Choosing flooring materials for your home can involve exhaustive research. It’s important to know how it will perform, whether it contributes to poor air quality, the costs, and how it will fit your overall interior design.
Terracotta tiles are a durable, functional, and rustic application that might be just what you’re looking for.
What Is Terracotta Flooring?
Terracotta floor tiles are made from baked clay. It falls under the category of ceramic tiles, although it undergoes a specific process during heating that sets it apart from other tiles, being heated at a much lower temperature than other types of tile.
The word in Italian actually means “baked earth,” and it’s an appropriate description of the product. In addition to its characteristic rustic vibe, terracotta is distinctive in its reddish brown color. The shading is a natural result of the high iron content in the clay used to make it.
Terracotta has been used for generations as a hard-working material for roofs, flower pots, and even plumbing pipes. It’s also used in arts and crafts and jewelry making. Created from a naturally-occurring clay, terracotta is readily available and affordable.
It’s so prevalent that its use has been recorded in history dating back to over 20,000 years BC. While it’s likely its common use was based on availability, that type of history shows the material, and the methods to make terracotta from the clay, are a viable solution for myriad home materials considerations.
In the modern era, it remains popular because the look is a good fit within a variety of settings and architectural designs.
The Look of Terracotta Flooring
Although terracotta is the very definition of natural tones, floor tiles can vary in color from a yellowish cream to browns and reddish hues.
The difference stems from the location where the clay was sourced. Similar to soil or other organic materials, clay contains elements that vary from region to region.
Terracotta tiles can be shaped into different designs, each of which can be available in a range of colors. This provides a lot of options when it comes to selecting a style for your project.
Overall, the look of terracotta flooring is best described as bucolic. It brings a traditional feel of an Italian villa or vacation home south of the border.
Where Is Terracotta Traditionally Used for Flooring?
Mexican floor tile is often made of terracotta. It’s easy to picture the flooring throughout a hacienda. Similarly, terracotta has been a long-standing choice throughout the Mediterranean region. It’s also popular throughout the southwest region of the United States in areas like New Mexico and Arizona.
The Different Types of Terracotta Floor Tiles
If you’re interested in considering terracotta tiles for your next project, be aware there are many different kinds to choose from. There are some standard features to examine.
Start by identifying whether the terracotta flooring tiles are high density or low density. The high density option is treated to be more durable and is a better choice for heavy use areas and long-term durability.
Low-density terracotta is less expensive, and while it may be suitable for some projects, it’s not best for flooring in primary areas.
Terracotta, by design, is a very porous material. That means air and water can move through it. However, if not treated, it can be easily stained and suffer from water retention issues. This is often seen in low-density materials.
These differences may also be seen in descriptors such as “natural,” which means the terracotta tiles haven’t been treated in any way before or after being fired.
As an avid DIY’er, though, you can periodically treat the flooring with a sealant, which we’ll discuss more below in regards to maintenance.
Some tiles may also undergo burnishing, which is a manufacturing process where fine abrasives are used to smooth the surface and close up some of the porous openings.
Then there are the options of glazed or unglazed. As mentioned, unglazed tiles are susceptible to mold and water damage. In cold climates, water absorbed into the tiles can freeze, expand, and crack the tiles. For that reason, glazed tiles are recommended, especially in areas that experience cold temperatures.
The process is the same as for other ceramic tiles, and the result is a glaze that waterproofs and protects the surface of the terracotta tile.
However, the downside of glazing is that it can mute or change the natural color of the terracotta flooring. It’s also important to note that unless the glazing is applied and labeled as non-slip, it could create dangerously slick flooring.
It is also possible to buy hand-glazed or hand-painted terracotta tiles to provide some balance of appearance and function. Hand-glazed or hand-painted terracotta allows some of the natural beauty of the tile to show through while also improving its stain and water resistance.
Hand glazing may offer a balance between maintaining the natural appeal of the terracotta and protecting it for long-term use. However, hand-painted tiles are more expensive than mass-produced options.
The actual production process also has varying levels of personal attention. There are machine cut and handmade options, which can also affect the overall cost, as well as the finished look.
Machine-cut tiles are produced with a reliance on technology, which offer consistency in the finished product. With each tile being precisely the same size and shape, it’s easier to plan for installation. The installation process is also easier as they will fit together smoothly.
In contrast, handmade terracotta tiles will feature irregularities that add to the rustic appeal. It’s a craft deeply rooted in Mexico and parts of southern Europe.
Terracotta Tile Shapes
In addition to different finishes and types of cutting, there are a variety of geometric designs to consider. Hexagonal terracotta tile is a very popular choice. In fact, it’s probably the most authentically traditional pattern for terracotta flooring.
The pieces are available in a variety of sizes, from a few inches across to a foot or more. Terracotta hexagon tiles bring dimension and texture to a room. They can be paired with furniture, accessories, and cabinetry that create a comprehensive design.
Terracotta square tiles are another popular choice. They can be formed with clean edges for a smooth finish, or left jagged for a more rustic appeal. Square tiles are commonly seen in entryways, on covered porches, and in bathrooms and kitchens.
Since the pattern is streamlined, accent tiles are often used to break up the arrangement, commonly as a border of smaller, differently-shaped pieces, similar to a mosaic.
Square terracotta tiles are produced in a variety of sizes as well as textures, so you can build any look that appeals to you. There are also tiles with scalloped edges and all forms of customized options.
Benefits of a Terracotta Floor
If water permeates the surface, terracotta tiles can be susceptible to bacterial growth. However, the material is naturally resistant to mold. So when properly treated, terracotta is a strong and durable surface. Like other ceramics, it can last up to 50 years as a flooring option.
Terracotta tiles are versatile enough to be used indoors or outdoors. They can be placed in every room of the house as well as on an enclosed porch.
The natural look of terracotta lends itself to all types of interior design. It melds well with country decor, cottagecore, farmhouse, and rustic.
Terracotta flooring adds a welcoming appeal to a room. It’s a warm look that’s much less sterile looking than glazed ceramic tile.
Tiles with strong color variations and those with handmade cuts can create an entirely unique look for your home.
Also, terracotta tiles offer temperature control to a space by absorbing warm or cold air.
Because it’s a 100% natural product, terracotta is entirely recyclable at the end of its life cycle.
It’s also effective at absorbing sound.
Since it’s impact resistant, terracotta is effective against breaking and chipping.
In addition, terracotta is highly fire resistant and isn’t affected by termites. These components add to its durability and long-lasting appeal.
Disadvantages of Terracotta Flooring
Although terracotta flooring is a perfect match if you’re going for a Mexican, Mediterranean, or Southwest vibe, the rustic look might not be for everyone. For example, some people may not like the inconsistencies in color or cuts.
Unsealed terracotta can absorb water due to its porous nature. That can result in mold or cracking.
Terracotta may not be the best choice for high-moisture areas like bathrooms, around the pool, or in certain climates.
Terracotta tiles are best in warm environments, especially for outdoor applications. In colder areas, they can crack if water is absorbed into unsealed tiles. This rarely occurs in warm climates, however.
Terracotta Kitchen Floor
Terracotta flooring is ideal for many styles of kitchens. The cozy, old-timey feel vibes with everything from pure white cabinets to natural woods and even black slate. It welcomes experimentation in light fixtures, sinks, and faucet styles too.
Terracotta flooring is a good match with similar or contrasting tile or stone backsplashes in the kitchen as well. With a wide range of colors, terracotta can be used in a modern kitchen setting or be the perfect look in a country cottage.
Terracotta in the Bathroom
Terracotta can be used in a bathroom. However, it has a higher chance of developing problems there. If you choose to pair terracotta with a bear claw tub (and it would be a beautiful choice), make sure to check the seal on the tiles annually.
Terracotta Flooring Maintenance
Once installed, terracotta flooring is easy to care for. Sweeping or wiping with a dry mop is really all that is needed for day-to-day cleaning. You can even use a vacuum on this durable surface.
Water and mild cleaners can be used when necessary. Clean spills as soon as possible to avoid staining.
Annually, you’ll want to perform a simple seal test on your terracotta tiles. Pour some water on your tiles and allow it to sit. If it stays on the surface, you’re good to go.
However, if it absorbs into the tile, it’s time to reseal it. Terracotta tiles need to be resealed, on average, about every three years. Fortunately, it’s an easy process, which we’ve outlined below.
Step 1 - Clean the Floor
Sweep or vacuum your floor to pick up any debris.
Step 2 - Repair Scratches
Although terracotta owns that rustic vibe, you may want to repair scratches to keep it looking fresh. Because the material is fairly soft, it’s easy to sand.
Use very fine grit sandpaper to get the job done. 1000-grit is a good choice. Adhere the proper size of sandpaper to a sanding block or palm sander. Using long smooth motions, sweep the sanding paper back and forth over the surface of the scratch. Check periodically to see if the scratch has disappeared.
Step 3 - Clean the Floor
When you’ve achieved the finished look you desire, sweep or vacuum up any remaining dust. Then mop the floor. Use a bucket filled with warm water and a bit of dish soap.
Step 4 - Allow the Floor to Dry
You don’t want to seal in moisture, so make sure the terracotta floor is entirely dry before moving on to the sealing process.
Step 5 - Protect Surfaces
Similar to when you paint, you’ll want to cover the surrounding trim and other surfaces to protect them from the sealant you’re about to apply.
Step 6 - Apply Sealant
You’ll find an assortment of tile sealers that are appropriate for the job at your local home improvement store. Application varies slightly, but the basic process is to simply paint or roll the sealer onto the surface.
Terracotta Flooring Tiles and Temperature Control
Terracotta tiles are commonly used in homes focused on passive features in order to moderate temperatures naturally, with limited or no use of mechanical cooling. Terracotta naturally absorbs heat, which helps rooms feel cooler in the hot summer months.
The tiles release the heat when temperatures drop, helping to moderate the indoor temps throughout the day and night. For this reason, terracotta flooring has seen a huge resurgence in warmer areas as homeowners look for ways to keep the temperatures down while maintaining low utility bills.
Read more Tips for Cleaning Terracotta Tiles and How to Wax a Terracotta Floor.