Saltillo Tile 101: How to Install Saltillo Terra-Cotta Tile

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Time for your Saltillo tile installation? 
We're here to help make your beautiful handmade tile shine.

Saltillo terra-cotta tiles show variation in shade and color; these tiles will not be identical from piece to piece. This is a result of the handmade process and the nature of terra-cotta. We strongly suggest to mix tiles from different boxes during setting. This way you will ensure a beautiful and natural appearance throughout. Details that you see in a close-up, will be subtle after installation . If properly installed, Saltillo terra-cotta tiles will result in a beautiful, durable, easy to maintain surface that can be enjoyed for many years.

PLEASE CONFIRM that your tile is pre-sealed. At Clay Imports we provide Saltillo terra-cotta tiles that are pre-sealed with a solvent-based sealer. Though pre-sealed tiles do not require further sealing, you should use a conventional “grout release.” A grout release can increase the efficiency of the needed grout application. Before you get started on grouting, we recommend to apply a grout test on a loose piece of tile prior to full grout application. You can find more information on Saltillo grouting tips here.

If you have purchased a “distressed” Saltillo terracotta tile, identifiable by a heavy textured, pitted surface, please note that grout will adhere as a permanent fixture to the surface texture.

SALTILLO TILE INSTALLATION MATERIALS YOU WILL NEED

  • - Flexible tile adhesive, suitable for natural stone
  • - For a more traditional, larger grout joint style installation, consider using Saltillo specific gray grout.
  • - For a more conventional installation, we recommend Mapei Ultra Color Plus FA.
  • - Water-cooled tile saw
  • - 3/4” Grout trowel
  • - 1/8” to 1/2” thick tile spacers

SALTILLO TILE CARE AND INSPECTION

  • - Handle cases of tile with care. Keep all boxes upright. Do not drop cases of tile. Prior to installation, store material in a dry area. Moisture or dampness can cause tiles to stain.
  • - Inspect your order carefully. Clay Imports will not be responsible for material that has been cut or installed. Throughout the installation process and handling of the tile, be careful not to damage the finished surface, edges and corners of the tiles.
  • - Saltillo terra-cotta tile is a product of clay and natural materials. It shows color and shade variations. We recommend to mix the tiles from the different cases to achieve a blended look.
  • - Saltillo terra-cotta tile is a clay-based product and may have clay residue on the surface. Before starting the installation, we highly recommend to clean all tiles with a clean cloth to remove any residue and get a clean tile surface. Please be aware that our tile is a handmade product. Due to this process, variations in size, shade, irregular edges and the appearance of fine cracks are inherent to this product and can vary from piece to piece. The size tolerance for this product is 1/2”. Prior to installation, we advise a blending of the tiles to create a more aesthetic appearance.

 

Saltillo Tile installation done right.

SALTILLO TILE INSTALLATION STEP BY STEP

1. Glue the tiles on a flat, dry surface with a high quality, flexible tile adhesive. Use a trowel with recesses of 10-20 mm (1/2 – 3/4in). Ensure that the adhesive is applied to the entire surface of the back of the tile. Depending on the desired look, you can use grout joint spacers up to ¾.” We recommend a minimum spacing of 1/4”. Remove excess glue from between tiles quickly. And please note that glue will require at least 24 hours to dry properly.

2. Clean the tile surface with water after bonding using a sponge and / or cloth. Wring the sponge every time while cleaning the floor. Avoid getting tiles too wet as this may affect later steps. Then, allow the floor to dry completely.

3. Now on to more cleaning. Clean the tiles thoroughly prior to grouting. After the tiles are clean and dry, apply 1 to 2 coats of grout release to the tile surface.

GROUTING

4. Apply grout to the tile within 1 hour of applying grout release. Always apply grout to a loose sample tile prior to full application. Pigments from some grouts can penetrate the surface of tile and result in permanent staining. WE ADVISE AGAINST USING BLACK GROUT , as it can seriously stain your beautiful Saltillo tile.

5. Once you have confirmed that the grout is suitable, begin applying to the surface. Only apply small sections of no greater than 6 square feet at a time. Clean grout from the surface with a damp sponge. And be kind of quick, and do not let grout dry on the tile surface for longer than 10 minutes. For best results, wipe away excess grout at an angle to the tile lines. Continue cleaning until only a mild residue remains on the surface. Caution! Do not to remove too much grout from the surface joints. Allow 24 hour for the grout to dry.

6. Now here is more cleaning. Following grout application, clean the tile surface thoroughly with a damp cloth. Clean the surface until you have removed all grout residue.

TOP-COAT SEALING

7. Optional but highly recommended: Once the installed tile is completely dry, you can apply 1 to 2 topcoats of sealer. Applying a topcoat sealer after Saltillo tile has been installed protects the grout, prevents the tile from staining. It also increases the lifespan of the pre-seal.

Topcoat Sealer Options: If you are going for a traditional Saltillo tile look, you may use a water-based sealer to coat the installed tile. Water-based sealers, like the Ole Mexican Tile Sealer, will add a protective layer and creates a high gloss sheen. Please note that depending on wear, you need to strip the water-based sealer before re-sealing. If you prefer a matte sheen, but keep your Saltillo terra-cotta tile protected, we recommend to apply 511 Porous Plus Sealer to the surface. Saltillo tiles topcoat sealed with Porous Plus will be easier to reseal than a water-based sealed tile.

MAINTENANCE

8. Maintain your tiles periodically, recommended once a week, with soap and water. Depending on traffic and upkeep, you should consider re-sealing your Saltillo terracotta tiles. Re-sealing is typically needed in 2-4 years. You will notice a re-seal is necessary, once the tile or grout is starting to absorb water when mopping. Re-sealing can be a labor intensive project. Please contact a tile installation professional, or reach out to us for further information.

And voila! Your Saltillo tile will look fabulous for years to come. Looking for more beautifully installed Saltillo tile? Here is our Saltillo tile Pinterest board for inspiration.

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