Monday, April 1, 2013

Choosing the best grout for your no curb, barrier free shower

I'm a firm believer in never grouting a tile project without first testing the grout and showing the client.

No-curb shower with Laticrete Spectra-Lock Pro Grout
Epoxy Grout.
Trench Drain (Katwyk Style)

This is such an important step it should in fact be done well before the installation of the backer board and if you're really picky before even the plumber shows up.  There are many reasons for this and I'll cover some of the thought process we use to design and build our custom showers.

All tile is different.  Different textures, different edge details, different thickness and on and on.  Grout can act differently with these various tile choices.  Until you see a grout sample board you are hoping the colour on the bag or the colour on the grout wheel is in fact the colour it should be, or will be once grouted.  So many times it's not.

Your installer might like using more water at clean up time - this can lighten a grout colour.
Your tile might have an eased edge - this can make the grout joint look twice the size once grouted.
You might like a rough looking grout joint - your installer might take great care making it smooth.
Your grout might scratch the tile

Here is a look at three grout sample boards we recently prepared for our clients to sign off on.  As it turns out I didn't like any of them, but more importantly neither did my clients!  Back to the drawing board, or should I say back to the grout board....

You can see here these sample boards do not need to be very fancy. 

Two prepared on a scrap of backer board and one on plywood.  The trick is to keep the factory edges in the center and to use the desired grout spacing.

This "Raven" grout from Laticrete is one of my favourites. 
I told my client it would be perfect - I was wrong.  It's to dark.  I picked up the lighter grey colour and will make a new test board.  If this colour is to light I might blend the two powders and make a custom colour.

A little to dark I think. 

The lady of the house wants more of a colour match.  Light grey is my favourite colour and if this my shower I would use this grout.  But it's not and she does not like it.  I'm going to try Laticrete's white grout since it is a little off white it might be a better match.

To yellow.  I hate it.

I have not kept track of the rejection rate of my grout boards with clients but would have to say it is easily 1-5 people hate the mock up or grout test board.  That is a pretty high number to leave it to chance.  If your looking for perfection make sure you always prepare a grout sample board.

When choosing a grout colour remember that grout comes in many different grades of quality and different kinds of material.  There is Epoxy grout (like the "Raven" above), Cementious grout (like the other three pictures show) and Urethane Grout (hate the stuff and will never use it again).

The best grout is hard to find.  Todate I have two favourites for my projects.  The first is the Spectralock Pro Grout from Laticrete and the second Ultra Colour Plus from Mapei.  Both of these grouts can be tricky to work with and I'll be posting a few installation pointers once we grout this current project.

When preparing a grout sample board with epoxy grout the measuring process needs to be spot on.  The best way to do this is to use a digital scale to get measurements exactly right.  Just eyeballing it is not enough, you risk making an improper mix and then once actually grouting having a different result.

Here in the picture below you can see us using a food scale (digital) to measure a small batch up.

Mixing small batches of epoxy grout - measure with a scale!

Before any grout is installed in your new barrier free shower a proper grout prep needs to be done.  This can take minutes of hours depending on the level of detail you want to achieve.  An epoxy grout is  almost waterproof.  To utilize it's maximum potential it needs to make contact with the edges of the tile - 100%.  Removing thin-set residue from the sides of the tile critical to a good job.

Not ready for grouting

Above you can see the floor tile.  This floor is not ready for grouting since we have yet to do the grout prep.  A few hours later and you could have licked the edges of these tiles.  We carefully used a razor blade to remove most of the residue from the edges and then we used a scrub pad to finish up.

Cleaning tile for grout prep
Look at the difference in the two pictures.  You should have at the very least the same depth as the width of the grout joint prepped and clean.  If the tile has dust, debris and thin-set on the sides you will not get a good bond and risk effloresence leaking out through this area.

This was a large bathroom and me and my apprentice took a good 3 hours just prepping for grout.  Because the tile has a lot of texture we needed to do a mild acid wash as well to remove the thin-set haze from the tile.  This we did a day before the grout prep and two days before grouting.  Lots can go wrong with this step and I'll cover acid washing in a later story.

No Curb Shower with Epoxy Grout

We used a colour matched silicone at the transition and not grout here.

Almost a perfect colour match with this tile

Once you have grouted a shower with Epoxy grout you need to do a very good clean.  Laticrete includes two cleaning packages with their epoxy grout and the chemical included is wonderful for removing the shinny film epoxy grout can leave behind.  Once we grout a shower floor we ask our clients to stay off them for two days.  If a little residue is left behind we find that it can be removed by soaking the area with the final wash.  To keep the cleaner put we dip paper towels in the cleaning solution and place it over the area.

Removing shinny residue from Epoxy grout from tile

Here you can see my paper towel (blue paper towel - shop rag).  I missed the final wash around the tub filler and caught it on the final check.  I left this paper towel in position for about ten minutes and then buffed it with my white scrub pad.  I needed to repeat this four times and in the end removed the shinny spot.  If your installer is not used to using an epoxy grout you can really screw up an install.  Always ask for referrals and check them out.  Always get a sample board.

One test or sample board is worth a thousand expert opinions.  The proof is in the pudding - ask for a mock up.  If you skip this step and are not pleased with the look you may never fully enjoy your new space.  Don't risk that!

If anyone has a specific question on grouting or choosing a grout please email me at and I'll do my best to answer your question when I post the installation pictures.


UPDATE April 13, 2013

We didn't like any of the last test boards so we set up another series. Four new samples.  When the clients got home for work they where leaning to the "Dusty Gray" for the floor grout and the "Bright White" for the wall tile.

On the top and left we tried some "Dusty Gray"
Lower and right is a blend of 50% Dusty Gray and 50% Raven
This picture taken after only one hour of drying.  

Laticrete PermaColour "Bright White"
This grout is not really bright white and is looking like the winner.

This is a blend of 50% Almond and 50% Gray
Mapei Ultra Colour Plus


We found finally the perfect grout colours.  For the wall tile the Laticrete "Bright White" was almost bang on.

For the floors a custom mix of 1 part Raven to to 9 parts Dusty Gray was fantastic.

9 parts Dusty Gray
1 Part Raven
This is a custom blend and a great Gray Coloured Grout

Mitered Corner with Epoxy Grout

One pointer here is there is chatter online about some grouts smelling bad - like rotten eggs.  I can tell you that the only time I have personally smelled this smell is when a poor quality tile was used.  That tile had a mesh backing and that backing was applied with a water based glue.  The glue was made most likely in China or India and I can only imagine how bad the water quality was.

When you use things like rapid setting this - rapid setting that often these products have an door to them.  Soak test your tile always.  Ban rapid setting drywall compounds from your bathroom spec list...

Laticrete SpectraLock Pro Premium Grout - Dusty Gray

When I took this photo I have finished a 1/2 batch of Epoxy grout and lightly removed some excess haze with the red epoxy grout sponge.  Finally cleaning will use the Laticrete sponge (light coloured one) and the two cleaning packs.

Below are two photos of a grout sample board I made for the project above.  Notice the difference in grout colour.  Remember that Epoxy grout dries darker, not lighter like most cemenitius grouts.

grout sample board

grout sample board

After final wash

Measuring small batch of Part C

Grout prep is key.  This is my daughters bathroom shower.  Clean.  No excessive thin-set.  Ready for grout.