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5 Things You Should (Not) do with Saltillo Tile Floors

Already have a Saltillo tile floor? Or considering it for your next home project?

We’ve helped over 200K customers in the past two decades. Take it from us… there are some do’s and don’ts regarding Saltillo tile flooring.

Let’s jump in & bust up some rumors.

How To Save Money When Buying Saltillo Tile

sealed vs. unsealed terracotta tile flooring

terracotta tile
Terracotta tile

Point #1Do not buy unsealed tiles because presealed tiles will save $$ on your budget! 

Buying unsealed Saltillo tile is problematic for several reasons.  For example, raw terracotta clay is exceptionally absorbent.  What you’re saving by purchasing unsealed tile will be spent (in excess) by buying enough sealer to protect the clay properly.

Rustico Tile® presealed tiles have five coats of penetrating sealer coated into the tile.  (Saltillo tile is known as a most durable form of terracotta tiles – a beautiful & styles flooring option for your home.)

Here’s the math if you’re working with unsealed Saltillo tile.

5+ coats of sealer + Labor cost to apply sealer + (a LOT) of time = $$$

Most customers who attempt to seal their unsealed saltillo tile floors regret it.  Then, they call us to troubleshoot their messed-up floors.  Fixing saltillo floors is not without considerable expense and stress.  Why go through this madness when you can buy a great quality presealed saltillo tile ready to install?

unsealed terracotta tile

Our recipe for success is simple.  

Buy Presealed Saltillo Tiles.
Install the Floor.
Apply (high quality) Topcoat Sealer.
Our sealers have lifespans of up to 15 years, so this process has very little maintenance.  Trust the pros at Rustico Tile®.)

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Should I Soak Saltillo Tile?

short answer… no ☺

Point #2 – Do not soak saltillo tile. 

Once upon a time, installers would soak saltillo tile in water before setting it with thinset.  This was done to serve the purpose of what the penetrating sealer accomplishes for the tiles now.

If Saltillo tiles are soaked in water, you can expect to deal with efflorescence issues throughout the lifespan of your floor.  This is a crucial point.  Don’t trap excess water in the clay during the installation process.  (To reiterate point #1 above, don’t buy unsealed Saltillo tile so you can avoid this entire topic!). Buy it presealed and install it as-is.

handmade tile
See the difference between Sealed (darker) & Unsealed tiles (lighter)?

Should I Use Spacers?

do not use spacers while installing handmade tiles

Point #3 – Don’t use spacers when you install your Saltillo tile.

Because Saltillo floors are handmade, there are variations in size and thickness from one tile to the next.  This begets the use of spacers as problematic.  Your floor installation may go smoothly at first, but the tiles will start spreading out in a funky way several square feet into the installation space.

Rather than use spacers, a good installer will draw grid lines or snap chalk lines on the subfloor for guidance as the tile is set.  Any adept tile installer will install Saltillo tile flourishingly if our tips are followed.  Put simply, apply a craftsmanship approach as the terra cotta flooring is being laid.

(This is not true of all types of Mexican floor tiles.  Our beautiful Cement Tiles & Cantera Stone tiles can be installed with spacers.)

install terracotta tile
Installing Saltillo Tile with NO Spacers

Check out our YouTube channel for helpful videos related to these topics!

This is a popular video about Mexican tiles!

Should I Strip Saltillo Tile?

not if it can be avoided

Point #4 – Do not strip your tile. Really… please don’t do it.

We only recommend stripping saltillo clay tile as a last resort to repair or refinish a floor.  In most instances, a floor can be fixed using other methods that will not damage or discolor the tile.

how to strip mexican tile

The risks of chemically stripping saltillo floors include bleaching/discoloration of the clay, sealer delamination, and ongoing maintenance issues created from residual stripping chemicals trapped in the clay.  Look at other maintenance options before you consider stripping your saltillo floors.

But just in case you want to…

How to Clean Saltillo Tile

avoid harsh chemicals

Point #5 – Do not use harsh chemicals to clean your sealed Saltillo floor.

This is a common-sense approach to tile sealer.  The lifespan of a good quality sealer will last several years when it’s maintained properly.

Preserve the life of your sealer by using diluted cleaning chemicals or no chemicals at all.  I love the disinfecting power of a steam mop on my Saltillo floors.  No chemicals are used with steam mops, so the life of the sealer is preserved.

how to clean saltillo tile flooring

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19 thoughts on “5 Things You Should (Not) do with Saltillo Tile Floors”

  1. Hi! I am thinking about tiling my staircase with saltillo tile. My living area is all tiled (1983) and I think this will look best. 17 stairs, 37″ wide. So looking for the rounded front tiles. Can you estimate a price? Can we pick them up here in Austin or even in Pharr? Thanks for your help!

  2. Hi Linda – Thanks for your inquiry. To get a price estimate, can you please send us your city/zip for delivery? I also need to know which shape/size and Saltillo tile color finish you’re most interested in! You can submit the information through our Get a Quote form or give us a call at 512-260-9111. Thanks!!

  3. A couple outside saltillo floors have discolored is there any way to darkened them and sealed them

  4. Hi John,
    With some sealers, you can add stain to color enhance the tile. But you can also just test out a color-enhancing sealer as well. Depending on the quality of your original sealer, you may also need to reseal the entire floor. We have a couple of very long-lasting sealers… just be sure to test anything that you use on the existing tile before you seal the full floor.

    Some of our Saltillo Tile Maintenance & Sealer Tips.

    Hope that helps! ~ Rustico

  5. We have a large Sautillo tile floor that requires stripping and resealing by professionals. Floor finish partially damaged by improper use of thin waffle type plastic rug pad. This waffling effect damage is down to raw tile surface. Total floor size is: approximately 22’x48′ with all on one level composed of std 12″x12″ unstained tiles. Damaged area is 15’x12′ and the rest is worn through. Furniture removal and replacement is required. Time-frame is open.

  6. Hi Tom – Unfortunately, we are not in the business of refinishing floors. This type of project is best left to a professional floor/tile refinishing company. But, we have some great DIY tips and recommendations for Saltillo Tile Maintenance & Installation on our website! Best of luck with your project!

  7. We purchased our tile through you. It looks like it needs to be re-sealed, reading above, you do not recommend stripping..do you just apply sealer on top of the old sealer? (we have some white marks in the sealer) What about lime washing the tiles…to get a more muted look? Do you recommend this and can it be reversed if you tire of the look?

  8. Hi Terri – It’s nice to hear from you again. Can you send us a photo of your existing tile? Someone from our team will reach out to you today via email! And no, we don’t ordinarily recommend stripping Saltillo tile floors. 🙂

  9. Darla. Von Moos

    Hi Melanie,
    Unfortunately, we are one of those people who purchased unsealed Saltillo tile! A few years back we ordered and purchased one of your sealers. The non gloss one. It is time to reseal it. Your customer service was wonderful!
    We are wondering if you would recommend a different sealant that we could purchase from Rustico. Maybe a longer lasting one.
    Kind regards, Darla Von Moos, Chehalis WA

  10. Darla. Von Moos

    Hi Melanie,
    Unfortunately, we are one of those people who purchased unsealed Saltillo tile! A few years back we ordered and purchased one of your sealers. The non gloss one. It is time to reseal it.
    We are wondering if you would recommend a different sealant that we could purchase from Rustico. Maybe a longer lasting one.
    Kind regards, Darla

  11. Hi Darla – It’s nice to hear from you again! Thanks for the compliment! Our TerraNano sealer is our longest lasting sealer (10-15 years)… it’s also our most popular sealer. Someone from our team will reach out to you today via email to gather your quantity details. Then we can give you a price estimate for the amount of sealer you’d need.

    For any future projects that call for Saltillo tile, buy presealed Saltillo tile</a>. Doing so gives you a much better project value and FAR LESS maintenance in the long-run!

    Lastly – this short video shows the best way to apply our TerraNano topcoat sealer for Saltillo tile</a>. You’ll see that the process is quite easy!

  12. Hi , I had Saltillo tiles installed and I requested sealed tiles . However, every little water mark shows on the tiles . When I called the company to inquire about this he insisted the tiles were sealed and I should clean with mild soap and water. I am afraid to use any water on them . Do you think these tiles were sealed ?

  13. Hi Karen – It’s really hard to say. Unfortunately, there are some ‘imposters’ out there. Some companies sell what we call “primed” tiles. These tiles may be good quality Saltillo tile but likely only have 1-2 coats of sealer applied to the clay. As a contrast, our presealed tiles have 5 coats of penetrating sealer coated into the clay. That’s a “sealed” tile. The downside to “primed” tiles is that they need the investment of more coats of sealer… in which case, you also bear the burden of making certain that any new sealer is chemically compatible with what’s already on the tile. Without being properly sealed, the tile can stain. If soap and water isn’t removing the spots, consider lightly sanding the area with the spots… cautiously. With any luck, those spots are just on the surface of the tile. Also, hard water is known to leave minerals on the surface and there are cleaners geared to removing these mineral deposits.

  14. We purchased pre-sealed Saltillo tile for our living room but they appear somewhat flat. Is it safe to use a high gloss sealer to add luster to the tile? Is there a product that you could recommend?

  15. Hi David – Anytime you consider applying a sealer to Saltillo tile, you need to check for chemical compatibility. Whether you add a gloss or low gloss/matte sealer, it must be chemically compatible with whatever coating was previously applied to your tile. In most cases, homeowners don’t know what was coated onto their tile. So, test a small area with the sealer of your choice. Then, allow it to cure for 3-4 days. If it’s not compatible, you’d notice things like the following: 1) It remains tacky and doesn’t fully dry. 2) It peels or flakes off. 3) It streaks or discolors the tile.

    I love our TerraNano Saltillo tile sealer because it’s been known to stick to most any sealed Saltillo tiles. It’s a nanotechnology sealer that boasts a very long lifespan and requires minimal maintenance. But that said, you still need to test it on a small area. It’s a great sealer for most semi-porous surfaces.

  16. Ok here goes…..
    I am an American living in France
    My place has terracotta floors installed a long number of years ago
    I have no idea if they are sealed or where they came from
    Can you tell me how to determine if they are sealed or not
    My goal is to get a stained gloss look to a very flat dull looking floor
    Thank you so much

  17. Hi Judith – If the tiles are adequately sealed, you can pour a little water on top and it shouldn’t soak it. Be sure to test grout lines too. If the water soaks in (even a little), then you need to apply sealer. But be sure to keep chemical compatibility (i.e. use sealer that will stick to whatever sealer was used previously). When in doubt, do a test area and let it cure for several days before making your final determination. For more detailed information, check out our Ultimate Guide to Saltillo Tile Flooring! It’s a great resource.

  18. Hello,
    I had my Saltillo sealed recently, I purchased pre sealed but wanted to add a finish seal with grout. Now some parts of the floor are completely sealer free, they don’t even have the pre sealer, I am trying to figure out what happened and how I van fox this ASAP I am moving in in a month 😬

  19. Hi Alex – Sadly, it sounds like you may be a victim to a poor quality sealer. When the Saltillo tile is sealed properly, it should not “lose” it’s sealer. Someone from my team will reach out to you today via the email address you provided. Perhaps we can help get your floor in good condition again (with very little future maintenance) with one of our topcoat Saltillo tile sealers!

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