Salitre and the tropical household

October 26, 2011

Salitre is a fact of life in the tropics.  When we moved here we had very little idea what it takes to deal with salitre in a climate like ours.

What is it?  It is the powdery stain that leaches through the paint – basically salts moving out of the mortar and concrete through moisture.  Sometimes the moisture is coming from a leak – and sometimes it is from the humidity, rain, or groundwater seeping up.


Salitre on wall
This patch isn’t too bad. It is much more obvious on dark colors.


If you move to the tropics and think that the only time you are going to need to paint is when you’re redecorating, you’ll have a bit of a surprise in store for you!  I’m sure new construction has less, but it is just a part of life for everyone here.  


Salitre on wall
Salitre is called “wall cancer” for a reason.

For example, four years ago we bought our house and had the entire house painted.  It had some existing salitre and unfortunately since we were newbies we didn’t make sure the painter followed proper salitre protocol. (He said he did, but…) Within months salitre was visible again in a few places.  What did we do?  What most people do here.  We ignored it or put a cabinet in front of it, of course!


Salitre removed
I think there was some kind of painted border in this room at one time.  This room had a patch of visible salitre about 1 foot by 4 feet…. but when the painters started scraping, what a mess!  Henry is checking out the dusty floor.


But after two years we couldn’t ignore it any more.  Out came the paintbrushes and salitre repair kit!  Here’s what you do:

  • Scrape the area with a spatula until you are not able to remove any more paint.
  • Paint the area with muriatic acid, taking care to not put your nose too close.  Wear gloves!
  • Let it dry
  • Wash the area with water to remove the acid
  • Let it dry
  • Paint with sealer
  • Paint with paint

It’s kind of a hassle but pretty important.  We have professional painters here now, and their procedure is a bit different.  They scrape the area down entirely and then they sand, patch with their special mix, seal the entire room with sealer, and then paint.

We’re having the exterior and the living room, dining room, and stairway painted right now, four years after the last full paint job.  It’s going to look beautiful.  But I’m under no illusions that we’ll get more than four years out of this paint job just because it’s such a fine job.  In México, I think there should be a saying that “Nothing is certain but death, taxes, and salitre.”

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I'm Nancy, a US expat living in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco after 11 years in Mazatlán, México.

    1. Ah, I just let it go. We haven’t done any salitre repair and as you will see next week, it’s pretty bad. I decided it was like an old roman villa, it gave the house patina and age. We are at the 3 and a half year mark and it is getting harder to keep that belief. Mimi and I can’t agree on the solution though, she wants to do it herself and I want to hire painters and just get it done. I’m afraid her solution would drag on endlessly with buckets and stuff laying around forever. So, we ignore it 🙂 It’s one solution.

      1. Jonna, Oh, don’t worry, we let it go! It was super bad here before they started, and I know it will be again before long. I’d recommend hiring someone, these guys are such pros – things that would take me hours would take them minutes. (Personally, I think you have another year before you need to worry about it!) See you soon!

    1. This is at least one tropical headache that has not yet plagued me. I wonder if this house was somehow built differently? It appears I will miss seeing you at this year’s conference.

      1. Steve, You’re lucky. But it would be your landlady’s headache, anyway. It will be great to see our Merida buddies again, we are looking forward to the blogger’s conference. (And why the passive voice there, Steve?)

    1. No painting for me!!!! Hey you won’t be there but in Merida. Let me know when you are ready for lunch.

      1. Contessa, No need for painting in an RV, is there? Except when you get someone else to do the exterior… I’ll holler when we’re back from Mérida…

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