Mexican Saltillo tile is an artisanal product that is particularly porous when unglazed. Due to the fact that these tiles are handmade and have a rustic vibe, many homeowners like to install them in their homes.
Mexican tiles from Saltillo must be sealed to be safeguarded against stains and everyday wear and tear. In addition to strengthening the tile, the sealer prevents abrasion from dirt and rocks. Although it is not a difficult task, applying the sealant does require some time and careful attention to detail.
Do I Need to Seal My Saltillo Tiles?
The short answer is yes. Sealing your Saltillo tiles is a good idea.
Saltillo tiles have a porous surface because they are fired at a lower temperature. They are vulnerable to moisture absorption because they lack a glaze on the surface, and they need to be sealed to prevent stains from seeping into the clay.
Types of Sealers
The two primary categories of sealer used on Saltillo tiles are a wet-look sealer and a natural-look sealer. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
The Wet Look
The formula for wet-look tile sealers is solvent-based, which creates a coating over the clay to give it a wet appearance. The wet-look sealer has a consistency quite close to wood varnish. Once coated with this sealer, a moisture barrier is formed, and the tile becomes moisture resistant.
The downside to a wet-look sealant is that it prevents the tiles from breathing. If water should seep underneath the tiles, it can leave a white haze on them, which is nearly impossible to remove.
The wet-look sealant is generally used for backsplashes, highlight tiles, and low-traffic areas.
Natural Look Tile Sealer
Natural-look sealants tend to be a good option because they are water-based, odor-free, and safe to use.
Even though the tiles will end up with a very natural sheen after sealing, they will be protected from water, oil, or grease stains. The sealer will also be mildew-resistant.
One disadvantage to natural-look sealers is that the tiles will not be as glossy and thus can appear dull in some light.
Sealers to Consider
If you are interested in the wet-look for your Saltillo tiles, the following sealants may be a good option for you.
Glaze ‘N Seal Olé Mexican Tile Sealer
This Glaze ‘N Seal product provides water-based protection for your porous Saltillo tiles allowing them to resist oil, food, and grease stains. It provides a high gloss aesthetic, and it can be applied to tile indoor or outdoor.
Armor WL550 Matte Wet Look Enhancer Sealer
Armor’s wet-look sealer brings out the tiles natural coloring without leaving a film across your flooring. It reduces damage done by water absorption prevning pitting and cracking. The sealer is UV resistant and breathable.
Trewax Professional Gold Label Stone and Tile Sealer
Trewax’s sealer gives your tiles a glossy finish that provides excellent protection against scuffs and stains. It is water-resistant and durable.
If you are looking for a more natural sheen, the following sealants will be a good choice.
Miracle Sealants Plus is made to seal and protect the Saltillo tile’s porous surface. Advanced surface slip prevention is provided by premium surface sealer, which creates an invisible, protective layer that withstands weather, oil, water, and stains. Miracle leaves a natural-looking surface.
Aqua-X is a water-based sealer that protects agains stains and pitting. It improves durability while keeping a natural sheen to the tiles. It is also a low-odor product.
Floor Prep & Materials
While it is best practice to follow the manufacturer’s directions found on the particular sealant you choose, these instructions serve as a good rule of thumb.
- Paint pan
- Short-napped paint rollers
- Long application pole
- Protective clothing
Prior to beginning the sealing process, you will want to be sure that your tile floor is free of any dirt. Use a broom to sweep up any large debris, and then go over the floor with a vacuum to ensure that you don’t leave any dirt behind.
Once the floor is clear of dirt, use warm water to give the tiles a final scrub. Allow the tiles to completely dry before you begin the sealing process.
Remember: The grout should also be completely dry and set before you begin the sealing process. Some professionals recommend waiting three to four days after the grout has been applied before moving on to sealing the tiles.
Shop for Materials
Find all the materials you need to get started here:
Wooster R402-11 Deluxe Metal Tray
This metal tray has a one quart working capacity and is made of rust-resistant steel. The roll off area is ribbed for even loading, and it has welded legs to keep it level.
These pro-grade paint rollers are made from a no-shed microfiber that is durable and easy to clean.
Multi-Purpose Paint Roller Pole
Made from corrosion and rust-resistant aluminum, this multi-purpose pole gives you up to 20 feet in extension.
Sealing Your Saltillo Tile Floors
Ensure that you wear the proper safety equipment and that the space where you work is sufficiently ventilated. Before using your Saltillo tile sealer on your entire floor, test it out on some scrap tile or on a small sample area of tile that isn’t prominently placed.
- Fill your paint pan with sealer being careful not to overfill
- Dip your paint roller into the sealer, giving it a few rolls to evenly coat it with the sealer
- Working in small sections, roll the sealer onto the tiles. Be sure to apply evenly without leaving any gaps between your swipes. Remember: Saltillo tile is very porous, so the tiles will absorb quite a bit of sealant, which is why several coats will be needed. You may also notice that the natural tile color variations will be more prominent after the first couple of coats, but it should become more even as you apply additional coats.
- Allow the sealer to dry completely in between coats
- Be sure to change out the paint pan and roller regularly to keep your sealant coats even and free of deteriorating roller particles.
Pro tip: Most sealers will not adhere correctly to very warm or very cool tiles. You want your tiles to be between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit for best results.
Anti-slip additives can be added to your sealer of choice, which may be helpful in a high-traffic area or one where slips may be an issue, like the bathroom. However, many people find that the more prominent grout lines typically found in Saltillo tile installation naturally make the floor non-slip.
To ensure proper dry time, check the manufacturer’s recommendations. If the sealant is not allowed to dry enough between coats, it will not cure correctly.
A good rule of thumb is to allow two hours after the first coat of sealant is applied and then increase the dry time by an hour with each coat added. However, the humidity and climate will also play a factor in the drying time.
If you are sealing a tile floor that is outdoors, you will want to ensure no rain is in the forecast for at least 24 hours (48 would be better!) after your final coat of sealant is expected to go on.
Pro Tip: make sure your sprinklers are turned off or out of range of your tile flooring.
Avoid placing heavy furniture on the floor until it is cured completely. Dragging heavy items across your tile floor is never recommended, even after the sealant is completely cured. Even if the product has a good scratch resistance rating, it is not actually scratch-proof!
Remember to allow for ample dry time because taking the time to correctly apply the sealer is a lot less complicated than doing a botched job and having to start over.
Stripping Old Sealant
It takes a little elbow grease, a good stripper product, a highly abrasive scrubbing pad, and a whole lot of patience to remove an old sealant from your Saltillo tile floors.
If you did not apply the current sealant to your tiles, you should first try to identify the kind of topical sealer that has been used. There are two common types of topical sealers that are frequently used on Saltillo: polyurethane and water-based acrylic. Polyurethane sealers are significantly harder to strip and remove than water-based acrylic sealers.
The easiest way to determine which you have is to apply a water-based floor stripper. If it is effective, you are dealing with a water-based acrylic sealant; if it is ineffective, then you are likely dealing with a polyurethane sealer.
Polyurethane removal requires a respirator and protective clothing because the stripper needed is more toxic than a water-based stripper. Generally, paint strippers containing MEK are necessary to soften and remove polyurethane-based sealers. Eye protection, rubber gloves, and a respirator are recommended when working with MEK products. It may be more efficient to hire a professional to strip your tiles for you, especially if you are not used to this level of DIY projects.
You are still recommended to wear rubber gloves and eye protection when working with a water-based floor stripper, but the product is much less toxic than one containing MEK. The directions on the stripper should always be followed precisely to prevent unnecessary damage to your tile or your health.
Apply the stripper solution directly to the Saltillo tiles and let it sit there for a while to remove the sealer. The stripper may take some time to begin working on softening and dissolving the old sealer — an hour or longer is typical. Once the sealant becomes loosened, it can be scrubbed away using your abrasive pad. If your Saltillo tiles are expansive, you may want to rent or purchase a floor machine to aid in the process.
It’s crucial to avoid letting the stripper dry on the tile surface. To prevent it from drying on the tiles, reapply the stripper as needed. Thoroughly rinse away any excess stripper and scraped-off sealant, and be sure to allow ample dry time before you begin the resealing process.
Do your Saltillo tiles need to be sealed? Ultimately, it is up to you. However, your tiles will be pretty porous and susceptible to stains if you leave them in their natural state.
Plus, the natural clay used to make Saltillo tiles can give them a dull finish that many find less attractive than the look of sealed tile. The hues of Saltillo tiles will also be enhanced by topical sealers, making them appear much more vivid and bright.