Showroom Seminar – About Grout Help your customers choose the right color and maintain it for optimal fashion and function.
March 1st, 2007

March-April 2007

By Kathleen Furore

Helping clients choose the best tile for specific applications is an important step designers take when embarking on a new home or redesign project. Guiding them to an appropriate grout, then explaining proper sealing and cleaning techniques are also integral yet often-overlooked parts of the process.

“The grout color you choose can dramatically affect the look and feel of your tile, making the selection of grout just as important as picking the right tile,” says Tim Campbell, owner of Totally Restored, Inc. in Palm Desert, California. TileDealer recently spoke with tile industry experts, who offered tips on steering clients toward grout colors plus sealing and cleaning techniques that will deliver optimal fashion and function anywhere in their homes.

The Color Equation

There are two basic questions designers should ask when helping clients choose grout: “Do you want a dark or light shade?” and “Do you want grout that closely matches the tile for a tone-on-tone look, or one that contrasts with the tile?” The area in which the grout will be used is an important consideration, Campbell notes. “In a heavy-use area, a dark shade tends to show less dirt,” he says.

John Bridge, owner of John Bridge Ceramic Tile in Katy, Texas, and author of Tile Your World agrees. “I steer clients toward neutral shades, often darker than they usually want. It’s a maintenance concern,” Bridge says. “White and light-colored grouts get dirty, and they yellow like paint does.”

The decision to go with tone-on-tone or contrasting shades depends on the overall look you’re trying to achieve, the experts stress. Grout that harmonizes with tile color “will make the area look larger and will avoid the checkerboard design that can result when using contrasting colors,” says Ralph Williamson, owner of Ceramic Tile and Stone Consulting of Arizona and the Arizona director of the Ceramic Tile Institute of America.

Campbell says grout acts as a background and creates a more uniform look in tone-on-tone installations, noting that using a shade or tint slightly different from the tile color adds depth and interest. “If you prefer to emphasize each tile, you would choose a contrasting grout which will frame the tile giving each one an individual look and the installation a grid effect,” he explains.

Using grout color chips will help ensure clients are happy with their final selection, Williamson says. “You can set one of the color chips between two tiles and get a feel for the color you need,” he says. “To make sure, after the tile is installed but before the grout is installed, place dry grout into a grout joint. The dry powder will look the same as the grout after it is cured.”

Be aware—and make sure your customers are also aware—that the installed, finished color of the grout is subject to some shade and color variation (like tile). Dye lots, setting materials, water, mixing, temperature, drying time, and the tile itself—its porosity and even over-glazed edges—can all affect the final color. Though grout manufacturers have continued to develop new and better products, it’s crucial that you know the installation characteristics of the products you sell.

A professional installer, one who understands the ins and outs of various products including ceramic, porcelain, glass, stone, and metal, and the myriad grout options available, is an important ally.

Seal the Deal

Once tile and grout are in place, sealing is a must. All three experts recommend using what Bridge calls “impregnators”—sealers that penetrate into the grout and establish a barrier just beneath the surface.

“I recommend sealing. Even though it won’t keep grout from getting dirty, it helps,” Bridge says.

“Sealing grout on floor tile helps in the maintenance of the color of the grout joint,” Williamson explains. But it isn’t a cure-all for stains, stresses Williamson, who says that fact should be clarified by whomever seals the grout or sells the sealer to do-it-yourselfers. “If you do not maintain your floor properly, contamination will build up on the surface of the sealer.”

One sealer does not fit all surfaces. The best sealer for ceramic tile is not going to be the best for stone tile, and what works on marble will not necessarily work on granite. Manufacturer recommendations are key, as is an experienced installer. Because different surfaces have a wide range of porosities, their reactions to sealers and cleaners are not consistent.

Keep it Clean

Maintenance is key to grout’s overall appearance. Because no matter the process, cleaning is a challenging task, Bridge admits. “The best approach is to keep grout clean to begin with,” he says. “In showers, for example, I recommend hand-drying the entire shower after each use. Don’t let dirt, soap and waterborne minerals build up.”

Of course, cleaning eventually will be required. How often? “Always ask the person who installed your tile and grout for a maintenance schedule that they recommend,” Williamson says.

When cleaning floor tiles and grout, vacuum first to lift dirt from the grout joints. “A dust mop will push dirt into the grout joint,” Williamson explains.

Since original grout color is tough to maintain with common tile cleaners, Campbell recommends using a heavy-duty alkaline cleaner and degreaser to remove greasy soil from stone and tile floors, kitchen counters, bathroom shower stalls, and other natural stone and ceramic tile surfaces. “For extremely stained grout, you can add an Energizer to the solution to bleach the grout while cleaning it,” he notes.

Neutral cleaners are a must. “Do not use vinegar, bleach, or anything with acid in it—it will damage your grout,” Williamson stresses.

“Acid-based products will etch most polished marble and limestone surfaces,” Campbell agrees. Porcelain and glass cleaners are the exceptions. “Use an acid-based grout cleaner to restore grout haze and remove grout residue from porcelain and glass only,” he says.

Another piece of advice: “Instead of a sponge mop use a string mop—sponge colors sometimes discolor grout,” Williamson notes.

If clients want a step-by-step cleaning process, Campbell offers these tips:

  • Make sure all surfaces are swept or vacuumed to remove loose debris.
  • Apply mixed solution with a clean mop, towel or sponge.
  • Allow plenty of dwell time for the degreaser to work on the soil.
  • Agitate with a scrub brush or a floor machine equipped with a nylon grit as needed. (Nylon grit brushes are only for tiles that won’t scratch!)
  • Remove solution with a sponge, wet/dry vacuum, or extractor equipped with a hard surface tool, or damp mop.
  • Rinse area well with clean water.
  • Apply sealer after rinsing and drying to protect the areas from future soiling and staining.


Ralph Williamson

Ceramic Tile and Stone Consulting of Arizona


Fax 623-773-9180


John Bridge

John Bridge Ceramic Tile

Katy, Texas

Author of Tile Your World


Tim Campbell

Totally Restored in Palm Desert, CA


Also, see “All About Grout” and “Installer Update: The Ins & Outs of Grout” in the January/February 2006 issue of TileDealer at

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