Ceramic Tile Grout Innovations, Technology Contribute to Industry Growth

National Tile Contractors AssociationBy Bart Bettiga, National Tile Contractors Association, Executive Director

In order for the tile industry to grow, installation material manufacturers must continue to develop innovative technology to support consumer demand and expectations. This is especially true when it pertains to ceramic tile grout, a key design and building component for both floor and wall applications.

Some materials, like glass, metal tile and marble tiles, are susceptible to scratch with sanded grout. Test the material in an inconspicuous area if the manufacturer does not specify whether sanded grout can be used.
Some materials, like glass, metal tile and marble tiles, are susceptible to scratch with sanded grout. Test the material in an inconspicuous area if the manufacturer does not specify whether sanded grout can be used.

There are now four different grout technologies available on the market today. These include cement, advanced performance, epoxy and premixed grout. As grout technology continues to develop, it is important for installation and sales professionals to understand the different types of tile grout products on the market today, and to help determine the proper selection for the application.

Choosing the proper grout for the right application and using the appropriate tools are necessary for a successful tile installation.
Choosing the proper grout for the right application and using the appropriate tools are necessary for a successful tile installation.

Over the years, grout has improved dramatically. For many years, only cement based grout was available, in very limited color selections. About 60 years ago, epoxy emulsion and furan grouts were introduced. These provided advantages that traditional cement based grouts did not offer. Epoxy emulsion grouts are especially unique because they can also be used as the setting material mortar to adhere the tile to the substrate. Furan grouts were developed to offer chemical resistance for specialized applications.

Each of these four grout technologies has its own distinct advantages depending on the installation requirements for the project. With so many choices, it is a challenge to know which grout is the right one for the job. In fact, one of the biggest contributors to project failure or an unsatisfied customer is the inappropriate selection of the type of grout for the tile or stone installation. Alternatively, when the right material is chosen and the grout is installed with the correct technique, you will likely have a very satisfied customer.

It is important to follow the manufacturer recommendations for mixing, spreading and cleaning the grout.
It is important to follow the manufacturer recommendations for mixing, spreading and cleaning the grout.

Here is some basic information you should be aware regarding each of the four grout technologies currently on the market.

 

Cement Grout

There are two kinds of cement grout; sanded and unsanded. It is very important to select the right type of cement grout, for a variety of reasons. Sanded grout should generally be selected when the grout joints are 1/8″ or wider. Be careful also to select sanded grout for certain finishes, such as certain glazed ceramic tiles, glass and metal tiles, marble, and some polished stones and agglomerate tiles.

Further, sanded grout can scratch some of these surfaces. Always check with the manufacturer recommendations, and if this is not available, do a test with the sanded grout in an inconspicuous area to determine if the material is suitable to use. Unsanded grouts should only be used on grout joints up to 1/8″-wide. Do not use in any widths larger than 1/8″ because without the sand in the mixture, the grout will likely shrink and crack, and can even fall out of the joints.

Cement grouts are recommended for most residential applications, including bathrooms and kitchens, and for many commercial projects, such as retail and offices spaces, schools and public buildings, and shopping malls. Many cement grouts have an additive already included in the powder. Others allow for a grout additive to be used in place of water, to provide better stain resistance and improve the overall performance.

 

Advanced Performance Modified Grout

Advanced performance modified grouts are cement based, but what makes them different is that they are formulated with technology that provide many of the benefits provided by epoxy grouts, but they are installed and cleaned like cement grouts. Stain resistance, additional strength and durability to the mixture are built into the product, and additional additives are not required. These grouts should be considered for demanding environmental conditions, where color consistency is desired. High traffic residential and commercial applications, as well as countertops and backsplashes, are strong considerations for these products. In some instances, these grouts can be used for both exterior walls and floors.

 

Epoxy Grout

When epoxy grout was introduced, ceramic tile became a more popular product for consumers, due to its high stain resistance. These products include epoxy resins and hardeners, in two different components that must be mixed together. In some instances, a coarse silica filler adds a third component to be added to the system. You must pay close attention to the manufacturer directions on these products, as there are additional safety precautions to consider and the products mix and set up differently than other grouts.

Common applications for epoxy grouts to be considered include environments that are often exposed to harsh acids and cleaners. Epoxy grouts provide chemical resistance, have a higher bond strength, and improved stain resistance. These products are often the proper choice for specialized commercial projects, including kitchen floors and walls, hospitals and laboratories, and more.

 

Premixed Grouts

Also known as single component grouts, premixed grouts are the new kids on the block. They have only been around for a couple of years now, but they are gaining in popularity very quickly, for obvious reasons. All you have to do with premixed grout is to open the lid, stir up the mixture, and apply the grout to the tile or stone. Premixed grouts are either polymer resin or urethane based, so you need to check for manufacturer recommendations to determine where and when they can be used. In addition to being easy to use, premixed grouts are highly stain resistant, and are less likely to shrink or crack. They also provide color consistency. Residential countertops, backsplashes, kitchen and bathroom floors and walls are ideal areas to consider to use premixed grouts. Check with the manufacturer for exterior use or commercial project recommendations.

With many different types of grout available, it is important to take the time to train the installers on how to work with new technology.
With many different types of grout available, it is important to take the time to train installers on how to work with new technology.

Conclusion

Over the years, we have seen grout technology evolve, allowing for tile and stone to be used in many new areas. Because of the many different options that exist, it is important to know the differences between these products, and their unique characteristics. Doing this helps you select the proper grout for the job. Once the grout has been selected, it is important to closely follow the manufacturer directions for mixing, open time, and clean up. A successful tile or stone installation will not take place without the proper selection and application of the grout.

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