The Scoop on Natural Stone Surfaces
While granite’s popularity has wained a bit in the past decade, it still reigns supreme among countertops installed in kitchens and bathrooms in high-end American homes. Granite is a very hard stone with a coarse, granular appearance. Many colors occur naturally, and it’s mined at many places throughout the world, although much of it comes from India, South America, and Europe. You can get it in polished, satin or honed finishes, although the polished variety is by far the most plentiful.
Marble (pictured below) represents the high-end of glamorous countertops. It fits beautifully in traditional settings, but can also work with modern styles as long as you let it be the focal point of the room. Marble is a sparkling white form of limestone known for its beautiful veining that runs through it. Marble is a more delicate, more easily worked stone than others, hence why it was used in sculpture and buildings of ancient times. A calcium carbonite stone is formed when calcium from shells and bones combines with carbon dioxide.
Here’s some important information about selecting, as well as caring for your stone, grout and tile.
- Install a handheld shower head in all of your showers. Then rinse the tile bathtub/shower surround down at the end of every use. You will then remove soap scum off the tile and grout, thus preventing it from adhering to the shower walls.
- If your tile shower surround currently has soap scum build-up on it, it may be necessary to use a higher pH alkaline cleaner such as 409, CLR, or soda. (Do not, however use these products on a regular basis.) You ideally want to clean it immediately after a shower to have the hot water help to begin to break down the surface. Use a polishing, horse hair, or nylon pad to break the surface tension, working in one small area at a time.
- Effective drainage is imperative. If you have a flawed design, where water doesn’t completely drain out, you’re going to have hard water/mineral build-up in those areas.
- The less caulking used in a shower, the better off you will be. When caulking has water constantly sitting on it, it fails. You’ll know it has failed because there will be a black line where the caulking used to be. If it’s black (which is mold), it needs to be removed and replaced with new.
- Ventilation is a must. Fans are rated by the size of the bathroom, so be sure to get one that fits the size of each bathroom and will remove all the excess moisture in the room. Install a timer in each bathroom that lets the fan remain on for 30 minutes after each shower is finished. This is particularly important in the Northwest, where it’s very humid in the fall, winter and spring with all of our rain.
- Be sure to check how porous the surface is if you are selecting stone such as granite or marble for your floor, shower, tub surround, back splash or particularly a vanity in your bathroom. Marble, some granite surfaces, limestone, as well as a very few porcelains and will be etched by the cleansing and hair products that are used regularly in a bathroom. This is particularly obvious if a shiny polished surface is used. Make sure that your fabricator (installer) seals the surface before its initial use.
- Test any natural stone or porcelain prior to purchase by placing a few drops of the following to check for:
- Permeability: Drip a few drops of water onto a tile & see how fast it is absorbed.
- Acid Etching: Drip a few drops coffee, tea, or wine onto a tile to see if it changes the surface.
- Many, if not most over the counter cleaners have a pH of 1-3 which is VERY acid, or a pH of 10-14, which is VERY alkaline. They not only break down the natural surface, but also the caulking on your tub surround, sinks, etc. Find and use a cleanser with a pH of 7-8.5 such as Dupont’s Granite & Marble Countertop Cleaner + Protector, or Dupont’s Tile & Grout Cleaner. Look for the words “gentle,” “neutral,” or “mild” on the label. If the cleaner says it removes hard water buildup, calcium and lime stains or rust stains it is most likely an acid. An acid will etch acid sensitive surfaces such as marble, travertine, onyx, limestone and grout. A cleaner to avoid is Kaboom, with a pH level of 1.0. Another cleaner that has a pH of 1.0 is vinegar, so even it can do enormous financial damage to your natural surfaces and grout.
- Every product has a CAUTION/WARNING/DANGER/POISON section that lets you know if the product with which you are cleaning is dangerous. Caution is the least toxic; Warning is more and so forth. Read this section before you buy, and find out if you really want to use it or not. If you have anyone living in your home (or even visiting regularly) that has sensitivity to toxins, avoid these products.
- Although you can use colored grout, yet be aware it may fail in areas with water exposure. Spend your money on a high-end grout such as Bostik TruColor RapidCure… or save your money and use regular white grout.
- Waterfall/rain showers require more maintenance. Furthermore, they use more water, so if you’re environmentally sensitive, consider something else.
- At some point in the future, any coating that is often put on natural stone finishes will fail. There are several types of sealers, and they sometimes require strong and toxic chemicals to remove. These can affect the look and finish of the stone, and will be expensive.
Topical sealers may be effective at stopping stains but tend to wear out relatively quickly, especially on high-traffic areas of flooring. This type of sealer will significantly change the look and slip resistance of the surface, especially when it is wet.
Penetrating sealers infiltrate the surface of the stone enough to anchor the material to the surface. They are generally longer lasting than topical sealers and often do not substantially alter the look of the stone, but still can change the slip characteristics of the surface and do wear relatively quickly. Penetrating sealers often require the use of special cleaners which both clean and top up the repellent ingredient left on the stone surface.
Impregnating sealers penetrate deeply into the material, infiltrating it at the molecular level. These bond to the capillary pores and repel water and oils from within the material. A good depth of penetration is also essential for protection from weathering and traffic.
- Prevention: Control the dirt coming in with walk-off (track off) mats outside the home. Take off your shoes as you walk into the home. An entrance rug will encourage inhabitants to wipe their feet.
- Use a mild cleaner: Use a vacuum cleaner whenever possible and spot clean as necessary. Mopping often just spreads the dirt to every spot in the room you’re cleaning. We use too much, so just use less. Then rinse it, and dry it. (Get knee pads if yours are as sensitive as mine!)
- Hook yourself up with an environmentally-friendly cleaning company such as Blue Sky before you need them to help suggest appropriate products for your surfaces.
Do you have a countertop you love? We’d love to hear from you. Send us a picture of your countertop and let us know how happy you are (or aren’t) with it. Want to know about Paperstone or Glass or other types of countertop not mentioned? Write back if you do. (shelley@TFI.design) If you need help selecting a countertop or a whole kitchen’s worth of designs and products, please check out this website, and give us a call or send me an email/text. We’d love to hear from you!