about Saltillo Tile
is information about Saltillo tile, which we feel should be
provided to you so that you will know exactly what you are buying
and/or selling. Saltillo tile is one of our specialties at Mexican
Tile and Stone Company. We strive for QUALITY material
at all times and have always bought from only two suppliers
who have always manufactured beautiful tile and are prompt with
deliveries. Over the years, we have stressed the importance
of quality material to our customers. Saltillo sizes range from
4" to 20" in shapes and sizes.
is Saltillo Tile?
Makes Good Saltillo Tile?
tile is an unglazed clay floor tile made in Saltillo, Coahuila,
Mexico. The tile is made from natural clay deposits from that
region which is one of the finest natural clay deposits in the
world. Briefly, this is the manufacturing process:
is excavated from the earth, cleaned and sifted.
clay is mixed with water
wet clay is formed into tile shapes
tiles are dried in the sun (if it rains, the process is delayed)
dried tiles are fired in caves which are used as kilns.
of the tile is determined by how “clean” the clay
was before the tile was made. Unfortunately, because of the
great demand in today’s market for Saltillo tile, there
is a large amount of Saltillo tile out there, which is made
with “unclean” clay. What in the world, you might
ask, is “clean clay?” Our suppliers who make good
Saltillo tile excavate clay from pure clay deposits in the high
banks of the river and then sift it thoroughly in a huge machine
before making the tile. Many other suppliers buy their tile
from little independent tile makers who dig their clay out of
riverbeds and do not sift it…so you can imagine what else
might be mixed in with the clay! This is a lower quality Saltillo
of standard Saltillo tile is made individually by hand with
no machinery involved. For that reason each piece will have
its own character. The tile is primitive. There are irregularities.
You will find small chips, cracks, and bumps. These imperfections
merely add character and rustic quality to the floor. If you
are lucky, you might even find a few animal footprints in your
Causes Color Variations in Saltillo Tile?
tiles are stacked in the caves (kilns) on end, slightly overlapping
so that they will not fall over. Before firing, the opening
to the kiln is sealed with clay to prevent heat from escaping.
The fire is started at the bottom of the cave and fuel is added
to increase the heat until the proper temperature is reached.
As you know, fire will not burn without oxygen, and at sometime
during the firing process all of the available oxygen in the
atmosphere in the cave is used up. The flame then seeks the
next available source of oxygen (which it finds in the form
of iron oxide in the clay tile) and burns it, flashing the exposed
surfaces of the tile. The light buff color in the tile is the
area that was flashed; the peach color in the tile is the area,
which is shielded from the flame by other tiles. You may hear
many different stories about different types of fuel used in
the firing of Saltillo tile. The original source of heat used
for firing Saltillo tile was burning rubber tires. Wood is now
used to start the process. In the past few years, a variety
of fuels have also been used, such as propane, diesel, crude
petroleum, etc. The type of fuel used for firing does not directly
affect the color of the tile. Heat is heat, much like a gas
or electric stove. The color of the tile is controlled somewhat
- How the
tile is stacked in the kiln.
- How the
flame/heat is controlled inside the kiln.
or not a color additive is added to the clay during the manufacturing
process (see the section on Moreno Saltillo tile.)
a green hue is apparent from the firing process.
“Regular” Saltillo Tile: This is the original
Saltillo tile. Mexican Tile and Stone Company
imports the best hand-made Saltillo tile on today’s market
(as described on page 1.) You may hear from other tile companies
that, “Saltillo tile is no good.” This is because
so many companies have recently imported bad tile without knowing
the good from the bad due to the great demand in this market.
There is a lot of inferior quality hand-made Saltillo tile out
there now, so be very careful. The quality of hand-made Saltillo
tile is only as good as the clay it’s made with, and Mexican
Tile and Stone Company’s tile is ALL made with
clean clay! Hand-made Saltillo tile is made in two different ways
as described below:
The “De Agua” Method: This is the
original method of making hand-made Saltillo tile. “De Agua”
in English means “by water.” In this method of making
the tile, the natural clay is mixed with water to a very wet,
almost pourable consistency. Wooden frames are placed on the ground
and the very wet clay is patted into them by hand. The frame is
then lifted up and a wet tile remains on the ground. After the
tile dries in the sun, it is picked up and placed in the cave/kiln
for firing. When this method is used, part of the ground sticks
to the cracks of the tiles and the tiles should be thoroughly
brushed before installation to prevent bond failure.
Also, when this method is used, the outside edges of the tiles
tend to turn up (because of the action of lifting up the frame,)
making them easier to tip over. In order to eliminate the loose
clay on the ground from clinging to the back of the tiles, newspaper
sometimes is placed on the ground under the wet tiles. This
paper burns off when the tiles are fired. This type of “de
agua” tile is usually called “paper back”
Saltillo tile. Paper back saltillo has a smooth, non-dusty,
back surface. Mexican Tile and Stone Company’s
supplier uses a tool which we call a “cookie cutter”
to trim the edges of the “de agua” tile, to reduce
the chances of the edges turning up. This tool is utilized while
the new tiles are wet and because of the shape of the cutting
edge, the edges are forced to slightly turn down. After the
edges are trimmed, the tops of the tiles are smoothed with wet
hands to leave them nicely finished. While drying on the ground,
before firing, the tiles are constantly watched and edges that
might warp upward are tamped down with a heavy rubber instrument.
The “De Golpe” Method: To eliminate
the problems of dirt clinging to the backs of the tiles and
edges turning up, this method of making hand-made Saltillo was
developed. This method also makes the tile slightly denser.
When the Saltillo clay is mixed with water, less water is used
than in the “de agua” method. The term “de
golpe” in English means “by pounding.” The
clay and water mixture is moldable rather than pourable. The
wooden frame has a wooden bottom in it, so it is more of a mold
than a frame. The clay is pounded by hand into the mold. The
excessive clay in the mold is scraped off with a board. This
scraped side becomes the bottom of the tile. While the tile
is still in the mold, a little loose clay is sprinkled on the
scraped side to prevent the tile from sticking to the ground
while it dries. (This type of tile does not need to be brushed
before installation, as very little loose clay will cling to
the bottom.) The mold is turned upside down and the tile drops
to the ground where it dries in the sun before firing. As in
the “de agua” method, the tops of the tiles are
smoothed by hand with water, the edges are trimmed with the
“cookie cutter,” and the tiles are watched carefully
and their edges tamped down before they are fired.
This tile is pressed into a metal mold. “Pueblo” Saltillo
tile is made by filling the mold with wet clay and pressing it
with a hand press. (The same mixture is used in the manufacturing
of the “de golpe” hand-made tile) The molds used in
the manufacturing of this type of Saltillo tiles cause the tiles
to have rounded edges, rather than the square edges of the hand-made
Saltillo tile. This type of tile is also known in the market as
“Primo”, “Super”, “Premium”,
“rounded edge”, and a variety of other names. Many people
have reported being told that this type of tile is superior in
quality to the hand-made tile. This is not true at Mexican
Tile and Stone Company, where all of the Saltillo tile
is good. Once again, remember that Saltillo tile of any shape,
size, or edge detail is only as good as the clay that it was made
from; and, although it may be true that some distributors’
tile varies in quality between the hand-made tiles and the pressed
rounded edge tiles, that is not the case at Mexican Tile
and Stone Company.
You will find fewer chips on the edges of the “Pueblo”
Saltillo tile, so if you are looking for a Saltillo tile which
appears less rustic, consider the Pueblo tile. Because of the
rounded edges, the grout joints will always be wider at the
surface of the tile than the grout joints of the square edged
tile. If the square tile is installed with a ½ inch joint
between each tile on the bottom of the tile, the width of the
grout joint at the top of the tile will also be a ½ inch,
because the edges are straight up and down. With the rounded
edge, a tile installed a ½ inch apart at the bottom of
the joint may end up with ¾ to 1-inch grout at the surface
of the tile.
Saltillo Tile: The word “Moreno”, means "Tanned or Dark".
To make Saltillo tile more of a taupe or brown color, a powder
is added to the clay when it is mixed with water before the tile
is made. This is a natural element; manganese dioxide, not an
artificial colorant, which permanently alters the color of the
tiles. “Moreno” tile can either be hand-made Regular
Saltillo, or Pueblo Saltillo, and is
slightly more expensive because of the cost of the manganese dioxide
and the additional labor. The range of color is light to dark
brown. Sometimes you may see some black swirls from the added
Tile and Stone Company’s Answers To Commonly Asked Questions
Regarding Saltillo Tile…A Low Maintenance Floor!
it require a lot of maintenance? Absolutely not! Although
the tile requires sealing as part of the installation, if the
sealing is done properly the first time and with the correct products,
the process should only require routine maintenance. From time
to time, the topcoat of sealer will wear and require replenishing,
but that only occurs in traffic areas. Reapplications will dry
in 60 minutes. The topcoat should only wear off the floor, and
as sealer goes into the tile and as the floor ages, the less top
coating it will require. Quality Saltillo tile when properly sealed
is the most “kick-around” floor in the world…it
acts just like a floor should. Ask about our sealer- it works
and there are many that don’t. Remember, you don’t
maintain your tile; you maintain your sealer and topcoat.
is it? Saltillo tile is a hand-made, rustic, unglazed
floor tile that is made in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. It is not
made in Nogales, Tijuana, Guadalajara, Tecate, Mexicali, Mexico
City, or in any other city in Mexico. It is not made anywhere
in Europe either. It has been in great demand for over 30 years
in the Arizona market and the demand grows! It doesn’t go
out of style!
it Soft? No. Saltillo clay is one of the finest natural
clays in the world. It is fired to a very high temperature, which
results in a very hard, durable tile. In comparison to other natural
hand-made clay tiles from Mexico, it is much harder. You can drive
your car on it when properly installed.
it break? Saltillo tile is usually slightly higher in
the center than around the edges. During installation, care should
be taken to make sure that no space is left between the tile and
the sub-floor. When no space remains, the tile will not break.
When a concrete slab cracks, cracks will extend up through any
tile, including granite! Dropping a heavy object on the floor
might chip Saltillo tile (or any other tile.) Because of the rustic
nature of Saltillo tile, a little sealer over the chip will blend
that area successfully with the rest of the floor. (You can’t
repair a chip on a glazed tile!)
it have to be sealed? Yes, and only indoors should get
a shine, and as mentioned above, periodically maintained. Indoors,
the tile should be sealed for ease of cleaning. Sealing exterior
installations is recommended for the following reasons:
- The tile
is like a brick and deterioration will not be an issue. However,
preservation should be considered.
up an occasional spill is easy, and exterior sealers do help ease
maintenance, even if the exterior installation is under a cover.
- Sealed exterior
Saltillo tile is not slippery.
Saltillo tile is porous and will absorb water. Its character will
also change over time.
- The color
of sealed Saltillo tile blends wonderfully with the color of earthtones
will prolong character change, but is not full proof.
about pre-sealed or pre-finished Saltillo tile? Because of some contractor’s
continuous quest to avoid a drying time between grouting the tile
and sealing and finishing the tile, some suppliers sell Saltillo tile that has
been pre-finished. The theory behind this is that grouting will
be easier and drying time eliminated. However, this is not our
first choice. There is a lot of moisture involved in installing
and grouting a Saltillo tile floor:
the tile requires a wet-saw.
mortar used to install the tile is mixed with water.
- Grout is
mixed with water.
Much of this
water is absorbed into the porous sides and bottoms of the tile
and must be allowed to dry through the surface of the tile. When
moisture is trapped in the tile, it creates problems such as surface
discoloration. Also, one of the purposes of sealing a floor is
to seal the grout, which does not happen when the tile has been
pre-finished. Pre-finished Saltillo tile is a gamble at best and Mexican
Tile and Stone Company recommends sealing,
staining and finishing after grouting and proper cure has occurred. Mexican Tile and Stone Company
will pre-seal saltillo upon request. The difference is the pre-sealed tile does not have the finish
product applied to it. The tile pre-sealed does allow a homeowner or contractor to install and grout with ease
and still allows the tile to cure more openly than a pre-finished tile. Pre-sealed tiles are less likely to
trap moisture as sealers breathe better than finishes. At Mexican Tile and Stone Company, we ship the final
finish product with our pre-sealed tile to be applied one week after grouting.
This still allows your floor to cure and the final finish will complete your installation and seal your grout at the same time.
are lime pops? Even though Saltillo tile is one of the
most serviceable and widely accepted floor coverings in the southwest,
it can be problematic if it was made with unclean clay! Lime pops
are white or gray deposits which pop through the surface of the
tile, seemingly from nowhere. Mexican Tile and Stone Company’s
suppliers excavate their clay from an area, which is free of river
bottom junk, however, a natural occurrence in clay is alkali.
To lessen the occurrence of lime pops, our suppliers also sift
their clay thoroughly so no large particles of alkali remain.
The alkali in clay when fired becomes, “quicklime.”
Quicklime (remember your high school chemistry?) is an unstable
molecule. In order to stabilize itself, it must join a compatible
molecule and change its form. The most common molecule with which
this quicklime reacts is found in atmospheric moisture (humidity,
not water.) The quicklime particles grow when exposed to humidity.
Little tiny pinhead sized lime pops are not a problem because
they mostly will disappear when the floor is sealed, but large
particles in unsifted, unclean clay can really be ugly. A poor
quality Saltillo floor can be very unsightly from
excessive lime pops. Even in the very best Saltillo tile,
lime pops might occur. There are ways to fix them, though, just
ask us! There is a section in the Ceramic Tile and Stone Association’s
“Specification Guide,” (used by the Arizona Registrar
of Contractors’ for ceramic tile) which outlines Saltillo
tile and the allowable tolerances for lime pops. Tolerance guidelines also vary by state. Mexican Tile and Stone Company uses Arizona guidelines. If you feel that
you have a complaint about the quality of your Saltillo tile,
this will help you if your supplier won’t. Note:
The use of Muriatic Acid on a Saltillo floor will cause
lime pops to be much worse…never use Muriatic Acid or vinegar
on a tile floor of any kind!
We hope you enjoy your Saltillo tile floor! Please call
us, or stop by, if you have any questions!
and Shapes: Click
here for shapes and patterns
place an order for Saltillo tile click
in Terracotta and Manganese