Grouts are becoming more advanced, with new looks, fast-setting properties and formulations designed to guard against blotchiness, efflorescence and other common problems. However, retailers still need to walk their customers through choosing the right grout for the job, and also impress upon them the importance of proper maintenance.

Improved aesthetics. Jon Scott, LATICRETE’s product manager for grout materials, said the big trend he is seeing in grout is “products that are easier to install, more durable and obviously with a much greater color selection.”

He points to his company’s SpectraLock Pro Premium epoxy grout as a product that offers these characteristics along with stain resistance and antimicrobial protection. He said the biggest problem at the retail level is not giving consumers enough information about the grout options available.

“A lot of consumers will buy tile and treat the grout material as a necessary evil. But if the dealer takes a few seconds to talk about the benefits of different grout materials, those that will perform as long as the tile is in place, then the dealer makes more money and the consumer is happier.”

He said the range of aesthetic choices has increased substantially in grout, using his company’s own SpectraLock Dazzle color options as an example. Dazzle can offer metallic highlights including copper, silver, gold or mother-of-pearl, as well as a glow-in-the-dark option.

The Tile Doctor also offers a range of designer-savvy grouts, including Crystal Glass Grout that refracts the color of surrounding glass mosaics, Metallic Grouts, and what CEO Curt Rapp calls “glamour colors with sparkle effects.”

He said these types of products are pointing toward the designer-oriented direction more grouts are going in. “From a design standpoint, grout was a stagnant choice of a handful of colors. It was viewed as a commodity product. However, today’s high-performance grouting technology has become one with design.”

Additives to the grout mixture are also creating longer-lasting products, Rapp added. “There are additives that enhance performance for cleanability, options that provide built-in sealers or topical sealers that can be applied while the grout is still curing. Additives can even provide protection against mold, mildew and algae.”

Beverly Andrews, a chemist for Bonsal American’s ProSpec brand, said one of the most important characteristics to look for in grout from a design standpoint is not just color, but color consistency. “You don’t want light and dark areas; you want consistent colors throughout the job, and durable grout that won’t wear out. You also want a grout that’s easy to apply, easy to clean and stain-resistant.”

Tom Cassutt, Bonsal American director of R&D, added that customers aren’t afraid to spend a little extra to get the stain protection found in a high-quality grout. “The homeowner or building owner is moving toward spending a little more on the installation side to add those stain additives. It makes the grout easier to clean, and at the end of the day, they want something that looks pristine.”

Chas Efird, Bonsal American technical support, noted that one of the big myths among consumers and end-users is that grout does not require cleaning. “Regular cementitious grouts require cleaning from standard wear and tear. However, most people think you can thrown down Chlorox or a caustic cleaner, which will actually harm cementitious grouts. If you want to use a harsher cleaner, you’re better off with an epoxy grout.” He recommends a pH-neutral cleaner for cementitious products.

Maintenance. Alan Kin, sales/technical for Texas Cement Products’ TexRite brand, said technological advances in grout include reduced efflorescence, faster setting times and more uniform drying. There are also grouts that can be used in both narrow and wide joint applications from the same product.

“The higher-performance grout should not be selected because it is just more expensive, but the technology and installation characteristics and physical properties are much higher. There is 20 to 25 years of scientific advancement in the formulas over the original colored cement grout mortars. We should want today’s new grout technology to keep pace with the improvements made in tiles/stones and building construction.”

He also warns against using vinegar or soap products to clean grouts. “After repeated cleaning the tile and grout lines become murky and dark gray/black because of soap scum buildup. If you can agitate the surface with a fine nylon scrub pad or fine plastic bristle brush and observe suds or foam, it means soap and debris have not been fully rinsed or removed from the surface.”

Finally, he noted that when using a sealer, follow the instructions carefully. “Early or premature sealing can cause white discoloration due to trapping moisture beneath the surface of the sealer. Vapor fogging can also occur because the ambient conditions have not allowed moisture to fully leave.”

Other technological advances. According to David Mowery, product manager for MAPEI grouts, single component grouts (also known as “premixed”) are moving into the commercial arena. “In the past, single component grouts were more of a DIY product for residential usage. The industry has now trended to a more robust version with improved performance properties.”

This contractor-ready formula typically offers improved strength, an interior/exterior rating, and in some products the removal of free pigment with a quartz-colored aggregate system. This same type of aggregate is used in MAPEI’s Kerapoxy CQ, and Mowery said the advantages are improved water cleanability, less residual haze and enhanced trowelability.

When choosing a grout, it is important to read the packaging for details. “There are traditionally two distinct grout textures: Sanded (grit) and unsanded (non-grit). The gap width of the installation typically tells you which one to select. Unsanded or non-grit grout is usually used for gap widths of 1/8” and below.”

He also agrees that it is important to select appropriate cleaners when dealing with grout. “Call it the Formula 409 syndrome, but many consumers believe that multi-surface cleaners can be used on specialty stone and grout surfaces. The reality is that stone, tile and grout care & maintenance has evolved far past this approach.” The company recently released a full line of tile, stone and grout care products, called UltraCare.

One advantage of fast-setting grouts is their ability to lock in color quickly. “Fast-setting cement-based grouts, epoxies and urethanes ensure consistent color in grout installations,” explained Mark Pennine, ARDEX Americas tile and stone technical specialist.

He added that it is important to make sure the type of grout chosen can stand up to the intended use. “Some grouts are made for demanding or harsh environments like commercial kitchens, swimming pools or high-traffic areas. Standard grout will not withstand these requirements.”

Tom Domenici, H.B. Fuller Construction Products area technical mgr., noted that it is important to check with the supplier for any grout that will be used with polished marble, glass tile or any type of tile featuring a soft, high-gloss glazed. “Check with the supplier, or test a sample to see if the grout scratches the surface.”

He added that grout should never be looked at as an afterthought. “One big reason most residential countertops today are slab granite or other monolithic material has to do with the problems the old grouts had with staining and discoloration. With the advances in the new grouts available, this could bring tile back to many of these places where it once dominated.”