Sanded vs. Unsanded Tile Grout: Basics, Pros & Cons


Installing tile can transform the look and feel of any space, from kitchens and bathrooms to entryways and patios. An essential step when tiling is applying grout between the tile joints, which seals the installation and gives it a polished, finished appearance. When it comes to grout, homeowners have a choice between two main types: sanded and unsanded. Understanding the differences between sanded vs. unsanded tile grout is key to choosing the right product for your tiling project.

In this detailed guide, we’ll break down the basics, pros, and cons of sanded and unsanded grout to help you decide which is best for your needs. Whether you’re tiling a floor, wall, countertop, or other surface, read on to learn the key factors to consider when selecting grout.

What is Tile Grout?

Before diving into the specifics of sanded and unsanded grout, let’s review the basics of what grout is and why it’s an indispensable part of any tile installation.

Grout is a cement-based material that is applied between the joints of tile. It fills the spaces between tiles and adheres to the edges, forming a water-resistant seal that allows for a cohesive surface. Grout also provides structural integrity by binding the tiles together.

Aesthetically, grout plays a key role in the final look of the tiled surface. It provides color and visual contrast to accent the tile design. Grout lines can be finished smoothly or textured depending on the desired style.

In addition to binding, sealing, and accenting the tiles, grout performs several other important functions:

  • Prevents moisture damage: Grout creates a water barrier that protects the sub-floor or backing from water damage. This helps prevent erosion, mildew, and other moisture-related issues.
  • Allows for movement: Natural shifts from temperature changes and other forces will cause installed tiles to move slightly over time. Grout provides just enough flexibility to accommodate this movement without compromising the installation.
  • Resists staining: Quality grout will resist staining from spills, foods, and other materials. Regular sealing of the grout will help further protect against stains.
  • Easy to clean: Grout creates a smooth, contiguous surface that can be easily maintained by sweeping and mopping. It’s more sanitary than open tile joints which can collect dirt and grime.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of grout, let’s detail the key differences between the two main types: sanded and unsanded grout.

Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout

The main distinction between sanded and unsanded grout comes down to the inclusion of sand in the mixture.

Sanded grout contains fine silica sand particles in addition to cement pigments and other ingredients. The sand gives sanded grout an abrasive, gritty texture.

Unsanded grout has a smoother consistency without sand particles. It relies solely on the cement and pigments for its body and color.

Beyond the presence of sand, sanded and unsanded grout have differences in their performance characteristics:


  • Sanded grout is suitable for floor installations and any tile with joints 1/8″ and wider. The sand allows it to stay firmly in place in wider grout lines.
  • Unsanded grout is intended for wall tiles, countertops, mosaics, and tile with joints smaller than 1/8″. The smoother consistency allows for easy spreading and cleanup in thin grout lines.


  • Sanded grout is more durable for high-traffic floors due to its sand composition. The grit provides greater structural integrity and abrasion resistance over time.
  • Unsanded grout offers sufficient strength for walls and countertops but lacks the durability for floor installations with heavier use.


  • Sanded grout has a rougher finish and more varied texture compared to the smooth consistency of unsanded. This can provide a more rustic, handcrafted look.
  • Unsanded grout has a fine, smooth finish that works well for refined designs and minimalist contemporary styles. The consistent color enhances uniformity.


  • Sanded grout is slightly more prone to staining due to its more porous, uneven finish. Regular sealing is important to prevent discoloration.
  • Unsanded grout provides good stain resistance with proper sealing. The tight consistency helps resist absorption of spills and materials.

As a general rule, sanded grout is suitable for floor tile over 1/8″ joint width, while unsanded is recommended for wall tile, mosaics, and countertops. However, there are always exceptions, so be sure to follow the specific product instructions.

Now that we’ve outlined the key differences between sanded and unsanded grouts, let’s take a more detailed look at the pros and cons of each.

Pros and Cons of Sanded Grout


  • Excellent durability for high-traffic floor applications
  • Provides secure joints for wider grout lines 1/8″ and up
  • Sand allows grout to stay in place without sinking or cracking
  • Abrasive texture offers good slip resistance for floor safety
  • Rougher finish provides rustic, handmade appearance
  • Wide variety of colors and finishes available
  • Lower cost than most unsanded grouts


  • Difficult to completely clean off tile surface during application
  • Gritty texture can scratch certain soft tile surfaces
  • More prone to staining than unsanded varieties
  • Visible shrinkage cracks more likely due to abrasive fillers
  • Not suitable for narrow grout joints under 1/8″
  • Requires sealing to prevent discoloration and staining

Sanded grout is ideal for larger format floor tiles where its durability and secure joints offer critical performance advantages. However, the gritty texture can pose cleaning challenges, may scratch soft tiles, and needs diligent sealing. Overall, sanded grout provides an economical and functional option for most floor installations.

Pros and Cons of Unsanded Grout


  • Smooth, fine finish with consistent coloration
  • Allows for very narrow grout lines less than 1/8″
  • Easy clean-up from tile surface during installation
  • Resists staining and discoloration
  • Won’t scratch soft glazed tiles
  • Ideal for polished porcelain, ceramic wall tile
  • Perfect for refined, contemporary designs
  • Creates uniform appearance for mosaics


  • Lacks durability for high-traffic floor applications
  • Potential for shrinkage cracks in joints over 1/8″
  • Requires sealing to prevent staining
  • May sink slightly in vertical joints over time
  • Limited abrasion resistance for floors
  • Generally more expensive than sanded grout
  • Low porosity offers less traction for floor tile

Unsanded grout shines for wall tiles, mosaics, and other vertical surfaces where its smooth consistency and stain resistance provide major advantages. The fine finish highlights the tile without detracting from the design. Just take care when installing on floors, where it lacks the durability of sanded grout.

Now that we’ve explored the pros and cons of each grout type, let’s go over some tips for choosing the right product for your next tiling project.

Tips for Choosing Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout

  • For floor installations, sanded grout is the better choice in most cases. Exceptions include mosaic sheets or tile with very tight joints under 1/8”.
  • For walls and countertops, unsanded grout is preferred. It will be easier to work with and provide better stain resistance.
  • Check manufacturer guidelines for recommended grout types and maximum joint width for the specific tile. Their instructions will often dictate your choice.
  • Consider the joint width – under 1/8″ should only use unsanded grout according to most manufacturers.
  • For polished marble, travertine, or glazed ceramic, unsanded grout is safer since it won’t scratch the delicate tile surface.
  • In wet areas like showers, unsanded grout resists water absorption and staining better in the long run.
  • For heavy use floors, sanded grout is more durable and will resist wear over time.
  • Match the finish – smooth unsanded grout for contemporary styles, sanded for rustic.
  • Take color into account – unsanded grout provides more uniform coloring with no dark sand particles.

Following manufacturer guidelines is always advisable when selecting grout. If specifications aren’t provided, use the joint width, tile type, and application to inform your choice between sanded and unsanded varieties.

Now let’s move on to answering some frequently asked questions about sanded and unsanded grout.


Below are answers to some of the most common questions about choosing and working with sanded vs. unsanded tile grout:

Can sanded grout be used on walls?

Sanded grout can technically be used on walls, but it is not generally recommended. The gritty texture makes it more difficult to spread smoothly and clean off the tile surface. Unsanded grout is formulated specifically for easier application on vertical surfaces.

Is unsanded grout really necessary for walls?

While sanded grout can be made to work, unsanded grout is specially designed for walls and other vertical tile surfaces. The smooth, fine consistency makes application much easier without sand particles that can scratch tile. Using the right product saves time and frustration.

Can I use sanded grout for floor tile under 1/8” joints?

Most manufacturers specify that sanded grout should only be used in joints 1/8” and larger. The sand particles in narrower joints don’t have sufficient room to bind properly. Stick to unsanded grout for floor tiles with thin grout lines.

Is unsanded grout bad for floors?

Unsanded grout lacks the durability and stain resistance needed for most floor installations. The exception would be mosaic sheets or tile with very tight joints. For floor tile, sanded grout is the better choice in nearly all cases.

How do I get a smooth finish with sanded grout?

Achieving a smooth finish takes some skill with sanded grout. Allow it to firm up slightly before finishing for best results. Apply firm pressure with a grout float or sponge in a circular motion to smooth and shape joints. Don’t overwork the grout or it may pull out.

What’s the easiest grout to work with as a beginner?

Unsanded grout is more beginner-friendly in most cases. It spreads into joints smoothly, won’t scratch tile, and cleans up easily from the tile face. Just ensure the joints you’re grouting are within the size specification for the product.

How soon can I seal grout after installation?

Grout should cure for a minimum of 72 hours before sealing to allow moisture to fully evaporate. This helps the sealer properly penetrate and bond with the grout. Quick-dry additives can reduce cure time if needed.

How often should grout be sealed?

Grout should be sealed once per year in residential settings. Heavy use floors may need sealing every 6 months. Check for absorbency by applying water droplets – if they darken the grout, it’s time for a fresh seal. Re-seal as needed.


When tiling a project, deciding between sanded vs. unsanded grout may seem like a minor detail. However, choosing the right product for the application makes a major difference in the ease of installation and the lasting look of the finished project.

Sanded grout offers durability and gritty rustic style for floor tile over 1/8” joints. Unsanded grout provides a refined smooth finish ideal for walls, mosaics, and smaller tiles. Consider the tile type, joint size, location, and desired aesthetic to select the appropriate grout. With the right product and proper sealing, you’ll have beautiful, long-lasting results.

For your next tiling project, keep this sanded vs. unsanded grout guide on hand as a helpful reference. Once you understand the differences and applications, you’ll be able to tile with skill and confidence.