Saltillo Mexican Tile: Pros and Cons
Is Saltillo a Good Flooring Choice?
Are you considering buying a home with saltillo flooring? Perhaps you would like to install this type of tile and are wondering if it is the best choice. We installed this flooring over 12 years ago, and this article gives you my perspective on how living with this ancient, handmade floor has been for us.
Our FloorClick thumbnail to view full-size
All-Natural Product: Saltillo is made from clay found in the Northern Mexico area. The clay is formed into tiles, dried in the sun and then fired in kilns. Depending on the positioning of the tile in the kiln, it can range in color from yellow to red with many tiles having a mixture of those colors.
Handmade: Because the tiles are left to dry outside, they sometimes will have the footprint of a dog or child which makes for a wonderful conversation piece in your living room.
Feel Good on Feet: Since these tiles are made of clay, they are environmentally friendly and feel soft on your feet. Moreover, these tiles are much warmer on bare feet in winter than ceramic tiles. Yet they are cool and comfortable in the summer.
Wear Naturally: Because these tiles tend to be softer than ceramic tile, they do need to be sealed before they are installed. After installation, they can be re-sealed if you like them to be shiny, but they also look good if they are allowed to wear naturally. These tiles have been made in Mexico and the Southwest for hundreds of years and many public places in those areas have wonderful flooring which has been allowed to age naturally.
Easy to Care For
Hides Dirt: Because the tile is such a warm brown color, it tends to hide the dirt. Even if the floor is dirty, it can be hard to tell. That is a strong advantage for families with young children!
Just Vacuum or Sweep, and Mop: Most of the time a quick vacuuming or sweeping is all that a Saltillo tile floor needs to make it look fantastic. When dirty or sticky, you can just mop with water, diluted vinegar (1 part vinegar to 10 parts water), or a floor cleaner made for clay tiles. We have five children, a dog, a cat and three birds. I generally need to vacuum the main living area every day, but I really only mop every other week. When I had another flooring, it needed mopping every other day.
Re-seal for Shine: If you like your floor to be shinier, you can reseal it every year or two. However, re-sealing is optional and you may not even need it except in high traffic areas. We’ve had these floors throughout our house for seven years and never resealed. Only a few spots look like they need it, mostly just one spot where I stand every day to cook. Since we have five children and many visitors trampling through our house, we have put the floor to a strong test. We know we could reseal the floors, but frankly, we don’t think we need to bother. They look great.
Making the Tiles by Hand
Even though I love our Saltillo, this flooring won't work for everyone. Each Saltillo tile is hand made and so the surface is not completely flat the way ceramic tiles, marble, and other machine manufactured tiles are. In addition, the larger grout lines make the flooring more uneven. This creates a more rustic look which won't fit into every home décor. In addition, it can be more difficult for people who have trouble walking, or for wheelchairs.
Discolors and Chips
Ceramic tile can also crack and chip, but Saltillo is even softer and more prone to having nicks and chips. This doesn't look bad in the flooring because the whole surface is not evenly colored, but if you like your floor to look perfect, you won't like this kind of tile.
All grout does potentially need to be re-sealed as it wears down the protective coating, but ceramic tile itself doesn't wear down. However, the sealing on this tile can wear off and show patches of wear. This is the charm of an old floor, and if you don't like it, you can sand it down and re-seal the whole thing so that it looks new. My husband did that in our older Saltillo entry way which had been given a dark seal when installed. However, that is a big refinishing job. If the wearing of the floor would bother you a lot, you may want to choose something different.
Installation Is More Difficult
Saltillo installation is not exactly the same as other ceramic tiles and marble tile. Because the tiles are thicker and individual, the installer needs to be careful to put the right amount of adhesive and to space the tiles correctly. Moreover, they need to be sure to "rock" the tiles as they put them in to make sure there are no air pockets underneath them. Be sure that you have someone who has experience in installing this kind of floor or you may end up with problems like cracking or uneven surfaces.
More Designs from Our HomeClick thumbnail to view full-size
We Love the Upscale, Custom Look
All tile floors can be beautiful, durable and clean, but Saltillo tile can also give your home a unique look. Whether you want to decorate in a Southwestern, Mediterranean or French style, this tile can accent your home beautifully.
In addition, you can easily customize by using the many varieties of Talavera, also called Mexican tile or deco tile. Like Saltillo, Talavera tile has been made in Mexico for hundreds of years. Each tile is painstakingly hand painted by artists, often by following patterns which have been used for many years. Adding Talavera tile to your floor through diamonds placed in the middle of the floor or as an edging can turn your floor into a work of art.
We did a lot of research before finally deciding to use this flooring in our home. Once we began to install, however, we quickly learned to love it and eventually put it throughout our home. Now our family loves to find “our tiles” as we travel through the Southwest and visit restaurants, museums, and historical houses that use them too. Choosing Saltillo flooring is choosing to be a part of a wonderful history and a beautiful style.
Why are you interested in this sort of tile flooring?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Can you install the electric heated floor system under saltillo?
We don't use those systems where I live, so I really can't say for sure, but I've looked up those systems and they are installed under tile, so it seems like it would be possible. You would need to ask a professional tiler in your area for their opinion.Helpful 1
Some of the saltillo tiles on my home have cracked. Is there a simple way to repair these cracked tiles?
You can't repair the individual tiles, at least as far as I know, but you can replace them, and it isn't as difficult as you would think. You need to use a chisel to take out the cracked tiles and remove all of the mortar and tile adhesive. Then you replace the tile using new adhesive and mortar. However, another alternative is just to not worry about the cracks. It is fairly common to have some saltillo tiles that crack in older homes. Since one of the advantages of these tiles is that wear accentuates their character, you can consider the cracks as part of their charm.Helpful 6
The Saltillo tiles rest on a heated floor. The nonslip area rug underpad appears to have left a stain on the floor. It would seem it is melted plastic. After futilely trying a few products, my thought is to have the tiles professionally stripped and resealed. Any thoughts or suggestions?
I actually had a similar situation near my sink. My husband had given me a memory foam mat to stand on, but it stuck to the floor. I eventually did scrape it off, and then I stripped and resealed. There is still a bit of a mark, but it isn't very noticeable. You can do this yourself, but it was a lot of work and required using some harsh chemicals. My area was really only about six tiles and took several hours to do the whole process (over a week or so). I think if I had to do it again or on a larger area, I'd have someone else do it.Helpful 3
What kind of sealer should one use to reseal a floor?
What you use to reseal the floor depends on what has been put on the floor previously. Check with your local tile dealer or building supply store about what they would suggest.Helpful 2
I have saltillo tile on my front porch that needs to be resealed. However, the person who attempted to reseal it used an indoor sealer. How can this be remedied? Do I just let it wear off? Use water and soap? Use acid? Or just seal over it?
Part of the answer to your question depends on the weather where you live and what the problem is with the sealer right now. Additionally, I'm not sure whether you are talking about the sealer on the tile or on the grout. I don't think you'd want to use acid on saltillo and if the floor looks all right, I think I'd just leave it and see how it wears before doing anything about it. If the porch is covered and you don't have a lot of extreme weather, you might not see a problem. In our area, we have too many freezes to use saltillo outdoors. Additionally, I'd suggest that you take the sealer that was used, and a picture of your floor to a place that sells and installs saltillo flooring and ask their suggestions.Helpful 1