A promising route to increase the performance of hematite (α-Fe2O3) photoelectrodes for solar hydrogen production through water-splitting is to use an extremely thin layer of this visible light absorber on a nanostructured scaffold. However, the typically poor performance of ultrathin (ca. 20 nm) films of hematite has been the limiting factor in implementing this approach. Here, the surprising effect of a substrate pretreatment using tetraethoxysilicate (TEOS) is reported; it results in drastic improvements in the photoperformance of 12.5 nm thick films of hematite. These films exhibit a water oxidation photocurrent onset potential at 1.1 V versus the reversible hydrogen electrode (vs. RHE) and a plateau current of 0.63 mA cm−2 at 1.5 V vs. RHE under standard illumination conditions, representing the highest reported performance for ultrathin hematite films. In contrast, almost no photoactivity is observed for the photoanode with the same amount of hematite on an untreated substrate. A detailed study of the effects of the TEOS treatment shows that a monolayer of SiOx is formed, which acts to change the hematite nucleation and growth mechanism, increases its crystallinity, reduces the concentration of carrier trapping states of the ultrathin films, and suggests its further application to quantum-dot and extremely-thin-absorber (ETA)-type solar cells.