Oh, Saltillo How I Love You

Project: Installing Saltillo Tile

POMP Rating: (Possibility of Marital Problems) 🌵 🌵🌵🌵🌴

Factors for Rating: Installation is a nightmare. 🌵 You will second guess yourself as to why you decided to do this, and you will feel angry. 🌵 You might experience physical pain. 🌵 Your spouse/partner will yell at you. 🌵 You will probably cry at least once, and you might start talking to yourself. 🌵 You will blame “the Mexicans”. 🌵 It’s really, really beautiful. 🌴 This tile is special and there is nothing like it, which will make you praise “the Mexicans” because they really know what the hell they are doing.🌴

Saltillo Tile: What is it?

Saltillo tile is a clay tile that is only made in one place in the world: Saltillo, Mexico. It is made from a red clay that is found naturally in this region of Mexico. It is hand-made and dried in the sun. Some refer to it as simply, Mexican tile. It comes in various shapes and sizes and the color varies from light pink to a deep orange. Each tile is unique, as each is hand-crafted. Once laid, the variation in color creates a gorgeous, naturally beautiful finish.

Because it is hand-made and dried in the sun, no two tiles are exactly the same size or thickness, making the installation process extremely painful. The baking process involves animals and insects walking across the tiles as they lay in the sun, giving the surface tiles “character”. They say if you get a paw print from a dog on one of your tiles, you will have good luck. Because the tile is a clay material, it is extremely porous, meaning stains will soak in very easily. This is great if you are trying to stain the naturally earth-tone color to a different shade (yes, you can sand them down and stain them….pretty cool - see pic below). But, if you do not seal them properly and keep them sealed stains will show up and be very difficult to remove.

My sunroom: these tiles had been in the backyard unsealed for about two years when we decided to bring them inside: proof of just how durable they really are.

Why Did I Choose to Use This in my House?

I am from Texas and I have always loved the Spanish/Mediterranean design for a house. I love tile – all tile, but Saltillo has always been my favorite. I love the way a clay pot looks, I love barrel tile roofs, hand-painted Talavera tiles, and tile countertops. When I bought my 80’s farmhouse in Savannah, Georgia I could have opted for granite countertops and wood flooring everywhere, which is a popular look for down South, but I chose to marry the two designs, Southern and Spanish/Mediterranean, together. I have both tongue and groove hardwood floors and Saltillo in my house, making the interior very unique and unlike any other house around. I went with Saltillo in my kitchen to give this area a casual, lived in, beachy feel. I wanted to feel comfortable and relaxed in my home, not stuffy and worried about being too hard on the floor for fear of scratches. I also wanted the option of being able to stain the floors to a different color at some point if I got tired of the earth-tone: I have not chosen to do this, and I don’t think I ever will, but I like to keep my options open.

Photo credit: Avente Tile. See how they steal the show?

Drawbacks to Saltillo

One drawback to having Saltillo is that it’s such a dramatic flooring that it really steals the show in a room. This means that whatever you put in that room, whether it be kitchen cabinets, countertops, or furniture, you’ll probably need to keep that really simple for it to look right. Notice in this picture how this is illustrated: The house kind of HAS to be white, see? You just really have to be ok with your floor being the center of attention if you go with Saltillo.

Another drawback is the upkeep. You will need to re-seal it about once every other year, or more if it is in a high-traffic area. It’s not too difficult to re-seal, but it is part of ownership to keep it looking nice. The biggest drawback is the installation process.

The Installation: Holy Hell, It’s Not Easy

With Saltillo tile installation you WILL hire a professional: it will either be a professional tile installer that is skilled in laying Saltillo, or if you choose to DIY you will probably hire a therapist. It is a difficult install for a couple of reasons. One is that you cannot even begin to think about using any kind of tile spacers. Forget symmetry and trying to get everything perfect. These tiles are going to test your every ounce of patience. They vary in thickness and size, so “eyeballing it” is the way to go during the install. It will make you crazy. You will get angry. You will second guess yourself, and you will either cry or pitch a fit or both. (I did both). You will argue with your spouse for no reason. Just be prepared. I almost got divorced during the installation, and we weren’t even married yet. It was a dark, dark time.

What You Will Look Like During the Install

When using the tile saw, red clay will spew everywhere and you will appear as if you have been on some kind of underground caving expedition. The clay will dry on your hands and your face and your body. It will hurt. Your skin will crack. Your safety glasses will be so covered in tile mud that you will not be able to see. When you grout it, if the tiles are not pre-sealed, the grout will dry almost instantly due to the porous nature of the clay. If you do not seal your tile before grouting you may kill someone. Make sure you seal it first. You will thank me later.

The Finished Product: Gorgeous

If I ever get complimented on anything in my house, it’s my Saltillo floors. They are so gorgeous. Like I said earlier: they steal the show in any room. The shine you can get with a high gloss sealer makes them look squeaky clean even when they are not. Simple seagrass rugs look amazing as a buffer, and the varying thickness of the tiles creates a “bumpy” look that really shows off the hand-made nature of the tiles. The warmth of the earth-tone shades of the tiles give any room a homey, rich, authentic look that is second to none. If earth tone is not your thing, you can stain the tiles dark brown, the ever-popular driftwood grey, blue, whitewash, or any variation of light pink to dark mahogany. I have even seen some that are black.

Photo credit: Debra Philips, 5th & State blog

Durable and Long-Lasting

This tile is so durable that it will be gorgeous for a lifetime. They don’t crack, and they just get better with age if you take good care of them. It’s great to know that if you change your mind and want to re-decorate that you can sand them down and stain them a totally different color. (see picture)

I’ve been in homes and offices that are well over 100 years old with Saltillo flooring that may need to be refinished, but still looks solid – no cracks, no signs of deterioration. And, there is just something about having a product that is hand-made that is appealing.

Where Do You Get It?

No, you cannot get this tile off the shelf at your hardware or flooring store. I wish I could tag a dealer, but you need to search for one near you for the simple fact that shipping is going to be expensive. No need having it shipped from Texas if you live in California and there is a local dealer there. Just search Saltillo tile to find a distributor nearby that can help. You may also need to have your therapist on stand-by if you choose to install yourself. Hey, if I can do it YOU can do it. You’ve got this. Please don’t buy tile spacers. It’s a waste of time and money. If people can hand-craft this stuff, then YOU can certainly install it. Ready? Go!

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