Make your own shower – grouting and sealing for the long haul.

This is it!  The home stretch!  Here’s where we left off:

photo 2 (2)

After the tiles are up, the shower was still not waterproof, nor was it very elegant.  To be functional and pretty (and to hide my mistakes), the gaps between the tile need to be grouted, which then gets sealed.  I noticed a lot of internet sites that point out the risks associated with grouting, but honestly, I thought this part of the project was actually pretty fun.  It’s more artistic and forgiving – no square corners, precise cutting or measurements.  There are several other good references (and multiple articles within each) on how to do this, like Young House Love, Bower Power and Lemon Grove.  As usual, I have several different solutions for the unexpected (and expected).

First lesson: it was time consuming to scrape up all of my rogue thinset from tiling and clear extra thinset out of the grout lines.  I recommend avoid this in the first place if you aren’t battling the tiles to stay in place around an awkward window.

Second lesson: Grout, regardless of how its mixed, is dramatically less removable than thinset!  It does not scrape or scrub off nicely once dry on tubs, tiles or windows.  It is a liquidy form of concrete (which contains cement, the stuff that chemically bonds).  Therefore, I thoroughly prepped the area with two cheerful picnic table cloths (with the plastic lining):

Before grouting

Before grouting – nice rustic tile spacings 🙂

At this point, Bryan wandered by and said, “Wow it looks like a mob scene in here.”

I responded, “What do you mean?”.

“Haven’t you ever seen a movie where they do a bathtub killing?   You want to line the tub for easy cleanup later.”

“I doubt they used ‘Sunshine Yellow’ tarps.”

In short: before grouting, confirm that your tub would be featured in a bad sequel to Good Fellas.  You can also see most of my supplies aside from the grout: two water buckets, two sponges, grout float, trash bucket, paper towels, clean/lint-free/white towels and buddy for lugging water (or tarp on your floors between bathroom and water supply).

Third lesson: by this time, I started learning things the easier ways rather than the hard way…I read that there is sanded and unsanded grout.  You want to use sanded grout when the grout lines are greater than 3/16″ thick and unsanded grout for thinner lines. Although I haven’t used anything but the sanded, reports are that it is a little more annoying to work with (and can scratch marble tile), but tends to shrink less with drying, especially if it is mixed too thin (the sand takes up space and does not shrink if the grout itself does).  Our tiles are spaced 3/16″ apart, so we went with Bostik sanded grout in white (not bright white) that I purchased at a local tile shop along with matching caulk.  I didn’t find the sanded grout bad at all.  As others have learned, Home Depot has a slightly more limited color selection in grouts, but the real downside was that the guy on staff couldn’t offer me as much advice on what I was doing.  I ended up purchasing 425 all-purpose latex admixture to use in place of water.  I figured anything that lowered my chances of grout shrinking was a good idea.

Next, I mixed up the grout.  Again, you can buy premixed grout, but frankly grout was easier to mix than I thought the thinset was.  To mix it, I once again used a clean bucket (this was a 5 bucket project) and a putty knife – no drill attachment was required for this one.  The motion is roughly what I imagine it takes to mix color into store-bought frosting.  I mixed no more than a quarter of the grout bag at a time.  The admixture had appropriate ratios of liquid to grout listed.  It was pretty different than mixing thinset, even though there was still a resting period.  In the case of the thinset or ardex feather finish, I learned not to add liquid after resting or the concrete will start to seize up.  On the contrary, each batch of grout required a little splash of liquid after resting to recover the appropriate peasnut-buttery thickness.  I also found that it thickened quickly as I was using it, so even my methods of application and time waiting before wiping changed slightly as the grout batch thickened.

There are many warnings about mixing it too thin, the consequence of which is that the grout cracks more easily.  What I discovered was: if the sanded grout was thick enough so that it could be pushed into the cracks, it was sufficiently thick for the project.

Grout application was basically three processes: dampen wall with sponge and put grout on wall, wipe down with sponge, polish with dry cloth.  I would grout a small ~2x2ft area, sponge it, then scrub the previous 2×2 area tiles (not grout lines) with the dry cloth to polish the tile.

To apply the grout, I pretty much used the grout float the way everyone else does.  I eventually found a rhythm once I struggled for a bit.  It was important to keep the float clean too since dried grout on the float makes the rubbery surface less effective – more use for the putty knife.  Re-stirring even ~15 minutes helped keep the grout consistent.  Similarly, I took periodic breaks from applying to wipe it off with a damp sponge.

Fourth lesson: the time you wait before wiping varies quite a bit based on your brand of grout and how thick you’ve mixed it.  My first batch was ultra thick and it was difficult to wipe after even 10 minutes.  Later batches gave me up to 20 minutes leeway.  I rinsed the sponge in two buckets to keep the second one (and thus the sponge) cleaner, which seemed to help reduce the haze compared to other reports.  The grout adheres nicely to the tile, which means that wiping at a ~45 degree angle across the line with a sponge actually did a nice job shaping the grout in the lines.  Some dried caulk could barely be scraped off with a putty knife – which I would generally try if I ran my hand over the tiles and it felt gritty or sandy.

Fourth lesson: This is where the thinset shows through if you were cheap and bought grey thinset and had some squeeze up through the grout lines.  I mitigated this problem by scraping out set thinset with this grout saw:

tiling tools

The thing with a blue handle is a grout saw.  Non-first timers should think of it as a demo tool, not a tiling tool. 😉

Eventually, I got the whole shower grouted.  This went pretty fast (with water lugging help) and was fit into about 2-3 long evenings.

photo 5 (2)

post-grout, pre-caulk

Fifth lesson: don’t grout the corners.  That’s why they sell matching caulk.  Apparently it also helps if there is any slightly expansion or contraction over the years – the caulk has more give than hard grout.  After the grout dried for two days, I taped the corners that would receive caulk, as in this tutorial.  I applied caulk, then dragged my damp finger over it while still damp to shape it and immediately removed the tape.  Worked like a charm…until I ran out of caulk.  Twice.  This project, which required caulking the tub, two back vertical corners, all around the edge of the quarter rounds to the wall and that dratted window took just over two bottles of this matching caulk.

Then I had a real shower!


After it all: prep, tiling, grouting and caulking (no fixtures yet).

To seal the grout, I bought tile sealer at the same tile shop.  There are many schools of thought on how to apply it, but: 1. I wore a respirator.  Scary stuff.  2. I used a thin brush to apply from a Solo cup, and 3. wiped it with those lint-free cloths from OSH.  I mainly wanted to avoid sealing any stray grout that I hadn’t found to scrape off.  The sealing led to zero change in appearance and took an hour or two.  Although the tiling is a little imperfect (adds character), it was about $3K cheaper than quote by the contractor and this little shower appears to be robust and a far cry from where we started!  Our guests approved 2 weeks after this project ended. 🙂




The tiling is over!  Still required in the bathroom remodel:

  • Fixtures
  • Painting the walls
  • Painting the vanity
  • Towel racks
  • Decor
  • Shelf
  • Baseboard