Grouting & Sealing Tumbled Travertine Backsplash

by Margo
(Hightstown, NJ USA)


We have 4" squares installed diagonally over a border of 3 x 6 subway kichen backsplash tiles and need advise on what to do next.

Our granite countertop is UbaTuba and the cabinets are white with butterscotch glaze.

We tried the Sauterne grout by Latercrete on a small sample but not happy with the results.

It's too light and covered all the holes even though we tried to wash it off immediately. I think we should have used a sealer first but we were not advised to do so.

We love the rough look of tumbled travertine backsplash tiles especially when it's wet and want to maintain this look.

I'd like your suggestions for: grout colors that don't make the spaces look dirty but still dark enough to highlight the tiles, how critical it is to fill in the holes on the surface, and how to remove the grout from the surface of the tiles we started grouting so we can start over.


Tumbled travertine kitchen backsplash over Ubatuba granite countertop is quite a contrast, so personally I wouldn't want the grout to stand out too much.

When you have too many colors, textures and patterns the look can become to busy and unappealing.

While I can't recommend a specific color without seeing the entire set-up I'd suggest you minimize the contrast between the grout color and travertine tile color.

In other words, try simply to match the travertine color, so the grout is not a prominent part of the design.

When installing a travertine backsplash you DO want to fill the holes.

Filling the holes in the travertine tile isn't nearly as critical as on a floor or in a shower, however, there's plenty of dirt, grease, grime and moisture in a kitchen that can accumulate in the holes over time leading to mold or otherwise unsightly appearance and cleaning hassles.

Regarding sealing a travertine backsplash... you can apply a color-enhancing sealer to give the tiles a permanent wet look.

You could then also apply recommended marble & granite sealers over the enhancer, but likely not necessary on a kitchen backsplash.

You really don't get too much staining on a backsplash and the enhancer has sealing properties as well.

Applying a sealer before grouting can sometimes be beneficial, but often doesn't help at all.

The better route is to clean off grout residue as best as possible after grouting and then use this Soap Scum / Hard Water Remover to clean off remaining residue after the grout has cured a bit.

Just spray on, let sit 5-10 minutes and scrub with a soft-bristle brush and clean off.

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My answer to your questions.
by: Jason Huggett

If you want to start over: you can scratch out all of the grout. You can use a utility knife, screwdriver, or whatever you can figure out to make your job easier; although, this is a daunting task. For the grout lines, you can use a grout saw (sold at all places that sell tile tools).

An easier method of changing the grout color: you can use a grout colorant/stain. Grout paints come in every color imaginable. The paint will not need to be sealed, and you CANNOT enhance the grout paint; what you see is what you get.

However, when applying a grout paint on a stone, you need to work in small areas as quickly as possible. Wipe off the access paint with a wet sponge or cloth…QUICKLY!

If you do not get the paint off, you will stain the stone. You can always apply a sealer to the stone before you stain the grout to help ensure that you do not discolor and stain the stone.
Different sealers: if you applied an enhancer to your tile, you won’t be able to use a matt finish sealer on top of it; especially if the enhancer is a solvent-based sealer. Water based materials WILL NOT bond to oil based products, in ANY situation.

One thing to keep in mind when using enhancers is that they will also darken the grout (giving the grout the look that it has when it is wet).
Grout colors: Like anything, the color of the grout, the tile you choose, etc. is all a personal preference. Tile is a cosmetic aspect, much like that of paint on the walls. There is no “wrong” color to use.

However, generally speaking (especially if you are not a tile tradesman) colors that match the tile/stone are always a safe bet, and by picking a color that matches the tile, you can hide a lot of mistakes that might have been made along the way.

Unless you are really good at picking contrasting colors, use a color that is very close to the color of the stone.

And of course, by choosing a contrasting color for your grout lines can give a completely different feel to the room.

Best regards,
-Jason Huggett (15 years’ experience in tile and grout restoration and installations).

Second part to my answers to your question
by: Anonymous

Grout joint sizes: On the note of giving the room a different feeling; the same goes for the grout joint size. Generally speaking, it has been my belief that the actual size of the tile leaves what the manufacturer recommended or had in mind when they designed the tile.

For instance, a 6x6 tile is never a true “6x6” (or any tile size, for that matter, in most cases). So, if the backsplash tile is a 6x6 and you measure it, you may find the actual size of the tile is 5 and 7/8. The remainder that would make the tile a true 6x6 is 1/8 inch. Which would mean using 1/8 grout joints.

You can ALWAYS use whatever size grout joint you want, but when I am indecisive, I use this method to help me make up my mind.

The difference in smaller grout joints and bigger grout joints: As an example, I am refereeing to tumbled stones, such as tumbled marble, travertine, etc. By using a smaller grout joint like a 1/8, will give you a sophisticated, “neat” type of look. The smaller grout joint makes me think of a glass of wine and classical music.

The bigger grout joints, like say a 3/16 or ¼ inch, will give you a much more relaxed feeling. The kind of feeling that if you left the mail sitting on the counter for a couple of days; well, that’s okay.

A slightly larger grout joint makes me think of a few friends over eating nachos, drinking beer, and perhaps listening to something a little more modern on the radio.

Another thing to keep in mind when trying to decide the size of grout joints is that the larger joints leave more room for small errors, as opposed to the smaller joints, you need to be more “on the money.”

As already mentioned by a previous reply to your question, definitely fill in the holes on the surface of the stone.

-Jason Huggett

3rd part- Sealing Travertine Tile Backsplash
by: Anonymous

On a final note, if you already applied a matte finish sealer (no sheen is what matte finish means; you cannot tell that you sealed anything unless you splash some water on the material that has been sealed, and the water does not penetrate.) then you won’t be able to apply a glossy sealer on top.

Unless of course, you did not seal the travertine tile very well to begin with, in which case, if you did apply a glossy sealer on top of the already applied sealer, you will get an uneven look.

There are top coats that you can apply that will literally sit on top of the stone, even if you did already seal it. However, it is not going to darken down the stone.

Remember that when you apply a glossy sealer/enhancer, START AT THE BOTTOM and work your way up. This will alleviate any drip marks. Once an enhancer has been on for several minutes, you need and MUST wipe off the access sealer, and buff with paper towels (or rags, but I find that cheap paper towels work best) to get the ultimate look of an enhancer.

In any case that you are applying a sealer to a backsplash or walls in general, take extra precautions to cover the area underneath area (such as a countertop) trying to avoid getting the sealer onto the surface underneath your walls. And DO NOT forget to buff the countertop after you are through.

It is almost impossible not to get any sealer on them. If you do not wipe off access enhancers and buff once you are complete, you may run into bigger problems than you imagined.
-Jason Huggett

Tumbled Travertine Looks Rough
by: Anonymous

We just remodeled our kitchen with tumbled Travertine tile and sealed with Aqua sealer. It looks still rough.

I would like to achieve a glossy look. Is that possible? If so, what do I need to do?

=== Countertop Specialty comment:

Well.... if you wanted a glossy look, then you should have installed a "polished" travertine vs. a "tumbled" travertine tile.

Tumbled travertine looks rough and will always look rough because it was "finished" that way... on purpose.

Travertine, marble or granite can have several different types of "finishes" (polished, honed, tumbled, etc.), but these are all created using special machines and processes.

The shine doesn't come from a product or sealer. This is fully explained on this page about polishing marble / travertine.

At this point you'll have to hire a stone restoration pro to re-finish the travertine, if you want a glossy shiny finish. That is they will have to grind smooth and then "polish" the tile using special tools, techniques and abrasives.

A second option would be to apply a Color-Enhancing Sealer that will darken the color and make the stone look wet giving it a bit of a sheen. Won't be shiny... but not quite as dull as the tumbled finish.

If this is a travertine tile floor, then I'd suggest leaving it alone or just put on the Color-Enhancing Sealer.

A tumbled finish is far easier to maintain long-term than a polished finish. A polished travertine will show dust and dirt a lot more and the shine will wear away with foot traffic, etc.

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