Saltillo tiles... [Archive] - Ceramic Tile Advice Forums - John Bridge Ceramic Tile


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09-04-2001, 05:26 PM
Hello professionals,

John, I found your site after reading some of your advice on the Infotile forum, the aussie forum. I think you and some of the other professionals that frequent could really help me.

I am in Bend, OR. Contrary to your intuition, this part of Oregon is very dry. Anyway, I'm interested in laying Saltillo tile in my kitchen and dining room, about 275sq feet. I love the look of Saltillo but have concerns about it's durability and care.

Here are my questions:
1) I notice you don't use a grout release. How do you prevent the grout from staining the tiles? Is it because you use a sand and cement mixture rather than colored grout mixtures? Or is it because you've so thoroughly watered them down, that the grout doesn't stain them. What's the secret?
2) Wetting the tiles makes sense to prevent efflorvessence (sp?). Does it make sense to wet them if I do choose to use a grout release?
3) When installing, I've read several mention that they back butter the tile when setting. How thin is a typical back butter?
4) What type of sealant should I use? I am looking at the Aquamix line that you recommend. I don't think I want it too shiny. What are the pros/cons to a satin finish. Are there durability issues with gloss vs satin finish?

I really appreciate any advice you professionals (or confident do-it-yourselfers) might have to offer. Thanks, so much in advance for your time.

If any of you want to know anything about Ultimate Frisbee, (which I doubt) I'd be happy to share my expertise. I feel indebted to you already from what I have read thus far.

Thanks again,
Kevin Smyth

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John Bridge
09-04-2001, 06:16 PM
Hey Kevin,

What makes you so sure we might not be interested in ultimate frisbee? I mean, we've wasted time around here on a bunch of much lesser causes. :D

Seriously, tell us about it. Go to the "Mud Box."

For years I've had a love/hate relationship with Saltillo tile (the real Mexican stuff). I love the look of it, and I hate all the things that can go wrong when you're installing it. There are elements of the installation that are beyond your control, i.e., manufacturing methods (vis-a-vis, "quality control").

I always install them wet because I believe that method affords the least chance of efflorescence, which is incurrable in some instances.

The pre-sealing method (that a lot of pros who are at least as smart as I prefer) allows the tiles to absorb the "salts" from the setting bed, which may or may not lead to efflorescence.

I am familiar with Bend. My brother once bought a "deisel pusher" there. Company by name of Beaver. That was one fine motor home.

Besides that, I'm originally from Seattle. I know there are dry spots in the Pacific Northwest. Just never lived in any of them. :)

09-05-2001, 12:42 AM
Hi Kevin,

I love the appearance of Saltillo clay tiles.There are many drawbacks to these tiles when comparing them to ceramic tiles,however,I think that their beauty outshines the disadvantages.

If you have a Doberman or similar large dog,then don't use Saltillo tiles.They'll destroy 'em in no time.
These tiles,even when sealed with the highest quality sealers,will look like they're 50 years old in a matter of a year or two.But that is one of the appealing characteristics of Mexican tiles to people who are fond of them.

The quality of Mexican tiles differentiates from year to year,I find.Especially the presealed ones.I prefer to install the presealed ones but if I was to install them for myself I would use the raw clay tiles and seal them,because this way they can be easily resealed after years of use.

People always complain that ceramic tiles are cold and hard.I'm in Toronto,Canada and even when installed on a thick mud bed,these tiles do not feel as cold as ceramic or porcelain.Also,their convex and wavy surface feels quite comfortable on the feet.

When I install the raw tiles,I don't preseal them.I install them with the backs soaked,otherwise they'll suck the moisture right out the setting mortar weakening or totally eliminating the bond.Work neatly and clean the tiles as you go.I wash the tiles after installation is dry.And seal the tiles using lamb's wool pad on a broomstick with an impregnator or a penetrating sealer,then a urethane sealer.I prefer the high gloss finish,matte finish to me looks cheap and doesn't highlight the irregularity of each tile.

Takes a while to seal these properly.After initial 2 consecutive coats of impregnator,I wait about 24 hrs,apply first urethane coat,wait 24 hrs and apply second urethane coat.Some tiles take more or less sealers than others.You don't want to saturate tiles by applying too much sealer too quickly because you may have an excess buildup on some of them while still trying to bring the finish up on others.Allowing the sealers to penetrate and dry in the tile will work more efficiently.

While the sealer is still "plastic" I install the grout.By sealing the tiles ungrouted you may have eliminated chances of efflorescence occurring and shade variations in the grout but have lessened the bond of the grout mix to the tile body.This is why I grout these tiles carefully while the urethane sealer is not yet cured.

I try to use a 3/8 to 7/16 grout joint with Mexican tiles although I've seen nice jobs with joints up to 1" wide.For me,the less grouting,the better.You can seal the grout the same way after at least 5 days of curing time.Try to avoid an excessive build up of sealer on the surface of the tile though,the thicker the top coat,the weaker it is and the more visible the scratches will be.

Keep in mind these tiles are dimensionally weak and require a strong,stable substrate.

09-05-2001, 12:53 AM
Thank you both.

I have two dogs. Uh-oh. A German Shorthair Pointer (wired at 220vt) and a Lab mix. I would consider this a challenge for me.

I think I will try your method sealing after laying but before the grout. That makes sense to me.

I appreciate all of your comments.

09-05-2001, 07:30 PM
You lost me on this one Ron. Grouting with the sealer still "plastic". I'm having a hard time forming a mental picture of this process that doesn't scare the hell out of me. (done alot of Saltillo, often seal before grouting, but never grouted with sealer not fully cured) Could you explain this in a little more detail, sounds "interesting" at the very least.

09-05-2001, 09:07 PM

By plastic I meant that it's not cured.But it is dry enough to grout,just have to be easy on the friction.I'm afraid to let the sealer dry too hard on the sides of the tile and in the joint because then the grout may not have anything to bite into.

Also on most jobs I've waited 5 days and returned to seal the whole job including the grout.For this final coat,I brush sealer on grout first.Then I apply sealer over the entire floor and buff it with lint-free surgical cloths so as not to get too much build-up on surface.

I might be guilty of being a bit fanatical about getting a nice finish on them but it works well for me and always turns out smooth.

Only thing is,I'd like to find a strong sealer that doesn't emit these terrible fumes.And doesn't make me high and start talking like Art.

09-06-2001, 11:16 AM

Something that isn't clear in your method(s) is how long you wait for the thin set to dry before you seal. I thought the purpose of waiting to grout was to prevent efflorvessence (which may or may not be a result of laying pre-sealed Saltillos.)

Is 12 hours OK? If not 12, how about 24? What do you recommend?


09-06-2001, 06:51 PM
Thanks for the reply Ron, I think I got-the-picture now. So the sealer is basically dry (on the tile surface) but not "cured" according to label. Sounds like your into Saltillo. Also sounds like you produce a "fine looking" floor.

If you ever get bored where you are, you could do Saltillo 24/7 down here. For whatever reason, its really taking off around my neck of the woods again.

09-06-2001, 08:11 PM

12 hours is minimal but I walk on them carefully and avoid impact.The sealer that I use says to apply 7 days after installation.The other instructions are kind of unclear,so I don't really follow them either.I do wash the floor the next day and wait until the following day to seal it.

Never answered all your q's,was working late that day.Just noticed I posted that at 2:42,what was I thinking?

Yes,backbuttering is necessary.How much depends on each tile.Some are cupped and some are flat,just try to apply enough to get them even with each other.Backbuttering improves the bond on all tile jobs,but for Mexican tile it is important.I use a 3/4" half round notched trowel for these.

Notice that these tiles are like sponges,they will suck the moisture out of the mortar.So along with wetting the back,keep your mortar bed fresh and don't mix the mortar too firm.

Because these tiles are so absorptive and some have a roughly cast back(popular ones have smoother "paper" back)probably could get away with using cheap mortars or even mixing Type S cement and sand,but I always use a premium thin-set,on all installations.Using premium mortar makes me sleep better.Medium bed mortar is hard to find and expensive,but that's likely better to install Saltillo with.

05-05-2005, 03:01 PM

We've read your previous threads on Saltillo sealing and installation. We were wondering if we could dip the tiles in an impregnator twice to permeate them well, then lay them on the thinset. Will they stick? We thought that dipping them would provide for more even penetration of sealant. We see that we can buy the saltillos presealed and unsealed (super saltillos unsealed), is it more cost effective to buy presealed and forget about dipping altogether or to buy raw and do it ourselves. We are fine with doing it to save dollars.

05-05-2005, 03:04 PM
When you preseal tile, you really want to try to avoid sealing the edges of the tile, as this can interfere with the adhesion of the grout to the tile. So soaking the tile is not a good idea.

Preseal the top surface of the tile; and seal the entire installation after the grout has cured.

11-04-2006, 10:16 AM
I just discoverd this forum - Wow! Great stuff! I live in Laguna Beach, California where the weather is very stable; however, the ground beneath me is not. In addition, my house is over clay soil. We instated Saltillo tile on our entire first floor (over a slab) tweleve years ago and earlier this year I discoverd hairline crack on the tile extending the full length of the livingroom. When I tap on the cracked tile it sounds hollow. My question is: what is the best method for removing the cracked Saltillo tile and replacing them. I believed the regular method of removing cracked tiles mentioned in this forum will not apply to Saltillo being that the grout is more cement-like due to the wide spacing between tiles.

Thank you in advance,

11-05-2006, 06:26 PM
saltillo is extremly soft so cutting the tile out is extremly easy

Christa B
11-13-2007, 01:46 PM
I live in Alaska and had 900 sq ft of Saltillo tile delivered from Mexico and after reading this thread I'm more than a bit worried... My subfloor is not the most rigid of subfloors and there's not too much I can do about that. (am considering installing a foam mat type thing that says it will prevent cracking on concrete subfloors that will settle, but doesn't mention anything about plywood subfloors that are a little bouncy) But my real question is about sealing. I ordered the regular tiles, sealed. Now I'm worried about the efflorescence and what I need to do to prevent it. And also what I need to do at the end to seal my tile sufficiently, if it's already sealed.

This is my first tiling project, so any step-by-step advice would really be appreciated. I'm basically starting from zero on what appears to be a pretty tricky tile...