popular grout colors paired with classic white subway tiles. White grout highlights and accentuates each individual tile. Light gray minimizes the grid pattern for a more unified look. Darker grouts can also create dramatic contrast.

Can I use epoxy grout with subway tile?

Yes, epoxy grout is an excellent choice for use with subway tiles. Its extreme durability and stain resistance compensate for its higher cost and more challenging installation. Make sure to follow all mixing and application instructions precisely.

How soon can I grout subway tiles after installation?

It’s best to wait at least 24 hours after setting tiles to apply grout. This allows the mortar to fully cure so it can hold the tiles firmly in place during vigorous grouting. Pay close attention to the tile manufacturer’s recommendations.


Choosing grout for a subway tile backsplash sets the tone for the whole design. Sanded and unsanded cement grouts offer affordable, low-maintenance performance. For specialty applications, epoxy and urethane grouts provide ultimate durability and stain protection. Always thoroughly mix grout and apply it smoothly into joints. Proper sealing and gentle cleaning will maintain the grout lines and keep your backsplash looking pristine. With the right grout choice, your subway tiled backsplash can withstand heavy use for many years of function and beauty.