Clay, water and fire are used to make handmade terracotta tiles. These natural elements give the tiles their rustic and unique characteristics varying in texture and earthy colour tones. Characteristics of handmade terracotta tiles may also include undulations, slight differences in width and porosity and minor pitting or pores on the surface. All contributing to their beautiful, natural charm.

By following a few simple guidelines, you will maximise your success in accomplishing a great finish. It is imperative to use the appropriate products for fixing, grouting and sealing your tiles to avoid ruining them, which can be costly and time consuming.

Before you begin to install your terracotta tiles, we highly recommend that you read through the full set of guidelines to ensure each step of the process is done correctly.

1 - Floor Preparation

Before laying your handmade terracotta tiles, it is crucial that the floor is thoroughly prepared.

We recommend laying them on a screed base or on solid concrete which must be totally flat, level, clean, dry and damage free. Ensure that any damage or cracks are properly repaired before you continue.

The base should be thoroughly cleaned to allow maximum effect of the adhesive. Depending on what substances are present, this may be as simple as hot water, detergent and a scrubbing brush. For other, more stubborn residue, a specialised product, tool or equipment may be required. Make sure your surface is then rinsed well of all residue and cleaning products.

After cleaning and rinsing your base, it is essential to allow plenty of time to ensure it is thoroughly dry deep down before laying your tiles. This will prevent moisture from developing at a later date which can rise to the surface and cause damage.

If you are laying your tiles outdoors, you will need at least a 1% slope for drainage.
And if you are laying your base onto soil, you must also then apply a waterproof membrane or waterproofing agent to avoid moisture rising to the surface, which again, can cause damage to your tiles.

2 - Preparing the tiles

Your tiles need to be kept clean and dry throughout the whole process of laying and sealing. If any tiles become damp, dry them out thoroughly before laying them by putting them in a well-ventilated area, stood on their end.

As mentioned above, your handmade terracotta tiles will have natural variations in colour tones and surface texture. For this reason, we recommend mixing the tiles from different packs before you lay them. This will give the finished area a more evenly blended overall appearance, achieving the distinctive, rustic aesthetic you are aiming for.

Dry laying first is an ideal way to do this successfully and will also help determine the correct joint size to be used between your tiles. Just as importantly, it will ensure you are satisfied that your intended laying pattern is suitable and meets your expectations before they are fixed.

Whilst your tiles are dry laid, it is a good opportunity to work out which tiles need cutting. We recommend using either a wet diamond saw/clipper saw bench or an angle grinder. At this stage, you will also be able to pick out any tiles that may have chips or cracks that can be used for cuts or in hidden areas.

Another preparation tip we suggest is to seal and finish 2-3 spare tiles before laying them to ensure you will be happy with the finished look.

3 - Pre-sealing coat (pre-grout protection)

Ensure your tiles are totally dry before beginning this highly important process. Unsealed terracotta is extremely porous making it vulnerable to stains. The sealant acts as a barrier, protecting the terracotta from absorbing the grout.

Sealing can be done either before or after the tiles are laid but should always be done before grouting. Don’t forget to seal the edges too so that all exposed surfaces are protected.

For internal wet areas such as bathrooms, we suggest sealing the entire tile. The easiest way to do this is to soak it in a bucket filled with pre-sealer.

There are several different types of sealants giving various effects such as changes in colour and shade. We recommend doing some testing on those spare tiles before making a final decision. You might want to consider PRW200, which facilitates cleaning operations by reducing drying times, speeding up the process of subsequent treatment.

As with every other stage of the process, care must be taken to keep the tiles clean, dry and free from dust to ensure a perfect finish. Always use brand new products and materials and use clean water.

Use a wide brush to evenly apply thin layers of the pre-sealer, not forgetting the edges. Continually check for any brush marks or stains and once complete, allow to cure for at least 8 hours.

4 - Laying tiles

Ensure your base is completely dry before attempting to lay your tiles and wipe away any dust or debris from the backs of your tiles for maximum adhesion.

A cement based flexible tile adhesive should be used as it has a quicker drying time, minimising the risk of saline efflorescence’s. Its flexibility will also allow for natural movement in the base caused by temperature changes, preventing cracks from appearing in your tiles.

Apply the adhesive to both the substrate and back of the tile using a wide notched trowel for maximum adhesion. This will prevent your tile from detaching or breaking.

Assuming you are laying your tiles onto a perfectly flat, level surface as recommended, your bedding layer of adhesive should be approximately 5mm. On an uneven surface, you will need up to 10mm and should allow extra drying time before continuing.

To allow your tiles to breath properly and eradicate any moisture, a minimum 8-10mm grout joint is recommended. This will also prevent the tiles being affected by movement caused by changes in temperature.

You may decide either a larger or smaller joint is more aesthetically pleasing. If you decide on the latter, we highly recommend you dry lay at least 1m2 first to ensure it is viable.

As with all the other stages, keep a clean working area and wipe off any excess adhesive from the face of the tiles straight away with a sponge and clean water.

Each tile should be laid and levelled one at a time taking care not to use any tools that could cause damage, a soft rubber mallet can be used gently if required.

For best results, begin tiling at the centre and lay outwards. If you are laying an intricate pattern, we highly recommend dry laying if you haven’t already done so.

For increased adhesion, apply a small amount of moisture to the tile, a little humidity improves bonding. Carefully slide each tile into position and use spacers to keep the gaps even. You will have a few minutes to adjust the positioning of your tile if needed.

Allow 24 hours to set before walking on the tiles, after which time you can also clean the surface with water. If you do have any saline efflorescence’s or adhesive residue, we recommend using Fila Deterdek Pro, then allow to dry.

5 - Grouting your tiles

5a – Materials

There are several factors to consider when choosing which grout to use including whether your tiles are outdoors or indoors, the type of room and the overall final aesthetic you want to achieve.

There is a variety of suitable ready-made grouts available in different colours, or you might prefer to mix your own sand and cement mortar. Please bear mind that you will need to make sure you use exactly the same measures with each new batch you mix for a consistent colour throughout. Always test your grout on a spare tile before you begin to make sure any excess will wipe away easily.

If choosing a ready-made grout, you will need to consider the type of room. We recommend the following which conform to EN13888 standards.

  • CG1: for domestic use in dry rooms
  • CG2W: for domestic use in humid rooms
  • CG2WA: for outdoor use
  • RG: for areas that require water and steam tightness and in areas for food/sanitary use

Always follow the manufactures instructions and never mix products of different brands or types.

Add grout to a small amount of water in a clean bucket and mix until you have a smooth paste. It needs to be pliable enough to compress into the joints without being too runny.

Prepare in small amounts as it will start to set after 30 minutes. If this happens, discard it, wash out your bucket and mix a new batch.

5b – Joint

As mentioned in previous sections, we recommend an 8-10mm joint to accommodate the natural tolerances of handmade terracotta tiles.

5c – Applying the grout

Remove tile spacers and make sure the joints are clean and free from dust. Using a sponge, dampen all exposed areas of the tile to help keep the grout moist.

Using a rubber grout float or similar tool, fill the joints in a methodological fashion for an even finish, continually checking for gaps and air bubbles. Keep a clean damp cloth or grouting sponge handy to wipe away any excess grout as you go along (normal household sponges are unsuitable).

Change your water regularly and be careful not to wipe into the joints where you have already grouted. It’s useful to have two buckets of water, one to wash the grout off the sponge or cloth and a second one to rinse it.
Continually check for any excess grout and wipe away thoroughly to prevent it from either being absorbed, or setting. Grout is extremely difficult to remove once set, and you risk damaging your tiles.

Around half an hour after grouting, use a sponge to smooth over the joints and blend with the edges of the tiles.

Allow 24 hours to dry before walking on or placing anything on the tiles. To obtain the best final result, we recommend leaving the tiles to thoroughly dry for two weeks before sealing and finishing. The tiles should be kept totally dry during that time.

6 - Sealing and finishing your terracotta tiles

6a – Preparing the surface

Your tiles must be thoroughly clean and dry before you begin sealing and finishing to achieve an optimum result. Any particles or damp still present will be sealed in and spoil the finish.

A damp cloth or sponge may suffice if there is just light dust, but be careful not to allow excessive amounts of water to sit as this can cause stains. Allow to completely dry before continuing.

If there is any grout/other residue, we recommend Fila Deterdek Pro. Avoid using any products containing harsh chemicals. Again, allow to dry thoroughly before continuing.

6b – Sealing and finishing

When choosing your sealant, make sure it is suitable for terracotta tiles and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. There are a variety of products which make the job easier and minimise future maintenance.
We recommend either of the products below which are applied to both the surface of the tiles and grout joints using a short-haired roller or a wide brush. Apply in the same direction and don’t overly saturate the tiles. We suggest that you test on a spare tile beforehand.

• Fila W68 – doesn’t alter the appearance/colour of the tiles, protects them from dirt and absorbing stains and is suitable for both interior and exterior use. Also suitable as a basecoat for interior floors before applying wax.

• Fila Wet Eco – gives a wet effect finish, protects tiles from dirt and absorbing stains. Particularly suited for exterior use but also suitable for indoor use.

Allow 24 hours to dry and do not wash for 7 days. Although the sealant offers protection after just a few hours, it can take 7-10 days to work to it’s maximum potential. Therefore, where possible, avoid walking on or placing anything on the floor during that time. Ensure any spillages are cleaned and dried immediately.

Although waxes are not suitable for outdoor use, to finish your interior terracotta floor, we recommend any one of the following products, depending on your desired final look.

FILAMATT – natural finish
FILASATIN – original satin finish
LONGLIFE – high-gloss, ultra-protective polymer surface film

Allow to dry for a further 24 hours then you can enjoy your beautiful new handmade terracotta floor.