Sanded vs. Unsanded Tile Grout: Which Is Better?

Grout being applied to tiles using a grout spreader
Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

When laying tile, two wet materials hold the structure together: mortar and grout.  Mortar forms the bed of the tile and grout fills in the spaces between the tile.

With grout, you have a choice of sanded vs. unsanded.  This guide will help you choose between those two types of grout for each application in different parts of the house.

Recommended Uses

Location/Use

Sanded Grout

Unsanded Grout
Bathroom or Kitchen FloorYesYes
Rectified TileNoYes
Shower WallNoYes
Shower PanYesYes
Bathroom WallNoYes
Polished or Honed StoneNoYes

Mortar vs. Grout

Mortar:  The bottom-most "bed" for the tile, none of which you see when the tile is laid.  Mortar is responsible for most of the tilework's structural stability.  While grout does have some structural integrity, most of the adhesion work is done by the mortar.

Grout:  After the mortar has solidly dried, grout is squeezed in between the tiles with a rubber float.  Grout is quite visible, thus it is a style element as well as a functional one.  It adds some stability and prevents debris from settling between the tiles.

Sanded vs. Unsanded: In General

Sanded Grout:  True to its name, sanded grout contains very fine sand and is best for wider grout lines.  It should be your "go-to" choice for most tiling applications.  It's also your cheaper option, since sand is a cheaper filler than the polymers in unsanded grout.

Unsanded Grout:  Unsanded grout is best for very thin grout lines 1/8" to 1/16".

 Unsanded grout also makes it easier to work with vertical surfaces such as tiled shower walls.  The lack of abrasive sand in unsanded grout also means you should use it for scratchable surfaces like glass or honed stone.  Because so many of its ingredients are different, it is essentially a completely different product from sanded grout.

Sanded Tile Grout

  • For Most Uses:  Sanded grout should be your default choice for general use tiling--flooring and walls.  It is widely available, has the greatest range of mixed color choices, and reduces grout shrinkage.  Think of sanded grout as the "go-to" grout for everything except for a few outliers that absolutely require it.  In fact, using unsanded grout as your universal grout for all applications can be detrimental because structurally it doesn't hold up as well as sanded grout.
  • Normal to Wide Grout Widths:  For grout lines 1/8" - 1/2".  For anything more than 1/2", you will not be installing interior tile as this is not practical.  Because unsanded grout can also be used for 1/8" lines, between the two it is recommended that you use sanded grout.
  • Normal Tile Surfaces:  Used for tile surfaces where the possibility of scratching from the sand content in the tile grout will not be a problem.  This can be helpful for DIYers who are not confident about their grouting skills and may need to re-grout at least one other time.
  • Cost:  Use sanded when cost is more of an issue. Unsanded grout is over twice as expensive as sanded grout.  This is because sand is cheap and it forms the bulk of sanded tile grout. With non-sanded grout, more expensive polymers must be added to form the content, significantly driving up cost.
  • More In-Stock Color Choices:  At consumer-level retail outlets like Home Depot or Lowe's, you tend to find a few more in-stock color choices with sanded grout than non-sanded, simply because it is the more popular option.

Unsanded (or Non-Sanded) Tile Grout

  • Thin Grout Widths:  For grout lines 1/8" to 1/16". Sanded grout will not properly compact into thinner grout lines. Non-sanded grout used in lines 1/8" or more will slump, crack, and otherwise not provide proper fill.  Most grout lines with unsanded grout are no thinner than 1/16".
  • Vertical Applications:  While either sanded or non-sanded can be used for vertical tile (bathroom walls, shower walls, etc.), non-sanded grout provides a better working material.  It sticks better to vertical surfaces with less of the slump associated with sanded grout.
  • Use For "Scratchable" Surfaces:  Unsanded grout is usually recommended for tile that is easily scratched, such as stones, glass, and certain porcelains and ceramics. The sand content in sanded tile grout may damage these surfaces.  In practice, veteran tilers relate that the abrasion from sanded tile grout is likely not enough to scratch tile surfaces. Of course, that is under an expert hand.