How to Seal Unsealed Saltillo Tile (2021 Update)

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Handmade Saltillo tiles are an excellent choice for those who appreciate natural materials.

While we provide most of our Saltillo tile pre-sealed for an easier installation, we do offer the option to purchase unsealed terracotta tile. 

To make sure you enjoy your tile for years to come, it’s essential to pre-seal tile before grouting. 

We recommend consulting with your tile installer/contractor on project details, but we’ve developed an online guide for any ambitious DIYers.

  • - Why do I need to seal Saltillo tile?
  • - When do I need to seal Saltillo tile?
  • - What materials do I need to seal Saltillo tile?
  • How long does it take Saltillo tile sealer to dry?
  • - Step by Step Instructions

Why do I need to seal Saltillo tile?

Terracotta tiles are fired at a low temperature, resulting in a porous surface.

 Because they have no glaze on the surface, they are prone to moisture absorption. To protect terracotta tiles from staining, you need to use sealer.

Sealing natural terracotta tile is a very labor-intensive process and has potential problems that can result in the permanent staining and streaking of your tile. This is why we offer almost all our Saltillo tiles pre-sealed.

However, if you purchase unsealed Saltillo tile, keep reading.

When do I seal unsealed Saltillo tile?

Depending on the size of your area, you may either seal before or during installation (but never grout an unsealed tile!). 

As a general rule, if you’re working with an area <100 square feet, seal your tile before before adhering it to the floor. 

If your area is >100 square feet, consider carefully laying and adhering the tile to the surface, then using Saltillo tile sealer to save time. But again, make sure your unsealed tile is not getting stained prior to sealing.

What materials do I need to seal unsealed Saltillo tile?

  • - Oil-based Rexcel Sealer (1 gallon of sealer covers approximately 100 ft of unsealed Saltillo tile) → will achieve a glossy, traditional finish.
  • - Lacquer thinner
  • - Clean 5 gallon buckets
  • - Big yellow grout sponges
  • - Rubber gloves
  • - Goggles

How do I seal unsealed Saltillo tile?

Make sure that you are working in a well-ventilated area and that you are wearing the appropriate safety gear. Always experiment using your Saltillo tile sealer on a small sample area or uninstalled tile before applying it to a large area.

  • - Mix 1 gallon of Rexcel oil-based sealer and 1/2 gallon of lacquer thinner into a new 5-gallon bucket. Use a clean wooden mixing stick.
  • - Ensure that your Saltillo tiles are dry and clean of all dust and debris.
  • - Dip a yellow grout sponge into the your Saltillo tile sealer mix, only lightly dampening the sponge.
  • - As you remove the sponge from the bucket, allow the excess sealer to drip freely from the sponge into the bucket. We don’t want drips of sealer falling onto your terracotta tile.
  • - Lightly press the damp sponge onto the tile surface with only enough pressure for the sealer to begin absorbing into the tile.
  • - Apply the sealer in straight lines to one tile at a time, from one end of the tile all the way to the other end of the tile. The sealer line applications should slightly overlap, leaving no lines of unsealed tile between the sections of sealed tile.
  • - Once the single piece of Saltillo tile is completely coated with a single coat of sealer, apply the sealer to the next tile.
  • - The first coat of sealer will absorb and dry quickly. As you are applying the sealer, be thoughtful of any debris or footprints that may be on the surface. Do not seal over debris or prints. It will permanently stick to the tile.
  • - Once a single coat is applied to all tiles, allow 1 hour of dry time before applying the second coat of Saltillo tile sealer.
  • - If your sponge begins to deteriorate, replace it. A deteriorating sponge will leave foam debris on the tile and permanently stick to the tile surface.
  • - The second coat of sealer will not absorb as quickly and may start to show some streaking. This streaking will even out as you apply more coats.
  • - Following the application of the second coat, wait between 1 and 2 hours before applying the next coat.
  • - Confirm sealer dryness by gently touching the sealed tile with a fresh sponge. If the sponge sticks, wait longer. Once the sponge does not stick, the tile is dry enough to begin applying the next coat.
  • - Once you have ensured that the sealer is dry, begin applying the third coat (often the last coat). The third coat should even out the sealer streaks and result in a tile sheen.
  • - After the third coat is applied and dried, if it looks good you’re done. If the tile looks streaky and doesn’t have an even sheen, you can apply up to 5 thin coats of your Saltillo tile sealer.

How long does it take Saltillo tile to dry?

Though newly applied sealers can be dry enough to walk on after only a few hours, it can take up to three days for oil-based sealers to fully dry.

What do I do after sealing Saltillo tile?

After you’ve sealed the unsealed Saltillo tile, you can start installation.

Once installed, you’ll also need to apply a top coat sealer to protect the grout and prevent the tile from staining. That's thankfully an easier process.

Reach out to Clay Imports if you have any questions.

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