The hard surfaces in today’s homes consist of marble, tumbled stone, travertine, slate, onyx, granite, and limestone; paver, concrete and tile. We might treat them similarly, but due to their geological formation, mineral composition, and manufacturing processes, they can require different care and treatments.

This overview explains the basic characteristics of hard surfaces that contain rock in one manner or another. For information how to best maintain their condition and presentation, click here. When cared for properly, they will outlast the life of your home.

Granite

This is generally the most durable and densest of stone due to being formed during volcanic activity. Therefore, with the hardest minerals and fewer pores, most granites withstand heavier wear, naturally repels water and most acidic liquids, and is excellent most anywhere. If damaged or cared for improperly, granite is difficult to repair. It is important to note that granite is used as a generic term—some granites are not “true” granites. Even though durable, most granites need to be sealed.

Limestone/Travertine

Generally, Travertine is older than limestone but not as old as marble. They are more porous and softer than most other stones and are at the opposite end of granite in terms of hardness. Like marble, Travertine and limestone are rich in calcium. Usually these stones are honed in finish (versus a polished marble) and are rougher in texture. Honed stones like Travertine and limestone are known for their inherent variations in color, texture and finish. If not cared for properly, their surfaces can look dark and dingy from dirt and soil accumulation. Both must be sealed and can require extra applications due to their porosity.

Marble/Onyx

Marble is the most versatile due to its wide color range and durability. The colors arise from various minerals leeching into limestone—many marbles are very old limestone—that metamorphose (transform) from exposure to heat, pressure, and water. Usually, marble has a polished finish; yet, a customized honed or satin finish is available. The stone is not as durable as granite, but it is excellent in most any area. Sealers diminish the effects of water, oil, soil, and contaminants.

Slate

This natural stone comprised of materials like clay, sand, and silt. It can be used either inside or outside. For a few months, newer floors can be slightly gritty. It is normal for clay-enriched slate to separate in layers, especially when outside. Exterior slate is more susceptible to mineral build-up when exposed regularly to water and the elements. A more viscous enhancer-sealer is best for slate. This not only repels liquids and provides better protection, but also enriches the stone’s natural color.

Paver/Tile/Concrete

Many clients chose these materials due to their versatility, ease of care and stylistic preferences. Tile, paver and concrete are mostly composed of crushed rocks, clay, minerals, and other additives. Depending on the material, they are “fired”, “sun dried” or “cured” leaving them with varying degrees hardness and porosity. Variations in the tile, paver and concrete color, texture and finish are expected since some is manufactured to appear much like stone and antique materials that can have a more rustic presentation.

Engineered Stone

Even though there are a wide range of choices, engineered stone is mostly composed of resin, quartz, crushed stone, and sometimes, glass. In many ways, it is similar to granite; yet, it does not need sealing. Since it is manufactured, its appearance is more homogenous and consistent. Always read the information provided by the manufacturer. Most allow the use of many popular kitchen cleaners, but it is best to always read the label.
  • Almost all stone, paver, grout and other hard surface issues are reparable.
  • Stone and man-made surfaces develop a patina over time. Wear patterns, soils and exposure contribute to the changing and unique appearance of these hard surfaces.
  • Floor mats, especially the thicker natural fiber mats, significantly help to reduce traffic patterns, soil build-up, and scratching.
  • Vacuums with rubber wheels and dry brush attachments that have total contact with flooring are best for removing dirt and soil.
  • Use non-rinse, neutral pH stone soaps and diluted, plain white bleach for cleaning stone and most other surfaces. All other products are harmful and thereby not recommended.

    Non-acidic cleaners are best for man-made materials like tile, grout, and concrete. Always read the directions. If homeowner care is irregular or traffic is high, treatment will be needed more regularly.

    We recommend our Easy Care Cleaner specifically designed for continuous care of stone surfaces and paver. This daily cleaner removes dirt, soils and non-caustic contaminates. It is ideal for many types of sealers and finishes.

  • Stone and man-made materials have nuances that we may consider undesirable, but they are common and expected. In the home building industry, stone is usually rated with two factors in mind: esthetics, and supply and demand.

    he removal of the four major types of blemishes require various techniques like refinishing, honing or polishing, or poulticing. Etches – These dull, whitish marks result when caustic liquids react with calcium carbonate stones like limestone, Travertine and marble or other susceptible materials. Etches are sub-surface blemishes and can vary in severity. Scratches – Gouges or incisions in the sub-surface caused by dirt, soil, furniture moving, heavy traffic or dropped items. Scratches range from minor to profound. One can determine the depth of a scratch by running his/her fingernail over it. If the nail pauses or catches on the scratch, then it is usually more severe. Dullness – The finish/polish/reflection of hard surfaces is affected by foot traffic, soiling, caustic liquids, mineral build-up, contamination, etc. The best way to determine the extent of dullness is comparing, at an angle, high traffic to low traffic areas. Stains – Some stains are permanent discolorations caused by migrating moisture, contamination or a colored liquid. Depending on the material, various procedures are employed to remedy the stains as best as possible. For example, a poultice–a chemical in a powder medium–is used to help draw out stains. Its effectiveness is not always determinable due to the staining substance, its severity, its depth, the material, and past care.

  • Refinishing (wet sanding) is the only process that guarantees the removal of most sub-surface blemishes, like scratches, etches, dullness, and other marks.

    Refinishing also removes lippage, high edges at adjoining tiles that create a jagged and uneven appearance, especially at an angle. Even though the industry does not mandate flat floors, excessive lippage requires repair, as aesthetics and safety are both concerns.

  • Techniques, such as stripping, refinishing and acid-washing, are used on pavers and concrete. Stains, waxes, etc. may be used to mask blemishes. More rustic-looking materials are purposely discolored, marked and scuffed.
  • Only polished materials are treated with traditional polishing powders, creams, and chemicals that contain micro-abrasives which reveals an intense reflection depending on the stone. Honed stones are not polished; nor should they be cosmetically treated with “glossy” coatings. (Refer to the “coatings” information below.)

    Today most companies employ crystallizers, an inexpensive wax and acid mixture used to make surfaces “shiny”. This quick process causes eventual damage and issues to many materials. For more info, refer to Stone Business 12/05 article, “A Clean Perspective: About Crystallization”.

  • Penetrating/Impregnating sealers are applied to stone, pavers, grout, and concrete. SoliStone uses only tested and approved sealers that consider the material and its location. They provide protection and some time to clean-up spills. Yet, depending upon the spill and the material, reactions can still occur, even if removed quickly.

    Penetrating/Impregnating sealers are invisible, absorb into the pores, permit vapor transmission, but do not “coat” a surface. They help to repel various liquids, such as water, oil, dirt and other contaminants. They minimize the affects of these contaminants making homeowner care and professional maintenance easier and less costly. They do not repel caustic or acidic liquids.

    Penetrating enhancing-sealers enrich the color of many materials. They are used with stains and colorants to create customized finishes. Also, they provide greater protection for more porous materials due to higher viscosity.

  • Coatings/Topical/Film-forming sealers like waxes, acrylics and urethanes are best for most man-made materials. Presently, wax is popular for pavers as it creates customized old world, Tuscany and antiqued finishes. Even though these surfaces are protected, depending on the situation, coatings may need more regularly maintenance.

    Topical grout colorant-sealants like SoliStone’ ColorGuard are used to treat permanently stained grout. It is a versatile product that can be used to “stain or faux” concrete, pavers and in some situations, stone, while providing some added protection.

    Topical epoxy and urethane sealers are used to create glossy finishes on stone, paver, and concrete. In garages, epoxy sealers are very durable and withstand the stresses of higher traffic and heavier soiling. Like all sealers, they are not maintenance free and require periodic attention.

  • Repairs to cavities, holes, fissures, cracks, or veins are common and involve injecting or filling the larger voids with polyester resins or Portland cement mixtures. Repairs may be performed in the factory or the field. Over time larger fills can loosen and fall out, and are usually repaired for a minimal cost.

    Voids impact a material’s presentation and finish adding to the variations already expected. Repair and fill materials will not match the stone, paver, etc. in color, texture or finish and can be lower than the plane of the surface. Travertine and tumbled stone characteristically have numerous holes.

    Many clients confuse cracks and fissures. A crack is a break, split, fracture, separation, cleavage, or elongated narrow opening, however caused, that is visible and tactilely discernible. In most situations, they extend through the stone, result in separation, and can cause adhesion issues to the sub-surface (movement may be detectable). They can be repaired unless structural integrity is compromised.

    Cracked stone rarely withstands the stresses of quarrying, processing, transportation, fabrication or installation. It is highly uncommon to find installed compromised stone. Fissures are similar in appearance, but are rarely tactilely discernible, pass through the stone, result in separation or lose adhesion. Most “cracks” are actually fissures.

  • Natural stone is nothing more than rock. Inherent variations in color, texture, finish, pattern, etc. are common. Any samples of a product shown for the purpose of selecting a particular type is representative and not an exact presentation. No two pieces of stone or other materials are identical. Also, no natural or rustic product is blemish or nuance free.
  • Tumbled stones and rustic pavers or concrete are treated in order to create a more antiqued finish. Different processes are employed. Also, chipped edges, chipped corners, irregular shape and different colors are common.
  • Various environments can affect the appearance of any material. Regular exposure to water, the elements, minerals, shampoos, and cleaners can cause chemical reactions leading to discoloration and weathering. Regular maintenance keeps these surfaces presentable, and in good condition and repair. There are three common by-products to regular exposure to water. Efflorescence – A crystalline deposit that appears on surfaces typically caused by soluble salts carried through or onto the material by moisture. It can be a precursor to spalling. It is usually found in exterior applications or in areas regularly exposed to water like showers.

    Spalling – The process of vapor transmission (absorption and evaporation) through a more porous area of a material such as a pore, hole or vein causing it to fracture. Spalling is a natural process that cannot be controlled but only slowed through proper maintenance and repair. Flaking or scaling is similar and common with concrete and paver. Staining – Various hard materials react differently when exposed to water. Usually, materials will begin to darken and over time, become permanently stained. For example, most stone and grout darken whereas, concrete appears mottled with varying hues. Coloring is affected by efflorescence in that it may make materials lighter in color.

  • Exterior surfaces need minimal monthly attention that is usually performed by the groundskeepers. Usually, one can expect light mineral and soil build-up, and minor erosion due to time and regular exposure to the elements, especially water. It is important to minimize puddling through proper maintenance.
  • Grout is a concrete-type material that can also have color variation. Dye lots, temperature, humidity, material porosity, affect the color of grout. Home settling, ground movement, wetter environments, exposure to the elements, high traffic, and other factors can cause hairline cracks or discolored grout, and require maintenance or repair. Grout may need attention after installation removing contaminants that resulted from drying and curing.
  • With proper homeowner care and regular professional maintenance, stone, paver, tile and concrete will maintain its condition and repair for hundreds of years. Maintenance is the responsibility of every homeowner. As stated earlier, stone and other materials behaves differently based on wear, location, type, and care. It can weather, much like it does in a natural environment.
  • Only employ licensed, insured and reputable contractors. Industry standards are constantly being updated and improved. Only the best contractors are aware of these changes and the standards and processes developed to ensure the durability and integrity of all hard surfaces inside or outside the home.

SoliStone provides free in-home training, and our Natural Stone Care Guide, to ensure the condition and repair of the stone and other materials in your homes.