DIY Terracotta Floor Tile Installation
Unglazed and softer than other types of tile, terracotta is made from extruded or hand-formed clay. It comes available in a number of shapes and sizes, from small hexagons to large squares.
The colors range from dusky ochres to oranges through to reds. Part of the charm of terracotta is precisely this color variation, within each tile and from tile to tile, as well as the textural variations of the surface.
Adhesive for Terracotta Tiles
Larger and heavier than ceramic tiles, terracotta tiles need a thicker adhesive bed, especially if the tiles are handmade and vary in thickness, or if they have bowed during manufacture. The method described here can be used for other types of tile such as quarry or slate, the thick adhesive bed being used to absorb any difference in tile thickness.
Although a sand-and-cement mix can be used for many heavy tiles, it is not really suitable for terracotta tiles. Because they are very porous, they may react with the cement to cause efflorescence – when the soluble salts come to the surface as a white stain.
Use a thick-bed adhesive, which can be applied at any thickness from 5mm to 2.3cm (¼ to 1in). Thick-bed adhesive can be happily used on an uneven floor base and dries very quickly, in some cases enabling tiling and grouting to be carried out on the same day.
Laying Terracotta Tiles
- Start in the furthest corner, having located the center point and adjusted it, and having marked up a grid which will help to keep you straight.
- Mix up the tile adhesive according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Some types of thick-bed adhesive are simply poured onto the floor and spread out to an even level with an appropriate type of spreader, and then the tiles are laid straight onto it. Other types of adhesive require the back of the tile to be buttered with adhesive as well. Handmade tiles may vary slightly in size and thickness, so apply more adhesive to the backs of thinner tiles and allow a wide gap, approximately 12mm (½in), between the tiles. Any variations in size will be taken up within the joints.
- Use a spirit level, check regularly that the tiles you have laid are level, and certainly after each grid block.
- Once the central area of the floor is finished, fill the border.
Cutting Terracotta Tiles
- The easiest way to cut terracotta tiles is with an angle grinder fitted with a stone-cutting wheel.
- Cut a groove into the tile to two thirds of the tile’s depth and then snap it in two.
- The cutter will, if required, cut or grind through the whole thickness of the tile – useful for cutting awkward shapes out of a tile to go round pipes and other obstructions.
Sealing Terracotta Tiles
- Terracotta and quarry tiles are very porous and must be sealed before you add grouting in order to provide a hard-wearing and easy-to-clean surface.
- Ensure the surfaces of the tiles are free from dust and any traces of tile adhesive.
- Brush one coat of boiled linseed oil over the tiles with a brush or short-haired paint roller. It is important to apply an even coat to avoid the risk of streaking. The oil will soak into the tile, the surface losing its gloss 2-10 minutes after application. If it appears more matt in less time than that, apply the oil more liberally.
- Allow the sealer to dry and then grout. A second coat of sealer should be applied after grouting.
Grouting Terracotta Tiles
- Grout terracotta tiles with a grout that is suitable for wide joints; porous tiles are grouted using a pointing method rather than by simply spreading the grout over the surface as you would for ceramic tiles.
- Fill the joints using a pointing trowel, and avoid spilling any of the grout onto the surface of the tiles.
- Finish the grout by making it slightly concave; bend a round metal pipe into a convenient shape and use that.
- Some times of handmade tiles benefit from ‘slurry grouting’ – a technique which fills in all the pits and dents to create an antiqued appearance.
- Mix up the grout to a creamy consistency and grout as you would with ceramic tiles, ensuring that the grout fills all the crevices.
- Clean the excess grout off the surface with a damp sponge.
Finishing and Care of Your Terracotta Tile Floor
- Apply a second coat of seal once the grout has thoroughly dried, using oil more sparingly than before as the tiles will be less porous. Any excess oil that does not soak in after 20 minutes should be cleaned from the surface of the tile.
- After the oil has had time to soak into the tiles fully, which usually takes a few hours or overnight, the tiles can be waxed.
- Use a propriety floor wax and wax the floor twice. The new floor should then be waxed once a week for the following month in order to build up a smooth and hard-wearing surface, yet mellow surface.