How to Clean & Seal Saltillo Tile: A Complete Guide

Saltillo tile is a beautiful old-world addition to any home. However, there’s no getting around the fact it can be pretty hard to maintain.
If you’re wondering how to clean your Saltillo tile or bring back its vibrant shine this is the place to be.

What is Saltillo tile?

Saltillo tile is a type of terracotta tile famed for its unique earthy red tones and handmade aesthetic.
They can vary a little in size and shape, with indications like bumps, smears, and depressions visible on the surface. They also vary in color, as dependent on their placement at the time of firing they can range from yellow to orange, to a rich red hue.
The effect is a rustic and earthy tile that adds character and charm to any room they’re in. However, Saltillo tile does come with drawbacks.
Saltillo tile can be challenging to maintain.
One reason is its natural porosity which can make cleaning Saltillo tile difficult. The second is that because Saltillo is prone to staining and discoloration it’s often covered in a glossy, superficial sealer that can decay and flake over time.

What to consider before cleaning Saltillo tile

Before you clean your Saltillo tile you want to give it a vacuum and then a quick look-over. 

While Saltillo tile may shift, warp, or mar slightly over time many consider that to be part of the unique charm of the material. If you spot any chips, however, you’ll want to add a thin layer of sealer to protect the tile below.

You’ll also need to pay close attention to the existing sealer. When you’re cleaning sealed Saltillo tile you are actually cleaning the superficial sealer that covers it. This can be a problem because:

  • Abrasive cleaning or caustic chemicals can damage your sealer and ruin the finish
  • Cleaning solution can turn a superficial sealer cloudy 
  • It can be almost impossible to clean very dirty sealer conventionally


For many who want to restore their Saltillo tiles, deeply embedded dirt means that their sealer will need to be stripped before a clean becomes effective.

However, if your sealer and tiles are in good repair, a delicate clean that ensures the tile and finish are protected may do the trick.

How to clean Saltillo tile

Whether your Saltillo tile is sealed or not an alkaline cleaner like ammonia is advised. 

You want to heavily dilute your alkaline cleaner with warm water and apply it to the tile. While the tile absorbs the solution and you’ll want to keep applying it to avoid the tile drying out.

After application, you’ll need to leave the solution on the tile for around 15minutes.

Then use a soft scrubber or soft-bristled brush to lightly scrub the tile and grout. This should be sufficient to clean the tile without any undue abrasion or damage to the finish.

Once all the dirt is gone make sure to rinse the tile with clean water and mop it off or use an extraction vac.

Hopefully, your tile is clean. However, if it remains dirty that means embedded grime is locked in with the sealer and you’ll need to strip your sealer.

How to clean and seal saltillo tile
How to clean and seal saltillo tile

How to strip Saltillo tile

In many cases, all Saltillo tile needs is a clean followed possibly by reapplication of more sealer to bring back the shine.

However, while stripping Saltillo tile isn’t easy, sometimes it’s necessary if you want to really clean the tile itself.

Using sanding or abrasion to strip the tile would only gouge and ruin the tile. As a result, we need to use chemical strippers.

Work out what type of sealer you have

Your sealer is either a solvent-based polyurethane sealer or a water-based acrylic sealer.

Hopefully, you have a water-based sealer as that will make the task of stripping Saltillo tile much easier. 

An easy way to work out what sealer you have is to apply a water-based floor stripper and see if it loosens your sealer to the point where you can scrub it off. 

You can also use ammonia. Applying ammonia to a water-based sealer will cause it to turn white and crinkle. 

How to strip water-based sealer

First, you’ll want to buy some water-based floor stripper.

They produce fumes so you may want to wear gloves and eye protection.

Apply the stripper and leave it there. You want to make sure it doesn’t dry on the tiles but beware it may take up to an hour for it to do its work. You may want to keep adding the stripper solution as you go to stop it from drying.

To scrub off the loosened sealer solution use a soft-bristled brush to avoid scratching the tile. When you’ve got all the sealer off rinse off the stripper solution. 

You’ll want to wait for the tiles and grout to dry before attempting resealing.

How to strip solvent-based sealer

The first point to mention is this is very challenging. For many people, the best advice is to call a professional in. However, if you want to learn how to strip a Saltillo floor covered in solvent-based sealer you need to follow a few guidelines: 

  • Removing solvent-based sealer requires a highly aggressive solvent-based stripper that means you need to wear a respirator and gloves. An example is a two-part stripper designed for urethane or epoxy-based sealers.
  • Apply the stripper in an area no bigger than a 10by10. Then when your sealer has emulsified you want to add a soap solution to the tile
  • A floor buffer with a stripping pad is a good way to quickly extract the loosened coating from the tile, particularly if you have a large area to strip. Make sure all floor sealer is removed.
  • If you used a highly caustic floor stripper, you’ll now want to neutralize the area. A good way to do this is an acetic acid solution or acid rinse.
  • Now let’s clean the entire area using a pH-neutral soap before extracting off the solution or using a vacuum.

How to seal Saltillo tile

If your tile is unsealed or if you’ve entirely stripped your existing sealer off your Saltillo tile, it’s advisable to seal or reseal it. This is because Saltillo tile is porous and naturally prone to staining and discoloration. 

There are two main types of tile sealer:

  • Impregnating sealers that soak deeply into the tile to provide a deep acting layer of waterproofing. These are especially valuable if your tile is in a damp area like a bathroom.
  • Superficial sealers that add a protective but ultimately sacrificial layer over the tile helping to prevent damage, stains, and scratches to the tile surface.

When sealing Saltillo tile, we need to be mindful of a few steps:

Make sure the tile is clean, dry, and pH neutral

If your tile is dirty a sealer will lock that grime into the flooring and make it uncleanable. Wet tiles will prevent proper sealer adherence and may cause the sealer to become cloudy or flake off.

pH is important because some tile cleaners (or perhaps tile strippers if you had to remove the existing sealer) can change the pH. Highly caustic or acidic tiles can interfere with the adherence of a new layer of sealer. 

Pick a type of sealer

Often impregnating sealers are easier to put on yet don’t come with a glossy or reflective finish.

If you were wondering how to make Saltillo tile shine, a glossy topical sealer is a good choice for you.

They protect the tile and provide a matte, gloss, or satin finish. However, they often need careful cleaning and reapplication, particularly in high-traffic areas.

A glossy sealer that becomes grimy and worn will need stripping as we’ve discussed above.

Water-based acrylic superficial sealer is a great choice. This is because solvent-based sealers are considerably harder to strip and will require very aggressive floor stripping solutions.

How to apply a sealer to Saltillo tile

A microfiber cloth is a good option for this. It’s a great way to apply sealer into smooth, thin layers. Be careful to smear and spread sealer evenly and avoid any build-up in depressions or along grout lines.

A thick, pool of topical sealer left to dry is more prone to flake and degrade.

Be sure to listen to the instructions associated with your particular sealer whether that’s health instructions or otherwise. Some solvent-based sealers for example can contain VOCs that can harm your health if inhaled.

Generally, a layer of sealer will take around 30minutes to dry, after which point you may want to apply further coats. It may take several thin coats to build up to your desired finish.

Sealing Saltillo tile with Rexshield Tile

While porous Saltillo tile needs to be sealed, we’ve seen that topical sealers can cause problems when it comes to maintenance and cleaning:

  • Alkaline or acidic cleaning solutions can break down sealer or make it cloudy forcing homeowners to use dilute vinegar or grout cleaner to clean their Saltillo tile.
  • Topical sealers are sacrificial and need regular reapplication.
  • Dirt impregnated sealer results in time-consuming stripping and cleaning that may result in you calling in a professional.

Rexshield Tile is a sealer that works effectively on Saltillo tile to provide protection for years to come. That means a more permanent solution that makes your beautiful but challenging Saltillo tile easier to manage and makes constant cleaning and resealing less of a necessity.

Click here to learn more or purchase a sample kit today.


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