As with any major project, no matter how experienced you are, things don't necessarily go quite as planned.

Rather than just simply going with a big "Look at how awesome our floor looks, and it was so easy" blog post, I want to share our grouting process with you. And that include everything...The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Though our grout color selection was a major step in the overall progress of our bathroom, it was ultimately a small component of the much larger "give our bathroom an actual floor" task that has required quite a few steps to complete.

The Good

The main thing an actual selection of a color resulted in was our ability to move forward with the remainder of those many additional smaller tasks. And after our trials and tribulations with color selection, we approached our actual grouting with gusto.

We actually kicked off the whole process even before we selected a color by first sealing the tile that had been laid.

I know it may sound weird, but stone is a porous stone that likes to absorb the things it touches...like water. You can actually see how the stone turned a slight color around the edges of each tile on the sample board where we used the dark grout.

That dark halo on each tile is the stone actually sucking the water out of the grout as it dries. Given enough time, the stone typically turns back to its normal color, but this relatively subtle change in color is not a desirable outcome when the grout/stone comes into contact with water.

To protect against this you should always apply a sealer product to stone tile before you grout. This isn't quite as necessary (or necessary at all) with porcelain tile, but it's a must for stone, especially porous stone.

I like the StoneTech products from DuPont. Though they're a bit expensive, they have a great reputation among the stone pros and have worked really well for is over the years. Best of all, they have so much more than just sealer. Really, their list of products is so extensive, you'll just need to check them out.

Beyond StoneTech you can find sealers at various tile specialty stores, big box stores, and many different places online. The main thing is to find one that works well for your situation and needs.

To apply this sealer all you need is a small paint roller brush and tray. You shake up the sealer, pour it into the tray, then liberally roll it on getting as much good coverage as you can.

It will suds up some, and a lot will fall between the tile, this is all good as it will help keep the edges of the tile from sucking the moisture out of the grout once it's in place. One thing to note, whatever the coverage estimates are on the bottle, cut it in half if you're sealing ungrouted marble hex (or any small format mosaic). So much of the sealer goes between the tile's gaps that it's impossible to really make it go a long way.

With very porous stone, like marble, a second application is advisable to get full penetration. And after you allow it to cure for about 20-30 minutes, you can towel anything remaining off with a clean rag.

After allowing the sealer to cure for a full 24 hours, we could begin grouting.

We elected to stick with the latex admixture from The Tile Store even though we weren't using their grout. I've heard lots of good things about this mixture, including its help with grout color consistency, purity of material (vs what could be in city water), and its ability to cure more slowly and remain a bit "flexible" and crack resistant over time. Since you can use it with any cement based grout, we figured "why not?"

The main thing about this admixture was they we needed to use 24 ounces per five pounds of grout. So once again, I broke out our scale to ensure absolutely precise measurements of each material.

The best way I've found to mix grout requires a pair of two gallon buckets, one small 32 ounce container, a food scale, a hammer drill with spiral mixing attachment, and an observant family member.

A word to the wise. The buckets should be clean and new grout buckets. Not buckets you've used to wash or car or mix your thinset. Any extra stuff in the buckets can cause issues with your grout install.

What worked best for us was to measure out the correct amount of admix for the batch we're mixing in the small 32 ounce container and set it aside. I then measure out the five pounds of dry grout into one of the two gallon buckets.

Finally, I pour all of the admix liquid into the empty two gallon bucket and begin mixing in the dry grout a little at a time.

It starts out very watery, and in our case, quite dark gray. This is a great scenario where it's best to have two people working. One can continuously mix the grout while the other slowly pours the dry grout into the bucket mixture. This will ensure the grout is mixed thoroughly and without lumps. Once all grout is added to the mixture the consistency will resemble a good cookie dough...mmmmm, cookie dough.

Once we've reached cookie dough state, it's all about smearing the grout all over the floor.

Wendy and I each took an area and worked towards each other. We started in the back corner of the room to get the hang of it again and figured out we could get through five pounds of mixed grout in about 20 minutes.

After the grout was down on the floor and the excess scraped away, we'd go over it in multiple directions again to ensure we really worked it down into all of the gaps.

I know you've probably seen many grouting blog posts, and there's a good chance you've done grouting yourself, so I'll try to focus on the tips and tricks that make grouting work for us, rather than saying "and then you put the grout on the float..."

The main thing I look for while grouting is how full the grout joints are. When you spread the grout over the tile and work it into the joints, and then scrape the excess away, you can see how full the joints are simply by looking for a bulge. You can see it pretty clearly in this photo.

The grout is sort of sitting proud of the top of the tile, joints completely full. This shows me that we've done our job in making sure the joints are truly full and there shouldn't be any significant gaps or pits.

Waiting about 10 to at most 20 minutes after the grout has been applied, it was time to remove the excess with those lovely and awesome orange-yellow grout sponges.

As you can see in the photos, I like to grout while wearing latex gloves, and Wendy likes to grout wearing thicker and longer rubber gloves. Ultimately, this saves our hands a ton. Grout is very alkaline, and extended exposure to the mixed grout will significantly dry your hands to the point where they crack. Grouting can be hard on your hands, so do yourself a favor and pick a pair of gloves that you like.

I feel like the removal of the excess grout is a little bit more difficult with the latex admixture than with grout mixed with water, but a little elbow grease and persistence is all that's necessary. But in a few cases, where we had particularly stubborn grout, I was able to use one of the grout specific abrasive sponges.

Finally, once all of the excess is removed, and before giving the grout time to fully cure, it's best to towel off the completed area with a clean and dry towel. I prefer to use one of the fine cotton towels that you typically use for car washes. This removes any excess or sitting water and helps prevent efflorescence on the surface of the grout due to too much water.

Okay, full disclosure, I didn't do that towel off thing on the first few batches of grout and I ended up with a fair amount of chalky white stuff on the surface of the cured grout, so I've been working on removing that for a while now. Ugh.

One other tip, cover the newly grouted floor with some brown paper to keep the moisture in to allow the grout to cure a little more slowly. This helps everything dry more evenly and further reduces the risk for cracking. You can see where we've already completed the grout to the left and covered it, while continuing with the grout on the right area.

After many changes of water, lots of sponges, dry hands, quite a few arguments, lots of cleaning, scrubbing, and sweating, nearly 40 pounds of mixed grout, and about 200 ounces of latex ad mixture, and we had ourselves a completely grouted floor...and boy did it feel great!

The Bad

However, and there's often a however, we did have a few somewhat significant problems, at least in my mountain out of a mole hill assessment. 

Though the admixture promised more consistent grout color, and we were absolutely diligent in mixing the ratios of grout to admixture, we ended up with a fair amount of color variability. This occurred all over the floor, not just where the grout mix batches changed. I could see we were getting efflorescence as well, but the color differences were more than surface chalk, this was actual light to dark color changes, and we could see it at the edge of where we finished batches of grout and moved onto our next bag more clearly.

The color changes are likely only significant enough for us to notice them under our compulsive gaze, but we noticed them nonetheless. Unfortunately, I think it's just part of the variability of cement grout. This is a case where epoxy grout would have been much better, but that comes with its own problems in a room this big (namely, impossible to remove haze).

To be truthful, I'm sort of beating myself up about it and worrying way too much. And when I take a break from worrying, I somehow get Wendy all whipped up about it and she starts worrying. I guess you could say we complement each other?

In retrospect I should have emptied all of the 40 pounds of grout into a single large bucket and mixed them all together to establish a consistent color across all boxes. But hindsight is 20/20, and maybe we'll use that trick on the next bathroom we renovate sometime in the 22nd century.

As I mentioned, the efflorescence was something that we'd actually need to take care of, rather than stare and obsess about. To tackle this, I pulled a trick that I learned from that good old tile setter I mentioned before named Pookie Pro.

Pookie told me to just "wait about three days then give that efflorescence a bath in vinegar." Yep, that's all there is too it. Vinegar is an acid, and you don't typically want to use an acid to clean your tile (or it will remove your sealer), but sometimes it's necessary. In this case we'd be doing another coat of two of sealer on the grout, so using vinegar to clean the issue won't be an issue at all.

I tested it out in the back corner of the closet tile before taking on the whole room and really thought the results looked great.

The vinegar bath is simple. You just need a bottle of distilled white vinegar, a bucket of water, a large stiff synthetic bristled scrub brush, and a bunch of clean rags. Start by pouring the vinegar onto the tile about the size of a big pancake, and then just start scrubbing with the brush in alternating circles. You don't want to let it sit at all, or it could cause damage to porous stone. It also worked well for us because our finish is a honed finish, but if your tile is polished, you'll want to look at different options or it could damage the floor.

Once I started scrubbing, it was something that I really needed to work at. I'm talking full on sweat, pants falling down, plumbers crack hanging out level of effort. Your arms and shoulders should be sore the next day. But that's how you really get the efflorescence and any haze off the surface of the tile.

This process actually takes care of both the efflorescence on the grout as well as any grout haze that may be left on the surface of the tile. You can actually see just how significant the cleaning is in this photo.

You can see a previously cleaned portion in the upper right, an in process section of dark/wet grout on the upper left, and an uncleaned, light, and hazy and not yet clean section of tile on the lower portion. This just shows how important this step can be, or at least was for us.

After scrubbing a large section of tile you'll have a large wet portion with little bubbles and gritty cloud vinegar over the tile. Grab one of your clean towels, soak it in the bucket of clean water, give it a 75% wring, then start wiping down all of the vinegar.

It's important to remove all of the vinegar before it sits more than a few minutes or you might end up with some etching from the acid, especially on a very porous surface. When you've wiped up all of the vinegar, go over all of it one more time with another wet rag.

Finally, after it's been thoroughly wiped and is soaking wet, wipe everything down with a dry towel to remove any significant standing water and allow the surface and grout to dry.

In our case, when the unsealed grout gets wet it darkens considerably, which makes it easy to see when the grout dries since it returns to its more standard gray color.

After about a gallon of distilled white vinegar, and several hours of aggressive scrubbing later, we had ourselves a relatively clean floor free of haze and efflorescence. The only remaining step was to apply a final few coats of sealer on the fully cured grout and hope that it will even out some of the color differences a bit.

Using the same method for applying the sealer as we had used the first time around, we checked "grout floor" off of our list of bathroom tasks remaining and allowed the sealer to cure. 

I have to be honest here, we're not 100% happy with the finished results, but I think we're just too close and obsessing too much right now. There's definitely a color change from the closet to the rest of the room, and there's a darker line of grout toward the end of the room that we're worried will stand out, but we feel it's reached a point where we just need to move on and start the next steps. Once we have the room full of everything that will live in there, we both think it will all be okay.

The Ugly

"The Ugly" during grouting tends to show its head often and unexpectedly. It's sometimes hard to capture in photos, especially because you're usually pretty pissed off and have no interest in taking photos. But Wendy did a pretty great job of capturing just one of the many instances of the Ugly in this grouting process.

Yes, that's right, that's an action shot of my ass in torn and tattered grouting shorts. Underwear showing, sweat soaked through so I look like I've had an accident of some sort. And it's all thanks to my lovely and adoring wife. Just consider yourself lucky that the band of my drawls were high enough to cover my crack. Not sure how that one happened.

You see, Wendy took this photo, along with several others, for me to find on my phone at a later date. I didn't know she had taken them, and when I found them I said "Why did you take a pic of my butt while grouting?" Her response..."because it was funny." 

But the thing is, she hates these torn up shorts and says I'm not allowed to leave the house in them, and they should actually be in the trash. Well, joke's on her, as I've now made my round and sweaty derrière a subject of the Internet in a game of blogger chicken. I have no shame, and this is about as ugly as it gets when it comes to grouting.

And there you have it, that's our adventure in grouting. Start to finish it took us a solid week and a half to finish the whole job. That spanned several days of actual grouting, three days cure before beginning the vinegar bath, a full 24 hours cure on the sealer, and two full time jobs that have been taking up way more than we'd like of late. But hey, what are you gonna do?

It's my hope that this post will ultimately help someone who is working on grouting their marble and they happen to run into some of the same difficulties we've encountered. But it's my sad realization that any of those unfortunate souls we might have helped will ultimately be turned away by my sweaty butt picture. And that concludes our grout adventure done in the style of one of the best spaghetti westerns of all time.

- THE END -

Comments 11

Comments

8/1/2014 at 3:20 PM

You sure know how to strike fear into the heart of fellow bogger/tilers.

Now for the questions (you know I'd have some)...

  1. I'd not considered adding admixture to grout before. I've seen it on the shelf at the store but assumed it was something other people used. Now I'm off to research.

  2. Why did you choose a sealer over an impregnator? Since you've used this before, do you know how often you have to reapply? How does it hold up to furry children's toenails?

We won't even get into Kevin's tiling attire (or mine for that matter)...

Alex
8/1/2014

Mission accomplished. Alt wink

  1. I'm not 100% sold on it. I've wanted to try it for a while so I figured, "hey, why not try something totally new on the biggest and most important tile job we've ever done." Seems reasonable, right? But since we've had variable color, even after carefully measuring everything out, I feel like I was sort of let down. I would definitely mix up all of my grout batches into one large bucket though.

  2. Sealer is easier to apply, has fewer fumes, is less expensive, and works quite well on marble. At least that's my experience. I got a lot of advice on a previous project from people on JohnBridge.com and other tile pros and settled on the sealer based on that. It's worked well and needs to be applied typically every other year, even under the click clack of paws. The main thing to consider is your bathroom is likely a pretty low traffic area when you consider high traffic areas like public restrooms and hotel lobbies etc, even if it is your only bathroom and you and other people will use it several times per day. StoneTech does have an impregnator, and we may use it after the fact if the sealer doesn't hold up the way we want, but for now, sealer it is.

Good luck, can't wait to see your final results. And don't worry about your outfits, Wendy's not there to secretly snap photos of you.

Colleen
8/1/2014 at 5:18 PM

I think it looks great! Also, color differences you think are so clear now may be much more hidden once you have a toilet, tub, and other trimmings in the room!

Wendy
8/5/2014

I hope you're right, Colleen. I keep trying to convince myself that will be the case!Alt smile

Mia
8/1/2014 at 6:06 PM

Despite the bad and the ugly, this is still another great post with great style, and lots of process details to assist others. But I love when you include pics of those "family members" who observe, assist, supervise, and beta test:) Can't wait until the next step.

Wendy
8/5/2014

Thanks, Mia! We want to represent all aspects of the project, including the peanut gallery who isn't shy about sharing feedback. ;)

Franki Parde
8/2/2014 at 1:24 PM

You went out with a B A N G!! Whew!! franki

Wendy
8/5/2014

:) You know it!

JC
8/3/2014 at 4:13 PM

I laughed hard at the butt photo, but honestly the floor looks AMAZING. I think once it's all cured, dried, and lived in a bit, the colour differences won't show up much. It will also help once you have the vanity, and whatever other accessories (floor mat, decorative chairs, etc) in there. I also like it when there's a certain amount of small imperfections.

Wendy
8/5/2014

I still can't believe it took him that long to discover my secret photo shoot.Alt smile Thanks, JC!

A Ahmann
5/2/2018 at 5:58 PM

Hi! We installed a pebble floor and should have sealed them before we did the grout, but didn't know any better. Not only that, but with a mortar issue, I actually washed some of the slabs of rock before he mortared them in and they still had that "wet rock" look when he applied the grout later. Now we are seeing water condensing on the rocks as if the floor was sweating. Any cause for concern? We haven't sealed it yet.

Since you've not signed in yet, you will need to fill in your name and email below. If you have a Facebook account, save yourself a step and use Connect to login.

Denotes a required field.

Please enter full URL, including http://

You can use Markdown syntax in your comment. And you can also use lots of Emoji!
  • Search

  • Login
  • Follow
  • Advertising

If you're looking for information on advertising and sponsorships, head on over to our sponsorships page. You can purchase site sponsorships in a few easy clicks. 

Toolbox Tuesday
Open Housing
  • We're Featured!

Old Town Home has been featured in the following places and publications:

The Washington Post
 
Washingtonian Magazine
 
Domino
 
Old House Journal
 
 
Apartment Therapy House Tour
 
Washington Post Express Feature
 
Home & Garden Blogs
 
© 2018 OldTownHome.com. - Privacy Policy
Login Below
or
Sign in with Facebook
Connect

Unexpected Error

Your submission caused an unexpected error. You can try your request again, but if you continue to experience problems, please contact the administrator.

Working...

Working...