Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico is famous for making a type of terra cotta or clay tile. The tiles are simply known as Saltillo-tiles. Saltillo-tiles range in color from reddish browns to shades of red, yellow and orange. Authentic Saltillo-tiles are made by hand using forms. Many manufacturers attempt to replicate the look of Saltillo-tiles are successful at making them from ceramic with a terra cotta coloring. Authentic and replicated Saltillo-tile both require cleaning and care so as not to ruin it.

Saltillo-tiles are installed both indoors and out in areas where the temperatures remain above freezing. Because Saltillo-tile is fragile it cannot withstand the freeze thaw patterns of colder climates and is strictly used indoors. If the tiles are subjected to the harsh weather in cold climates, they will more than likely crack and may spall. Water absorbs into the terra cotta and then freezes. As the water freezes it expands and cracks it. Authentic Saltillo-tiles come without a surface sealer, which is highly porous. The porous nature of Saltillo-tiles causes it to stain easily and is very difficult to clean and sanitize. Most homeowners and tile layers agree that Saltillo-tiles require a penetrating sealant to protect it from stains.

After sealing them with the appropriate penetrating sealer, the surface may still be dirty from foot traffic, spills, grease and grime. Thankfully the sealant keeps spills and dirt from absorbing into the tile. Usually once a stain is absorbed into the tile, the tile requires replacement because the stains tend to be permanent. Once the tiles are sealed, cleaning becomes easier, but proper cleaning is very important in order to keep the tile looking beautiful. Even though Saltillo-tiles seem difficult to maintain, once sealed they are not. 

Before Cleaning Saltillo-tiles

Pick up water in an eye dropper or on a spoon.

Pour the water on the floor to make a small puddle. Bend down and pour the water from a couple of inches off the floor rather than dumping it all over because it will be more difficult to see what the water does if its spilled all over.

Watch the water for 1 to 2 minutes.

If the water beads up and sits on top of it, the penetrating sealer is still working.

If most of the water sits on top of it, consider resealing it soon.

If the water absorbs into the tile, there is no protection on the tile, meaning they needs to be resealed.

Always test the sealer on your Saltillo-tile before cleaning and sanitizing it.

Cleaning Saltillo-tiles

Fill a bucket with warm water.

Fill a second bucket with warm water.

Add a squirt of dish washing soap to the water.

Stir the soap into the water by hand or with a stir stick.

Submerge a natural sea sponge into the soapy water. If the floor area is large, use a sponge mop.

Squeeze out some of the excess water, so the sponge is wet, but not dripping.

Rub the sponge or mop over, moving it back and forth over a small 1 or 2 foot square section of tile.

Submerge the sponge or mop into the bucket of plain water and rinse the sponge. Wring out as much moisture as possible.

Dip the sponge or mop back into the soapy water and clean another small section of tile.

Continue to clean the Saltillo-tiles with soapy water and rinsing the mop or sponge in plain water until the entire floor is cleaned.

If the floor was particularly dirty, wash the floor a second time with soapy water, rinsing the sponge or mop often.


Thoroughly wash the sponge or mop to remove all soap residue or use a new sponge.

Dump the contents of the bucket, rinse and refill the bucket with plain warm water.

Submerge the sponge, wring out the excess water and wipe the surface of them to remove the dish soap residue.

Dry the floor with an old large towel.

Sanitizing and Disinfecting Saltillo-tiles

 If the Saltillo-tiles are installed in a bathroom or kitchen, sanitizing and disinfecting them often is a good idea to prevent the spread of germs, odors and bacteria. Killing odor causing germs especially in a bathroom should be done at least once or twice per month. Sanitizing a kitchen or other area where you prepare food should be done weekly or more often if the kitchen is used very often.

 Add 1 gallon of warm water to a bucket.

Pour in ½ cup of chlorine bleach. Stir the ingredient to blend them well.

Put on a pair of rubber gloves and open a window for a little ventilation.

Submerge a white rag into the bleach and water mixture.

Wring out the excess liquid.

Wipe the surface of the Saltillo-tiles to kill odors, germs, bacteria and stop the growth of mold or mildew.

If they have tiles have never been sanitized or disinfected, wipe them a second time with the chlorine bleach and water.

Allow the chlorine bleach and water mixture to dry on the tile surface. Do not wipe the tiles dry. The air drying time allows the chlorine bleach to continue to work to disinfect and sanitize the floor.


Clean replicated or authentic Saltillo-tiles using the same cleaners and techniques.

Always make sure authentic Saltillo-tiles are properly sealed before cleaning or disinfecting.

Always check the condition of the penetrating sealer before cleaning the floor.

Never flood the floor with water when cleaning Saltillo-tile. If there is a small crack, separation or the floors were not adequately sealed from the beginning, water can seep into the tile where it may stain it. Water can also seep in under the tiles and cause the tile to lift, the substrate to swell and “pop” them out of place and permanently damage the tiles.

Keep the Saltillo-tiles clean to show off their beauty.

With proper cleaning and care Saltillo-tiles will last for many years.