A good and extensive maintenance and care plan guarantees that the material you choose will last longer and not wither due to extreme weather fluctuations, spills or other miscellaneous reasons. But before we dive into the various cleaning and maintenance methods let’s discuss a few things about natural stone first.
Things that you need to be aware about regarding natural stone are given here in detail. There are two general categories of natural stone but we will only be discussing the one that concerns us and those are calcareous stones. Knowing the composition and type of stone that you are dealing with is absolutely mandatory whilst choosing cleaning products. The main element of composition of calcareous stones is calcium carbonate (CaCO3) which is also why natural stones are chalky. Calcium carbonate quite readily reacts with acidic solvents such as vinegar, alcohol, lemons juice, tomato paste and orange juice etc. Such chemical reactions lead to destruction of the luster, dullness in shine and erosion of the surface in general. This reaction is commonly referred to as “acid etching”. Cleaning products that work for other natural stones may not work for calcareous stones and might damage the surface. therefore you need to be very vigilant and cautious while buying your cleaning products. Three prime examples of calcareous stones are limestone, marble and travertine.
- Limestone is a sedimentary rock made from the precipitation of calcium carbonate in a marine environment. It is a very important component of the construction industry as majority of the buildings are built with limestone or its derivatives. However, its uses are not just limited to building purposes. This mineral calcite is used in a variety of things ranging from plastics, cement, glass to steel and even medicines.
- Marble is made up of recrystallized calcite or dolomite. It is the metamorphic form of limestone and is one of the most popular natural stone in the world. Its unique veining, dazzling appearance and deep roots in historical architecture keeps it at the top of building decorating materials.
- Travertine is a derivative of limestone deposited by either geothermally heated mineral hot springs or at the mouth of limestone caves in the form of stalagmites, stalactites and other speleothems. This natural stone is renowned for its pits and holes which give it a concentric or porous surface. Travertine is available in a broad range of earthy and neutral tones. Beige, cream, tan and noce travertine are some of the popular examples. Travertine tiles, pavers and slabs are a popular choice among homeowners and architects for home renovation purposes.
Cleaning of the Stone
Cleaning regularly is a key rule to follow for keeping your natural stone in tip-top condition. It is best advised to clean spills as soon as they occur for this reduces the chances of erosion, etching or any sort of damage to the surface of the stone.
A key rule to keep in mind while dealing with spills is to blot instead of wiping. Wiping will further rub the solvent into the surface of the stone and cause it to corrode. It is always good to keep regular paper towels around the house for blotting spills. Another way to clean a spill is by washing the entire place with water mixed with a mild detergent or cleaning product, followed by drying of the area with a mop or a piece of cloth. Be careful to not use harsh products with high pH numbers or those with lemon, vinegar, or other acidic ingredients for these can permanently damage your marble or travertine. Also, avoid abrasive scrubbing creams or powders that may scratch the surface.
For application specific cleaning we have listed a set of instruction, given below, for their easy cleaning:
- Floors: Stone floors should be cleaned frequently with regular dusting using a soft and dry mop. Most damage to a natural stone’s surface is caused by the presence of dirt and sand which can cause scratches due to their abrasive nature. By placing mats with non-slip underside on the entrance you can easily reduce the amount of sand and dirt coming inside your house. Avoid using vacuum with wheels on your stone floor as it can cause black marks and scratches on the stone’s surface.
- Bathrooms: Bathrooms look outstanding with natural stone installation but it can be a bit tricky to keep it in its lustrous form. Wet areas such as the shower place and bath basin can have accumulation of soap scum which can be greatly reduced if rubber blades like squeegees are used while the area is still wet after each use. Use a solution of ½ ammonia diluted in a gallon of clean water or a non-acidic soap scum remover to get rid of soap scum.
- Countertops: Countertops whether bathroom one or the kitchen one require a good sealer for their protection. A bathroom countertop may act as a vanity as well. This makes them vulnerable to cosmetic spills which can lead to oil based stains. For kitchen countertops regular cleaning is a must along with periodic resealing to avoid staining. Neutral cleaners should be used for daily cleaning of these countertops.
- Exterior Applications: Natural stone looks bedazzling when used for decoration of the house’s exterior. Pool decks, patios, garden stepping stones, driveways, walkways and gazebos are some examples of their external applications. Regular sweeping with a broom can keep these installations in tip top form.
Stains and Their Types
Stains are the remnants of spills that do not budge even on washing with a good detergent. This phenomenon is referred as staining and the only way to remove a stain is by knowing what caused it. If you do not know the source of the stain then you can use the following questions to shortlist the origin of the staining agent:
- What is the stain’s location?
- Is the stain near an area that has plants placed nearby; are cosmetics placed on or around the surface or is it where the food is handled?
- What is the color of the stain?
- What is the appearance of the stain? Is it in a pattern or a random shape?
- What possible activities are carried out around the area in question?
Once you have the answers to these questions you can easily shortlist the cause of staining and treat the stain accordingly. The stains on the surface can be easily removed with a good cleaning agent or household products but the stubborn stains that have seeped into the stone’s structure might require the use of poultice and sometimes even the services of a stone cleaning professional.
Given below are some common stain types that you might come across on your marble, travertine or limestone’s surface along with effective methods that can be used for getting rid of them without causing any harm to the stone’s appearance.
- Oil based stains: These stains are usually caused by substances such as cooking oil, tar, grease, cosmetics, butter and milk. Such stains are identified by the darkening of the stone’s surface. These stains require the process of chemical dissolving in order to bring out or rinse away the oil based elements from the stone’s structure. Using a gentle hand, clean out the stain using a liquid cleanser in combination with bleach, ammonia, mineral spirits or acetone.
- Organic Stains: These stains are caused by general food items, caffeine related products, urine, feces and even leaves. The color of these stains is usually in a pinkish brown hue. These stains tend to go away once the source of the stain is removed for stones placed outside the house. This is thanks to the natural bleaching action of rain and sunlight. For the indoor based organic stains a few drops of ammonia with twelve percent hydrogen peroxide will do the trick.
- Metallic Stains: Metallic stains are usually caused by rusting of objects made out of iron, bronze, brass and copper. The color of iron stains vary from orange to brown and the shapes of these stains are usually of the object that is going through the process of rusting e.g. nails, screws, bolts, pots, metal furniture such as chairs or tables and cans. Bronze, brass and copper have green to muddy brown stain colors and are caused by the presence of moisture on items made up of these metals. These stains can proof to be irremovable in extreme cases but those that are not deeply sated can be removed using poultice.
- Biological Stains: The main sources of biological stains are fungi, algae, moss and lichens etc. These stains can be removed by diluting ½ cup of ammonia, bleach or hydrogen peroxide in a gallon of water.
- Ink Stains: Ink stains can be caused by fountain pens, markers and even gel pens. These stains can come off with a gentle cleaning using hydrogen peroxide or bleach, lacquer thinner or acetone.
- Paint Stains: Paint stains can have different methods for their removal depending on the size of the stain. If the stain is in small amount then you can simply chip it off with a sharp edge or use lacquer thinner to remove it. If the stone is heavily covered with paint then only commercial grade paint stripper liquid should be used. These paint strippers are easily available at hardware stores and usually contain lye or caustic soda. Due to the presence of these ingredients, paint strippers can cause etching on the stone’s surface which might require re-polishing once the stain has been removed. Follow the instruction of the manufacturer carefully while wearing protective gloves and necessary eye wear.
- Water Spots: These stains come into existence due to the accumulation of hard water on the stone. They can be removed easily by buffing the stained area with dry steel wool.
- Smoke and Fire Related Stains: Natural stones near fireplaces or near the stove end up with smoke and fire related stains which can be removed with smoke removing agents available in the market.
A poultice is a handy cleaner made from a chemical or liquid cleaner that is mixed with some absorbent material to form a thick paste. This peanut butter consistency like paste is evenly spread in a thick layer over and around the stain with the help of spatula. It is then covered with a plastic sheet and secured with tape. This covered paste is kept in place for 48 hours during which the poultice draws out the stain. The procedure is repeated to remove a stain thoroughly.
Poultice can made up of materials such as talc, powdered chalk, white molding plaster, kaolin, whiting or fuller’s earth. By rule of thumb, one pound of poultice will cover approximately one square foot area. Take special care in mixing the materials and avoid using whiting or fuller’s earth with acidic chemicals as they react badly and in turn cancel the poultice’s effect. Chemical Poultice is usually prepared with soaked cotton balls, gauze pad or paper towels.
Care and Maintenance Guidelines
Taking care of your stone installation can be an easy task provided you know how to do it right. Given below are some helpful tips and general guideline which can help you in taking care of your natural stone.
- For kitchen countertops and kitchen island always use cutting boards, trivets and pot stands to avoid direct contact of food and dishes.
- Vanity countertops should have trays for cosmetics and toiletry holders for keeping everything in place and off the surface.
- Use place-mats and coasters for glasses and mugs to avoid staining due to wine, caffeine or any citrus drink.
- Place rugs or area mats in heavy foot traffic areas.
- Dust mop your floors and wipe your counters on daily basis.
- Blot up spills as soon as they happen to avoid seepage.
- Always use soft and clean material for cleaning of the stone. Abrasive material can cause scratches and etching of the polish as well as sealer.
- Acidic bathroom, tub or tile cleaners should never be used as they react with the natural stone.
- Reseal your stone yearly to keep them in their brand new form
Stone care and maintenance can go a long way if done properly and on time. You just need to follow the basic guidelines and can retain the beauty of your stone installation for many years.