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How To Seal Terracotta – Step By Step

Back in the 1980’s there was a bit of a craze for using terracotta. It was everywhere, in magazines, on TV, and it was soon being used extensively in homes and also in commercial properties like pubs and wine bars. After a few years it seemed to disappear almost as fast. This is due in part to the over-exposure and the ever changing fashions for interior design, but I also suspect that more than a few people experienced a number of headaches in terms of sealing, cleaning and maintaining it.However, all things work in circles right? Well not exactly, but I do see that Terracotta is making a little bit of a come back, not like the last time, but people are it seems one again being swayed by the rustic charms and warm tones and using it in selected areas.

So, I though it timely to do a little article on the methods for sealing terracotta. There are basically two systems (and lots of variations for both) :

1. The traditional oil & wax treatment, or,
2. The modern, synthetic approach.

1. Traditional Oil & Wax.

Many Tilers still prefer this method, largely I think because this is the method they were taught. One of the most popular methods for sealing terracotta is to use a combination of boiled linseed oil and then polish with a neutral Beeswax.

First the tile is treated with several coats of boiled linseed oil; the oil is spread with a cloth or sponge as evenly as possible over the terracotta, before grouting. The first coat is the hardest as the oil is pulled into the extremely porous tile very quickly, so it takes a bit of skill and practice to get an even coat. Subsequent coats are a little easier, until the tile approaches saturation. Care must be taken not to over-apply the oil, making sure any surplus is not left to dry, as this would become sticky and require scraping off. Once the tile is sufficiently sealed (it will take several coats) it will also be considerably darker. It is the oil that gives terracotta that characteristic amber shade that many people like. Once dry, they can be grouted. When the grouting is completely dry, the tiles can be finished off with a coat or two of wax polish – there are many to choose from, some in paste form that require thinning with white spirits (a messy job) and others that come ready to use as a ‘floor wax’.

The advantage of this system is really just aesthetic, if you like that ‘warm look’ then go for this. However, there are several drawbacks: It is a much more involved process in the beginning; ongoing maintenance is also more arduous, the wax will quickly dull through traffic and cleaning, thus it will require frequent re-polishing and this is a hands and knees job, unless you are prepared to purchase a buffing machine. After a while, the wax will build up in layers and will start to actually attract and hold dirt, becoming darker and even tacky to the touch. At this point it needs stripping off, right back to the tile surface using solvent stripers (the oil will not be removed) and the whole polishing process starts again.

2. The Modern, Synthetic Approach

While possibly not offering quite the same depth of colour as oil and wax (it should be pointed out that not everyone likes that artificially darkened colour anyway) is much simpler and far easier to maintain. Again there are several propriety products available. Water-based, acrylic type coatings sealers are safe and relatively easy to use,  offering both a surface seal and a degree of shine or gloss in one operation. This saves both time and money. Typically several coats of this type of product can be applied to the tile, depending on its porosity and the degree of sheen you are after. After grouting another coat may be applied. And that is it, job done. As it is a surface coating, just like wax it will of course wear, but it is more resilient and will not dull quite so quickly. With proper care, using neutral cleaners it can actually last for up to 3 years, but typically will not require any topping up before 12 months (this is dependent on many things of course). When it does start to dull down, there is no need to strip; instead a fresh coat can be applied right over what is already there.

If a very glossy finish is required, like a highly buffed wax, then adding a coat or two of a sacrificial acrylic polish on top of your coating sealer will add that high-gloss look. In addition to this, as it is also a sacrificial layer, it helps to protect and prolonging the life of the sealer beneath.

 

Copyright Ian Taylor and The Tile and Stone Blog.co.uk, 2013. See copyright notice above.

50 Comments

  1. Hi David,

    I would think the kerosene (known as paraffin in the UK) would be acting as a solvent stripper, partially breaking down the oil/wax that you have. In fact when we sell strippers, we sometimes see this whitening of the surface, far from being a stain, it is actually just that the layers of wax/oil/sealer are so thik that the stripper can only begin to break it down and partially strip it on the first attempt, so it kills the shine and removes the top layer of wax if youu like, leaving behind a residue of damage sealer/wax etc – a little bit like it has been split in two, or delaminated. Usually a second treatment gets the rest.

    So, you could try more kerosene but I would be wary of that, sometimes oil-derived solvents and strippers can strip ok, but they themselves can leave an oily stain, once they have got through the layers of sealer.

    So I would think you would be better with a proprietory oil/wax stripper, it may take several coats, but do that to get back to the tile surface then re seal/polish as you say

    Hope that helps

    Ian

  2. Hi Ian,
    I’ve inherited a terracotta floor – it looks reclaimed and seems to attract dirt, especially in the kitchen. There are paint marks in some areas too.
    Could you recommend someone who could clean and re-seal it for me? I don’t want to risk doing it myself as it ‘s a large area (the whole of the house downstairs) and I’ve heard some horror stories when incorrect products or application is used.
    I am in Oundle which is between Peterborough and Corby.
    Many thanks,
    Angela.

  3. Hi Ian,We have just had a new terracotta tile floor laid and are finishing it off with linseed oil and wax.We have applied two coats of oil and are now worried as in places it the linseed oil has not been totally absorbed and is still shiny and tacky.You mention scraping the surplus off but there is no way we can do that.The surplus doesn`t look like crystals just shiny and tacky.We have left it for two days to dry but it is still sitting there.Can we wipe the offending tiles over with white spirit or some other solvent?Or just apply the wax over the top? Thank you very much.Mary

  4. Sorry Ian,I have just read your reply to Leasley on Jan.16th and will follow your advice to her.
    Many thanks.Mary

  5. Hi Angela, I sent you an email, did you get it?

    Ian

  6. Hello,
    I have a terracotta floor here in Portugal. The tiles were unsealed when laid approx 3 years ago and have been sealed sveral times since with linseed oil. The cement/sand grout was unfortunately left unsealed. I cleaned the tiles and grout and then used thin coats of linseed oil on both tile and grout this time. The tiles look lovely but the grout has dried very patchy – dark in areas and much lighter in others – it’s like some areas are absorbing oil and others not. It look really grim. What would you suggest?Thanks and Best Wishes

    Lucy-

  7. Hi Lucy, bit hard to tell from the information you hve given. My first thought is that if the tiles have been sealed several times over the past three years, it would have been very difficult to prevent the oil getting into the grout – so the grout may have inadvertently been part sealed – in places, these places may correspond to the areas that are hard to get the oil into now.

    Whether this is the case or not, ‘something’ is preventing the oil from penetrating seemingly random parts of the grout. So, this could be oil as suggested above, it could also be other contaminants, grease, grime, general dirt that has built up over time. Or detergent residue, there could be residual alkaline or soapy detergent in a lot of the grout that is resisting the penetration of the oil. You could do a test by deep cleaning an area with a high alkaline cleaner, pre wet the section, then add the cleaner, diluted according to instructions, allow it to dwell for say 15 minutes then scrub. Extract with a mop or peferably a wet vac, rinse and allow to dry completely (over night at least) then try oil again.

    Sometimes just the way grout cures, if it was just sand and cement and was not throroughly mixed there can be areas with more cement, or a more closed off surface. If it was a proprietary grout with latex polymers, they can be unevenly distributed, and if there are a lot of those polymers at the surface, nothing will get through them. If it is the latter, then you may have to consider raking back the surface of the grout, either just enough to expose a more porouos surface, not easy or if you have to go deeper, you would have to grind out the grout to a depth, deep enough to be able to top up the joint with fresh grout – this is messy and difficult.

    One other possible option is to grout-colour the joints, this will only work if you can clean the surface of the joint with an acid, to open up the surface, without removing any oil from the tiles. If you want to explore this option, let me know and I will give you more details

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  8. mr d priestley

    March 11, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Can you tell me how to seal terracotta tiles outside and how often they will have to be resealed.i live in spain

  9. Hi, there are two schools of thought on sealing outside: Some old school folks believe that as terracotta is so porous, it is virtually impossible to seal them effectively against the weather (and by that I mean water, mositure will get in from somewhere). Remember that sealers are NOT waterproofers, their prime function is stain protection, sure this involves a reduction in the amount and rate of water absorbtion but it is not 100% waterproof.

    Secondly, although most modern sealers are ‘breathable’ – in that they allow water vapour transmission, they do slow down that transmission. The thinking here is that given water or moisture lets say will always be able to get in, if it should freeze, then you may get frost damage, whereas if it is unsealed the ice crystals can squeeze out as the grow, and in theory, cause less damage.

    I have no scientific proof of this so I cannot say whether I feel it is accurate – I just know that a lot of people believe this.

    However, as you are in Spain, I suspect frost is the least of your worries and I have seen plenty of outside sealed terracotta work fine.

    You need to decide between a coating (shiny surface) or an impregnator (below surface, no shine) Coatings look nicer in my opinion on terracotta, certainly inside, they are also easier to keep clean as they are directly on the surface. However, they will wear and outside they may wear very quickly. Impregnators will last longer, give good stain protection but will look dull. Coatings tend to be good for slip resistence when dry, but can be slippery when wet, whereas an impregnator will not alter the tiles’ natural performance in this regard.

    Having said this I have seen plenty of outside villa patios sealed with shiny coating sealers where the owners understand what they have got and their limitations and just look after them, keeping them dry (not hard in Spain) and just topping them up everytime they appear to be dulling/wearing down, this usually translates to once a year, at the begining of the season.

    As to how many coats? – same answer I would give indoors, as many as it takes – somewhere between 2 and 5 would be my guess.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  10. Am hoping to have Mexican or Saltillo tiles,(is there a difference?), laid in an ensuite bathroom. Would it be possible to seal/impregnate tiles before laying? Which is best – boiled linseed oil or synthetic ‘seal and go’? Am wanting the rich red colour rather than pale pink colour. If using linseed oil, do I seal afterwards? Beeswax sounds like hard work and I am not a domestic goddess who loves more cleaning than necessary, could I use synthetic top coat?

  11. Hi Jan,

    Saltillo is a region in Mexico, famous for making terracotta. I am sure there are other terracotta tiles from other parts of Mexico but when most poeple say Mexican they normally mean that which is made in Saltillo.

    Yes you can seal them before laying, in many ways this is a good thing to do it is just that most times there is not enough room to lay them out somehwere, or there is not the time etc. If you want the rich amber colours, then you will be better with the linseed oil. Yes you could\use a synthetic top coat over the oil, provided you put the oil in correctly and do not over do it, or leave residues. You would be looking for a wax alternative, like an acrylic polish (such as Floor Shine & Hardener). Even this though, especially in a bathroom will want to be maintained from time to time, but less so than a wax.

    Be aware about the increased risk of slipping on a polished floor (whether wax or synthetic), mainly when wet. I woulod certainly consider such a floor myself but would make sure I have towels/mats down for stepping out of the bath/shower etc – you need to be sensible about slip resistence.

    The other option, is an enhancing impregnator which may give you the deep colour but no top coat, I suspect you would not like this as much though.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  12. Thanks for helpful reply, I’ve been thinking about today and will have space in my greenhouse to lay tiles out for preparation, will this be a problem to impregnate them in the sun? If not, how long would the whole process take to get them to sealed perfection?

  13. Hi Jan,

    Just becareful they do not get too warm while sealing, you do not want the oil evaporating and drying before you have had a chance to rub it in and wipe anway any surplus. Also take great care, don’t leave any rags with the oil all scrunched up lying around, linseed oil can start to smoke and catch fire. The process can tak a while, you have to apply the oil to the tiles, let it soak in, rub the surface dry so it does not dry on the top. Then leave it it to go dry, then repeat, 2 or 3 times.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  14. Hi Ian – Many thanks for your advice. I would like to know about cleaning the grout with acid please. I think the grout was just a mix of fine white sand and cement.
    Best Wishes

    Lucy

  15. Hi Lucy,

    OK, what I was talking about with ‘acid’ was re-colouring the grout with a grout colorant – such as Grout Renue n Seal. This may, be a solution for you, but it really depends on how well sealed the tiles are and how well you can get the grout surface prepared – the reference to an acid was for this preparation, so the acid is not being used to ‘clean’ the grout, but rather to deliberately etch it, in a safe and controlled way.

    Using a suitable acid-based cleaner (one based on the mild phosphoric acid or similar, but definitely not HCL like a brick acid), dilute the product, typically 1:3 parts water but follow instructions. Put it on the grout and leave it for a few minutes (it is a good idea to pre wet the grout with water before applying the cleaner sloution, so as to keep the solution near the surface where it is required). Then scrub, remove (wet vac or mop) and rinse with fresh water, rinse at least once, preferably twice and remove the water again. Now wait for the floor to dry 100% – usually at least 24 hours.

    Now the grout should have been etched a little, it may or may not appear different, perhaps a little cleaner and brighter, possible a little whiter in places (there is a small chance that ironically, this etching process may have cleaned the grout to an acceptable even finish – this will be just by chance if it has, all that has happened is the acid has removed a fine layer of the surface, taking with it of course, any contaminants that are adhered to it, what it won’t do is pull oil or grease from deep below the surface). If it is looking how you want it, and the surface is now even and will uniformly accept the oil, you could try reapplying it – but, if it does not work, you will be back where you started and need to strip it again.

    So, the grout joints are now prepared to have a colorant , basically this is a modifed epoxy acrylic coating that you paint on the joints (this will only work on proplely sealed terracotta with the joints prepared in this way – in other words the tiles will be so well sealed that the colorant will not bond, but will wipe off them easily, whereas the etched joints would accept the colour.

    Hopefully this has helped a little, if you are still not sure, send me an email via the contact us page with your contact details and I will give you a call to talk you though it.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  16. Hi. My Saltillo tile floor is now about 15 years old, and the surfaces are rampantly flaking. I bought and installed the tiles unsealed, then sealed them with an acrylic gloss sealer, two coats. Periodically I apply a new coat of gloss sealer and finish from Tile Lab.

    Over the years the color has darkened more than I like, but nothing I have found, heavy duty or not, lightens the color. Now many tiles are flaking, revealing the lighter color underneath, and the same products are unhelpful for that problem.

    Why would flaking start more than ten years after installation? And what to do? Thanks for any wisdom.

    Grace

  17. Hi Grace, I am making the assuptiojn that the tiles themselves are not falking after all this time, but it is instead a build up of layer upon layer of the acrylic sealer.

    IN essence you would have appeared to have built up a thick plastic ‘skin’ on the tiles, with wear and tear, and exposrure to dirt, cleaners and UV light the thick coating has discouloured to a dark patina. It becomes somewhat thick, and a bit brittle and starts to flake off, revealling the natural tile beneath. Adding more of the sealer would not have the same effect as you are adding just one fresh layer and the darker look took years of build up to create.

    My suspicion is that the floor has reached the time to do a deep clean – strip back all the sealers to get back to the natural tile, then start again. The good news is that if you had chosen the more traditional oil and wax route, you would have reach this position several times already.

    You need a good Sealer Stripper, or even consider getting a tile restoration company in to strip and reseal

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  18. Hope you can help
    We have a small patch of terracota flooring, maybe 5×5 feet, outdoor but under a breezeway (no direct sunlight, though we live in miami) I would describe then as sun-bleached, just kinda grey-drab and with no shine at all. I put a few drops of water to check absorbtion and the absorbtion rate was very slow on the tiles, incdicating they have some sealer, but extremely quick on the grout. I want to give it the same darkish waxed look we have on the terracota floor inside the house — no high shine, just something akin to eggshell paints.
    What would you recommend??

    I out so

  19. Hi Tamayo,

    I cannot remember if I answered you directly or not, apologies if I have not.

    OK, to darken the tiles without using wax and without a caoting sealer, you would need an enhancing impregnator or oil (like boiled linseed oil).

    However clealy you have some sealer on the tiles already, this would need to be stripped off with a good proprietray sealer tripper. The problem with then trying to use an enhacning sealer is that unless you can gurantee removing all the previous sealer, you risk not get the enhancer in evenly, leading to a patchy finish.

    I would try a little boiled linssedd oil to see fi that works, rub it in and do not allow it to dry on the surface.

    As for the satin finish – I think you will kind of achieve somthing like that by virtue of the feint traces of oil that inevitably get left on the surface, but it will not be like a matt finish coating sealer

    hope this helps

    Ian

  20. Ive uncovered a teracotta quarry tile floor in a house weve purchased. it was hidden under laminate floring that was sodden(think the radiator had had a leak). there was white paches on some of the tiles others had black marks on them. Any advice would be wonderful.

  21. Hi Ruth,

    hard to say exactly what the black marks are, but given the moisture could be mould or mildew. An alkaline cleaner may work. Failing that try some very dilute household bleach, leave it on for an hour, then rinse off.

    The white marks may be a minor localized case of efflorescence. For such a small area I would try a proprietary acidic cleaner; one based on sulfamic or Phosphoric acid or one of it’s alternatives but DEFINAITELY NOT MURIATIC/HYDROCHLORIC. Try a little, diluted well with water. First pre wet the floor, then apply the acidic cleaner with water, leave a few minutes then lightly scrub. Pick up the liquid with a mop or absorbent towels. Then rinse with some more clean water then dry the floor immediately (remove all moisture as fast as you can). If it re occurs, repeat the process.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  22. I recently purchased a house that has (I think) terracotta tile. I have no idea how to clean and restore the color of the tile in the kitchen. Will the oil and wax or seal and finish low sheen work better?

  23. Hi Harris

    Cleaning is the first thing; it will depend on how dirty the floor is. If it is a terracotta (it could also be an old quarry tile) it could have years of deeply ingrained grime, polishes, coatings even varnishes. So your first task is to determine if a deep clean will suffice, or weather it really needs stripping back to the original.

    Depending on what is on the tile, a deep clean with a high alkaline cleaner may suffice, but if that does nothing, you will have to try a stripper.

    AS far as restoring the colour goes, do you mean to restore the tile to its original colour? – this may or may not be possible (if it was oiled in the past, it will be very difficult to get back to the original raw tile colour.

    I would do a deep clean, or strip as required, then let it dry thoroughly for a few days. Check to see if it is porous (in other words have you stripped out an old sealer or just stripped stuff off the top?) If it is now very porous then it is going to need sealing again. If it dries a colour that is pleasing to you and you wish to preserve that, then you could choose a clear coating sealer, if you feel you need to darken it down, then you may be better with either, the old oil method, or a modern Enhancer (but before it really is completely stripped and free of old sealer – this can sometimes be tricky).

    Apart from that it is personal taste, oil and wax tend to look ‘warmer’ but darken the colour, and over time this builds up and the colour gets darker and darker until it eventually reaches the point you are at now, and needs stripping. It is a lot more work than a synthetic sealer, but some say has more character. the synthetic sealer is the reverse, nice and simple to maintain, easier to re apply, but does not add the warmth and patina of the oil and wax.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  24. Hi Iam – great blog. We have a project that wants genuine terraccotta tiles. We have sourced for them reclaimed French hexagonal tiles. The samples we have got are first class: no stains, lovely colours – well, they will be lovely when sealed…

    I need to advise the hotel client. They will want a great look but one that will not be too vulnerable. Ease of basic maintenance not so much an issue as, being a 5-star, they have an army of cleaners. I see there are 2 options: synthetic or the oil and wax route.

    We think the synthetic route would be ‘safer’ in terms of simplicity of installation. Can you list the very best products you know in order to achieve the best finish, and tell me what order things should be done in. Seal first, then grout in, then seal again, or…?

    Thanks for your time and advice.
    Paul

  25. Hello Ian,
    Your blog is incredibly informative and I have read through the majority of it. I am attempting to clean what I believe to be unglazed, terra-cotta tile. There are a thousand small pieces all grouted together. My biggest obstacle is that this is an office that is closed only one day a week with a huge volume of traffic. I believe any attempt at sealing after cleaning would be impossible, given the no allowance for proper drying times. My only solution is to do a very thorough cleaning and then maintain it weekly. I am anxious to hear your thoughts on best cleanser and weekly maintenance routines, quick dry waxes, or any other possible solutions. Thank you very much,
    Scott

    PS I would like to send photos as well

  26. Hi Paul,

    There is phrase in your comment that scares me, it is this: “they have an army of cleaners – no disrespect to contract or employed/staff cleaners but they are normally ‘generalists’ not specialists and I have seen more harm done by professional cleaners than by the general public. The reasons are numerous but basically they assume they know how to clean, they adopt the same cleaning principles as they use for other surfaces, and typically, through no fault of their own they are not given a big enough ‘time-window’ to clean such a floor in the appropriate way.

    I could write them, the Hotel etc a maintenance procedure – I have done it many times, it will sit in the Hotel management’s files, maybe passed onto the cleaning manager, but circumstances will mean that it is completely ignored and the floor is cleaned with a damp mop/ inappropriate chemicals and/or a scrubber dryer.

    Sorry to sound cynical but years of trying to educate corporate clients and their cleaners tells me this is what will happen. So, the reality is they will do superficial cleans, and slowly the floor will deteriorate, whatever system you use and it will reach a point when a specialist cleaner is needed. The specialist cleaner comes in over a weekend say or over a few nights, restores the floor and the cycle starts again. Ridiculous as it sounds, this actually works, the cleaning specialist is a big cost, but as it is only a periodic one, once a year for example (sometimes much less) the client can cope, then they go on paying their own cleaners at normal ‘industry’ rates (i.e not very much) to keep the floor ‘relatively’ clean until it slowly deteriorates again.

    So to answer your question. It is a tricky one, while I agree synthetic coatings are easier, the problem is any ‘coating’ or topical product in such a high traffic area is going to fall short in terms of performance. Any coating be it wax, acrylic etc is going to show wear very quickly and need constant maintenance.

    Synthetic coatings of the type I normally advise are going to scratch and look dull or even wear off in no time at all. Add to this the inevitable fact that at some point, some cleaner is going to use the wrong product on it, it will pretty soon look dull/patchy/even flaky depending on what coating is used.

    The oil and wax route is not much better, if at all, the oil is actually an OK way to go, as once it is in, it will stay, keep the tile ‘coloured, darkened (this is fine if you want the tile enhanced) and hopefully free of deep stains. The wax however is another story as this is just another coating, it will need daily buffing to maintain the shine and it will also need regular topping-up and after a while it will get sticky, grab dirt and need stripping back and reapplication.

    If you forgo a coating and use an impregnating sealer, you will have good deep stain protection but, there will always be surface stains, and the floor will look dull and lifeless (depending on the tile itself, if the reclaimed tile looks really nice as a finish in it’s natural unsealed state, then this may not matter).

    You could also go the route of an enhancing sealer if you use a good one such as Enrich n Seal by Aqua Mix or similar then you can have the darkened ‘oil’ look with no need for a coating on the top (you wont be able to get a coating to adhere in any case).

    Personally I suspect that the tile would look best in it’s natural form, the fact that it is reclaimed means it may have had some sealers natural or otherwise, on it already so an enhancer may not work in any case (as they need 100% raw/untreated tiles for best results). Really you need to find out from the client how they want it to look; do they want it natural colour or darkened, do they want a shine/gloss or natural matte look? I would make up some sample boards and apply different finishes to them to show your client.

    If they want a gloss, then a coating is the way to go, you may have to consider a tougher, daily-buffable acrylic coating (I don’t like these personally as they can look plastic and take some of the natural look away from the floor in my opinion – but they are possibly more practical in high traffic areas). They are maintained by cleaning with a neutral cleaner, spray-buffing (with a light top-up of the sealer/gloss coat) and periodic stripping back and re-application (at least annually). A more typical, easy-to-maintain coating system such as the ones I have mentioned here in the past will just not last.

    If they want a natural look, with no colour or shine then you have to use a high quality water based impregnating sealer, several coats will be needed and it is maintained with a neutral cleaner.

    Whatever you do, over time a patina will develop and the floor will look fine for a while, it may even ‘age’ nicely and look better and better, but at some point it will then start to deteriorate and will need at least a periodic deep clean and the sealer topped-up again. At this point it will look clean and new but will have lost that aged patina – it is a life cycle. The cycle will be much shorter with coating sealers.

    From your IP address I think you are in Singapore? – advising products is not easy as there are different ones available in in different parts of the world. However I do have a friend in your area, whilst I cannot recommend people for legal reasons you will understand, they do have a great wealth of knowledge and experience: http://www.floormedics.com.sg/ – perhaps they can help you with product advice.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  27. Hi Scott,

    Yes you have a challenge. First thing you need to decide is does the tile need a good deep clean, or stripping? In other words is there a build up of old wax or other sealers that need to be removed or is it just in need of a good scrub and deep clean. If the a deep clean is all that is needed, is there already a sealer in evidence?

    You don’t state if it is a new/unsealed floor, from the information you provide I am going to guess is is an existing floor (that was probably sealed on installation) I would do this: test a small area with a good deep cleaner (high alkaline de-greaser) allow it to dwell, scrub and rinse etc. let it dry and then do a water drop test – to determine if it is ‘sealed’ and to what extent – you may find it holds water out quite well. In this case, if the deep clean is sufficient, then you will be able to do that to the whole floor, not worry about re sealing and just worry about keeping it clean. For this I would use a neutral cleaner for weekly washes, brushing, vacuuming etc in the mean time to keep the floor free of dust and grit.

    If it looks like the cleaning has opened up the porosity, or revealed a lack of sealer, then you may need to figure out a way of sealing it somehow, doing bays at a time, if you are cleaning and using a wet vac to extract, maybe by adding air blowers you can dry it much faster and get a more tolerant, water-based sealer into the terracotta (by this I mean an impregnator) even if it is just one coat, it would be better than nothing. You could come back the second night, use just a little neutral cleaner as it wont have got that dirty in one day, and repeat the drying and sealing so you have now got two coats.

    If you determine that you need to use a stripper then you will have a bigger job on your hands, and you will have to worry about smells being left for the office workers the next day, longer job, longer drying out etc.

    For regular maintenance once clean I would use a mild, neutral ph cleaner. As for quick drying waxes – I do not know any of these so cannot comment, my feeling is that for a wax to be used (if you mean real wax) then the tile would still need to be sealed first with an appropriate sealer.

    If however you mean the spray buff acrylic systems – they could work, but they are a system that you will need to be set up for. You will need to strip the floor, then apply the sealer-base coat (usually several coats), then the top coat of ‘gloss’ then it will need buffing with a high speed buffer. The daily maintenance is then sweep/vacuuming, neutral cleaners, and to keep the gloss in good order, spray-buffing with a spray-buff top up. I am assuming from your IP address you are in the USA, I do not know the names of what systems are available to yo there but the big janitorial companies usually have these types of products

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  28. Hi
    I tackeled a job of terra cotta tile that had been sealed with a varnish type of sealer. That was about 40 years ago. We tried the conventional strippers to no avail and finally used our high pressure grout cleaning tool to blast away the coating. The tile looks good in most of the areas but the grout has been especially difficult to remove the coatings. We tried paint strippers and they didn’t really remove the sealer any better. We sanded in some areas to get the seal off as well. the problem now that it’s dried is that there is still lots of the old sealer in the grout lines. When we get it wet it darkens up but concerned that if we use a conventional sealer of lindseed oil it won’t penatrate the old sealer. So I guess the question is should we use a varnish, polyurathane type sealer again to have it blend in with the old sealer.

  29. Dear Ian, please do you have a supplier ref in ISRAEL, if not Id appreciate one in ENGLAND – near Sussex or London is best, for products to clean and seal our 100 year beautiful but dirty Terracotta kitchen floor. Thank you Pamela

  30. HI,

    I think you have answered your own question in a way, although I would really want to be sure there was absolutely no way the remaining sealer traces were coming off before I resorted to a varnish.

    For me I would try a long dwell time stripper, like the Aqua Mix Sealer and Coating remover – or similar at least one more time, give it a long time to work, cover it up over night to keep it from drying out. Failing that I would try to get an industrial strength solvent and try that

    Hope this helps
    Ian

  31. Hi Pamela,

    I am sorry, I do not know of anyone in Israel, although I am sure there must be some suitable products there. If not send me an email via the contact us page and I will put you in touch with someone in the UK

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  32. Dear Ian
    We have just had laid a new terra cotta tiled floor. The tiles have been treated with linseed oil and turpentine. The plan next is to apply wax but this process has not been started yet. We were given to understand that the oil/turps application would accentuate the colour but it has instead given the tiles a reddish, raspberry colour – which we do not like. Is it too late to change this or is it possible to treat the tiles in order to get back to the more natural amber colour?
    Many thanks.
    Michael

  33. Hi Micheal,

    Sorry to hear this, have to say I would not have embarked on this without first trying a sample to determine if it produced an effect I liked. Many people say that oil and wax will give an amber colour, but that will only happen if the colour of the terracotta is yellow to begin with. All the oil will do is darken and enhance whatever colour was present in the tile, and tiles vary from maker to maker, and even from batch to batch.

    OK, all I can suggest is that you try to reduce/thin out the oil, the sooner you do it he better as once the oil is fully dried it may be very hard, if not impossible to fade it (I doubt you will remove it 100%). Try using just the turps, keep rubbing it in and using absorbent cloths to pick it back up again, you are trying to use the same solvent that you used to thin the oil in the first place, to dilute it it further, disperse it deeper and generally make it fade back. This may then have the result of leaving the tile with too little oil as a sealer – and you would have to consider adding an impregnating sealer or relying on thw wax, and I am not sure how successful that will be

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  34. Ian – thanks for your prompt and helpful response. We will follow your suggestion and see how we get on.
    Michael

  35. HOW DO I ORDER SEAL AND FINISH LOW SHEEN ON THE WEB PLEASE

  36. Hello Ian

    I wish to make use of the terracotta tiles for other creative reasons and I’m wondering in what way I may be able to seal the tile that it would be able to withstand extreme heat. Would you be able to recommend something?

    Many thanks.
    Darcy

  37. how soon can apply the beeswax after the boiled oil please could you advise kind regards Dawn

  38. Hi Darcy,

    You don’t specify what ‘extreme heat’ means however I do not think that any sealer will make any difference, sealers are not designed for this purpose and will offer no protection to the tile from heat.

    The tiles themselves however are pretty good insulators – bear in mind that most terracotta is actually created by firing in kilns reaching temperatures of around 800 degrees C (differs by manufacturer). So, most terracotta will withstand considerable heat, more so than any sealer. Sealers may.

    One thing that will kill the effectiveness of any sealer and could lead to damage of th etile though is thermal shock. This is the transition from very hot to very cold, or vice-versa in very short time- so rapid cooling and/or rapid heating are ore dangerous than keeping something hot constantly (and consistently).

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  39. Hi Dawn,

    I guess the easy answer is “as soon as the linseed is dry” – what that means in practice though is not always clear. You want to make sure the Linseed is completely dry, that none is oozing out of the surface. I have seen tilers finish applying linseed and then go straight back to the begging and start on the wax, and I am not aware that they had any issues – however I would not recommend this, I would give it at least 24 hours to dry before applying the wax, and make sure it looks and feels dry.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  40. Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you, However I am going through troubles with your RSS.
    I don’t understand the reason why I can’t subscribe to it.
    Is there anyone else getting identical RSS issues?
    Anybody who knows the answer will you kindly respond?
    Thanx!!

  41. Dear Ian,
    I am about to lay a terracotta tiled floor, using tiles made by a potter near to Ludlow in Shropshire. The tiles were bought about 10 years ago and stored in a dry shed, so they have had time to ‘mature’! Having had a terracotta tiled floor laid in my conservatory some years ago and sealed using the linseed oil method, I have been researching a water-based ‘seal and finish low sheen’ product. The new floor will be on the entrance to a studio, infrequently used, so traffic will be low. What are your views regarding oil-based v water-based products?
    I appreciate your comments.
    Claire.

  42. HI,

    Thanks for you comments, I have had a nightmare with my RSS – I just can’t seem to get it to work – wish I could, anyone out there who knows what I need to do I would be pleased to hear

    Thanks

    Ian

  43. Hi Claire,

    I am not sure what purpose maturing them for 10 years will serve other than allowing them to fill up with dust and possibly moisture LOL, but as long as they are clean and dry when you lay them they will be fine.

    This is personal choice, and I like both. I can see situations where I would choose oil and wax, but I would do so knowing that I have chosen to commit to a ‘labour of love’

    I don’t want to go over the whole article again but briefly:

    Oil and Wax looks great, has nice warm, natural appearance darkens the tiles (quite a bit) and the wax finish will have a lovely soft glow. However it needs constant buffing, and frequent topping up with more wax, preferably with a small rotary machine, over time this will build up a patina. This patina will improve with age up to a point, but then it will peak, then start to look old and grubby, and actually start to attract dirt – so at some point it will need stripping back to the oil and this means a messy, time-consuming stripping process that some would find oddly enjoyable, but most would approach with trepidation.

    Using a single-part sealer and sheen like the product you mention is MUCH easier right from the start. It needs several coats, but no buffing, it is harder (but not impossible) to go wrong. It will not alter the colour, but give a nice satin sheen. A little less natural looking than wax but not a horrible cheap plastic shine either. It too will wear and need replenishing from time to time , but it is durable and will suite the low traffic situation you describe quite well I believe, it can be stripped from time to time but normally it is ok to just go over the top with another coat. It does not build up like a wax. If you want a deeper shine, there is a top coat available for that also. If it does need to be stripped it is usually a lot easier than stripping wax.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  44. Hi Ian,

    We have an old French farm house with terracotta floor tiles on the ground floor (+/- 80 sq m) that were installed about 15 years ago, during a previous renovation.

    4 weeks ago the floor was cleaned then oiled using linseed oil (3 coats), but not sealed.

    I subsequently read your fantastic blog and have decided that perhaps we should seal the floor with ‘Seal and Finish Low Sheen’, rather than wax because in the long run it will be easier to maintain with kids and dogs running in and out of the house.

    My question is: what should we do next?
    Should we give the floor one last clean to get rid of the dirt and marks that have recently accumulated (it doesn’t take long to get dirty again!), using ‘Heavy Duty Tile and Grout Cleaner’ and a rotary machine + wet-vac? Then tip toe around in socks until the floor is fully dry before sealing it?

    Thanks in advance for your help.

  45. Hi Paul,

    you have kind of answered your own question here:

    Should we give the floor one last clean to get rid of the dirt and marks that have recently accumulated (it doesn’t take long to get dirty again!), using ‘Heavy Duty Tile and Grout Cleaner’ and a rotary machine + wet-vac? Then tip toe around in socks until the floor is fully dry before sealing it?

    – basically yes, give it a clean just before you know you are going to seal it. The floor should only retain surface water as it has been sealed with the oil. Use a wet vac to pick up the dirty water and dry it with a towel – leave it a few hours, or overnight then seal as planned

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  46. Hi Ian,

    Fantastic Blog really informative and thoughtful.

    We are currenly in the process of having our house renovated and I am planning on laying a mexican terracotta tile floor in our Kitchen/Diner.

    Ideally we will apply a synthetic sealer rather than the more labor intensive oil and wax.

    I much prefer the natural raw look to the shiny finish, can i achieve this with a synthetic product? And without a varnish to finish it will it still have the same stain resistance?

    Thanks in advance,

    Catherine

  47. Hi Ian

    I’ve got an old (probably original) Victorian terracotta kitchen floor. Very worn and dirty. Tiles red and black in a diamond checkerboard pattern. I’ve cleaned and regrouted it. The red tiles look OK(ish) but the black ones are mostly no longer black. They are largely mottled and gray looking. Very unappealing. I know you can get black tile polish and wondered if I should use this to restore the colour. Should I seal first? If so, with what and will the tile polish adhere to the tiles after sealing? Thanks!

  48. Hi Catherine, good questions,

    To be honest you could use a colour enhancing impregnating sealer – this would give you the darkened colour of oil and wax, but not the hassle. However as you have worked out, you would not have an actual coating of anything on the surface (instead the protection is just below the surface). There are some good impregnating sealers that are also enhancers out there that will do a very good job however, and you will not have any shine – it is quite a popular choice and very low maintenance.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  49. Hi Pete,

    OK, if you have cleaned an old floor and re-grouted you could have one of the following issues, or both:

    1) – Cleaning has removed the many years of built-up contamination and in so doing removed the ‘patina’ – patina being a word we use to describe basically, acceptable or even desirable dirt! – It is almost as if the many years of wear, tear, detergent residue and polish etc build up a kind of surface polish. Cleaning them thoroughly removes this and for a while at lease the tiles can look a little drab and lifeless. Over time they will start to go back to the old look – but it does take time.

    2) You have left a fine haze of grout residue on the tiles. This is easily remedied with a safe, and appropriate acid based cleaner – there are plenty on the market – just avoid brick acids and definitely no cleaner based on hydrochloric acid. Use as directed (that means if it says dilute 5:1 – then don’t use it neat – not intending to sound patronizing in anyway, but my experience tells me people ignore instructions).

    Do this clean rinse well (with fresh water) and rub dry. then let air dry, when thoroughly clean see if there is any improvement – you may have got rid of the cement, and this may be enough. However the tiles may still be duller than you want. If so you could look at a sealer – most often people want some degree of sheen also so you may look at a low sheen, coating sealer -it won’t last longer than a year or so, but they are usually easy to reapply.

    Hope this helps

    Ian

  50. I would like like to know if you could please give some advise?

    I have bought a house recently with teracotta throughout. It was sealed before (don’t know with what) I have stripped the bathroom floor to get a even look, but know I am unsure if I should put down a layer of boiled linseed oil AND then seal with a commercial sealer? Don’t have the time for waxing and buffing.

    ??

    thanks

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