Stone has many variables, and because stone care is an inexact science, it is important to approach each situation with extreme caution. Each and every situation should have several small test patches completed to assure expected results. It is very important for stone care to be addressed in three separate categories: Protection, Maintenance and Restoration.
This article will cover two: Protection and Maintenance. What is reasonable to expect for protection of stone? Does stone need to be sealed? Can you realistically protect the stone from scratching, staining and showing wear? Can you maintain the polish on the stone, and if so how? These are a few of the questions intended to be answered in this following article.
Protection Penetrating Sealers
All tile, stone, grout and masonry surfaces benefit by sealing with a natural look or color enhancing penetrating sealer. These products will penetrate into the substrate, creating a barrier resistant to water penetration, oil penetration, stains, decrease surface absorption, reduce wear, allow vapor transmission, increase the static coefficient of friction (less slippery) and will not alter the natural look of the stone. Impregnators or penetrating sealers are economical to use and do not require frequent applications. These products can and should be used prior to grouting as a grout release and after grouting as a surface and grout sealer. Most can be used for exterior and interior applications, including kitchens, bathrooms, floors, counters and walls. For kitchens and/or food areas, a “quality silicone-based penetrating sealer” is a good option, as when silicone cures there is a great deal of oxygen in the cured silicone molecule. Oxygen consumes micro-organisms, which aids the removal of bacteria.
The natural look penetrating sealer offers protection that should facilitate cleaning of the substrate by reducing absorption. It can also make the surface less slippery. What natural look and color enhancing penetrating sealers will not do are stop calcite stones from etching when exposed to acidic products like vinegar, urine and acid. They will not stop the stone from wearing when exposed to foot and vehicle traffic or outside elements.
The theory is to protect the beautiful finish of the natural stone by putting a topical coating on it. The reality is the coating is not as hard as the stone, and therefore requires constant attention to keep an acceptable finish. This translates into higher labor costs associated with coating maintenance then the stone surface maintenance. Typical coatings have a tendency to show tracking very quickly. Most coatings have adhesion challenges with dense polished marble, travertine, granite and quartzite. Coatings will alter the natural look of the surface and coatings will not allow for vapor transmission (breathability).
Location of the stone will play a huge role in what is necessary to maintain the newly installed look. In high-traffic areas, the maintenance procedures will need to be used more often than in low-traffic areas. If the stone is exposed to sand or grit, it will wear the stone surface more rapidly. If the stone is exposed to snow, ice or salt, the potential for damage is increased.
Clean up spills as they occur. Do not allow spills to sit on the surface or they may stain or require aggressive cleaning techniques.
One of the most important maintenance procedures for all natural stone floors is to use a dry dust mop daily to insure dust, grit and sand are kept off the stone surfaces. In commercial or high-traffic residential areas, walk-off mats are helpful. Make sure the mat is long enough to accommodate five to seven steps prior to stepping on the stone. Particles of dirt, grit and sand are responsible for scratches, and the subsequent removal of the high polish on natural stone.
Although vertical surfaces, such as walls and counters, do not get walked on, they still can accumulate dirt, grit and grime. These surfaces should be dusted or wiped regularly.
Although the stone has been sealed, it doesn’t mean it is maintenance free and won’t get dirty and need to be cleaned. Periodically clean the surface with a neutral Ph cleaner and hot water. With excessively stubborn stains, the stone can be deep cleaned with deep penetrating cleaners or poultice type cleaners.
To clean dirty floors, use a weighted floor machine equipped with a soft brush or pad for polished surfaces and/or a medium stiff brush for texture/honed surfaces. For light cleaning, a deck brush with the appropriate bristle can also be used. Scrubbing the surface will loosen dirt, grit, grime and stains. Then use a wet vacuum to remove the dirty remains. Extracting the cleaning solution and dirty water is important. Floors should be rinsed until all cleaning suds and dirty solution are gone or when the rinse water is clear in order to eliminate streaks, and dirty water residue.
On honed, flamed, textured, tumbled and acid-washed stone surfaces (non-polished) use a neutral Ph cleaner to start with and only progress to stronger more aggressive cleaners as needed. Additionally, a stone soap may be used as directed. The natural stone soap will react with the calcium in the stone and leave a protective soap layer. Continued use of natural stone soaps actually nourishes and enriches the color and texture of natural stone surfaces.
Acidic-based cleaners can be used for grout and mortar residue removal, efflorescence, construction clean-up and other heavy-duty cleaning needs. Acidic-based cleaners normally are diluted with water, depending on the needed strength and should NEVER be used on polished calcium-based, acid-sensitive, stone surfaces, or they could etch or remove the natural polish.