The classic look of Mexican Saltillo tile – with its rustic elegance and warm character, Saltillo tile remains a favorite flooring style among homeowners. Low maintenance, highly durable, and available in many shapes, sizes, and colors, this tile has a wide appeal.
Especially if you want to craft an authentic Southwestern, SoCal, or Mexican interior ambiance, this traditional flooring is the right choice for you. Here, you can find everything you’ll need to know about beautiful Mexican tile.
A terracotta variety of flooring, Mexican tile is available from many sources. However, to be a true Saltillo tile, it must be locally handcrafted from the clays of Saltillo, a city in the northeastern Mexican state of Coahuila.
There, families have made distinctive tiles from the region’s unique natural clay deposits for generations. Since each tile is handmade from some of the world’s finest clay using traditional methods, Saltillo floors are rich with character and heritage. What’s more, the individual tiles are given a hand-textured finish, so no two floors will look exactly the same.
While some modern introductions have made Saltillo tile production more efficient, the overall process has remained unchanged since the Mexican colonial period. And, in many cases, it is very much a family business, where everyone has their own role in the production: younger men and women gather the clay, for example, while older men supervise the kiln firing. The manufacturing process goes like this:
1. Clay is collected from the riverbeds of Saltillo and sifted to remove impurities
2. Water is mixed with the clay to make it malleable (there are two methods in this step: de agua, or by water, in which enough water is added to make the clay pourable, and de golpe, or by pounding, where just enough water is added to make the clay moldable)
3. Clay is pressed through wood or metal molds
4. The wet tiles are laid out to dry in the sun
5. The sun-dried tiles are placed in a large kiln, where they bake for 18 to 24 hours
6. After cooling for 24 hours, the tiles receive several coatings of sealant (though some, depending upon the use or request, will remain unsealed)
That may sound pretty straightforward, but it is actually very laborious to make these tiles. It requires strength, skill, and attention. In fact, craftsmen monitor the fire in the kiln around the clock to ensure an even temperature.
These tiles are highly porous. This means that when they are left unsealed, they will absorb anything that touches them, such as liquids and oils, which leads to discoloration and damage. Saltillo floor tiles require 3 to 5 coatings of a penetrating sealant to preserve their color and gain their glossy shine. So, while unsealed tiles are less expensive than pre-sealed tiles, it’s worth it, in the long run, to go ahead and pay for the sealed ones.
But, that’s not to say that unsealed Mexican tiles don’t have their purpose. Sometimes, a homeowner or designer will want to custom-stain their tiles a particular color. If this is what you have in mind, then unsealed tiles are for you. However, you’ll still want to finish your tiles with a compatible sealant.
Like ceramic and porcelain floors, Saltillo edges closer to the higher end of the pricing spectrum. Saltillo floors ranged from $4.72 per square foot to $8.05 per square foot in 2019. Keep in mind, though, that these tiles are among the most durable available, so with proper care, you won’t be replacing them anytime soon. In fact, these sought-after floors are a good way to invest in your home and boost the resale value of your property.
Saltillo Mexican tile generally appears in 4 main types, based on variations in the production process that affect the appearance of the finished product. These are:
Regular Saltillo Tile - Just like it sounds, this is your standard, handmade tile, manufactured by either the de agua or de golpe methods (see above).
Pueblo Saltillo Tile - The Pueblo style refers to a tile that has been pressed in a metal mold (via the de golpe method) that causes the edges to be round rather than square.
Moreno Saltillo Tile - Moreno means “tan” or “dark,” and Moreno Saltillo tiles have been darkened through the addition of a natural element, manganese dioxide, that produces tiles that range in color from light brown to taupe and dark brown; these tiles can be either regular or Pueblo tiles.
Old Colonial Saltillo Tile - The Old Colonial style refers to any tile that has a gently brushed finished, giving it an elegant, European appearance.
When you think of these tiles, think warmth. Think glowing organic hues of oranges, reds, yellows, tans, and browns. Part of these tile’s appeal is how their color palette resembles the landscapes and sunsets of Mexico and the American Southwest. Because each tile is individually made, no two pieces will be identical in either texture or color. When you’re shopping for Saltillo tiles, you’ll find:
Traditional – Natural clay colors that span a light gold to rustic reddish-orange
Manganese – These “Moreno” tiles are darker due to a natural additive, and they appear in hues of tan and brown
Spanish Mission Red – Terracotta hues that are predominately darker shades of red and orangish-red
These aren’t your only color options, though. Unsealed tiles can be custom-stained to have pastel, copper, blue, whitewashed, black, and other colors. This color variety is part of what gives Saltillo tiles their design versatility.
When you choose Saltillo tile, you have access to a broad range of sizes and shapes. There are size options ranging from everything between 4” and 20,” so whatever your sizing requirements are, you are sure to find a tile that fits. And when it comes to shape, there are eye-catching tiles available in:
There are Saltillo tiles that have both indoor and outdoor applications. Their textured surfaces make them slip-resistant, and their natural toughness makes them ideally suited for many settings. That said, they should not be used as pavers outdoors in areas with freeze-thaw cycles, as harsh winter conditions can cause them to crack. Indoors, though, they are perfectly suited for use as:
Like any construction material, Saltillo tile has both its pros and cons. Whether or not this tile matches your needs will depend on many different factors, including the climate where you live, your budget, your personal tastes and preferences, and other considerations. For reference, though, here are some pros and cons of installing Mexican tile inside your home:
Easy to Care for – This low-maintenance flooring solution hides dirt and stains due to its dark color, and it is easily cleaned with regular sweeping and mopping.
All-Natural – Saltillo tiles are environmentally friendly and made by hand; in fact, some tiles may feature the added charm of a paw print from a dog that had wandered through the drying area (which is considered a sign of luck in Mexico).
Wears Naturally – Initially, these tiles need to be sealed because of their porous nature. However, since these tiles are made of natural clay, they wear gracefully over time. Re-seal them or let them age – either way, they’ll continue to look great.
Extremely Durable – As mentioned above, Saltillo tiles are naturally tough. Properly installed and cared for, you will enjoy this floor for decades to come.
Temperature Control – Due to its thickness, Saltillo tile helps to moderate indoor air temperatures, keeping your house warmer in winter and cooler in summer.
Uneven – If you want a perfectly smooth and even floor, Saltillo may not be for you. Since each tile is individually made, there will be slight height variations from tile to tile.
Chipping – Chips on these tiles don’t stand out as much because of their texture and coloring, but they do happen. So if you want a flawless floor, you may want to consider something else.
Difficult Installation – Since these tiles are thicker and heavier, they are harder to install. And their individual character means that the installer has to stay aware of spacing and using proper amounts of adhesive to keep them even and prevent them from rocking.
Fading – The appearance of clay tiles will change over time due to wear, and one of these changes includes fading. If this is a problem for you, you will want to apply new coatings of an enhancing sealant to restore the richness of its color.
Temperature Intolerance – Mexican clay tiles do not tolerate the cold well, and they are easily damaged in environments with harsh winters.
In short, this kind of tile has major advantages if you are looking for eco-friendliness, longevity, and classic design appeal in your floors. However, if you want the more sleek and smooth finish of, say, porcelain, or you live in an area with harsh winters, you probably want to invest in another flooring material.
Besides the appeal of its rustic, traditional look, one of the draws of a Mexican Saltillo tile floor is its ease of maintenance. Clay tiles are known to hold up well for decades with only minimal cleaning. It’s important, though, that you first make sure your tile floor is properly sealed.
Saltillo tile will absorb any liquid or oil it comes in contact with unless it is sealed. Usually, up to 5 coatings of a deep-penetrating sealant will be necessary for optimal protection. Once you’ve got that covered, though, your floor will withstand spills and foot traffic for years.
If fussing over your floors isn’t your favorite activity, you’ll love Mexican tile. You’ll only need to do some basic cleaning to keep it looking its best. With weekly sweeping and mopping and light spot-cleaning as needed, your floor will maintain its attractive appearance.
To prevent fading and wear, you may want to consider an additional layer of sealant after 5 to 7 years or so. Saltillo floors, however, are known for aging well and acquiring more depth of character over time. So whether or not you want to re-seal later is entirely up to you.