Matching Cracked Grout

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Tiling Over a Subfloor

Tile Repair

Dear NH,
I am trying to fill in the space between my baseboard moulding and the ceramic tile floor in my kitchen. The original grout has broken out and I cannot find a ready-made color that matches it. Do you know of any company that would make me some grout to match a sample I would provide?
BB in Harrisburg, PA

You have two very common handyman problems, namely the difficulty in finding a matching color for old grout and the deteriorating grout along the edges of a room.

Matching grout colors is like matching paint. Seemingly slight color variations can produce glaring differences in repair work. One thing in your favor as compared to paint matching… the color of a powdered grout is the same whether it is right out of the box or completely set. Therefore you can very accurately judge the color without having to add water and pray! One other issue in matching grout is that the color changes over time due to simple age and reactions to cleaning products. Thus, you are really matching a discolored grout. Even if you knew the original color it might not be helpful in a repair situation!

The easiest way to match an odd grout is to mix two colors together and experiment! Adding so-called universal colorants is very iffy and I would avoid it. Granted, my method requires you to purchase twice the amount of grout, but may give you the most favorable results. In a shameless plug for "mom and pop" tile stores, I almost always do business with them because the folks there are the most helpful in these difficult situations. Many of these stores are run by people who were in the business and have insights you will not get from most "discounters".

The cracking grout around the room is a symptom of a common problem… the difficulty in sealing seams between dissimilar materials. The floor and wall expand at different rates and change during the year, causing lots of movement and stress at the joint where they meet… in your case, the perimeter grout line. There is no way to stop this movement which is why you will be making this repair over and over again. Though many moving joints can be successfully filled with a flexible adhesive caulk, this would probably be unsightly in your situation.

I have a suggestion that might address both problems at once. Have you considered installing a quarter round or stop-type moulding on the baseboard along the floor to hide the gap? This would kill two birdies with one stone… you could use a flexible caulk of any color (or clear) to fill the gap if you want to and, as a bonus, neatly cover the gap!

In installing the moulding, place strips of cardboard or aluminum flashing underneath it before nailing it on. This will provide a slight but unnoticeable gap between the floor and the moulding making neat painting much easier!! Prepainting or staining is also a good idea if you can. Then you only have to do filling and touchups at the floor-line.

copyright 2000 G.G. Alonzy

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