The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Grout and Tile

white subway tile backsplash

Have you ever heard the phrase “the devil is in the details” or “it’s the little things that matter”?  We agree 100%!  It is those seemingly little details that have enormous impact.  Now let’s talk tile and grout.

Whats the Best Grout for White Subway Tile?

Take plain white subway tile for example.  A lot of people think white subway tile is ho-hum.  We have to agree with Maria Killam about subway tile, and we have adopted her mantra to keep your hard surfaces white, off white, or cream.  As Maria explains, “Subway tiles are ALWAYS in movies and TV shows because they are what most bathrooms should basically be tiled in. Classic and timeless. Set designers try hard to create spaces that don’t scream a particular era, unless that’s what they are trying to show of course.”

Plain subway tile can have many different looks, and not all of them good, depending on the grout color.  I personally caution people against using white grout, and I have my reasons:

  • It gets dirty even if you clean it.  It is less dirty when not on floors, and better when you apply a good sealer.
  • If the tile is whiter than the grout, and this will be the case if you choose the whitest white tile you can get, you end up with the “yellow teeth” look.  Not pretty.  The whitest grout is still not as white as the whitest tile.  If you really, really want white grout, either:
    • use epoxy grout.
    • and/or use an off-white tile.  Only then will your white grout look truly white, in my opinion.  Good luck keeping it perfectly white.  One of the main reasons white grout actually turns yellow is because of hard water.  Hard water wreaks havoc on not just your grout, but also on your appliances, and even on your skin and hair, but I digress.

Best Grout for White Tiles

How, then do you choose grout for white tiles?  You need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I want my grout to be bold and noticeable?  
  • Am I making a statement?
  • Do I want a softer, more understated look?
  • Do I want my grout to relate to my wall color?
  • What do my other hard surfaces look like?

What to Consider When Choosing Grout for White Tile

  • If you’re going for a contemporary, modern farmhouse, or retro look and you want the grout to pop, consider using black grout with your bright white tile.  Consider slightly wider grout lines, rather than keeping them close and tight.
  • If you prefer a soft look, choose a very pale gray grout.  My all-time favorite that I have in my own house, everywhere I have white subway tile, is Frost by Mapei.  It almost reads white, especially when you’re looking at it from a distance or at an angle.  Keep the grout lines tight and the look is even more subtle.
  • If your walls are a light-medium gray and you have marble or quartz, match the grout to the veining and walls.  This is why I say to consider your hard surfaces.  All of the colors should relate to each other, even if they are not exact matches.  I never recommend that everything, or anything, be matchy-matchy, but I do believe that your grout should closely relate to your wall color and countertop.

Rules To Follow For A Classic Tile Look

Before choosing a white subway tile because you think that’s most classic, stop here and read the following points:

  1. White subway tile does not go with everything!  

Many people have earthy granite in their kitchens.  Do not choose bright white subway tile!  If you’re going to use subway, definitely look at a cream tile.  Take home a few tiles and lay them up against the wall on your granite.  Chances are you will find that cream is just what is needed.

  1. White subway tile does usually not go with cream kitchens.  

Again, choose a cream subway tile instead.  If you have white subway tiles and a cream kitchen, make sure that you repeat your creams and whites throughout your space. Kitchens that are done well in cream and white typically have white subway, a white farm sink, maybe white appliances, white sconce shades, etc.  If you only have one white element in a cream kitchen, everything just looks “off”.

  1. If you have bright white cabinets, choose bright white subway tiles.  

Again, be very careful with your grout.  Here is a situation that Mapei’s Frost grout comes to the rescue.  What color wall paint looks great with Frost grout?  Try Benjamin Moore Paper White or Baby’s Breath. Both look perfect with pale gray grout.

Grout for Non-Subway Tiles

You don’t have subway tiles.  What now?  How do you choose grout color for other types of tile?

Consider the Location of the Tile

Where is the tile located? Kitchen, bathroom, basement?  Is the tile going on the wall or floor?  Check to ensure you are using the correct tile for the surface you are tiling.   Many wall tiles are too glossy, and therefore too slippery, for floors.  Tile manufacturers will specify the application location in the product description.

Consider the Color

  • If you are choosing grout color for colored tiles, consider the following:
  • Keep your wall color in mind.  Hopefully your wall color coordinates and compliments your floor tile.  If it doesn’t, you should repaint your room.
  • If your tile has multiple colors or tones, select a light tone and match up your grout to that.  
  • Consider the size of the tile and make sure the width of the grout line complements your tile.  For in-depth information on grout lines, check out this excellent resource.

The Size of Your Grout Lines Matter

Remember, grout lines can emphasize features and really draw them out.  For example, if you have a graphic tile or a tile with unusual edges, choose a contrasting grout.  Look at the difference between a classic hex tile with white, black, and gray grout colors.  One tile, three entirely different looks.  White hex tile with a black dot looks great with black (not charcoal) grout and black light fixtures.  Black grout is a mess to work with, so you have been warned!  It is messy for you, your clothes, and it is not easy to clean up from the floor; however, once everything is clean, it looks great!

Want to Notice Your Tile and Not the Grout?  

Choose a grout color that most closely matches the dominant color in your tile.  The grout line all but disappears.  The same goes for wood-look tile.  Choose a grout color that is closest to your tile color.  You definitely do not want to emphasize your grout line if you want your tile to look like a wood floor.

Cleaning and Sealing Your Grout

After years and years of living with different types of tile, this section is based solely on my own experience.  You should absolutely seal your grout.  You should also reseal your grout periodically, about every six to eight months in heavily used areas like your shower, and once a year or so for other surfaces.  This will ensure that your color lasts and lasts.  If you have hard water as mentioned above, consider getting a water softener as soon as possible.  Finally, use gentle dish soap and warm water to clean wall tile and grout, and a basin, tub, and tile cleaner for showers.  If you notice soap scum or mold or mildew, remove those as soon as possible with any of the commercially available products.  The key is to get that buildup off before it becomes a problem and clean your tile and grout frequently.  I keep a little Pampered Chef plastic scraper handy to gently scrape around the tiles to remove any leftover build-up.

Need More Help Choosing Tile and Grout?

We hope you found our tile and grout information helpful.  Should you require further assistance choosing your grout, tile, hard surfaces, and paint colors, please consider contacting us for a professional consultation.

Until next time…

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