Which Tile Grout is Right for Your Job: Epoxy or Cement?

Which Tile Grout is Right for Your Job: Epoxy or Cement?

Professional tile installers know all of the ins and outs of grout, which to use for each type of job plus all the pros and cons of the different products available. But what about the DIYers and those learning the trade? You have a lot to consider before landing on the right tile grout for your job. Your first decision will be whether you should use epoxy or cement grout. While the application of each is very similar — compacting a binding material within the joints of your tile already — the nuances are worlds apart. Below are the advantages and disadvantages of both epoxy and cement grouts.

Epoxy Benefits

  • Resinous composition. Because epoxy is composed of chemical resins, it’s a non-porous plastic. Even with sand mixed in to lend bulk, the resins will act like plastic.
  • Waterproof. The impermeable nature of plastic means the epoxy is waterproof. Moreover, it is quite resistant to staining. This feature means it need not be sealed like cement grout. In fact, attempting to seal it could ruin it’s stain resistance.
  • Easy to maintain and clean. Like most plastic surfaces, epoxy is easy to clean. Harsh chemicals have little effect on it, so removing soap scum in a shower won’t damage the grout.
  • Great bond strength. Epoxy bonds so well, that if you fail to clean off the haze as you work your tile areas, you’re liable to never get it off, at least not without special cleaning chemicals.
  • No grit. Unsanded epoxy won’t scratch those delicate tiles of marble, glass or metal.
  • Compacts well in 1/8-inch or narrower gaps. Unsanded epoxy could well be the only material you want to use if the tile joints are very narrow. It will more readily fill to the substrate.

Epoxy Downsides

  • Harder to work with. Once mixed, the resins set up quickly, so you have to move fast and only mix small portions at a time. Plus, you must clean the haze immediately or you may ruin the job. Also, epoxy offers more challenges when applying around corners.
  • Looks like what it is, plastic. Once set up, epoxy has the shiny, plastic look. You or your client may not appreciate that look over a large span. Others may not mind it at all.
  • More expensive. Epoxy costs an awful lot more than regular cement grouts. However, since you can skip the sealing process, and if you have the skill set, it’s price may be worthwhile for small installations.
  • Will ruin porous tiles like natural stones. The resins will quickly soak into the pores of natural stones or unglazed tiles, and you likely won’t be able to remove it. Glass, ceramics and metals comprise the best candidates for epoxy.
  • Can discolor in the sunshine. Like most plastic materials, epoxy will fade or turn ugly colors if exposed too long to the sun’s UV rays.
  • Too much slump on vertical surfaces. Without the thicker viscosity of cement grouts, epoxy can slump down the vertical joints if they are too wide.

Because it will stain, cement grout requires the extra step of sealing, which adds expense to the job. Sealing will also keep the sandy surface from deteriorating due to use and cleaning.

Cement Benefits

  • Easy to use. Cement grout is far more forgiving when the application proves more difficult than the installer’s present capabilities. It’s great if you’re just learning how to install tile.
  • Easily cleaned. The haze over the tiles or dropped lumps comes off without much effort, even long after application.
  • Inexpensive. Cement grouts come in every color and cost very little compared to epoxy.
  • Doesn’t fade. Sunshine won’t harm the aesthetics of your cement grout. Go ahead and use it in rooms meant to receive lots of sunlight.
  • Less slump on vertical surfaces. Cement, having a thicker consistency, holds up well on wall installations, even when the joints are fairly wide.
  • Best for greater than 1/8-inch gaps. Cement grout bonds well and shrinks less in the wider gaps.

Cement Downsides

  • Stains. Since cement is very porous, it will stain easily. Even sealed, it can soak up spills over time.
  • Must be sealed. Because it will stain, it requires the extra step of sealing, which adds expense to the job. Sealing will also keep the sandy surface from deteriorating due to use and cleaning.
  • Scratches glass and metal. The grit factor will absolutely wreak havoc on soft tile surfaces unless the installer is extraordinarily skilled.
  • Won’t pack well in narrow gaps. The thick paste of cement may not pack well in joints of 1/8-inch or less. If that happens, it’s likely to crack and fall out in a short amount of time. An effort to thin it out to facilitate the pack will only create a weak bond that will also fail rather quickly.

Please see our tile installation resource for more information on how to install tile. With the professional, knowledgeable staff at Mees Distributors, you can learn the best materials to use for your particular project. Or, you can come into any one of our convenient locations and speak in person to our staff. We’re happy to help the DIYer and the professional alike.

Cincinnati Showroom

1541 West Fork Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45223
Phone: 513.541.2311
Fax: 513.541.4831
Email: cin@meesdistributors.com
Monday-Friday 8:00am-5:00pm
Saturday 8:00am-12:00pm (noon)