Treating terracotta tiles

I am aware that the treatment of terracotta floor tiles in one’s Italian second home is most definitely a first world problem, but at the risk of earning a place in Pseuds Corner, I’d like to share what I’ve learnt through bitter experience in the hope that others might not make the same mistakes.

When I moved into my recently-restored 16th century property, my terracotta tiles were recently laid but as yet untreated. Rather than try to describe the type of tiles I mean, here is a photograph.

2015-08-09 17.29.29

Luckily, I managed to get away without treating the tiles in most of the rooms until quite recently as the wear and tear on them was quite light. The kitchen was quite another matter. If I could turn back the clock, I would definitely have asked for a different, easy-to-clean floor covering in that room. As it was, friends and neighbours pitched in with well-meaning advice, which usually involved the application of raw linseed oil (olio di lino crudo). The only effect that this had over the years was to turn the kitchen floor to a very unappetising shade of grey, mottled with an ever-increasing selection of splashes from oil and other cooking ingredients.

In the end it got so bad that I temporarily covered the floor with lino so that I didn’t have to look at it until I felt strong enough to deal with the problem properly.

Last year, I got up the courage to take up the lino and consult the Pagine Gialle. After gathering a few names and perusing various websites, I eventually found Signor Bollicci (literally translated as Mr Bubbles), who proved to be my saviour, although I could probably have bought several Axminster carpets for price he charged me to treat my floors. As far as I remember, it cost approximately €12 per square metre (2015 prices).

Mr B, a charming man,  did a wonderful job and wasn’t shy of telling me so (favourite saying: “my wife says they threw away the mould when they made me”). I was so pleased that I eventually asked him to treat all the rooms on the one floor of my house. The end result has held up well, even in the kitchen, and I’m really glad I took the plunge.

Because I’m fairly certain I could do the same thing myself now I have seen Mr B in action, I noted down what he did and the products he used. Eventually I’ll do the same thing to the other floor, which gets much less use, once I can summon up the energy to move all the furniture out (the worst bit about the whole experience as far as I was concerned).

This is what Mr B did:

  1. he scrubbed the floor very thoroughly with Geal acid wash and lots of water. He had a vacuum cleaner to suck up the excess water, which was full of filthy sludge by the time he had finished with the kitchen.
  2. he left the floor to dry for a couple of days. N.B. he only did this with the first floor he treated because he subsequently found a half a day was quite enough.He applied Geal aggrappante livellante to seal and level the floor and left an hour or so to dry
  3. he followed this with Geal antimacchia tonalizzante, which apparently prevents staining and brings out the colour of the tiles
  4. after that he applied two or three coats of Geal woplus extern, leaving each coat to dry for an hour or so.
  5. I then had to wait for two days before moving the furniture back into the rooms.

I later found this thread on the Italy Magazine website (if you scroll down), which recommends much the same procedure. The Geal website is very good and also available in an English language version. Another thread on the Italy Magazine website discussed using Fila products as an alternative.

Floor treatment products

Next in this occasional series: how I learned the hard way that you probably shouldn’t ask someone who produces tombstones for a living to make you a marble kitchen sink