Feb. 10, 2021

Refinishing Saltillo Tile Floors To Their Former Glory


Clicking links in my posts may result in me earning a commission. 



Last updated:
Sep. 19, 2022 @ 8:15 pm

Any saltillo floor people out there? By that I mean you’re in one of two situations: one, you bought a house that has wall-to-wall saltillo tile or two, your debating putting in your very own saltillo tile floors. Regardless of which scenario you are in, let me be real with you for just a hot second. Saltillo floors are a ton of work. Like loads of work. That being said, with a little elbow grease and some TLC, these beautiful clay tiles can be superbly stunning!

With a home that was built in 1995, we find ourselves in the first situation. Wall-to-wall saltillo floors that are chipped, dirty, cracked and mismatched. Basically never been finished. You can mop, scrub, and mop again and that “dirt” won’t come up! You name it, we’ve got it. In retrospect, I would have bucked up and spent the dough to have them totally refinished before we moved in but, alas, that didn’t happen.

Hours of researching companies that would come and beautify or replace these tiles showed me those options are almost more than what it costs to install them. So, I settled on learning how to make them pretty myself…room-by-room and over time. I’ve completed our kichen, den, dining room and half of our living room at this point and think I’ve got it down to a pretty good science!

If you’ve found yourself with a boatload of saltillo tile, don’t panic! Put on some Dua Lipa (“Levitating” has been my personal tile refinishing jam!) and get in your groove with my guide to refinishing saltillo tile. This guide focuses on the tile alone. I will do a future post on how to deal with cracking grout!


Guide To Refinishing Saltillo Tile Floors

Get Your Supplies Ready

You’re going to need some supplies to get started. It might seem like a lot but every one of these is pretty important. I’ve linked off to the specific or similar items I used below!



Getting Started

Step 1: Test A Small Area

You’ll want to try this process on one or two hidden tiles in your home to make sure this gives you the result you are looking for! AKA my disclaimer if something goes wrong!

Step 2: Pick + Prep Your Space

I recommend starting with a small space on your first go. Maybe the pantry or a powder room. Trust me, you will burn yourself out if you take on too big of a room!

Once you’ve chose your space, the first thing you are going to want to do is prep your tile. By this I pretty much just mean move any furniture or rugs out of the room you are working on and do a quick sweep or vacuum to remove any loos debris. Easy peasy!

Step 3: Mix Your Stripping + Cleaning Solutions

Next, you’re going to want to prepare you Zep stripping solution. So here’s the deal. The solution I used and linked to above is a concentrate. The directions will have you dilute to their ratios. This is totally dependent upon how many layers of seal are on your tile. I ignored their directions and did a 1:1 solution ratio which worked really well for caked on grime.

In your mop bucket, mix the neutral PH floor cleaning per the directions. You’ll want to have this on hand before you start the process.

Step 4: Apply Your Stripping Solution


Get your kneepads on (and any protective gloves and glasses) and take one of your large sponges. Dunk that into your stripping solution and begin to apply it onto your tiles.

Think strategically about how you work. I started by applying stripping solution to a line of three tiles on one side of the room and another row of three tiles on the opposite side of the room. This allowed me to have two sections going but kept me from having to schlep through wet and slick saltillo. Let this solution sit for 10-15 minutes. You should start to see it working shortly as the tile will begin to darken in color in certain areas.

Step 5: Scrub Like There’s No Tomorrow!


FYI: Refinishing saltillo tile floors is no simple task. You’re going to feel this in the morning! I used a three step scrubbing method that got so much grime out of our tiles that I couldn’t even believe it. So, here is the process:

Take your medium scrub brush and dip it into your stripping solution. Place this brush on the tiles (I worked in areas that were 3 tiles by 3 tiles which seemed manageable) and start scrubbing in a circular motion. Make sure to work back and forth into the grout lines and onto the corners of the tiles. Next, take your stiff scrub brush and go over the tiles again with the same motions.

If you have any super stubborn debris, use your wire brush and work it off of the tiles – this brush is great for grout, too! We had a lot of old paint on our saltillo and used the plastic scrapper to remove it. Lastly, take your Brillo scrub pads and do a final buff out of any minor scratches and scum left behind. You’re going to get up close and personal with each and every tile. That’s okay!



Step 6: Find Your Stripping Groove

Okay, that probably sounds like something else but you know what I mean! You may have a lot of ground to cover. So, formulate a routine using the steps above that works for you and make your way around the room until you’ve made it to each and every saltillo tile. Once you have completely stripped and scrubbed your planned area, you’re going to take that pre-mixed bucket of cleaning solution and mop it all up. I went over my area 2-3 times to get as much of the old sealant up as possible.

Step 7: Clean Again and Let Dry

Once you’ve stripped every tile to your liking, it’s time to prep the surface for sealing. You’ve already cleaned some of the sealant up with your mop and cleaning solution. At this point, your cleaning solution will be murky with stripper so you’ll want to dump it and make a fresh. new batch. Clean your mop and whip up a new bucket of solution and do a solid pass over the tiles you’ve stripped again (I know!). I went over mine 1-2 MORE times. Any dirt or residue that’s left behind will seal into the tile, so it’s super important to get them spotless!

Using your towel or rag, remove any excess water and let your tiles dry for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour. Once they are dry take your mop or your vacuum and do one last go at removing any debris so it doesn’t get stuck in your sealer.

Step 8: Signed Sealed Delivered…Are We Done Yet?


Yes! We are so close to being done with our saltillo tile refinishing it’s not even funny. Here’s where the magic really happens! You’ll need a brand new, and dry, sponge, your Miracle sealing solution and a bucket or pan.

Pour a small amount of the sealing solution into your pan. Starting at the corner furthest from the entrance to the room (remember you need to be able to get out without stepping on the wet sealer!), start to apply your sealing solution with the sponge.

Here’s the deal, you’re going to do this 3-4 times and the thinner the layer of sealer, the better! Think dry sponge. I know…why cant we just cake it on and let it dry? Trust me when I say it will get clumpy and weirdly textured and it’s just no good. Go thin, thin, thin on your layers for a nice, smooth, and shiny finish!

Make sure you smooth the sealer of any bubbles and that there are no areas where the sealer has pooled (it’s white when super thick, so you should be able to see it). This happened to me a lot in the grout lines.

Let your sealer dry completely between coats. Usually about 30 minutes. I opened up the windows and turned on the HVAC blower to speed up this process! Continue applying coats until you’ve achieved your perfect shine! This is probably the most important step when refinishing saltillo tiles so take your time with it!

Step 9: Admire Your Hard Work

If you’re anything like me, finishing a handy project is exhausting but can bring so much pride and joy! So, sit back and relax and admire your beautiful like-new saltillo tiles! Check out this before and after of one of our tiles. And, yes! The before was mopped and cleaned…all of that grime was totally permanent until I stripped it down!

Step 10: Maintain It!

I never realized until researching it that saltillo tiles do best with routine maintenance. Add a fresh coat of sealer to various rooms throughout the year (especially in high-traffic areas!) and use a proper cleaning solution to maintain a nice shine. It’s a lot of work getting these beauties back into shape and you want to protect your precious labor!


At this point, you’re probably beyond exhausted but, I want to know how it went! Share your saltillo refinishing projects with me on Instagram by tagging @withmadisonaz ! I’d love to see them! Subscribe to my email list below for more home DIYs!

You might also enjoy…



Share Your Thoughts With Us!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Let's Be Friends

Get weekly post updates sent to your inbox.

Thanks for joining the Space+Habit family!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This