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6 Rustic Characteristics of Handmade Mexican Saltillo Tile

handmade Mexican saltillo tile

Let’s squelch some confusion about what characteristics you can expect with handmade Mexican Saltillo tile.  In our web-based world, there are plenty of misleading ideas about what’s normal and what’s not.  At Rustico Tile and Stone, we know handmade Mexican Saltillo tile well.  Very well.

We offer no embellishment to the nature of these beautiful floors – you either like Saltillo flooring or you don’t. If you’re expecting “perfect” Saltillo tiles, then Saltillo tiles might not be right for you.

Hear us out about why you don’t want “perfect” tiles and what makes authentic Saltillo tiles.

Perfect handmade Mexican Saltillo tiles don’t exist.  If they did, we’d sell them.  We are the largest manufacturer of genuine Saltillo floor tiles in Mexico.  If any seller tells you their Mexican tile is without blemish or rustic traits, they’re not selling the real stuff.  Period.

So, here are the six most common characteristics of this rustic tile that you can expect. Also, check out our Saltillo FAQs for some general answers.

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Saltillo floor tile has color stripes.

In any given tile, there may be stark contrasts of colors.  This is not a defect.  Also, it’s not paint, sealer, or a mistake in manufacturing.  In fact, the finished color of handmade Mexican Saltillo tiles results from the clay body’s reaction to the heat-firing temperature in the kiln.

In fact, tiles are stacked on top of one another, many layers deep into a vast pit in the ground (a kiln).  When the kiln is lit on fire, the clay turns yellow or golden and directly interacts with the fire.  In areas where the heat is less intense, it produces darker shades of terra cotta colors.  

Since the tiles are stacked on top of one another, it’s expected that even one tile will have varying heat levels.  Thus, the result is stripes and color variations.

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While this is a normal part of handmade Mexican Saltillo tile, many customers order extra tiles to cull some of them out of their mix.  So, what you choose to install is up to your taste. We love the color striping.  It adds character and unique qualities to the overall floor.

Next, the standard overage for square and rectangular-shaped tiles is 15%.  For any decorative shapes, add 20% overage.  Our largest format, 24×24 inch tiles, needs 30% overage. That’s your allowance for waste, cuts, tile selection (pending your preferences for rustic imperfections), and borders.  But, if you want to be most selective in what you choose to install to eliminate some of these rustic characteristics (and those listed below), you may need to increase your overage from those amounts.

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Handmade Saltillo tile has chips.

The rustic clay tile has chips.  For example, these chips can occur on the surface, along the edges, and even on the back of the tile.  This is not a defect. In fact, most of the more minor chips blend perfectly with the floor or get covered when the tile is grouted.  This primary characteristic makes handmade Mexican Saltillo tile highly sought after by homeowners, designers, and world-class architects.  Also, Mexican tiles with larger chips can be installed or used for an installation cut.

Saltillo is rustic tile and has bumps and pillowing.

Rustic flooring isn’t perfectly even and flat.  For example, many tiles will have bumps on the surface where the clay was hand-smoothed.  These tiles are also concave and uneven on the backside (called pillowing). Sizes 18″ and larger are the most irregular in shape and most uneven. There are installation techniques for this. Reach out to us if you need installation tips. Because these are handmade tiles, many variations of texture exist.  This is not a defect. It’s a rustic characteristic that adds to the winsomeness of Saltillo flooring.

Installation tip for pillowed tiles: A tile installer should apply a thinset to the concave portion on the backside of the tile. This is a process we call “buttering the back.” It will eliminate the possibility of having hollow spots under tiles throughout the floor.

Saltillo tiles have color variations & irregular markings.

Because of the firing process mentioned above, any assortment of these tiles will have color variations, random markings, and smudges & speckles from tile to tile.  This is not a defect. Choose to install what you like and use any others for cuts.  We strongly recommend that you or your installer mix tiles from different parts of the crate – or mix tiles from multiple crates if you have an ample tile supply.  By mixing, you avoid color runs where you may have more of one color than another.

rustic characteristics of saltillo tile
Scuffs from shipping, handling, & grouting are easily removed with a topcoat sealer as the final step of your floor installation.

Mexican Saltillo tile has lime pops & scuffs.

Not all tiles have lime pops, but some do.  Those bumps mentioned above can settle into an exposed lime pop in time.  It’s not a defect – these pops are natural mineral deposits in the clay.  If you have a lime pop, seal or grout over it and move on.  The exposed pop will blend in as a standard chip on your floor over time.  If you have a lime pop that gets under your skin, just pop out that tile and replace it.

Tiles will also get scuffs during shipping, unpacking, handling, and grouting. This is normal. In fact, remove the scuffs with the application of your topcoat sealer as the final step of your rustic floor installation.

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Saltillo tile has size & thickness variations

Every handmade Mexican Saltillo tile is unique.  No two tiles are the same.  There are size and thickness variations from tile to tile.  This is not a defect.

If you’ve ordered Mexican tiles at different times, they likely come from different production lots.  This means you will experience more of these size and thickness variations.  Because weather elements directly impact the finished product, we do not guarantee matching tiles from different manufacturing lots.  Measure twice and order all the tiles you need for a project at once.

Additionally, stated tiles sizes are based on mold size. Finished tile sizes are smaller after the water evaporation process has occurred during the kiln firing process. For example, a 12″ tile mold produces an approximate 11 1/2″ finished size. Larger sizes, like 16″ molds, produce approximately 15″ finished tiles. Smaller tile sizes have more minor variations. And because weather impacts drying time and humidity levels, there will be variations in these measurements. These are approximations. Every tile is unique.

Also, this results in the varied spacing of grout joints within a Saltillo tile floor. Saltillo tile is traditionally installed with broad grout lines to accommodate tile size fluctuations.  Again, ordering all of the tiles for your flooring project from one production lot is recommended to minimize variations.

It’s precisely these features that make Saltillo Tile what it is.  The durability of Saltillo clay produces not only a long-lasting floor but also a stunning one that will last a lifetime.

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