Grout vs. Mortar: What’s The Difference?

Kenneth Wilson

Grout and mortar are popularly used in most masonry and tile work. These cement-based products are a must-have for any standard home improvement project!

Although grout and mortar are similar in that they’re both cement-based products, they have different uses, water quantity added to the mix, and properties (size of aggregates such as stone and sand).

Using one instead of the other may compromise the structural integrity of your project or lead to further damages. That said, it’s crucial to understand the main differences between grout and mortar to use the right product for your project.

Grout vs. Mortar: An Overview

It’s common for terms such as grout and mortar to be pretty confusing to the average DIYers. Some may even consider them the same messy substance used in masonry to bind objects together or give you an even, flat surface.

These terms are often used interchangeably and inaccurately. However, grout and mortar refer to two different materials.

  • Grout is composed of water, cement, and sand. It is used to fill gaps or as reinforcement in existing structures.
  • Mortar is made of cement, fine sand, and lime. Commonly, it serves as a binding material for projects mainly using blocks, bricks, or stones.

What is Grout?

Grout is a highly dense material that can easily flow into wall crevices and the in-between of tiles. (Related: Tile Installation: A Cost & Consumer Guide)

Grout Varieties

Grout varieties include epoxy and resin. But for standard residential applications, you will only need to look at sanded and unsanded grout.

  • Unsanded Grout - This grout type does not contain silica sand. As such, the material is notably smooth. It is commonly used to fill narrow cracks that are no more than ⅛ inches.
  • Sanded Grout - This grout type has fine silica sand in the mixture to improve its stability. Use sanded grout if you’re dealing with larger crevices.

Keep in mind that the purpose of grout isn’t like an adhesive to bind structures together. Instead, think of the material as a filler to efficiently fill gaps and holes.

It is also available in several colors to match your decors– such as tiles or any kitchen interior design. As it has ample water, grout is not ideal for binding bricks and stones. Doing so may only become dangerous to you and the dwellers in your building.

What is Mortar?

Mortar is popularly used in modern construction, serving as a binding agent for masonry materials. It is made of cement, mixed with fine sands and water.

Another notable material added to mortar is lime– which increases its durability. Once mortar hardens, it’ll be difficult to destroy the material, at least until once it starts to wear out.

This building material binds quite well on the trowel before being applied between bricks to hold them together. Notably, mortar has a low water to cement ratio, stiff when applied. For flooring use, mortar serves as a bed where the tiles sit. It holds the tiles firmly in place.

Note: If you add large water amounts, the adhesiveness of mortar may only be compromised.

You can purchase mortar in bags (dry premixed form) which you can easily mix with water. Ensure to choose the right mortar type for your project– some mortar variations may be too complicated and may crack when misused.

Types of Mortar

Generally, there are five available types of mortar, each containing different materials.

  • N-Type Mix - An all-purpose mortar mixture. Highly versatile and preferred by most homeowners.
  • O-Type Mortar Mix - This mortar type has a lower strength. It is ideal to use for repairs and small-scale interior projects.
  • S-Type Mix - is commonly mixed with other materials to achieve an even stronger grade. Regardless, it can withstand almost anything.
  • M-Type Mortar Mix - contains the highest amount of cement and is considered the most robust type available.
  • K- Type Mortar Mix - Uncommon type of grout. It is often used to restore and fill cracks.

The Key Differences of Mortar and Grout

Let’s discuss the critical differences between mortar and grout.

Water Amount

Grout requires large water amounts, as it is made of cement, sand, and water. Other grout types may contain finer silica sand to improve its strength when applied on crevices and gaps.

Meanwhile, mortar only requires a small amount of water in the mixture. The low water to cement ratio reinforces its paste qualities. As such, it adheres well to a trowel and can be applied to certain materials to bind it together.

Note that excessive water amounts on mortar may compromise its paste qualities. As a result, it may drip on the trowel.

Ideal Applications

Both construction materials are often used in various home improvement projects. Mortar is best for sticking two structures together. After a while, mortar dries and hardens (which takes 25 years and more) before you’ll need replacement. A mortar bed also serves as an excellent tile bed for tiles.

In contrast, grout is applied in between tiles to protect them from water penetration damage and keep them together for a long time. Grout is also known to dry and harden, although it’s not as stiff as mortar. It may also be applied to steel to fill in any gaps.


As previously mentioned, grout is less stiff than mortar. Since it is made of cement, sand, and large amounts of water– it can flow easily. You may even apply it without a trowel since it flows readily into the crevices and gaps.

Between sanded and unsanded grout, sanded grout is known to be stiffer. On the other hand, mortar is stiffer as it is made of cement, lime, and sand, with less water. As such, it is commonly used to bind bricks for large buildings. Mortar cannot flow readily into the gaps with its low viscosity, unlike grout.

A Brief Summary of Grout vs. Mortar

Now that we’ve covered pretty much everything you need to know about grout vs. mortar, here’s a quick rundown for your reference.

  • Grout is composed of cement, sand, and water. Variations include sanded and unsanded grout, with the sanded grout type containing fine silica sand particles to increase its stability.
  • Mortar is made of cement, lime, sand, and water. It has a low water to cement ratio and binds stones and bricks.
  • Grout contains more water than mortar.
  • Grout readily flows into the gaps (without the need for a trowel), but you will need a trowel to apply mortar.
  • Grout is available in several colors to blend in as you fill crevices and gaps. 

If you are still undecided about using grout or mortar for your next home improvement project, consult a professional for expert advice.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the different types of grouts available?

These are the three available types of grouts to choose from:  Sanded grout is ideal for grout with large joints (1/8 “ or greater). However, marble is an exception because sanded grout may scratch it; Unsanded grouts are the ideal choice for smaller grout joints (⅛” or less); Epoxy grout is ideal in specific areas like countertops, outdoor patios, waterline pool tile, and pool deck.

What is mortar used for?

When building structures and walls, mortar is applied for binding blocks, bricks, and stones.

How long should the grout dry up?

It takes planning for the joint to dry at the right time. Joints may flush out if premature cleaning is done on freshly grouted surfaces and scratch tile surfaces due to abrasive particles. The manufacturer typically determines the joint drying time, usually 24 to 48 hours.

Kenneth Wilson
January 18, 2022
Contractor Tips, Interior

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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