Stone Care & Maintenance
Natural stone is a material which time has made strong and man has made beautiful. Because of these qualities, you may use marble, granite, limestone and other natural stones for floors, countertops, fireplaces, tables, window sills and many other applications.
An Ounce of Protection Equals a Pound of Cure
People often assume stone is “stain proof.” However, all stone is porous to some degree. Natural stone should receive the same attention given to fine wood. Coasters should be placed under glasses, particularly those containing alcohol or citrus juices. Many common foods and drinks contain acid. Marble is an alkaline material and acid will eat into or “etch” the stone. Spills of any type should be wiped up immediately. Hot plates should be used under heated dishes. Placemats or felt bottoms should be placed under china, ceramics, silver and furniture to prevent scratching of the marble. Keeping a small rug or welcome mat near entries will help to capture dirt from normal foot traffic which is abrasive on the marble surface. Generally, this type of attention will save a great deal of time spent on other cures. With normal preventative maintenance, stains and scratches should be minimal.
Protecting Your Natural Stone
Sealers are effective, but not infallible. Sealers are designer to prevent as many staining agents as possible from penetrating the pores of the stone. If the stain does not remain at or near the surface of the stone, it will be much more difficult to remove. Remember, once sealers are applied, they will usually need to be maintained. Depending on the sealer, some will need to be stripped or re-applied more regularly than others. Sealers, similar to cleaners, should be pH Balanced or neutral. Some sealers may be approved for ceramic or wood, but this does not mean that they are safe for natural stone. If the sealer is acidic, it may be damaging to the stone’s surface.
Chemicals high in acid will break down the mineral calcium carbonate, which is the building block of marble. Sealers are offered with a water or solvent “base”. The sealer base acts as a carrier for the chemicals that actually seal the stone such as urethane, silicone or acrylic. Water-based sealers are “user-friendly” and typically easier to use than solvent based sealers. Solvent-based sealers are usually longer lasting, but most need to be applied by a qualified contractor. Consult a professional for the appropriate sealer specific to your needs.
Most water-based sealers can be used by the homeowner or end-users such as maintenance crews. Water-based sealers typically remain at or near the surface of the stone. Water-based sealers are generally easier to remove and most effective when used as a regular maintenance tool to protect your natural stone. Water-based sealers may provide stain protection from three months to three years. Factors such as heavy foot traffic and lack of regular cleaning can reduce the time between necessary applications. Sealers with a water base are usually more environmentally friendly compared to solvent-based sealers.
Solvent-based sealers (impregnators) allow the sealing agents to deeply penetrate the stone’s pores and typically protect the stone’s surface longer and do not need to be reapplied as often as water-based sealers. Like water-based sealers, many solvent-based sealers also contain urethane or acrylic as the sealing agent and help to carry the agents beneath the surface of the stone. Solvent-based sealers are usually more difficult to strip and remove than water based sealers because the sealing agents bond to pores well below the stone’s surface. Avoid using solvent-based sealers where food is present or people are unable to leave the area while the solvent base is drying.
The way to keep your new or old stone lovely is to keep it clean! Remember the old saying, “An Ounce of Prevention equals a Pound of Cure.” If natural stone is given the proper care, the stone should sustain its beauty and durability. Most commonly, unless regular cleaning is done, ordinary dust particles in the air can settle on your marble and can be ground in to the surface by normal foot traffic. These specs of dust will slowly remove the natural polish on the stone’s surface. The use of a non-oil dust mop on a regular basis should help prolong the finish of your stone. Natural stone should be washed regularly with fresh warm water and a clean, non-abrasive cloth.
Adding a neutral (pH balanced) cleaner will help to remove topical dirt and grime*. Avoid detergents that can be abrasive and contain chemicals high in acid or alkaline. These chemicals can “etch” or remove the natural polish on the stone’s surface. Some stone cleaners have a petroleum or animal fat base which may alter the appearance of your stone. Petroleum (or oils such as animal fat) can darken natural stone and leave a residue which over time can buildup and turn yellow. This buildup is usually difficult to remove. Be sure to use a cleaner which does not have a petroleum or oil base and contains chemicals that will be safe on the finish of your natural stone floor or countertop.
Natural stone has been installed for hundreds of years without a sealer and much of it continues to look beautiful. Although new technology has allowed us to minimize staining by using various sealers, one thing should be clear to you regarding the stainability of stone. Most natural stone is “stainable” given the right amount of time and a strong enough staining agent; however, the rate at which a particular stone absorbs foreign matter (the “porosity” of the stone), can vary. Some natural stones are less porous and resist staining better than others. Granites, for example, are typically more stain resistant than most marbles and might be more suitable for kitchen or commercial areas.