Tile 101: How to Seal Unsealed Saltillo Terracotta Tile

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Protect your handmade tile from staining.

Handmade terracotta tiles are an excellent choice for those who appreciate natural materials. While we provide most of our Saltillo tile pre-sealed for a smooth installation, we do offer the option to purchase unsealed terracotta tile. At Clay Imports, we want to make sure you enjoy your tile for years to come. While we recommend consulting with your tile installer/contractor on project details, we are here to guide you through the general tile sealing process.

Why to seal Saltillo Terracotta Tile?

Terracotta tiles are fired at a low temperature, resulting in a porous surface. And, because they have no glaze on the surface, they are prone to moisture absorption. To protect terracotta tiles from staining, they need to be sealed.

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, these sealing instructions are for you!

When to Seal Unsealed Saltillo Terracotta 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, seal your tile before installation, that is before adhering if you are working with an area under 100 square feet. If your area is larger than 100 square feet, consider carefully laying and adhering the tile already to the surface. Why? This will save time and labor. But again, make sure your unsealed tile is not getting stained prior to sealing.

Materials Needed to Seal Unsealed Saltillo Terracotta 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

Step by Step Guidelines:

Make sure that you are working in a well-ventilated area and that you are wearing the appropriate safety gear. Do not let sealers come into contact with walls, furniture, or any other finished surfaces. Sealers can irritate your skin, interfere with breathing and permanently damage wall and furniture finishes. Always experiment with sealing a small sample area or uninstalled tile before applying sealer to a large area.

  1. Pour 1 gallon of Rexcel oil-based sealer into a new 5-gallon bucket.
  2. Pour 1/2 gallon of lacquer thinner into the Rexcel sealer (if Rexcel sealer hasn’t been diluted yet).
  3. Mix the combination with a clean wooden mixing stick.
  4. Ensure that your terracotta tiles are clean of all dust and debris.
  5. Ensure that your terracotta tiles are completely dry. Do not wet your tiles prior to sealer application.
  6. Slightly dip a yellow grout sponge into the sealer mix, only lightly dampening the sponge.
  7. Remove the sponge from the bucket, allowing the excess sealer to drip freely from the sponge into the bucket.
  8. Do not let drips of sealer fall onto your terracotta tile.
  9. Gently contact the damp sponge onto the tile surface with only enough pressure for the sealer to begin absorbing into the tile.
  10. Apply the sealer in straight lines, from one end of the tile all the way to the other end of the tile.
  11. Only seal one tile at a time.
  12. The sealer line applications should slightly overlap, leaving no lines of unsealed tile between the sections of sealed tile.
  13. Once the single piece of tile is completely coated with a single coat of sealer, apply the sealer to the next tile.
  14. 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.
  15. Once a single coat is applied to all tiles, allow 1 hour of dry time before applying the second coat.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. Following the application of the second coat, depending on the size of the area you are sealing and the pace at which you are sealing, 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.
  19. Once you have ensured that the sealer is dry, begin applying the third coat. The third coat is often the last coat but not necessarily. Apply the third coat just as you did the second coat. The third coat should even out the sealer streaks and start to result in a tile sheen.
  20. After the third coat is applied and dried, if you are satisfied with the results. You are done. If the tile looks streaky and does not have an even sheen, you can apply another coat. Up to 5 thin coats of sealer can be applied to unsealed terracotta tiles.

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. Streaks and uneven sheen, present directly after sealing, can fade and eventually disappear once the floor has fully dried.

What’s next? Installation and Top-Coat Seal.


We wrote another blog dedicated solely to Saltillo Terracotta tile installation! See our blog post and installation guidelines here.

How to apply a top-coat Sealer?

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, and 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 create a high gloss sheen. Please note that depending on wear, you need to strip the water-based sealer before resealing.

If you prefer a matte sheen, but keep your Saltillo terra-cotta tile protected, we recommend applying 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.


Enjoy your tile!

For more information contact your tile installer, visit clayimports.com or email us at contact@clayimports.com. Clay Imports is not responsible for dissatisfaction after installation.


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