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Unsealed Saltillo Tile Dilemma

We say it several times a day – buy presealed instead of unsealed Saltillo tile to save money and avoid headaches.  If you want to stain saltillo tile a different color, buy unsealed tile.  If you have an old saltillo floor that needs some matching tiles, buy unsealed saltillo tile.  Otherwise… just buy presealed tile.

Let me tell you about a phone call we received yesterday about unsealed saltillo tile.

A customer purchased 200 square feet of unsealed 8×8 saltillo tile last fall.  She’s remodeling her kitchen in the northeastern part of the U.S.  Her installer soaked the unsealed tiles in water prior to installing the tile — which was the advised method 20 years ago before presealed saltillo tile was on the scene.  Not advised anymore!

Fast forward a couple of weeks.  It’s time to grout the saltillo floor.  White haze has appeared on the surface of these saltillo tiles.  They’ve washed, rewashed, and washed the tiles multiple times trying to remove it. The white haze disappears but comes back with a vengeance.  She calls us looking for advice.

Lawdy… here we go.  unsealed saltillo tile

The white haze is efflorescence.  With the soaked tiles saturated in water, that water must slowly evaporate out of the saltillo tiles.  In this slow process, it’s bringing minerals from within the clay up to the surface.  When they try to wash it away, they are compounding the problem by adding water.  Water is the enemy of unsealed Saltillo tile.  Every. Time.

What can they do to fix this problem?  Our customer has now purchased an acid etcher/cleaner (V-Scrub) which will remove the efflorescence from unsealed saltillo tile.  The floor needs to dry out for as long as possible (weeks is ideal).  Their project is delayed to get this fixed.  By weeks.  The cost isn’t excessive – about $200 to get it fixed for 200 square feet.

All of this could have been avoided had they purchased presealed saltillo tile  – which was only $40 more for 200 square feet of tile.  In the end, buying unsealed saltillo cost this customer excess of $450.  This extra cost includes: fixing the efflorescence and cost of several coats of sealer – labor cost is not included.  (Reminder – presealed Saltillo tiles was only $40 more than the purchase price on Unsealed Saltillo tiles.)

Presealed saltillo tile from Rustico Tile and Stone comes with 5+ coats of penetrating sealer.  It’s ready to install as-is.  Lay it down.  Clean it up.  Apply a topcoat sealer.  Voila – a floor that will outlast lifetimes with very little maintenance.

Tip:  If you’re buying sealed saltillo – make sure it’s fully sealed and not just “primed”.  How do you know?  Ask the supplier how many coats of sealer are applied to the clay.  1-2 coats does not cut it and results in more cost, more time, more headache.


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