What is grout sealer and is it really necessary for tile?
The short answer is yes, not only do you NEED grout sealer, but you also should reapply it every year or two. The good news though is that this is an EASY do-it-yourself job. I will show you where to buy grout sealer and how to do it.
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Why you need grout sealer
Grout is basically a mixture of sand and cement. As a result, if you don’t seal your grout, it will absorb water, bacteria and stains. Adding a grout sealer protects your grout so it’s waterproof and will repel moisture and germs. Sealing the grout helps prolong the look, texture and consistency of your grout and it prevents mildew and mold. Your grout will look better and last longer.
The one exception to the rule is if you have epoxy grout. Epoxy-based grout (which is more expensive) is made from a different material. It is often used with glass tile installations (especially for kitchen backsplashes). SpectraLOCK from Laticrete is probably the most popular brand of epoxy grout.
Epoxy Grout Exception
Epoxy grout is a tough, water-resistant material that doesn’t require sealer. But it’s not right for all types of tiles. It’s used most often with glass and other nonporous tiles and is used most often in areas prone to water such as showers and backsplashes. Epoxy grout remains flexible, compared to cement-based grout, so it’s less susceptible to chips and cracks. This also enhances is resistance to water and stains.
When do you seal your grout?
After you’ve installed new tile, you want to wait at least 48 to 72 hours for the grout to dry and cure. Your grout should be clean and dry and make sure the grout lines are cracked or chipped. If they are, then touch up the grout and then wait an additional 48 to 72 hours before you start sealing the grout.
Do you seal the tiles, too?
Generally, no would not seal the tile, assuming that your tile is glazed ceramic or porcelain. If you have unglazed tile/clay (e.g. unglazed terra cotta…not very common these days) or natural stone, you would seal these as they are porous. (But this is a different type of sealer…I hope to write about that soon).
Be aware that you should NEVER apply grout sealer to the surface of non-glazed tile or natural stone. If you do, the tile will absorb it and it will never come out (and it may be discolored).
If you are unsure what type of tile you have, contact the store that you bought the tile from.
Is It Difficult To Apply Grout Sealer?
No, it’s easy to apply grout sealer yourself. It’s a bit tedious, and takes some time, but even a novice DIYer can easily do this. If my mom can do this, I know you can, too. When you have larger tiles (e.g. 12″ x 12″), it’s pretty easy; when you have smaller tiles, then you have more grout lines and it will take a bit longer.
Choosing the best type of grout sealer – penetrating vs non penetrating
Choose your sealer based on the type of tile you have and its location. There are 2 types of grout sealers – penetrating and non-penetrating sealer.
- Penetrating Grout sealers use a water base that allows the formula’s particles to penetrate the grout. Grout is porous, so it absorbs the sealer and then keeps the moisture out. Penetrating sealers the the best choice for damp areas such as bathrooms and shower areas.
- Membrane-forming grout sealers create a coating on the grout’s surface that resists water penetration. These are great for kitchen floors and backsplashes, but they aren’t good for bathrooms because they won’t allow water that’s trapped underneath the tile to evaporate…and this can lead to mildew. Membrane-forming sealers are good for unglazed tiles such as natural stone. Be aware that these grout sealers won’t adhere to glazed tiles, such as most ceramics and subway tiles (they will slide off the surface).
So, if you are using tile in a bathroom and/or have regular porcelain or ceramic tiles, I’d advise you to use a penetrating grout.
What is the best method to apply grout sealer – paint vs roll vs spray.
There are 3 ways to apply grout sealer – you can paint or roll it on, or you can spray it on. Painting and rolling is basically the same process, it just depends which type of instrument you prefer.
The brush applicator is more difficult for some because sealer doesn’t feed smoothly into the brush and sometimes requires you to go back and reapply in dry areas where sealer failed to apply.
Rollers are not perfect, but many feel they are better than brushes. Sealer remains relatively close to the seam line without slopping too far over onto the tile surface.
I’m not a big fan of spraying. It seems like it’s easier, but it’s really not. You save some time in the application, but you spend way more time on cleaning the tile and you usually have residue that dries on the tile and it takes a while to get this off (and no you, you shouldn’t just let it wear off naturally (as some cans may indicate). And, because the spraying method is a bit less purposeful, sometimes areas don’t get fully coated. Plus, sometimes the spray goes where you don’t want it to (e.g. walls, glass) and I’m not crazy about the aerosol and inhaling that. I’d recommend brush or roller.
What’s the best grout sealer to use and where can you buy it?
I would recommend Dupont Stonetech Professional Grout Sealer and you can buy it on Amazon. This is made by laticrete, the leader in grout and grout sealers. It’s heavy duty and the one most pros use.
Grout sealer Applicator Choices:
AquaMix Grout Sealer Applicator – High end Brush. I recommend this over the lower priced brushes as it’s more precise (and less clean up afterwards). I’m sure if you look around, you can save $3 to $6 but my time is worth more than that.
M-D Products 12 Oz. Seal-A-Wheel – Roller
Other materials needed:
- Cheesecloth rag
- Clean lint free rag
How to apply grout sealer
1. As I mentioned, above, it’s critical that your grout is dry and has cured enough. Wait at least 48-72 hours after the grout was applied. (It’s okay if you wait longer…as long as the grout is clean). It’s ideal to do this within the first 2 to 3 weeks. Note: If you’ve been using the shower, you want to wait at least 12 hrs before applying (but 24 hrs is even better especially if there is less circulation in the room).
2. Tape off any wood baseboards or cabinets that are in the area. You want to avoid any unintentional staining or deposits.
3. Apply the sealer to the grout lines. You can use a foam paint brush, a small roller or a paint pad. Start in one corner and systematically cover the grout joints completely. It’s best to work at a far corner so you can walk your way out of the room.
Systematically apply the sealant in a smooth, even coat over each part of the grout, taking care to completely cover every corner of the joint. Since you don’t want to accidentally miss a grout line or joint, it is best to follow a consistent left-to-right pattern to ensure nothing is missed.
You want to avoid getting the sealer on the tiles, so it’s better to go slowly. If you do get sealer on the tiles, don’t worry about it; just use a rag to wipe it off quickly. Most people find it easier to just do a few feet at the same time both to wipe as well as avoid the need to wipe. You’ll want to remove sealer from the tile before it starts to dry (within five to seven minutes of application) so that you’re not left with a foggy film that’s nearly impossible to remove.
4. Wait 5 to 15 minutes to allow the first coat to soak into the ground.
5. Apply the 2nd coat of sealer. Note: some brands require more time between coats (or more time before wiping the tiles, so be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions.
6. Wipe off the tiles with a dry cotton cloth. It’s important to wipe off the excess sealer on the tile. Use water and cheesecloth pads to scrub off any residue if grout sealant has dried on the tiles.
7. Allow 24 to 48 hours for the sealer to cure. (Do not use the shower nor cleaning products at this time). Note curing time may vary a bit based on the grout sealer you choose, so read the bottle and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. You can usually walk on the area much sooner (usually 2 to 4 hrs later). Keep pets off the floor, too, especially as their paws may be wet and/or you don’t want them to get this on their paws and lick them.
8. Test the grout sealant. Flick a few drops of water onto the grout line. The water should puddle up on top of the grout and then you know it’s been properly sealed. I would try this in a few areas.
How often should you seal your grout?
It’s ideal to reseal your grout annually, or at a minimum every other year. While many sealers claim to last for year, bear in mind that there are many harsh cleaners that can wear sealers down (as well as foot traffic or water in the showers). Also, remember that sealing you grout is easy to do and inexpensive…and way less expensive vs. regrouting or trying to get rid of mildew (or worse).
Also, remember the idea is to seal the dirt out…not seal it in. Grout sealing is preventative in nature so that you maintain the color and consistency. Once the grout starts to chip or change color, it’s too late. I would try to build this into your spring cleaning regimen.
While it may be inconvenient to keep a room off-limits for a day or two, remind yourself how convenient it will be the next time you clean your grout. A good sealer means less time scrubbing, so this is one chore that will make your routine bathroom cleaning a breeze.
Should you seal the grout in your shower?
There is some contradictory and misleading information out there. Remember grout is porous, so it absorbs water, as well as whatever is in that water (e.g. shampoo, hair dye, cleaning products). By applying grout sealer, you are pre-empting water and other products from penetrating the grout.
So, yes, you want grout sealer in the shower and it’s even more important than other areas because, as I sure you realize, showers tend to get wet and steamy.
The only exception to this (as mentioned above) is if you have an epoxy grout which naturally blocks the water from penetrating the grout.
How to test if it’s time to reseal the grout?
An easy and straight forward test is to drop a few small drops of water on the grout. If the water is absorbed into the grout quickly, it’s time to reseal. If the water drops bead up, you are fine.
Summary of materials needed for sealing your tile grout
- Grout sealer – Dupont Stonetech Professional Grout Sealer
- Brush applicator – AquaMix Grout Sealer Applicator or Roller applicator – M-D Products 12 Oz. Seal-A-Wheel
- Cheesecloth rag
- Clean lint free rag
Final thoughts on sealing your grout
Most people don’t even realize that they should seal their tile grout. Contractors often neglect to tell their customers (or else some may not even know). But, now that you do know the importance of sealing (and resealing) your grout, as well as how to do it yourself, give your tiles some love and protection. They will look much nicer and last much longer.
Related tile and grout articles:
- How to clean your grout…the right way
- Best steam mop for tile floors
- 15 Black and white mosaic tiles for bathrooms
Why it’s important to seal your grout and how to do it yourself