Reclaimed terracotta tiles are a practically perfect flooring product. Showcasing incredibly warm earthy colours, they bring authentic European and Mediterranean charm to any home. When properly and well sealed, they will last a lifetime and easily withstand heavy foot traffic, as well as daily exposure to food and liquid spills. Although vintage floors made from reclaimed terracotta tiles age gracefully and increase in beauty and character over time, if improperly or poorly sealed, critical problems can occur that will persist for the life of the floor. It’s important to protect your investment from problems that can mar the experience of an older apartment.
Homeowners often want to improve, enhance and preserve the beauty of their old floors. Terracotta floors that are not cared for properly can become dull or take on a hazy appearance. In extreme cases, some unprotected floors will begin to deteriorate. A correct installation and sealing of the floor with the appropriate products will avoid these problems.
Antique terracotta tiles were usually originally made centuries past, using simple processes and materials, using clay and volatile components. Modern sealants are often inadequate for these older tiles and do not protect them adequately. While modern tiles tend to be more ceramic, reclaimed terracotta tiles have been fired only once in simple kilns; they are very porous and some modern sealers, due to their low viscosity, will actually seep through the tiles and seal the thin-setting mortar. making it retain moisture. Initially, the tiles look great, with warm, rich colors, but as the sealer seeps into the tiles, the dull, hazy appearance will return. At worst, some water-based sealers will interact with the volatile materials in the old terracotta tiles, releasing salts from the clay that will travel to the surface and flourish in a process called efflorescence. The aftermath of this process leaves a chalky white film covering the floor. Efflorescence loosens the physical bond of the clay, damaging the tiles. Damaged tiles or entire areas of the floor must be replaced.
To properly seal and finish a reclaimed terracotta floor, install reclaimed terracotta tiles like any regular tile. Make sure the thin-set mortar has a minimum moisture content. Reclaimed terracotta tile tends to absorb moisture from the adhesive, preventing it from forming a strong bond. Sanded grout is preferred for reclaimed tiles. A grout with colored sand that blends into the tile makes grout placement easier. Avoid the use of pre-sealing grout products. Trapped moisture from these products can create unintended reactions that damage your floor. Grout in small sections at a time to allow moisture to escape. Upon completion of the grout, clean the floor with water or a mild acid solution and allow the floor to dry completely for a period of two weeks to allow any moisture to evaporate. If the floor is installed over radiant heat, wait 48 hours first; then turn on the heat to speed up drying. This scenario allows your drying time to be reduced to one week. Remember that terracotta tiles are extremely porous and small air pockets in the clay medium can interfere with the transport of moisture to the surface. Terracotta tiles may look dry on the surface in a short period of time, but they will still be saturated with water on the inside. Always allow ample and properly prescribed time for drying.
When you are sure the reclaimed terracotta floor is completely dry, use a naturally hardening, high viscosity primer and sealing oil. When applied, the sealing and priming oil will penetrate both the tile and the grout. It will fill in any air pockets and form a sealed layer on top of the terra cotta tile. Within 24 hours, the Primer & Seal Oil will harden into an impervious layer, forming an amber colored material. This will lock in the salts and minerals. Apply the oil liberally so that the terracotta tile absorbs as much oil as possible. After half an hour, check the surface of the floor and remove any excess oil with the cloth. You can repeat this process if you find it necessary, but most floors only need one application. The application of primer and sealer oil may initially exaggerate the title color, but after a few days of drying, the resulting appearance will be that of the original tile installation with a slightly deeper shade. After a day or two of drying time, apply a surface finish. A good option is Carnauba wax emulsion. Adheres to sealed terracotta tiles and dries to a beautiful hard matte finish. Your terracotta floor will have a rich leathery sheen without an overtly shiny appearance. For reclaimed terracotta tiles in bathrooms or other areas exposed to high moisture, use a durable semi-gloss acrylic finish. When installing reclaimed antique terracotta tiles in a shower, an even more durable epoxy sealer is the right choice.
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