Grout, Mortar, and Thinset: What’s the difference?

Posted 09/27/2014 by Arizona Tile

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Spreading grout into the space between tiles
Featured Image: Grout, Mortar, & Thinset: Whats The Difference?

Did you know there is a difference between grout and mortar? If you are a confident DIY’er or even a newbie professional, you may get confused when the terms get thrown around haphazardly while discussing tiling jobs. 

Mixing the grout mix with a drill mixer
Image: Mixing Grout in a Bucket with a Drill Mixer

What is Grout?

grout /grout/ noun: a mortar or paste for filling crevices, especially the gaps between wall or floor tiles

Grout comes in nearly every color in the rainbow and it fills the spaces between the tile. Given the variety of colors available, grout has become one of the design elements of a tile installation. There are resin grouts and epoxy grouts, but it comes in two basic varieties that are used in residential applications:

• Sanded grouts – Best for larger grout lines

• Unsanded grouts – Best for grout spaces smaller than 1/8″

Learn more about the difference between sanded vs. unsanded grout.

Spreading mortar on a floor to lay tile or stone
Image: Spreading Mortar on a Floor Before Laying Tile or Stone

What is Mortar?

mortar /môrter/noun: a mixture of lime with cement, sand, and water, used in building to bond bricks or stones

Mortar is not pourable like grout, and other than a higher water content, mortar contains lime and grout does not.

Spreading thinset adhesive on the floor before laying tile or stone
Image: Spreading Thinset on a Floor Before Laying Tile or Stone

What is Thinset?

thinset noun: (also called thinset mortar, thinset cement, dryset mortar, or drybond mortar) an adhesive mortar made of cement, fine sand and a water retaining agent such as an alkyl derivative of cellulose. It is usually used to attach tile or stone to surfaces such as cement or concrete

Ankara Travertine Floor Tiled Hallway
Image: Travertine Floor Tiled Hallway from Arizona Tile

Thinset, while it is also sometimes referred to as a “mortar” is an adhesive. It’s a mix of cement, water, and fine sand. It holds your tile to the substrate and is used in commercial applications, “wet wall” applications (such as a shower floor), or with heavier tiling materials such as Ankara Travertine Stone Tile.

Due to its cement ingredients, thinset should be made up in small batches as needed. It also should never be washed down a drain, as it will harden in your pipes.

Video: How To Install Tumbled Stone Tile From Arizona Tile

So while these words grout, mortar, and thinset are sometimes thrown around interchangeably, they each are different products used in different situations. Be sure to double check the manufacturer's instructions on the tile you purchase for exact product requirements and installation guidelines.

Grouted Wall Tile
Image: Concerto Black Matte Porcelain Bathroom Wall Tile From Arizona Tile

Interested to see what colors grout can come in? Check out our Just Imagine Visualizer Tool to formulate your own tile mosaic and then customize with the color grouts. Soon you'll be a grouting Picasso!