Saltillo Tile Flooring For Home Design – TheFlooringlady

Saltillo Mexican tile has been used in homes in Central and South America for hundreds of years. Though not durable enough to withstand harsh winters outside, these tiles are lovely indoors anywhere. The challenges of this type of flooring include installation of Saltillo tile, restoration of Saltillo tile, and maintaining Saltillo tile. But the benefits — rustic beauty, non-toxic materials used to manufacture, and low cost — may outweigh any drawbacks.

Related Reading: Check out our article on the best kinds of tile flooring, including reviews and comparisons!

Bring the beauty and peace of Mexico to your home with Saltillo floor tiles. When paired with the right décor, Saltillo tile can have a bit of an exotic feel. It also makes for great solar mass for homes using passive solar energy!

Many choose Saltillo tile due to the:
  • Natural beauty of the tiles themselves.
  • The non-toxic materials used to manufacture the tiles.
  • The low-cost of the tiles for the high end look.
Saltillo tile has its challenges, which include:
  • The tiles themselves are extremely fragile.
  • Maintaining and cleaning the tiles is tedious.

(Photo credit: Rustico Tile and Stone)

What is Saltillo Tile?

Saltillo tile is a type of terra-cotta tile made only in northern Mexico. These tiles are made of natural clay that is first shaped by hand and then dried in the sun. Saltillo tiles are then kiln fired to ensure hardness and durability. The tiles are carefully positioned in the kiln in order to create different colors. Depending on the tile position in the kiln, the resulting tiles can range in hue from pale amber to dark terra-cotta. Traditionally, Saltillo tiles are left unglazed, although some manufacturers sell them pre-treated or pre-sealed in order to increase their durability.

Naturally, Saltillo tile is not terribly strong or hard. Although it is comparable to other natural stone tiles (such as slate or granite) it can chip and crack. When used as exterior tiling, it can only be used in very mild climates, as harsh weather can damage the tile. Really, Saltillo tile should not even be used indoors in places that are particularly cold, as they will not be able to hold up in the face of colder temperatures. Saltillo tile typically has a MOH (measure of hardness rating) between a 3 and 4, which is fairly low (compare to porcelain, which has an average MOH of 7-9). Therefore, it is very rarely used for outdoor purposes these days, though it very warm climates, well maintained and sealed Saltillo tile makes for a nice tile flooring option for a patio. However, the elegance and beauty Saltillo Tile brings to the interior of the home more than makes up for its lack of strength and hardness.

(Photo credit: Rustico Tile and Stone)

Installing Saltillo Tiles

Installing Saltillo tile also has to be done carefully, as the tiles are delicate. Any grout or chemicals spilled on the tiles can damage them, so it is crucial to keep the tiles covered with paper until the installation is complete. This is not typically something that you will want to attempt yourself unless you have a good bit of experience with tile installation and feel confident with your abilities. However, because individual Saltillo tiles are so inexpensive, you can take a little liberty and losing one or two tiles during installation will not obliterate your flooring budget.

Prior to starting installation, you will need to make sure the subfloor is perfectly prepared. The flooring must be perfectly level and there are no cracks, holes or misalignments where moisture can get trapped. The tiles can be laid starting in one corner of the room or starting from the middle of the room, but the last row of tiles will need to be cut carefully to fit. Once the tiles have all been laid, a sealer will need to be applied, then a grout, and finally at least a second layer of the sealer.

Sealing Saltillo Tiles

Saltillo tile was introduced to Mexico by Spaniards hundreds of years ago, and the process of making the tile has remained the same since. The tile is actually named after the Mexican town of Saltillo, which produces the right clay and weather for making this popular tile.

As Saltillo tiles are fired at such low temperatures, they remain very porous and are therefore very susceptible to water damage. It is almost exclusively recommended these days that you seal Saltillo tiles to protect them from water, wear, and scratches. Typically, Saltillo tiles should be sealed after they have been installed and are completely dried and clear of extra dirt and debris. You will want to decide primarily how much shine you are wanting from your floors and choose a level of gloss or matte for the sealant and polish appropriately. Sealant should be applied in several coats, and the number of coats can vary depending on the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Maintaining Saltillo Tiles In the Home

Saltillo tile in the home has a few drawbacks. Regular sweeping is one of the best ways to maintain the Saltillo tiles in your home. While some recommend vacuuming, regular vacuuming could chip the tile, which is why sweeping is really the preferred method for daily maintenance. For a deeper cleaning, unsealed and untreated tile needs to be laboriously cleaned with diluted ammonia and “elbow grease”, and lots of rinsing. Saltillo tile floors need stripping and resealing, before and after cleaning to do a proper job. It is important to also wipe up any spills and dirt right away, as the tiles can stain. If the floor is ever flooded, the delicate tiles will be severely weakened. Only slightly damp mops can be used on the floors, and only the very mildest cleansers (no harsh chemicals). Also, a sealant will have to be reapplied regularly to keep the floor in good condition.

(Photo credit: Rustico Tile and Stone)

If you are planning to refinish Saltillo tiles, you will need to make sure any previous polish or sealant has been completely stripped and all that remains is the basic Saltillo tiles. To strip the tiles, you should use a gentle solvent and a soft bristle brush to prevent damage to the tiles themselves. Also, when refinishing, a new grout will have to be applied along with the new sealant.

Why Choose Saltillo Tile

Despite these disadvantages, there are many benefits to selecting Saltillo tile for your flooring needs. Primarily, Saltillo Mexican tile is beautiful and offers design flexibility. Whether you have a modern home, a country French-style residence, or love the Mediterranean style, the natural beauty of Saltillo tile can make your home truly stand out. Although this tile requires a little more effort to care for, many homeowners and decorators feel that it is well worth it for the beauty it brings to any room. Modern sealants do make cleaning and caring for Saltillo tile easier than ever before. The tile itself is comparatively inexpensive and many homeowners like the all-natural products that go into the tile-making process. At a time when we are surrounded by chemicals, it is nice to bring a natural product into the home.

The greatest benefit to Saltillo tile is that, because it is inexpensive, people feel free to experiment with various patterns and designs with the tiles and the results can be truly unique and spectacular. The tiles are readily available via almost all leading suppliers and, therefore, sourcing the product is not difficult at all. There are even blogs dedicated to various Saltillo designs where you can find inspiration and demonstrations of a whole selection of incredible designs. Perusing these visual examples can give you a clear idea as to how you want your flooring to look. If you need further or more specific advice, your Saltillo tile supplier will be able to recommend a few experts who can help you make your choices.

(Photo credit: Rustico Tile and Stone)

In general, natural tile flooring is a beautiful and durable flooring option for your home. If you’re looking for advice on specific tile flooring options, most popular professional companies, such as Lumber Liquidators, are happy to provide information regarding specific tile flooring options or installation and will even do in-home consultations at no charge. If you want a naturally beautiful and affordable flooring solution, consider installing Saltillo tile in your home. It has been trusted by savvy homeowners for hundreds of years. Is it time for you to trust too?

394 thoughts on “Saltillo Tile Flooring For Home Design – TheFlooringlady”

  1. Hi Heather.
    For the replacement tiles, there are a couple options. One would be to look for replacement tiles that are as close to your original color as you can find. Second, you could order custom made tiles that are color matched to your existing tile.
    A google search turned up these two businesses for those options http://www.MexicanTiles.com and http://www.customsaltillo.com/a/customsaltillo.tpl?cart=3461355965791824 .
    It is possible to apply a stain made for Saltillo tiles, but it still may be difficult to match a different tile color to the existing tile, even doing the entire floor.

  2. I purchased Sparks Stone Glamor and sealed new saltillo tiles (HomeDepot) already layed, but not grouted. I have put four coats on per the instruction – THIN layers and overlapped as little as possible with a foam brush. The results are disappointing. The tiles look striped and a few show where I tilted the foam brush and dripped sealer on them. It is nearly impossible to coat completely without any overlap. Will I have to strip the 160 sq ft and start over or can I just strip the tiles that will show (not be covered by furniture and rug)?
    If I do need to strip, how do I avoid the same results?

  3. It’s time to reseal/refinish my satillo tile…it looked great when I moved in 4 years ago, now I have the hard water spots, etc. that I have been reading about.
    Please instruct me on the sequence of the process..strip with machine and stripper chemical, then clean with phosphoric acid, then reseal?

  4. Hi Melissa,
    I’m not sure about what sealer you should use. Do you know if it was a penetrating or surface sealer? If you had an oil-based sealer before that is of the penetrating style, it might make sense to stick with that since the oil that’s now absorbed into the tiles would probably interfere with the effectiveness of water-based sealers now. And be sure to let it completely dry in between layers.
    I’d recommend you contact first the store and then the manufacturer to find out their suggestions.

  5. Hi Mary Jo,
    Use a chemical stripper and the rotary scrubber with a black or green pad to strip the old sealer and clean the tiles and grout. Rinse thoroughly and then let dry.
    If you have the time, let the tiles dry over night. But if you want to get the job done fast, use fans to circulate the air and speed the drying; your dry climate there will increase the drying speed.
    I hear good things about Aqua Mix products, and they do have a high sheen product. Glaze’n Seal and Charlotte Mexican Paver Sealer also get high marks from Saltillo tile installers and manufacturers.
    Floor polish is the way to go with sealing the floor. Some manufacturers recommend using a penetrating sealer first and then the polish, others say the penetrating sealer is a waste of time and money because everything penetrates the tiles. 4-5 coats of the floor polish will do a good job of protecting your tiles.
    There are a lot of helpful comments through this thread that you may want to read through for more advice and hints.

  6. I live in Central Florida and I am thinking about putting in a Saltillo floor on the first floor of a slab house. I keep hearing you have to seal the tile before you install it. What does that mean exactly? Do you seal all sides of the tile? Also the floor doesn’t show signs of water seeping through but should I install a water barrier on the concrete before installing the tile?
    Also has anyone heard of using Tung Oil as a sealer? I guess it’s similar to linseed without the mold or discoloration.
    If I put wax on top of the oil sealer what type of buffer/ pad would you use on the wax?
    Thanks
    John

  7. Help!
    The new home I am movng into has Saltillo tile throughout, and I am sure at one time is was lovely. Unfortunately it was not maintained and to make matters worse, they had a rug in the living room with one of thoses plastic/rubber slip guards under it, They removed the slip guard and carpet when they left, but there are residue of the slip guard everywhere, and where there is no slip guard left you can still see the outline of dots.
    I am sure I will need a pro, but have no idea where to really start.
    Also would love to know how often to seal the flooring once I have fixed the problem.

  8. John,
    Although the concrete isn’t having water seeping through now, it would be a good idea to apply a sealer to prevent any moisture damage in the future. To seal the tiles, the tops should definitely be done, the sides would be a good idea, but the bottoms would a choice. Sealing the tiles make them stronger and easier to clean.
    I have not heard of using Tung Oil, and would recommend that you follow the manufacturer’s directions in sealing and waxing.

  9. Nicole,
    You may be better to start with the professional. If they are going to strip the floor and reseal, you may be wasting your time to start scrubbing it. But, if the sealer is worn, you may need to scrub the damaged areas with with diluted ammonia and “elbow grease”, and lots of rinsing.
    The time between applications would vary on the type of sealer used and the traffic. I would be sure to ask the professional you contact what they would recommend on the type they use. It would easier to reseal with the same type next time, than stripping and resealing.

  10. My floor’s grout is turning white and looks awful. The more I clean the worse it gets. Help! What do I need to do to return the grout to its original gray color?

  11. I wanted to strip the wax buildup on my saltillo flooring. The stripper I used was too strong and I ended up stripping the sealer. Now my floors have a white film and the grout is even worse. What can I do to get rid of the film and should I just seal on top of it? Help! The product I used is called “Sparks”. Also, what is the best cleaner to use after the tile is sealed to keep the shine?

  12. Amber,
    You should be able to stain the grout to the color you desire, but I would be careful to not get the stain on your tiles.
    If you would like to protect the color in the grout, it will need to be sealed afterwards.

  13. Sandra,
    Does the white film wash off, or are the tiles damaged? The middle paragraph in the article above describes just how to clean the tiles. And, after they are resealed, I would check the directions on the sealer, but any neutral cleaner should be good for general cleaning.

  14. 2 questions:
    #1 – We’ve lived here for 6 years and the previous owners used mop n glo for years. when we had some construction done to the house, they put blue painters tape on the tiles and it lifted off the finish so now parts of the floor look like a crime scene with tape lines in various directions! How best to remove years of wear and tear and all this product and basically start from scratch?
    #2 – just laid a few new pieces [sadly read this AFTER i did so] and did not seal any parts of the new tiles, so it was applied ‘raw’ directly onto concrete slab with mastic. I will seal the tops but what about the sides? Also, should i look to use the glaze n seal or charlotte products you mentioned to mary jo above?

  15. i recently came across a picture of a beautiful floor in a decor magazinew, and it seemed to be black saltillo tile with very dark grout…my ? is, can you stain this pourous type of tile to the color you want? i would love to install this black tile, but ive only seen it in its natural terra-cotta color state.

  16. David,
    It’s really hard to recommend what to use on the floor with out knowing the type of floor. What kind of tiles? Depending on the type, I would find a compatible stripper and would strip the floor and then apply a sealer and wax.
    For the tiles that were already laid, I would leave them and just seal the tops well. Sealing the sides before they are laid just adds more protection, and pulling them up may damage them. Either the glaze n seal or the charlotte products should work fine.

  17. thank u so much for your response! by the way, it is saltillo tile that im wanting to lay, and i believe it comes unsealed…so im going to look for an ebony/black sealer to seal the tiles, then wax. ur information is greatly appreciated! ive heard saltillo tiles can crumble and break easily when u r in the process of cutting and laying the tile. would u recomend a wet/saw?

  18. Annie,
    I don’t know that I recommend either a wet or dry saw. I would be sure that whatever saw you use, that you choose a blade that is designed for cutting stone, and you should not have a problem.

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