Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout: Choosing the Right One For Your Tile Installation

Sanded vs unsanded grout. Which one should you choose?

Many flooring professionals are well-versed in the differences between sanded and unsanded grout. But even seasoned general contractors are baffled by the distinctions between the two most common grouting materials.

So, to help you learn more about sanded and unsanded grout, we’ve put together this guide. If your next project is a residential shower installation, an outdoor patio, or a kitchen redesign, the insight you’ll learn from our guide will be invaluable.

Keep reading to learn about the right uses for both sanded and unsanded grout – as well as the key variations between the two.

Sanded vs Unsanded Grout: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between sanded and unsanded grout is the consistency of the filling. The basic recipe for grout is a combination of water and cement, but sand is sometimes added to provide a bulkier and clingier fill. Sanded grout, as opposed to lime mortar, uses very fine-grain sand to give the grout a grittier and rougher consistency, while unsanded grout is finer and thinner.


The type of grout you use for each project is extremely important. You’ll want to make sure, in fact, that you’re using the right grout to bind the right materials. The type of grout used will usually be determined by the gaps between tiles and the material of the tiles.

Sanded Grout

Sanded grout is marginally less expensive than unsanded grout and serves more functions in the tile world than unsanded grout. Use sanded grout for these types of installations:

  • Horizontal Surfaces – Sanded grout is tougher than unsanded grout due to the addition of sand to the mix and can handle heavier traffic without shrinking, as unsanded grout would.
  • Large Joints – Sand in the grout acts as a filler, bulking up the grout and adding enough strength to bridge the wider gaps available for large format tiles. Sanded grout is nearly often the right option for grout joints greater than 1/8′′. For joints 1/2′′ or wider, a specialty grout with more sand and additives can be used to bridge those extra-wide gaps.

Unsanded Grout

Unsanded grout is the smoother of the two options because it has no sand, but it is also the more costly of the two because it contains special polymers that aid in adhesion. In a few cases, this design makes unsanded grout particularly effective.

  • Vertical Surfaces – Because of its excellent adhesion, unsanded grout is ideally suited for installation on vertical surfaces such as shower walls and backsplashes.
  • Small Joints – Small tiles usually have small grout joints (1/8′′ or less), and are better matched to unsanded grout. Sanded grout is thicker and more difficult to thoroughly press onto these small joints.
  • Delicate Tile – Some tiles have a very delicate surface that can easily scratch and these tiles require unsanded grout to avoid marring their surface. Certain historic glazed ceramics, glass, marble, or other soft stone tiles should always be set with unsanded grout.

Grout Widths

Sanded grout is recommended for grout lines ranging from 1/8-inch to 1/2-inch in width. Grout lines longer than 1/2-inch in width are impractical since they can break and become unstable. Since unsanded grout can also be used for 1/8-inch lines, it is preferred that you use sanded grout between the two.

Unsanded grout is recommended for grout lines as wide as 1/8-inch and as wide as 1/16-inch. Since sanded grout would not pack properly into thinner grout lines, unsanded grout is used in this use. Unsanded grout may slump, crack, and otherwise fail to offer adequate fill-in lines 1/8-inch or wider. Most unsanded grout lines are no thinner than 1/16-inch.

Tile Surface Recommendations


Sanded grout is used on tile surfaces where the risk of scratching from the tile grout’s sand material is not an issue. This feature may be useful for do-it-yourselfers who are unsure of their grouting abilities and will need to re-grout at least once more.

Unsanded grout is typically recommended for easily scratched tile, such as natural stone, glass, and certain porcelains and ceramics. The sand content of sanded tile grout can, in principle, damage these surfaces. In fact, some veteran tilers claim that sanded tile grout abrasion is unlikely to scratch tile surfaces.


Use sanded to save cost as unsanded grout is usually twice as expensive as sanded grout.  Sand is dirt cheap because it makes up the majority of sanded tile grout, which is why it is so cheap. Unsanded grout requires the addition of more costly polymers to shape the material, greatly increasing the price.

Sanded Vs. Unsanded Grout – Which One Should You Choose?

You probably already know much of what we covered above – after all, you are a specialist – but it is still a good idea to broaden your experience as a contractor.

More knowledge means you’ll be able to properly serve your clients. And, after learning about the differences between sanded and unsanded grout, you’ll be thoroughly prepared to undertake your next tiling project.