Do-It-Yourself Directions on How to Install Saltillo Tile
Every day we receive phone calls with questions about how to lay saltillo tile. There are many myths about the complexity of installing saltillo tiles and how to seal terra cotta floors. We hope to help clear the confusion with this easy step-by-step guide on prepping your floor and laying this Mexican tile.
The directions below are recommendations. Many variations to these steps may exist for your specific floor and terra cotta tile. Please consult with your local contractor or installer for more precise advice relevant to your specific floor and tile purchased. Rustico Tile and Stone is not responsible for saltillo installations not completed by one of our contracted installers.
Two types of terracotta tile installations exist: (1) on wood subfloor or (2) on a slab.
(1) Wood Subfloor guide: If you have some type of wood subfloor, basement or 2nd story floor, you will first need to:
(A) Prep the subfloor. Some options for prep include: hardi backer, lath sheet and concrete, or DITRA. At Rustico Tile and Stone, we recommend DITRA over all other materials. (Schluter-DITRA is a polyethylene uncoupling membrane with a grid structure of square cutback cavities and an anchoring fleece laminated to the underside. In conjunction with the saltillo tiles installed on top, DITRA forms an uncoupling, waterproofing, and vapor management layer, while providing support/load distribution. The combination of these four essential functions allows for the successful installation of terracotta tile over a wide range of subfloors including plywood/OSB, concrete, gypsum, heated floors, and more. Ask Us for more details about DITRA and how to purchase this tile installation material.
(B) Once the subfloor has been prepped, you are ready to apply thinset (we recommend PermaFlex 400 or PermaFlex 500). If using the DITRA product mentioned above, you do not need elastic thinset. We recommend inexpensive basic thinset which can be found at a local home improvement store. ½” x ½” trowel is recommended for a basic 12×12 size saltillo tile. For other sizes, consult with your installer.
(C) Lay the terra cotta tile (assuming it is presealed. If it is unsealed, see tips at the bottom of this guide). With a standard 12×12 size tile, a minimum grout line recommended is ½”. Any grout line that is wider is for cosmetic purposes. We do not recommend using spacers with authentic handmade saltillo tile to allow for the size/shape variations. Your installer will need to pay attention to detail to keep the pattern of tile layout consistent. This is not a complicated process. The terra cotta tiles can easily and precisely be cut with a wet saw.
(D) Grout saltillo tile floor after thinset dries (usually overnight waiting period). Recommended grout includes a sanded grout or mortar mix. This can also be found at a local home improvement store.
(E) Clean saltillo tiles. You will need to clean your Mexican tile floor very well to remove any grout haze or debris accumulated during the installation process. Once the floor is thoroughly cleaned, allow it to dry for several days. Our StoneClean 104 cleaner, water, and a sponge or brush can be used for cleaning the floor. If you choose to you any other type of chemical cleaner, follow this step by a few mop-washings of 50/50 mixture of acetone and water. Any residual cleaning chemical must be fully removed prior to applying your top coat of saltillo sealer.
(F) Seal saltillo floor. Once your installation is complete, cleaned and thoroughly dried, you can now apply the top coat of tile sealer. An ideal top coat sealer will last several years and can also be applied to the terra cotta grout lines. Allow the terra cotta sealer to fully dry and cure. Once cured, installation is complete. Enjoy your Mexican tile floor!
(2) Slab Subfloor guide: If you have a concrete slab subfloor, you first need to:
(A) Prep the subfloor by examining for any cracks or foundation issues. If there are surface cracks, fiberglass mesh and elastic polymer (i.e. Red Guard) can be used. DITRA (see description above) can also be used and is highly recommended if foundation problems exist or if the slab is on sandy soil (or if foundation is apt for movement).
Once the slab subfloor is prepped, you can follow steps B through F listed above.
A few tips:
- If you are installing presealed saltillo tile (most common), we do NOT recommend soaking the clay tiles prior to installation. Soaking these sealed tiles can create bigger efflorescent issues in the future if water is trapped in the clay for long periods of time.
- If you are installing unsealed saltillo tiles, you can soak these tiles prior to installation OR apply saltillo tile sealer prior to installing the Mexican tiles.
- Do NOT dry stack saltillo tile installations.