Natural Stone, Tile, and Grout Care Guide
One of the most common questions we get from our customers is how to clean and maintain natural stone floors. As a full-service restoration provider, we believe our customers should be educated on how to properly maintain and preserve their investment. We are pleased to provide you with this Tile and Stone Care Guide, which provides helpful information on the care and maintenance of natural stone. It covers the most commonly asked questions.
Our company specializes in grinding, polishing, honing, cleaning, and sealing of all natural stone including granite, travertine, marble, concrete, and limestone. We are truly a full-service natural stone care company If you have any questions not covered in our guide contact us at (714) 917-5255.
Care and Maintenance of Natural Stone, Tile, and Grout
Natural stones – especially calcite-based stones such as marble, travertine, limestone, and many slates – have a delicate chemical composition that may interact in damaging ways to cleaning solutions that were not specifically formulated for the task. Once you know what to use, all you have to do is follow some basic guidelines and your natural stone installation will give you years and years of beautiful service.
Routine Preventative Measures
- Use coasters under drinking glasses, particularly those containing alcohol or citrus juices to avoid etching.
- Do not place hot items directly on the stone surface. Use trivets or mats under hot dishes.
- Use place mats under china, silver or other objects that can scratch the surface.
- Avoid cleaning products unless the label specifies it is safe for natural stone. This includes glass cleaners to clean mirrors over a marble vanity top or a liquid toilet bowl cleaner when the toilet sits on a marble floor.
Some spills will turn out to be detrimental to stone if unattended. Orange juice, lemonade, wine, vinegar, liquors, tomato sauce, yogurt, salad dressing, perfume, aftershave, the wrong cleaning products and so on will most likely not damage granite and green marble surfaces in the short term but will ETCH polished marble, travertine, limestone, onyx, alabaster and many types of slate. This is why we recommend the following dos and don’ts.
- DO clean up any spills as quickly as possible.
- DON’T rub the spill – blot it.
- DON’T use cleaning products on or near your natural stone unless the label specifies that it is safe on natural marble. This includes glass cleaner to clean the mirror over a marble vanity top, or a liquid toilet bowl cleaner when the toilet is set on a marble floor. This does not include cultured marble as it is man-made is basically a plastic material.
Caring for Natural Stone Floors
Invest in quality cleaning tools
Safely cleaning your natural stone floor is not as simple as choosing the right cleaning product. It is also essential to choose the right implements. A good quality mop and the proper mopping bucket are critical to obtaining the best results when mopping your highly polished stone or porcelain floor. Other cleaning materials that may be helpful include a cleaning rag, paper towel, scrubbing pad, and squeegee.
Sponge mops are not the best choice for highly polished stone floors. A better choice is a good sized, closed-loop cotton string mop but the best choice is a micro-fiber mop. Have a few mop-heads on hand so that when one gets dirty, you can throw it in the washing machine and have another to use while it washes.
Newly Installed Floors Should Be Cleaned with Micro Fiber Mop
A brand-new polished stone floor should be detailed by a properly trained janitor or a professional stone refinisher. Detailing means deep-cleaning the floor inch by inch to remove grout residue or film and adhesive and taking care of any damage by the installers or factory flaws. It also involves opening the pores of the stone by using a heavy-duty stone, tile and grout cleaner.
In extreme instances when a grout film is still present over the surface of the tiles, a stone safe soap film remover can be used. This product is also effective at removing mineral deposit due to the presence of chelates (MB-3) in its formula.
Sealing is Recommended for Some Newly Installed Floors
Porous stones hone-finished limestone or certain mercantile granites can benefit from the application of a good-quality impregnating sealer – especially if the floor is installed in a room where accidental spills of staining agents like cooking oil, coffee, and juice are likely to occur.
The application of an impregnating sealer to highly polished marble and travertine, or polished high density mercantile granites, is generally not recommended. Should you decide not to have your floor detailed, avoid damp-mopping your floor immediately after installation and grouting because the powder that has likely been left on the floor will be trapped in the water and may leave ugly and hard-to-remove streaks all over its surface.
For the first week or so, just vacuum – but be careful not to use a worn vacuum cleaner because the metal or plastic attachments or the wheels may scratch the surface. Upright vacuum cleaners are not recommended. Canister vacuum cleaners and central vacuum systems are the best. The head of your vacuum should be a soft horsehair attachment.
Dust mop with a not-treated dust mop or a clean, dry micro-fiber mop your floor as often as you can. You will know it is ready to be washed when your hand remains clean with no whitish powder after rubbing it on the newly restored or refinished floor.
Do not damp-mop your floor using a solution of water and stone soap. As with any other soap, stone soap will leave a hard-to-remove deposit on the surface of the stone. Stone soaps have very limited applications and are not designed for cleaning a highly polished stone floor. Even so-called “rinse-free” stone soaps are discouraged. By reading the label on soap stone bottles, you will see that every so often you should be using a heavy-duty stripper/degreaser to remove all the soap scum that has been accumulating on your floor.
Always use a pH neutral floor detergent as opposed to soap. Don’t damp-mop your floor using a solution of water with a commercially available cleaner, unless its label specifically indicates that it is safe to use on natural stone and don’t damp-mop your floor with water and vinegar. Vinegar is highly acidic and will damage the stone.
Do a deep-clean of your stone floor and grout lines when needed using a solution of water and a heavy-duty stone, tile, and grout cleaner. If your floor is in a foyer or any other room with direct access to the outside, use proper floor mats. The leather or rubber of your shoes won’t damage your floor, but dirt will. Clean your floor mats often – when they get saturated with dirt and sand they defeat their purpose.
Kitchen, Bath, and Vanity Care
If your kitchen countertop is made of true or mercantile granite, green marble or soapstone, or a hone-finished stone there is one thing you must remember: Using a “glass cleaner” or “water with a little dish soap” are common but bad recommendations that you may hear.
Glass cleaners may turn out to be too harsh to both the stone and the sealer while water and dish soap can leave an unsanitary and unsightly film that will build up and become problematic to remove. Generic household cleaners off the shelves of the supermarket are out. Instead, use specialty cleaners formulated to deal with the delicate chemistry of stone.
Clean your kitchen countertop regularly with a stone safe cleaner, full strength in areas near cooking and eating areas, and diluted with water in a 1:1 proportion for less demanding areas like vanity tops and areas of the countertop far from the cooking and eating areas.
Don’t let any spills sit too long on the surface of your counter top. Clean spills up (by blotting only) as soon as you can.
When treating dried-on spills, do not use green or brown scouring pads. The presence of silicon carbide grits in them will scratch even the toughest granite. You can safely use the sponges lined with a silvery net, or other plastic scouring pads. It’s very important to spray the cleaner and let it sit for a while to moisten and soften the soil before scrubbing. Letting the cleaning agents do the work will make your job much easier and it will be more effective.
Bath and Vanity
Clean your vanity tops regularly with a stone-safe, soap-free product. Considering the light-duty cleaning that is typically necessary on a vanity top, you can generally dilute the product 1:1 with tap water. Don’t clean the mirrors over a marble vanity top with a regular glass cleaner as the over-spray could spill onto the marble surface and damage it. Clean your mirror with the same solution of water and stone safe spray cleaner. Rubbing alcohol also works wonders for cleaning mirrors and won’t harm marble.
Don’t use any powder cleanser or cream cleanser. Don’t do your nails on your marble vanity top, or color or perm your hair nearby it. Don’t put any wet bottle onto it (perfume, after-shave, etc.). Keep your cosmetics and fragrances in a tray with legs that have felt tips. Use a stone polish if you want to add some extra shine to your polished stone countertop surface and help prevent soiling.
Dos and Don’ts for Shower Stalls
- DO monitor your grout and caulk lines periodically and address any problem immediately.
- DON’T use any cleanser, either in a powdery or creamy form.
- DON’T use any generic soap film remover, such as TILEX SOAP SCUM® or X-14 SOAP SCUM® on your polished stone shower stall.
- DON’T use any mildew stain remover, such as TILEX MILDEW STAIN REMOVER® or X-14 MILDEW STAIN REMOVER® on your polished stone shower stall.
- DON’T use any self-cleaners, such as SCRUBFREE ® and the likes, or any harsh disinfectant, such as LYSOL®.
- DO clean your shower stall daily by spraying the walls and floor of the stall with a diluted solution of water and stone spray cleaner, and then squeegee.
- DO whatever it takes to minimize water bubbles drying. They leave behind the soap films that make shower maintenance so difficult.
Removing Soap Scum
If you notice an accumulation of soap film (especially on the lower part of the walls and on the floor pan), use a soap film remover specifically formulated to be effective at doing the job of cleaning soap scum and hard mineral deposits on natural stone.
If mildew appears on the grout lines of your shower enclosure, clean the mildew stain with a mildew stain remover formulated to be safe on natural stone. (MB-9)
Cleaning Your Toilet
If your toilet bowl sits on a marble or other natural stone floor, don’t use a generic toilet bowl cleaner because possible spills will dig holes in your marble. Clean your bowl with a powdery cleanser and, if extra disinfection is desired, spray your toilet liberally with a disinfectant spray designated safe for stone.
Commonly Asked Questions About Sealing Stone
How many applications of sealer are needed?
For some stones that are more porous than others, one application of sealer/ impregnator may not be enough. But how will you know? On mercantile granites that need sealing, at least two applications are recommended. Very porous mercantile granites, sandstone, quartzite, etc. may require three or more applications. When sealer can no longer be absorbed by the stone, the stone is adequately sealed.
How often do I have to reseal my stone?
There is no absolute rule of thumb when it comes to the durability of any sealer. Generally speaking, most quality impregnating sealers interior will last two to five years – or more. Environment plays a big role. Stones exposed to intense heat or direct sunlight generally need to be re-sealed more often.
When is it time to reseal?
To find out if your stone is perfectly sealed, spill some water on it and wait for approximately half an hour, then wipe it dry. If the surface of the stone did not darken it means that the stone is still perfectly sealed. Be sure to test various areas, especially those areas that get more use.
How will a sealer alter the surface of my stone?
Contrary to popular belief, most stone sealers are below-surface products and will not alter the original stone finish produced by the factory. They will not offer protection to the surface of the stone either. They will be absorbed by the stone and clog its pores, thus reducing its natural absorbency rate. This will help prevent possible accidental spills of staining agents from being absorbed by the stone.
How important is it to seal natural stone?
There is no blanket rule when it comes to sealing natural stone. Marble (especially all those mercantile marbles that are actually compact limestone) and travertine are not actually very porous. If you don’t believe this, spill a few drops of water on one of these surfaces and observe how long it will take to be absorbed – a very long time, if ever! On the other hand, most granite must be sealed because it is more porous than marble and will stain if not protected with a good quality impregnator-type stone sealer. Some granites are so porous that no sealer will do a satisfactory job at sealing them 100% for long.
Will sealing my stone prevent corrosion?
Marks of corrosion (etch marks) that an acidic substance will leave behind when coming into contact with the surface of some stones may look like water stains, or water rings, but they are not stains and they were not caused by water. The deriving surface damage has no relation whatsoever with the porosity of the stone, which determines its absorbency, but is exclusively related to its chemical makeup. No sealer in the world will do anything to prevent this.
What do color-enhancing sealants do?
While impregnating sealers will not alter the appearance of your stone, on tumbled marble, low-honed finished limestone and travertine, honed black granite, etc. a color enhancing, impregnating sealer will protect the stone while bringing out its color. It will give it a wet look and will provide good protection from water-based staining.
Should I seal my grout?
Grout is porous and will absorb liquids which can potentially lead to stains. Sealing your grout provides a protective barrier that not only protects it from stains but makes routine cleaning and maintenance easier. Grout can be sealed with a clear sealer or it can be color sealed. Color sealing has the added advantage of allowing you to completely change the color of your grout.
Stains are discolorations but not all discolorations are stains.
For example, consider a piece of fabric. Fabric is typically absorbent, so if we spill some liquid onto it the material will absorb it. If it is only water, it will leave a temporary stain and once it dries, the fabric will go back to its original color. However, if coffee or cooking oil is spilled on it a stain will occur. Why? Because the fabric will absorb the staining agent and change its color in a permanent way. That is, unless we do something to remove the agent from the fabric. On the other hand, if bleach is spilled on that same fabric, a discoloration will occur, but it cannot be defined as a stain because it actually damaged the dye that originally made the color of the fabric.
A True Stain is Always Darker Than the Stained Material
A discolor of a lighter color is not a stain. It is either a mark of corrosion (etching) made by an acid, or a caustic mark (bleaching) made by a strong base (a.k.a., alkali). In other words, a lighter color “stain” is in fact always surface damage – there is not a single exception to this rule.
Etching, a.k.a. “Water Stains” Or “Rings”
Polished marble, travertine, onyx, limestone, etc. are all calcite-based stones, and as such are affected by pH active liquids, mostly acidic in nature. In layman’s language, when an acidic liquid gets on a polished marble, travertine, slate, etc. surface, it etches it on contact – it leaves a mark of corrosion that looks like a water-stain or ring. Trying to remove the “stain” by poulticing it would be useless exercise, since it is not a stain, no matter what it looks like. You cannot remove a chemical etch-mark – it is better compared to a shallow chemical scratch.
10 Common Stone Problems
Marble, granite, limestone and other decorative stone are durable materials that will last a lifetime. However, if not installed correctly or properly cared for problems may result that will shorten its life. The following are ten of the most common problems that can occur with stone.
1. Loss of shine
The loss of high polish on certain marble and granite can be attributed to wear. This is especially true of marble, since it is much softer then granite. When shoes track in dirt and sand, the bottoms of the shoes can act like sandpaper on a stone floor surface and over time will wear the polish off. A stone restoration professional can restore the polish.
The dull, whitish spot created when liquids containing acids are spilled on marble is called etching. Marble and limestone etch very easily. Granite is very acid-resistant and will rarely etch. To prevent etching, avoid using cleaners and chemicals that contain acids. Deep etching or large areas will require the services of a restoration professional.
Some stone surfaces can become stained easily if they are not properly sealed. Many foods, drinks, ink, oil and rust can cause stains. Most stains on stone can be removed. For more difficult stains, professional techniques by a stone restoration provider may be the only hope. Permanent stains do occur but are not common
Efflorescence appears as a white powdery residue on the surface of the stone. It is a common condition on new stone installations or when stone is exposed to a large quantity of water, such as flooding. This powder is a mineral salt from the setting bed. Do not use water to remove efflorescence. Buff the stone with a clean polishing pad or #0000 steel wool pad. The stone will continue to effloresce until it is completely dry. This drying process can take several days to as long as one year. Do not seal the stone until any efflorescence is gone.
5. Spalling, Flaking and Pitting
If your stone is developing small pits or small pieces of stone are popping off the surface (spalling) then you have a problem. This condition is common on stone exposed to large amounts of water or when deicing salts are used for ice removal. Like efflorescence, mineral salts are the cause for spalling and pitting.
Instead of the salts depositing on the surface (efflorescence) they deposit below the surface of the stone, causing pressure within the stone, which in turn can cause stone spalls, flakes or pits. Unfortunately, once a stone begins to spall it is almost impossible to repair. It is recommended that the stone be replaced.
There are several reasons a stone will turn yellow. Embedded dirt and grime can give the stone a yellow, dingy look. Waxes and other coatings can yellow with age. Certain stones will naturally yellow with age as a result of oxidation of the iron within the stone. This is especially problematic with white marbles.
If the yellowing is caused by dirt or wax build up, have the stone cleaned with an alkaline cleaner or wax stripper. This may be a job best left to professionals. If the yellowing is the result of aged stone or iron oxidation, it is not coming out.
7. Uneven Tile (Lippage)
Lippage is the term given to tiles that are set unevenly. In other words, the edge of one tile is higher than the next and is the result of a poor installation. If the lippage is higher than the thickness of a nickel, it is considered excessive and the tile will have to be ground by a restoration contractor to flatten the floor.
8. Cracks and Chips
Cracks in stone can be caused by settling, poor installation, and inadequate underlying support or excessive vibration. Chips can result from a bad installation or when a heavy object falls on a vulnerable corner. Repairs can be done by a professional stone restoration contractor by filling with a color matched polyester or epoxy.
9. White Stun Marks
Stun marks appear as white marks on the surface of the stone and are common in certain types of marble. These stuns are the result of tiny explosions inside the crystal of the stone. Pin point pressures placed on the marble cause these marks. Women’s high heels or blunt pointed instruments are common reasons for stun marks. Stun marks can be difficult to remove, if not impossible. Grinding and/or honing can reduce the number of stuns, but some travel through the entire thickness of the stone.
10. Water Rings/Spots
Water rings and spots are very common on marble and other natural stone surfaces. They are either areas that have become etched or are from hard water minerals such as calcium and magnesium that are left behind when water evaporates, leaving a ring or a spot. Most likely these will require professional honing by a stone restoration contractor.
While marble and other calcite-based stones are vulnerable to acids, granite is much more resistant. In fact, the only acid that will etch polished granite is hydrofluoric acid, commonly found in rust removers.
Professional Maintenance Services
To keep your stone in its best shape for years to come, professional maintenance services are recommended. Contact Advanced Stone & Tile Restorations at (714) 917-5255 now to find out more about creating a personalized maintenance plan.
Stone Restoration Services
Stone restoration involves restoring worn stone to the state in which it was installed. It may also entail the altering of the stone’s original factory finish to match a desired finish of the installation’s owner or management. In some cases, an owner may desire a polished surface to be honed or vice versa.
Restoration is a process that can only be done by a professional stone restoration company. Your typical maintenance/janitorial or tile & grout cleaning company will not have the proper tools or experience to restore natural stone. Most processes are done in a wet environment that helps prevent dust from invading your home.
What is involved in stone restoration?
Restoration of marble, granite, limestone, travertine or other natural stone involves the removal of scratches and/or other damage from the surface of the stone. The best option is mechanical abrasion known as diamond grinding. Diamond grinding gives better clarity and reflectivity than other methods that can used, such as the use of sanding screens, honing powders or paste polishes alone.
A stone floor that has been restored with diamonds will also retain its look longer than it will with the use of these other methods. While the use of diamonds may cost you more in the beginning, having to have your floors done every four to six years compared to the every one to two years required by other methods can save you money in the long run.
Natural stone reflects light and does not need a topical coating or wax to achieve this desired finish. It only needs a series of diamond grits used in the proper order by a craftsman who is experienced in their use. This is followed by a careful polishing technique that can only be mastered through experience. A restoration professional will also take care to protect the surrounding surfaces from damage.
The diamond grinding technique involves large amounts of water and this could be damaging to wood and carpet if measures are not properly taken to ensure the use of water was kept to a minimum and protection against splatter used.
Tile and Grout Cleaning and Restoration
A properly trained tile and grout restoration contractor can clean and restore your tile and grout and make it look brand new. Missing grout and broken tiles can be replaced. Grout can be sealed to inhibit staining or color sealed to hide stains that can’t come out or to simply change its color completely for a fresh new look.