10 (Vital) Questions to Ask about Terracotta Tiles for Your Next Project (with Video & Photos)

Are you considering terracotta tile for your next flooring project?

We’ve been ‘in the biz’ for nearly two decades. We’ve received all the questions that should be asked if you’re shopping for terracotta flooring. And we’re putting those questions in this post. It’s short and sweet.

This post will equip you to ask the right questions from whomever you consider purchasing terracotta tiles for flooring, but many of these questions will apply to terracotta roof tiles & wall tiles, too.

So, let’s dive in.

What is Terracotta Tile?

how to know if terracotta floor tiles are good

In a nutshell, terracotta tile is clay tile. People give it fancy words and descriptions, but it’s really simple. Clay is dug from areas of the world and mixed with water (& maybe other ingredients). Then, it’s either formed by hand or machine to look like tile. It’s most often kiln-fired (best quality) or sun-baked. Voila… terracotta tile.

That said, there are different types & qualities of terracotta clay tiles. Geography, or the clay source, has one of the biggest impacts on the quality and durability of terracotta as floor tile.

Because we specialize in the most durable terracotta, I’ll explain this with my expert knowledge of Mexican Saltillo tile.

Saltillo tile is handmade terracotta floor tile whose clay comes from only 1 area in the world – the riverbeds of Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. Why is this important? Saltillo tile flooring is one of the most durable terracotta floors available. The clay matters. Also, the kiln firing process matters. Kiln-fired and sun-baked tiles are significantly more durable as an indoor or outdoor flooring choice.

Additionally, there is a generations-old process for hand producing these tiles with some modern improvements related to sealer technologies that make Saltillo tile a low-maintenance, affordable flooring option.

So how do you know if terracotta floor tiles are good? Ask questions about the firing process, the clay’s source, and the tile sealer (addressed below). When the flooring is manufactured with quality in mind, it’s good. ☺

Here are a few examples of Saltillo tile flooring in various colors.

How Expensive is Terracotta Floor tile?

getting the best value without compromising quality

How much should you pay for terracotta flooring? That’s a loaded question! It depends on who’s selling!

Generally, terracotta floor tile is known to be an affordable option for all styles of homes. We ship a lot of Saltillo tiles around the world to luxury homes. I know our most affluent customers are happily satisfied with our prices for our tile. Our Saltillo tile prices range (usually) $2.50 – $6.00 per square foot. There are some lower prices and more expensive items, of course.

But also, where you purchase your terracotta tile matters for budgeting. Because clay is found worldwide, paying the higher price tags of shipping tiles internationally doesn’t make sense. Italian and Spanish terracotta tile is equally beautiful as Saltillo tiles, but shipping to the United States from Europe versus Mexico doesn’t make sense if you’re looking for value. Most homeowners in the US looking for terracotta flooring buy Mexican Saltillo tile.

I’d also like to point out that most retail brick-and-mortar flooring stores do not stock large supplies of tiles. So to get the best value for your project, shop around, and don’t be afraid to source an online supplier. Verifying that any online supplier is based in the US is recommended since dealing with import duties and customs processing is complicated and expensive.

For example, we are the largest manufacturer of Saltillo flooring in Mexico. Still, our business is home-based near Austin, Texas, and we only ship our tile from our Texas warehouse. Our clients never have to worry about business companies in a foreign country; we are held to US business practices. Our Complete Guide to Terracotta Tile has more information.

Is Terracotta Tile Out of Style?

explore floor trends for 2022-2023

Short answer? Nope! ☺ Terracotta tile is timeless, as proven by generations of homes and businesses with this style of flooring. And if it were out of style, I wouldn’t have a job!

We’ve seen some fun trends with terra cotta floor tile designs throughout 2022 and anticipate many to continue into 2023 and beyond.

The #1 most requested terracotta tile lately has been Hexagon & Octagon tiles. Interestingly, this is one of the oldest patterns around. It dates back hundreds of years. The hexagon tile pattern is both timeless and trendy still today.

Our Riviera and San Felipe patterns are frequently seen throughout homes and businesses and featured on social media worldwide. Gone are the days of plain square tile patterns. Floor tile patterns are an extension of a homeowner’s personality and design style. The San Felipe tile is an arabesque floor pattern that’s growing in popularity in our Spanish Mission Red tile color. In likeness, the Riviera pattern is a 2-tile pattern created by the San Felipe & Fleur de Lis tiles.

Another popular trend includes mixing terracotta tiles with other types of tiles. Check out this Manganese Saltillo floor in the Riviera pattern paired with a few different decorative concrete tiles. Because terracotta colors offer a warm, earthy appearance, they look fabulous in combination with more colorful decor accents like concrete & Talavera, bold throw pillows, and other soft textiles for texture contrast.

As always, it’s tough to beat a classic like the Mission Red 12×12 square tile.

Can I Use Terracotta Flooring on Outdoor Patios?

installation tips for outdoor projects

Yep. Terracotta tile patios are a popular space for this type of flooring.

It is essential, of course, to discuss the installation process and materials with your local flooring contractor AND supplier for the tile.

When we know our client is installing a Saltillo tile patio, our first question to the homeowner is about the climate. Because we ship tile worldwide, there are precautions to take in cold weather geographies. For example, we recommend installing terracotta tile on a concrete slab in outdoor spaces. If a slab is not possible, then terracotta pavers, usually at least 2 inches thick, can be considered.

Further, a waterproofing membrane should be applied across the outdoor slab before installing the tile. This mitigates the chance for moisture to pass through the slab and into the backside of the tile. If that happens alongside a freeze, the moisture will expand and potentially cause damage to the tile. So it’s easy to prevent this with proper installation technique and tile setting materials.
After installing the (fully sealed) terracotta tile, apply a high-quality topcoat sealer and sufficiently seal grout lines. When this process is done correctly, terracotta tile on outdoor patios will survive and look good.

Do I need to Seal Terra Cotta Tiles?

presealed vs. unsealed clay tile floors

For an overall project value, buying sealed terracotta tiles is less expensive in the long run. It’s also far less ongoing maintenance, which saves money. But why?

Because terracotta is clay, it’s very porous. So that means that if left unsealed, any spills, muddy feet, and debris would absorb into the clay, causing stains. The good news is this is easy to remedy.

At Rustico Tile, we (almost always) recommend buying sealed terracotta tiles for our clients. In manufacturing, we apply five coats of penetrating sealer to the clay tiles. That makes them fully sealed Saltillo tiles, so nothing will stain them. In fact, tile installers prefer sealed tiles because they’re significantly more straightforward to install than unsealed tiles. But also, the abundant level of sealer fortifies the clay tiles making an already durable Saltillo tile even more durable. As an added benefit, the terracotta flooring retains its rustic and warm appeal for many years.

Are there reasons to stick with unsealed terracotta tiles? Yes. If you are entertaining the laborious and costly process of customizing a terracotta floor, purchase unsealed clay tile so it can readily absorb whatever stain or coating you prefer. Just make sure to keep all coatings chemically compatible.

Unless customization is your goal, ask any seller you’re considering about the type and level of sealer for terracotta tiles.

sealed vs unsealed saltillo tile
Buying Pre-Sealed Saltillo tile is less expensive for the overall project value.

Is Terracotta Flooring Hard to Maintain?

presealed vs. unsealed clay tile

Terracotta flooring should not be hard to maintain if purchased as fully sealed tiles and installed correctly with proper installation materials.

But projects get costly and complicated quickly if the tile wasn’t sealed well in manufacturing. In that instance, a tile installer must lay out all tiles before installing the floor. More coats of sealer need to be applied until the tiles are saturated with the sealer. This is very important.

Next, the subfloor should be treated with crack isolation or crack prevention membrane. We sell a product that doubles as the crack prevention and waterproofing membrane. A 2-in-1 product like this saves time and money.

Following the subfloor preparation, focus on using high-quality thinset. Terracotta floor tiles are usually handmade, so they are heavy and vary in size and thickness. Thus, semi or fully-modified thinset should be used. Do not buy cheap thinsets.

But you can buy cheap grout. Our Saltillo terracotta floors look great and function perfectly with mortar mix as the grout choice.

Following all those steps, apply a topcoat sealer across the entire floor. That last coat of (high quality) sealer adds scratch resistance and UV protection and seals the grout lines.

We are sticklers about installing these tiles correctly, so terracotta flooring is not hard to maintain.

topcoat sealer for saltillo tile
Use a paint pad to apply topcoat sealer to reduce streaks, marks, & bubbles.

Are Terra Cotta Floor Tiles Good for Kitchens, Bathrooms, & Showers?

ideas for tile patterns & decor

Kitchens and bathrooms are a popular choice for terracotta floor tiles. But like with anything else, they must be installed properly.

Kitchens with terracotta floor tiles offer an inviting warmth for spicing things up! Consider adding colors of Talavera or Cement tiles as the backsplash choice. Copper sinks and hardware are also complimentary to terracotta kitchen tiles.

In bathrooms and showers, installation is even more critical. Stick with broad grout lines in wet areas like these to add natural texture to the floor. Also, carefully seal grout lines in bathrooms, showers, and kitchens. Oils, soaps, lotions, and grease will stain grout if it’s not adequately sealed.

What’s the Difference Between Terracotta & Saltillo Flooring?

presealed vs. unsealed clay tile floors

Saltillo flooring is terracotta flooring. But not all terracotta floors are Saltillo floors. Yes, read that again. ☺

Terracotta is made from clay. So since Saltillo is clay tile, it is a type of terracotta. It’s called Saltillo, however, because that clay is sourced from a specific riverbed region in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. Only terracotta tiles handmade with Saltillo riverbed clay can be called Saltillo tiles. These produce some of the most durable terracotta floors.

If you’ve never seen how Terracotta tile, specifically Saltillo tile, is made… this is a MUST watch! The centuries-old handmade process is still followed today!

Where Can I See Terracotta Flooring Pictures?

explore these homes

I’m so glad you asked. We are active on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook and have dozens of illustrative Pinterest Boards. We also have robust photo galleries at Saltillo Tile Shapes and Sizes. Or explore these photos!

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