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Groutless Tile Installation: Can You Tile without Grout?

Here’s an age-old question: can you do a groutless tile installation? Well, the short answer would be a simple no – you should not attempt to install tile without grout.
Why’s that, you might wonder.  It’s not like grout adds to the stability of the tile installation (unless we talk about a few exceptional cases) so why is grout necessary?

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Simply put, various natural materials, such as stones, are manufactured for use with a pretty consistent size. Not to mention, most of them look identical. That is why a newcomer’s first instinct might be to install them without grout lines.
There is also the argument that groutless tile installation simply looks better and makes the work seem more compact or put together. Still, experienced contractors will tell you that this isn’t a good option, and even the thinnest of grout lines can make a big difference.

Don’t Do a Groutless Tile Installation: Here’s Why You Need Grout

Groutless Tile Installation - Why You Need Grout
Source: Floor Elf

Understandably, most installers have a love-hate relationship with grout. It takes up a lot of time, and it requires meticulous work. There are cases when laying tile without grout will probably leave the job looking a lot better.
But here’s the thing: if you want the job to last, then you need to use grout. Groutless tile has a higher chance of breaking, meaning that you would need to resume the work.
With these considerations in mind, this article will discuss some of the reasons tilling without grout is an ineffective method and why you should stick to the traditional practices.

Tiles Are Not Identical

Your tiles might look like they have the same size, but chances are they don’t. The differences could be relatively small and impossible to notice without measure, but they can interfere with the groutless installation process. When you put the tiles together, those tiny irregularities will add up, making the final result look a bit off and unprofessional. The last thing you want after you’ve worked for hours to install tiles is to notice that they are not aligned properly.
Grout allows you to mask the differences in tile sizes and control the outcome. In fact, even the smallest lines can make the tiles fit perfectly with one another, giving the final result a nice symmetrical look.

Material Might Get Caught Between Tiles

Regardless of the size of the project, certain elements might get between your tiles if they are not grouted. It can be dust, dead cells or other debris that will find a way between your tiles no matter how compact you think the installation looks. Grout can prevent such scenarios.
You can spend hours putting the tiles together and be pretty satisfied with the result. But without grout, there will always be a tiny space between the tiles that acts like a magnet waiting to attract debris. In time, these small differences between the tiles will have gathered enough dust and debris to ruin the entire ensemble.
Don’t assume that you can just clean the tiles after the installation process is over. That can prove to be quite a difficult task because even the slightest mistake is enough to damage one of the tiles and require you to work more than you’ve initially planned just to fix the error.
One of the easiest ways to avoid this nightmare scenario: you’ve guessed it – use grout when you install tiles.

Yes, They Move

Another reason you should reconsider the entire concept of groutless tile installation is that tiles move. Because the edges of the tiles will continuously rub against each other, they are likely to chip or even break at some point. Which, let’s be honest, is not ideal.
Sure, there are other tips and tricks you can use, but they only minimize the impact and don’t stop the tiles from moving and rubbing against each other. Grout, on the other hand, acts as a buffer and prevents the tiles from making contact while they expand or contract.

What You Can Do

It’s not all bad. After all, grouting is like the biggest, most impressive scene right before the grand finale. It’s the last step of your tile installation process. At the end it even completes the entire look for your work. It is the key difference between tile work that stands the test the time and those that end up in need of tweaks.
Grouting Tile - Don't Do Groutless Tile Installation
Above all, remember what the ANSI specification says about the minimum grout joint size (A108.02-4.3.8):
“To accommodate the range in facial dimensions of the tile supplied for a specific project, the actual grout joint size may, of necessity, vary from the grout joint size specified. The actual grout joint size shall be at least three times the actual variation of the facial dimensions of the tile supplied. Example: for tile having a total variation of 1/16″ in facial dimensions, a minimum of 3/16″ grout joint shall be used. Nominal centerline of all joints shall be straight with due allowances for hand-molded or rustic tiles. In no circumstance shall the grout joint be less than 1/16″.
The biggest issue you might face with the process of grouting has a lot to do with getting the right thickness for the mix or having it dry solid before you even get the chance to use it. To know how the pros grout tile, read our guide to prepare your grouting material, how to apply it and how to remove it.
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What about Rectified Tiles?

You might have heard about rectified tiles and wondered if these mechanically cut materials don’t require grout for the installation.
So, is that true?
Rectification is a mechanical process that requires milling the edge of the tile at a specific angle, which suggests that the materials will have the same size. As such, you can install them without worrying that the final result will look unaligned and unprofessional. That happens because this process allows you to cut each tile to the same size, with an accuracy of 0.2 mm. Rectification works for both floor and wall tiles.
Tiles that have gone through this process are popularly believed to be freed from the necessity of grout because of their nearly identical size and perfectly cut edges. However, that is not exactly the case.

Groutless Tile Installation - Rectified Tiles
Source: Tile Outlets of America

Even if rectified tiles allow you to avoid using grout without having the result look unaligned, the materials are still in danger of being chipped or damaged. Perfectly cut edges will not perform better than regular tile when friction occurs, so they can still cause a variety of problems if you opt for a no grout tile installation.
In truth, rectified tiles allow for a thinner grout line. But, the misconception that they can go groutless might leave your work looking unprofessional. Rectified tiles still very much rely on grout if you want them to withstand the test of time. However, you’ll find that their grout lines can be a lot harder to notice in the case of these rectified tiles.

The Sanded vs. Unsanded Debate

Most specialists have a pretty good understanding of the differences between sanded and unsanded grout; therefore, we won’t go into too many details.
Sanded and unsanded – these are the two most common grouting materials. It’s not a debate per se, but you need to be able to choose the right grout for your type of work to properly complete the job. We’ve mentioned that grouting your tiles ensures that your work will be long lasting. Well, having the right grout material for the right type of work also plays a major role in the success and durability of your project.
Use unsanded grout for lines smaller than a ⅛ inch wide since it will shrink as it dries. If you’re working on vertical surfaces, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to use unsanded grout for wall installations, given that it is a lot stickier than other materials. As a result, it won’t fall off as you try to fit it into the grout lines.
Sanded vs Unsanded Grout
On the other hand, sanded grout will work better for wider grout lines. If the name’s not a good enough clue, know that this material has fine sand added to stop it from shrinking as it cures. Though it can be used in smaller grout lines just as well, it’s a lot easier to apply it to larger lines.
However, with sanded grout, you also need to pay attention to the type of tile material you’re using. In some cases, sanded grout might not react positively with these materials as the sandy texture can scratch the tiles. Make sure to test it before using it to check if the mixture will scratch the surface of the tiles.

In a Nutshell

Yes, it’s technically possible to do a groutless tile installation, but as the article pointed out above, it’s not exactly worth it. There are three main downsides to skipping the grout when installing tiles:

  1. If the tiles are not identical, they will appear unaligned;
  2. Dirt can get beneath them and damage them in the long run;
  3. Movement can lead to breakage.

So what happens if one of your clients insists on skipping the grout? Well, you should try to talk them out of it. Of course, in the end, it’s their decision to make, but try to help them understand why grout is important. Some might desire a compact look, and think the grout simply disrupts the pattern of the tiles. Try to make them see that the benefits of grout will ultimately serve them in the long run. After all, it’s very likely that many will prefer choosing something that lasts longer, rather than opting for a few months of “looking pretty.”
Have you installed tiles without grout? What are thoughts about groutless tile installation? Let me know in the comments below!
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