Choosing Grout for Subway Tile



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White or grey? Narrow or wide? Contrast or blend? Grout for subway tile might seem like a simple choice, but there is more to consider than you might imagine. Until the 1980s, there were only two choices when it came to grout: white or grey. Now there are endless colors—even metallic and glitter are available. There are even grout stains so you can change the color if you change your mind.


There are three conversations surrounding grout and they center on color, spacing, and visual impact. Here’s a closer look at each.

Boutique shop wall with glazed ceramic tile in vertical stripes of grey and blue. Handbags on a shelf in the foreground.

GROUT COLOR

Though there are many grout colors available, the most popular remain white and grey. There are hundreds of shades of white and grey to choose from—each one producing a different look. Bright white grout is tricky to work with. If it outshines your tile, the tile can look old or dingy. It is also difficult to get clean. All grout will darken some with age so the brightness of the white may dull. On the other hand, it produces a clean, monochromatic look that’s classic.

 

Softer whites let the tile be the star of the show and even provide subtle contrast that highlights the patterns and shapes of your tile.

 

Light grey has a similar effect to softer whites—it defines the tile and gives subtle contrast. It is also a favorite because it is easier to keep looking clean. The darker the grey you select, the more contrast you will get and the more the subway grout line will become the attention grabber rather than the tile.

 

High contrast is a design choice that you have to be prepared for. It looks great, but it does have a strong presence and will be the center of attention. Surround dark grey grout or bright colored grout with neutral décor and color schemes so it doesn’t have to compete with other elements in the room.

White subway tile on a shower wall with a niche containing bottles.

VISUAL EFFECT

The discussion about color and spacing is really, at heart, about visual effect. How you want your tile application to appear and the drama you want it to create drives your decisions. The tile and grout combinations you choose have the power to make your space look bigger or snugger. It can become the central feature of the room or the backdrop.

 

But the visual effect is more than just design. For instance, a monochromatic room can sometimes feel a little lost without something to ground it. And overly stimulating rooms can actually make you tired and grumpy. It’s a good idea to see what you’re getting into before you start putting that grout in.

 

Virtual reality, pictures of similar designs that show the whole room, visits to designs you are considering are all good ideas before you commit. Get a sense of what your design will feel like so you can have the impact you’re looking for.

GROUT SPACING

Thinner grout spacing for subway tile creates a more subtle effect, and wider grout lines, a more dramatic one. If you are going for high contrast or retro style, wider grout spacing gives you the opportunity to make a statement with your grout.

 

Narrower grout lines are more understated but you can still use a high-contrast grout to set the tiles apart. A narrow grout spacing also can have more of a monochrome effect even with a grout that is somewhat darker than your tile


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