1/8 Vs. 1/16 Grout Line Subway Tile: Which is Best?

Tom Gaffey
by Tom Gaffey

Shopping for home improvement projects can be a real rush of emotions. Selecting colors, aesthetics, hardware and tiles are all part of the fun when you are turning your home improvement dreams into a reality.

When you start the project, and you begin to lay the tile, you may find yourself faced with some difficult decisions you did not anticipate. Seemingly small details like the size of your grout line between subway tiles become an overwhelming difficult decision.

When selecting the width of your grout line for subway tile, a 1/8 inch line is a preferred width if you are not an expert. 1/8 inch grout lines allow for small mistakes and help hide minor imperfections in the tiles themselves. If you prefer a more modern, sleek appearance without the busyness of thick grout lines, you can choose 1/16 inch grout.

When you are preparing to lay your tile you need to consider the subway tile itself, and how the grout width will affect the outcome. There are pros and cons to choosing a thin versus thicker line. First you should understand the benefits and drawbacks of both size grout lines in order to know what size works best for you.

Things To Know When Working With Subway Tile

The main attribute that separates subway tile for many other tile styles is its size. The traditional size of subway tile is typically 3 inches by 6 inches, or somewhere in that ballpark.

This size makes subway tile a bit smaller than many types of tile, and certainly very distinct. It requires hundreds of tiles to cover a regular-sized wall. This also means there is a lot of space between tiles that must be filled. While grout width may not seem like an important decision in some tile projects, it certainly is with subway tile. A thick grout versus a thin grout can completely alter the look of the wall.

How Big Should Grout Lines Be For Subway Tiles?

When choosing grout thickness, it’s less of a rule and more a design decision. It also depends on what the project is for. Some areas may be better suited for smaller grout while others might look better and hold up better with smaller grout lines.

Normally the tightest grout lines will be 1/16 inch. A common grout line is 1/8 to 3/16 inch.

Pros Of 1/8 Inch Grout Lines In Subway Tile

If you are considering a 1/8 grout line in your subway tile, you are not alone. This is a popular size grout line for subway tile for several reasons.

Easier For Amateurs and First Time Tile Layers

Using a thicker grout is much easier to work with than a very tight grout. A 1/8 inch grout line allows for a bit of human error and wiggle room. This can be very helpful to those who are not well versed in laying tile.

Won’t Notice Tile Imperfections As Easily

With thicker grout lines, small tile imperfections are less perceptible to the human eye. You will be surprised at how many tiny imperfections are found along the edges of subway tiles. A thick grout line helps camouflage them.

Can Be A Bold Style Choice

Juxtaposing the color of the tile and creating a fun design. A thicker grout also tends to give a bit of a vintage look. It can pair very nicely with a plantation or even industry style room.

Cons Of 1/8 Inch Grout Lines In Subway Tile

Just as there are benefits to a 1/8 inch grout line, there are also reasons you may want to reconsider.

A Wider Grout Will Overpower Subway Tile

It is important to remember that most subway tiles are relatively small. A thicker grout will be a noticeable contrast to the tile. It can make the room look busy, almost giving a dizzying effect.

Does Not Pair Well With Contrasting Grout

If your grout and your tile are very different colors, an 1/8 grout will be even more distracting. This can sometimes be a desired design effect, but it can also look sloppy and distracting.

Pros Of 1/16 Inch Grout Lines In Subway Tile

Just as there are several reasons to choose a 1/8 grout line, there are just as many benefits to choosing 1/16 inch grout line. The reasons, however, just are not the same.

Less Is More

A thin grout line gives you a chance to truly show off the shiny tile itself. Thick grout can give a less polished look, and can make the room look busier than necessary.

Thin Grout Lines Create A Modern Feel

If you have modern appliances, a thin grout might be the way to go. A 1/16 inch grout will give your subway tiles a modern finish that will match the room perfectly.

Good For Tight Spaces

Since the 1/16 inch grout line has a clean modern feel, it often goes great in tight spaces. Thicker ground lines can be busy, and might be a bit too bold for a small wall or tiny room.

Cons Of 1/16 Inch Grout Lines In Subway Tile

Before you start laying your tile out with 1/16 inch grout lines, you should also know the downsides to using a 1/16 inch grout line between subway tiles.

Smaller Grout Shows Imperfections

When there is a very thin line between your subway tiles it is very easy to notice the slightest imperfections in the tile. When you purchase the tile it likely all appears identical. For the most part the tiles will be almost identical, but there will be slight grooves and bumps on many tiles. Unless you use high end and precisely cut tile, there is a good chance you will notice tile imperfections in 1/16 in grout.

Leaves Very Little Room For Error

Using a 1/16 inch grout is certainly possible, but it is often best left to professionals. Subway tiles often don’t line up perfectly. It is nice to have a bit of wiggle room in case there are slight angular imperfections you need to work around. 1/16 allows for very little imperfection or human error.

Does Not Pair Well With Darker Grout

Another disadvantage of 1/16 inch grout is that it does not pair well with darker grout. Not only does it look strange, but it also tends to highlight imperfections even more than lighter grout. This is particularly true if you are working with lighter tile and darker grout. If this is the case, opt for a thicker grout.

What Is The Smallest Grout Line For Subway Tile

You don’t actually need any space in between most subway tiles. Some believe less is more.

Most brands don’t recommend that you go tighter than 1/16th grout lines. Even companies that cut very precise tile may have slight imperfections here and there. Combine the slightest imperfection with the slightest human error and you can have a noticeable problem with your tile job. A tight grout line is great in theory, but having to start a tile project over from scratch is an infuriating, expensive nightmare that you should bear in mind when making your decision.

A tighter grout line may look more modern and less busy, but it can also look very sloppy. Unless you are a tile expert with extreme confidence in your tile supplier and your own skills, you may want to widen your grout line a bit.

Final Thoughts On Grout Line Size Between Subway Tile

Grout lines between your subway tiles are an important detail to consider. If the lines are too thick, they can look unprofessional and distracting. If they are too small they can be difficult to install and it will be easy to notice imperfections.

It is best to use 1/8 inch grout lines if you are new to working with tile, as this size grout line helps hide imperfections a 1/16 inch grout line is good for a more modern, clean look, but you might want to hire a professional to lay tile this close together.

Tom Gaffey
Tom Gaffey

Tom Gaffey is an expert writer who currently resides in Washington D.C. Tom has a passion for real estate and home improvement writing, as well as travel and lifestyle writing. He lived the last twelve years in Hawaii where he worked closely with luxury resorts and event planners, mastering his knowledge of aesthetics and luxury products. This is where he found his passion for home improvement and a keen interest in DIY projects. Currently, Tom resides in Washington D.C, and also working on his debut fiction novel.

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