Tiling Without Grout Lines: Pros and Cons

Okay so you hate the look of grout. Maybe you think it looks gross or dated. I’ll be honest, I hate the look of old, dirty grout as much as the next girl but quite honestly grout is an unavoidable part of a tiling job. I am positive if you new a little about what grout does and the options you have to improve the look of it, you’ll not be so upset at the thought of seeing it in between those beautiful tiles you have selected.

What is Grout?

Before you outlaw all grout, it is important to understand that it plays an important role in the installation and lifespan of your tile. It is used in the installation of tile to fill gaps between tiles and reinforce the durability of the structure.

Grout is usually made of either cement or resin in order to create a mixture that is slightly porous and durable. To install tile, mastic or adhesive is applied to the surface the tile is being installed on. The tiles are then placed over top of the adhesive layer, in the position and spacing that is desired. Once they are set the grout is installed (usually the next day). Grout is rubbed over the surface of the tile and pushed to fill the gaps in between the tiles. The excess grout is then scraped off.

Types of Grout

There are different types of grout, each with different applications. There is sanded, unsanded, and epoxy grout to choose from.

Sanded grout is a cement based mixture with bits of sand in it, making the mixture more grainy and overall more durable. This grout does not shrink when it dries so it is better for thicker grout line looks. However, if your dream was to have a glassy surfaced tile, then I would not recommend sanded grout as the grains can scratch the surface of the tile.

Unsanded grout (you guessed it) does not have grains of sand in the mixture. It is still a cement-based grout like the sanded grout but without the sand. This makes it better for a shiny tile because it won’t scratch. As a result, this grout will shrink after it dries. If you were wanting a thin grout line, the shrinking helps to achieve that end.

Finally, there is epoxy grout. Unlike the other two, this is a resin-based grout. It is not as porous as the cement-based options, making it water and stain proof. It is also very durable, but it does tend to be more expensive.

What Does Grout Do?

Grout serves an essential purpose for a tiling job to stabilize and secure the tile to the surface. Properly grouting between tiles directly impacts the longevity of the your flooring or backsplash.

No tile is exactly the same size. Especially depending on the type of tile that you are working with, some tiles are more prone to sizing variability than others. Grout allows the surface to remain level as you move from tile to tile. Without it, you would have some tiles that sit higher than others. You may think that isn’t a big deal until you are stubbing your toes every time you try walking in that room! Additionally, some surfaces that you are installing tile on may not be perfectly level themselves. If you place tiles that have variation in their size on top of an irregular surface, without grout to mediate, then the tiling job can look sloppy and any lifted areas can catch dirt and debris. Think about if you have uneven tile floors and you are trying to sweep dirt off the flooring but your broom gets caught up on raised tiles (what a pain!).

Additionally, even if you place tiles right next to each other, there is going to be gaps in between the tiles that without grout, the dirt and debris can fall in those gaps which also increases moisture build up and bacteria growth. You think grout looks dirty, try having actual dirt in between your tiles!

Source: Floor Elf

Most importantly, grout is engineered to work with the movement of your tile. Tiles overtime will shift either due to gravity or walking on them. With grout you shouldn’t actually notice this difference. Without grout, your tiles will be sliding into each other repeatedly, making them chip and crack. Grout’s porous nature allows it more airflow and the minute amount of flexibility needed to combat the natural movement of the tiles.

The Answer

So, can you go without grout lines? Ultimately, no. Installing “grout-less tile” will greatly minimize the lifespan of your tile job. Without grout you are in danger of increased bacterial growth, dirt and debris collecting, and chipping/cracking of your tiles (not to mention the stubbed toes!).

Not to worry, there is a solution! The key is to stop thinking of grout as the enemy and start considering it as part of the design. The size of grout lines as well as the color of the grout contribute to the overall look of the tile job. If you devote some attention to exploring different grout details, there is bound to be an option that you’re happy with.

The thickness of the grout line is limited somewhat due to the type of tile. Some tiles like handmade or Saltillo tiles require thicker grout lines due to their natural irregularity of shape. However, if you are investing in rectified tiles which are mechanically cut to be as close to the same size as possible (usually with about a 2mm variance possibility) then you are free to explore grout sizes as small as 1/8 inch.

Color is where you can really let those creative juices flow! There are 3 basic ideas to deciding on the color of your grout.

First, you can match the color of the grout to the color of the tile. In a recent job that we included tile on the fireplace and flooring. However, because of the thin grout lines and intentionally matched grout color, your eye is deceived to think there aren’t grout lines there. This is the perfect example of grout being present and doing its job without distracting from the beautiful result.

Second, you can use a contrasting color. This is ideal when you have a unique shape of tile that you’d like to highlight. Without the contrast, the interesting shape of your tile may get lost upon first glance. If you want that tile to really pop, then consider a contrasting color to your tile! There are even grouts that have sparkles in it if you want to make it shine!

Thirdly, you can never go wrong with a neutral colored grout. It hides dirt better than anything too! This is perfect for flooring that has a tendency to get dirty (and I sure don’t want to get on my hands and knees to scrub my grout!) or if you don’t passionately want grout to be hidden nor stand out.

Grout does not have to be dirty and boring. I know picking tile is more exciting and fun to sift through beautiful samples for your favorite one. But if you save a little attention to explore the different possibilities, your grout can add to the space. Then you can end up with a tile job that looks great and will last!

References and Photo Credits - 

Floor Elf, Roger, Can I Tile Without Grout?, https://floorelf.com/can-i-install-tile-without-grout
Photo Credit: Brandon Harwell Photography, https://brandonharwell.com

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