Grout vs. Caulk – What's the Difference

Last Edited: 9/14/23
Female holding grout on a spreader with bathroom tile in the background.
In kitchens and bathrooms across the globe, you’ll find tiles and fixtures (such as toilets, pedestal sinks, tubs, etc.) caulked and grouted. But what exactly is caulk? Or grout, for that matter?  

In this article we’ll review what each one is, what makes them different, and how and when each should be used. 

What Is Grout? 

Grout, at its core, is a powder of cement or epoxy and sand that needs water to activate its adhesive properties. Grout is primarily used in masonry applications (within the home, most commonly in tiling jobs). Once the water evaporates out of the mixture grout sets to a rock-hard consistency. The dry grout helps lock tile, stone, or marble in place and provides an aesthetic element as well. 

Here are some other features of grout that you should know about

  • Grout can be used on a floor or a wall, but it should only be used to secure tiles, stone and marble in place. Due to the rigidity of dried grout (it is like cement when it dries), it shouldn’t be used to secure fixtures, or anything that needs to move for that matter. 
  • Grout is porous, which means water can get into it, which can cause some staining and possible mildew, but it’s also great in tiled showers because of how well it bonds to backer board. To prevent staining, use a grout sealer after the grout has cured (dried completely). Check here for tips on repairing and cleaning grout to bring back its original beauty. 
  • There are several different types of grouts (depending on additives). Each one offers advantages based on how and where it is used. Here is a brief description of each: 

Unsanded: Usually twice as expensive as sanded. Available is cement and epoxy base. Dries with a smooth finish that is best used on tile that might be scratched by sanded grout (like limestone and marble). Can shrink and crack when exposed to pressure. Not recommended for areas with heavy foot traffic. 

Fine sanded: Less expensive, coarse texture grout. Available in cement and epoxy  base. Does not shrink or crack. Holds up well in areas that have heavy foot traffic. 

Epoxy: A mixture of resin, hardener and sand. Usually, epoxy grouts are used in areas that are exposed to harsh chemicals heat, moisture, vibration, repeated heavy loads and other operational and environmental stresses because it has shown excellent resistance to damage in these situations.    

What Is Caulk? 

Unlike grout, caulk is a latex-, silicone-, or acrylic-based product that, even after setting, maintains some flexibility. Caulk is a versatile and useful material for sealing cracks and seams in a shower, tub, around a bathroom and/or kitchen sink, around windows and doors. Here are some other benefits and uses for caulk: 

Benefits/Uses of Caulk Include

  • Provides a waterproof seal around windows, sinks, tubs and showers. Because water can’t get into caulk, there’s less chance of staining and mildew. 
  • The flexible nature of caulk makes it ideal to apply to angled surfaces and corners. Grout, due to its rigidity, is more prone to cracking. 
  • It’s easier to remove and replace a line (often called a bead) of caulk than it is to replace grout. Caulk removal involves a little scraping and pulling; grout removal requires tools and could result in damage to the tile.  
  • Caulk can be used in multiple applications, while grout is very job specific. Caulk can be used to seal windows, plumbing, roofing, showers, and more.   

Frequently Asked Questions About Caulk and Grout 

Should you caulk or grout between tub and tile?  

  • Since caulk is flexible, waterproof, and non-porous it is better suited for this type of application. Using caulk here will also make it easier to remove and replace when necessary and minimize the risk of damage to both tub and tile. 

Do you caulk before or after grout?  

  • Because some jobs will require both grout and caulking. In most cases it’s best to grout first to create a solid foundation for the tile. Once the grout has set and hardened, the caulk can be used to provide a waterproof seal.  

Advice from the Pros 

Both caulk and grout are versatile, useful substances that when applied correctly can save you a lot of extra time, effort and money. Knowing how and where to use them around your home will also help you take full advantage of their benefits.  

If you have more questions, or you need help securing or replacing some loose tiles, waterproofing your bathroom, or sealing a few windows and doors, the pros at Mr. Handyman are available to assist you. We have helped thousands of homeowners get things done around their home, and we can help you too! To learn more, or to get started, give us a call or request service online today. 

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