Grouting & Sealing Tumbled Travertine Backsplash

QUESTION:

We have 4" tumbled travertine backsplash tiles installed over our Ubatuba granite countertop and have several questions.


I need advice on grouting the holes in the travertine, grout color, and sealing the backsplash.

The travertine tile appears porous with large holes and I want to know what my next step should be.

I love the rustic look and don't want to grout in any "holes" in the tile and have heard that they make grout release for this purpose.

Bacteria is a concern, though, too. If I don't grout in the holes food could end up in these holes.

So... can I keep the porous look of the tiles by using a grout release product during installation and then use a good sealer to keep the tile looking good and free of food (with regular maintenance)?

And grout color... we tried the Sauterne grout by Laticrete on a small sample but not happy with the results. Too light.

I'd like your suggestions for grout colors that don't make the spaces look dirty but still dark enough to highlight the travertine tiles.

How do we seal the tile and clean off the excess grout?

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

ANSWER:

That's a lot of ground to cover, but we can do it!

You DO want to fill the holes when installing a travertine backsplash or you'll just get a build-up of dirt, bacteria, and fungus.

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.

Sealing travertine in the holes won't protect against this build-up at all since these things grow or accumulate on the surface and sealing protects from absorption of liquids.

Of note... travertine is actually a pretty dense stone and sometimes doesn't need sealing at all. But usually, this is only with a "polished" finish, which makes the stone far less absorbent.

A "tumbled" finish IS much more porous, though and a tumbled travertine backsplash will most often take a sealer.

Regarding sealing a travertine backsplash...

Apply a color-enhancing sealer to get the "wet look".

You could then also apply an impregnating sealer over the enhancer, but likely not necessary on a kitchen backsplash.

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

Using a grout release or sealing prior to installation of a kitchen tile backsplash has pros and cons.

Applying a sealer before grouting can sometimes be beneficial to help clean off the excess grout, but often doesn't help at all.

Some think it's the only way to do it, but often it doesn't really work (or not completely), so it just ends up being extra work.

And if you mistakenly use an acidic grout release, then you end up etching your travertine backsplash.

The better plan for cleaning grout is to simply use a grout remover product formulated for safe use on marble and travertine tile like this Soap Scum / Hard Water Remover after installation.

Just spray it on, let sit 5-10 minutes, and scrub with a soft-bristle brush to clean off. And yes... it does work great for cleaning off grout haze as well as soap and hard water films.

Choosing a grout to use...

Sanded grout is typically used for a tumbled travertine backsplash to match the rustic look of these tiles and the wider grout lines.

This can be used to fill the larger holes in the face of the tiles.

Non-sanded grout usually works better to fill the smaller holes, though.

Note, if planning to use a darker grout color for the grout lines you probably want to use a different grout to fill the holes in the travertine tile face.

Generally, the holes are filled in with a grout color that matches the color of the travertine.

After finishing all the grouting...

Clean off the excess grout haze, but don't seal it right away. Wait 2 weeks for the whole thing to cure and dry out and then seal it.

The grout color is a personal preference. In my opinion, a tumbled travertine kitchen backsplash over an 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 too 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 (or just slightly darker), so the grout is not a prominent part of the design.

There you have it! Quite a project with a lot to consider but you should have a good handle on it now.

Comments for Grouting & Sealing Tumbled Travertine Backsplash

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Fixing Grout Stained Travertine Backsplash
by: Anonymous

I had a 4"x4" tumbled travertine tile backsplash installed over a fairly light-colored granite counter.

The problem I have is the installer grouted the cream-colored travertine without first treating the tile with any kind of chemical so all the tiles picked up some of the medium-gray grout color.

They applied a sealer after resting the grout.

Most of the tiles look dirty from absorbing the grout color.

I tried to wipe off the dirty color but I cannot take off the grout.

I had one tiler look at it and he says that trying to get off the color is not an option.

Is my only option is to redo the backsplash?

==== Countertop Specialty comment:

Unfortunately, in this case, it sounds like the darker grout did absorb into the travertine tiles and stained the travertine.

It is advisable to seal travertine tile prior to grouting when using a darker-colored grout. This is particularly true for a rougher tumbled finish.

The reason here is that the edges of the tile are usually more porous than the tile face since the edges are raw unfinished stone. The face of the tile is usually polished or honed which makes it less absorbent.

A tumbled finish is more raw and rough and, thus, more porous... kind of like the edges.

So what likely happened is that the not only the edges but also the travertine tile faces absorbed the water from the gray grout as it was spread over the installation to fill the grout lines.

If you're lucky, this is just grout haze that has adhered and hardened to the surface. Grout haze can be removed using this Hard Water and Soap Film Remover.

Basically, all grout haze removers are acidic and will damage the stone, but the above product will not harm travertine, marble, or any natural stone.

Hard water deposits are very similar to grout haze which is why this product works so well for removing grout haze as well.

However, you said another tile pro took a look and believes the dirty gray color cannot be removed. Or not easily anyway. I'm guessing because he recognized that this was not grout haze but rather staining of the tile from the wet grout as explained above.

If the entire backsplash has this dirty, stained look, then no... there is no good solution to fix it.

You'd have to apply a poultice to the entire backsplash to have a hope of removing the stain. That is a big job and it may not even be completely successful as the stain is probably pretty deep since it can in from both the faces and the edges of the tile.

I'd say living with it or replacing it are your best options.

If you replace it, then consider using a lighter-colored grout.

Yes, you can apply a sealer before grouting, but that is not fool-proof and using a grout color similar to the tile color eliminates this problem.

Question about color enhanced travertine
by: Anonymous

We installed travertine over a black granite counter with white cabinets. The natural travertine had a whitish look, so we did the color enhancing.

It looks very pretty, but now people are leaning toward white. Can I take it back to that look if I want to?

==== Countertop Specialty comment:

Yes, you can, but it will require grinding down the surface of the travertine tile to remove the color-enhanced layer and reveal the natural color at the heart of the stone.

A stone restoration professional should do this. Not really a DIY project.

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.

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

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

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).

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