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Natural Stone Countertop Cleaning & Care Guide

Natural Stone Countertop Cleaning & Care

Natural Stone Countertop Cleaning, Care, and Maintenance

This natural stone countertop cleaning and care guide will give you some tips to keep your granite or other stone surfaces looking like new. The natural stone you have purchased is an investment that will give your home or office many years of beautiful service. Natural stone surfaces include granite, marble, limestone, travertine, slate, quartzite, sandstone, adoquin, onyx, and more. Simple care and maintenance will help preserve your stone’s beauty for generations to come!

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9 Hard Questions to Ask When Shopping for Stone

Article by: Anne Higuera CGR, CAPS

Deciding to use stone and choosing the kind to use are more complicated than just picking a finish you like. Because stone is a natural material, its appearance, durability and production can vary from one quarry to another, and from one batch to another, causing problems (or in some cases, providing benefits) you might not have anticipated. 

Here are nine questions you should consider before buying stone.

How thick does it need to be? Floor and wall tiles for interiors are usually ⅜ inch thick, while countertop slabs are typically 2 centimeters (¾ inch) or 3 centimeters (1¼ inches) thick.Exterior stone pavers could be 1½ inches or thicker.

Differences in counter and paver thicknesses can usually be accommodated if planned for in advance. It’s also not unusual to add a laminated edge to the front of a 2-centimeter counter to make it appear thicker.Tile for floors, however, can be tricky, particularly if you want your floor to flow to adjacent rooms without a transition. The best practice is to select floor tile early in the process and choose a material with consistent thickness.

We opened a box of specified slate tile on a project and discovered that each piece was a different thickness, with some well over ½ inch, making them higher than the adjacent wood floors even without thinset below. The clients opted to send it all back and ended up selecting a ceramic tile with similar colors but very consistent thickness.

Are there fissures?This is a question not just for countertop slabs but for tiles, as well.A fissure is a natural weak point in the stone, usually visible as a hairline crack. A fissure’s location can prevent you from using the stone if cuts will result in the weakest point’s being located where the stone needs to be strong, like around a sink or on an overhang. It can also result in the slab’s breaking during fabrication.

Fragile stone tile can also break during cutting, which means tile setters have to anticipate more waste. Instead of ordering the usual 5 to 10 percent extra for waste, they might add 15 to 20 percent more. The best practice is to select a slab and have the fabricator review it for flaws and fissures, so that you’ll have time to select something else if it won’t work.

What’s your finish? The most common finishes for stone are polished and honed.Both have a sheen, although honed has a fine texture that minimizes reflection.A heavier texture can be achieved with acids, buffing and heat, resulting in “antiqued,” “tumbled”and “flamed” finishes. Which one you choose depends upon personal taste, except when it comes to matters of safety. The larger the tile and the more polished the finish, the more likely it will be slippery under wet feet or shoes.

An easy way around slipperiness is to install the material in a smaller size — 4 inches square or less — or to select a material with more texture.

How well will samples match what arrives at your home?Because stone is a natural material, it can vary in color and in many other ways.If you can, get a large sampling of what’s in stock — five to 10 pieces of 12- by 12-inch tiles, for example — so you can see what you’re likely to get in a typical box.If there’s a huge variation in color or quality, you may want to look at something else.

This backsplash (far end) is a mix of onyx and glass mosaic tile. The onyx tile arrived at the jobsite with some bright red streaks across the face, which weren’t visible in the sample. The clients opted to buy additional tile and piece in nonred stone to make the results more consistent. 

Is it strong enough to span?Countertops are sometimes designed to span significant distances — over dishwashers, breakfast bars and desks, for example. Manufactured materials like quartz have specific maximum spans, but the fabricator may recommend a variety of solutions with stone, depending upon how large the unsupported portion is: a decorative corbel or other support; a concealed steel brace; or even a routed area under the stone for a steel or fiberglass rod. Your fabricator will help you determine how much support your counter needs.

How porous is it? All stone is not created equal. Some stones, such as limestone and marble, are more porous than others, and are more likely to absorb stains from substances like red wine and coffee. Acidic substances like lemons can etch surfaces, and even hair dye can stain a shower. Some stones, such as soapstone, are softer than others and can be scratched. 

Before committing to a stone, think carefully about how you plan to use it, and how much contact it’ll have with potentially damaging substances.

Will it hold up? The answer to this question depends on your lifestyle, how much you plan to use the stone surface and how careful you are with cleaning. (Cleaning products can etch limestone, marble and other materials.)

We once had clients whose old limestone counters were covered in coffee stains and had to be removed. They replaced them with Caesarstone, which remains in great shape many years later. My own granite counters are pristine almost a decade after installation, with no resealing.

To seal or not to seal?Sealants are frequently used on grout and sometimes on natural stone.Some sealants darken or even give a shiny look to otherwise honed or textured surfaces.If you’re considering a sealant for your stone, request a sample showing you different options, so you’ll know how the finished surface will look.

What’s the source?Stone comes from quarries across the globe, including the United States. Part of selecting a material involves thinking about where it comes from, how it is produced, the environmental impact of transporting it to your locality, and whether it is a sustainable, sensible and long-lasting material.

If you still have questions, ask your local supplier, fabricator, contractor or designer about the specifics for your project.

Monte Carlo Simulation Proves Safety of Granite Countertops

Supreme Granite Kitchen Island – Project Manager: Randy Wilson. A comprehensive new scientific study sponsored by the Marble Institute of America definitively shows that granite countertops are an insignificant source of radon in the home and that 99.95% of countertops produce lower radon concentrations than are typically found outdoors in the U.S. The study also concluded that in normal applications there is no risk granite countertops will produce radon concentrations even close to levels the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says require remediation (4 picocuries/liter).

Radon is a natural radioactive gas found in soil and stone. Most radon seeps harmlessly into the atmosphere. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of radon can cause lung cancer.

“Our analysis shows that the likelihood of a granite countertop leading to a negative health impact due to radon is almost a statistical impossibility,”said Dr. Joseph Allen of Environmental Health & Engineering Inc., who led the study team. “The most typical granite countertop installation would produce radon concentrations in the home that are 10,000 times lower than the EPA action level, and are so low that they are not even measurable.” Dr. Allen also stated that their model predicated that there was only a one-in-a-million chance of a granite countertop producing radon concentrations in the home that approached the EPA action level of 4 pCI/l, and that specific simulated countertop purchase involved an unrealistic scenario where 13& of the home’s surface area was countertop. Dr. Allen reiterated the final conclusion in their paper, “this research supports evidence previously published in the scientific literature that the health risk of radon exposure from granite countertops is negligible.”

The independent study, sponsored by the Marble Institute of America, involved a Monte Carlo simulation, a computer analysis to determine risks associated with various purchase decisions. The study simulates the installation of 1 million countertops of different kinds of granite in homes of different sizes and with different air exchange rates. The goal was to determine the probability that any countertop would produce significant radon concentrations. 

Monte Carlo simulations analyze the results of radon emissions for the full spectrum of granite installations including extreme possibilities, such as installing unrealistically large countertops in small, tightly insulated homes. The original analysis method was developed by scientists working on the first atom bomb. It is commonly used to assess risks in finance, engineering, insurance and other industries that deal with the interaction of many variables.

“Science again proves the safety of granite,” said G.K. Naquin, MIA president. “Because the beauty and durability of natural stone is unparalleled, some manufacturers of competing materials have tried to scare the public into believing it may be dangerous. This study shows granite is safe.”

The analysis will be submitted for publication to a peer-reviewed, scientific journal. This is the third MIA sponsored granite study to be submitted for publication. The first two, published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, appeared in 2010.

The MIA has invested in several studies to determine the safety and durability of natural stone countertops, to provide clear, unambiguous information for consumers to make educated decisions and to also protect the industry from baseless attacks by manufacturers of competing materials. 


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What Others Are Saying About Natural Stone

Natural stone is a key part of two of the top 10 elements of design in the home that are resonating with today’s buyers: the desire for low-maintenance/no-maintenance materials and the use of natural materials inside and outside the home.

-Builder Magazine

National Association of Home Builders

Homeowners who remodel recover the following percentages of their remodeling costs at resale (note -upscale projects include stone):

  1. Bathroom remodel-upscale: 92.6%

  2. Bathroom addition-upscale: 84.3%

  3. Kitchen remodel-upscale: 79.6%

-Cost vs. Value Report

Remodeling Magazine

In a study of materials for kitchen countertops, granite had the highest number of “excellent” ratings of any surface.

-Consumer Reports

If, like us, you define value as ‘performance over time’, then natural stone should be your material of choice and engineered products will never be ‘just as good’ as natural stone until they pass the same test of time.”

-Ed Walsh, Sturgis Materials, Inc.


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Types of Natural Stone

Granite

An excellent choice for kitchen countertops, floors, and other heavily used surfaces

Granite, quarried from the mountains of Italy, the U.S., India, and dozens of other countries, is one of the most popular natural stones on the market. Available in a striking array of colors; granite’s durability and longevity make it ideal for kitchen countertops and other heavily used surfaces including table tops and floors. 

While some synthetic surfaces scartch easily and melt under hot cookware, granite resists heat. Granite is also one of the most bacteria-resistant kitchen surfaces and it is not affected by citric acid, coffee, tea, alcohol, or wine. It is also nearly impossible to scratch and with proper cleaning will not stain under normal use (ask your professional contractor; like American Cabinet & Flooring, about sealants available to further improve resistance to staining.)

A leading consumer magazine recently compared granite with engineered stone, ceramic tile, laminate, butcher block, and other manufactured surfaces. Granite received the hightest overall performance rating as a kitchen countertop material.

Because of its exceptional strength, granite is well suited for exterior applications such as cladding, paving, and curbing. 

Marble

Ideal for foyers, bathrooms, floors, and hearths

Marble is found in the mountainous regions of Canada, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the U.S., and other countries. Because of its beauty and elegance, marble is a popular choice for countertops, floors, foyers, fireplace facings and hearths, walls, and windowsills.

Marble adds a sophisticated element to your home, and its wonderful appearance, superior engineering characteristics, and ease of maintenance make it a natural choice for floors, wall coverings, table tops, and bathroom walls, floors, vanity tops, tub decks, and showers. 

Marble should be cared for as you would a fine wood finish. Using coasters on table tops and cleaning up spills immediately will preserve marble’s natural beauty.

Another option for marble-loving homeowners is using a serpentine for kitchen counters. Sometimes called the “green” marble, serpentine is not a true marble but offers a marble-like look. And because it is magnesium-silicate based, it is not sensitive to citric acid and other kitchen spills. 

Travertine, Limestone, Soapstone, Sandstone, and Slate

Beautiful enhancements for your home, inside and out

Travertine, limestone, soapstone, sandstone, and slate are other examples of natural stone frequently used in residential applications. 

Travertine is a type of limestone and one of the most popular natural stones for interior and exterior wall cladding, interior and exterior paving, statuary, and curbing.

Limestone is widely used as a building stone because it is readily available and easy to handle. Popular applications include countertops, flooring, interior and exterior wall cladding, and exterior paving. 

Soapstone is growing in popularity. Popular uses include kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, fireplace surrounds, stoves and stair treads. Care and maintenance is easy, but different than other stone types.

Sandstone is frequently used for fireplace facings, chimneys, garden walls, patio benches, and at poolside.

Slate is a popular flooring material and sandstone and slate are often used for exterior paving or pavers. Other slate applications include kitchen countertops, fireplace facings, table tops, and roofing. 


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How to Choose the Right Stone for Your Home

You have many options when it comes to beautiful, long-lasting natural stone for your home’s interior and exterior: Slate, granite, marble, quartz-based stone, soapstone, and limestone, just to name a few. Choosing a natural stone for your home is a very personal decision, much like selecting wallpaper or artwork. While there are scores of natural stones to consider, some are better suited than others to particular uses in and around the home. The team of experienced design specialists at American Cabinet & Flooring can help you explore your options and offer guidance on the right stone for your home project.

Factors to Consider in Selecting a Natural Stone

Color

Natural Stones are available in a beautiful spectrum of colors. Colors in granite and marble, for instance; can range from soft beiges and pinks and classic black-and-whites to rich corals, greens, and multi-colors. Marble traditionally features swirls and “veins” of colors, while granite has a flecked or pebbled appearance. Unlike the repetitive uniformity of materials produced by machine or assembly line, natural stone’s varied appearance has wonderful character and creates a one-of-a-kind effect everywhere it is used.

Finish

Natural stone can be polished, honed, or flamed for a distinctive appearance.

  • A polished finish has a glossy surface that reflects light and emphasizes the color and marking of the stone. This finish is typically used on walls, furniture tops, and floor tiles.

  • A honed finish is a satin-smooth surface with relatively little light reflection. It is generally preferred for floors, stair treads, thresholds, and other areas where heavy traffic will wear off a polished finish.

  • A flamed finish is a rough-textured surface used frequently on granite floor tiles.

Usage

The harder the stone, the more it resists abrasion. One measure of natural stone’s strength is the Measurement of Hardness (MOH) rating –> 1 the softest and 10 the hardest. On the MOH scale, most marbles rate “3” and quartz-based granites rate “7”. Using a softer stone simply requires the homeowner to use gentler cleansers and more frequent dusting to prevent scratching.


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The Benefits of Natural Stone

Classic Beauty

Durability

Easy Maintenance

Superior Quality

Affordability

Increased Home Value

Natural stone has been the premium building material of choice since the beginning of time. Quarried from rock beds formed over millions of years, natural stone used in residential and commercial settings comes from all parts of the world, including Italy, Spain, the U.S., Brazil, Canada, China, France, Israel, Greece, India, Mexico, Germany, Taiwan, and Turkey. 

Marble and granite, two of the most popular stones among homeowners, are quarried in the form of huge blocks; some weighing up to 35 tons. These blocks are cut into slabs generally 3/4″ or 1 1/2″ thick and the faces polished to the specified finish. The slabs are then carefully crated and shipped to fabricators worldwide who process them into the final product. 

Whether you’re building a new home or remodeling; natural stone offers you unparalleled beauty, performance, and uniqueness as well as it adds true value to your home. 

Because stone is a natural, not manufactured, product; no two pieces are exactly alike. This means each finished countertop, wall, floor, mantle, or sill is distinctive and matchless. 

Unlike synthetic imitations natural stone can be three-dimensional and used as columns, statuary, balustrades, doorjambs, and even furniture pieces. When used in exterior applications natural stone has also proven superior to manufactured or engineered stones in withstanding the effects of nature.


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Facts About Natural Stone

  • Granite ranked #1 in clean ability when compared to six other countertop surfaces including stainless steel. (Based on a 1999 study by the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management.)

  • Natural stone is competitively priced with quartz surface products and often priced lower.

  • Marble and Granite have the same level of clean ability as engineered stone. (Based on a 2006 study by the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management.)

  • Natural stone is low maintenance often only requiring warm water, mild dish washing liquid and a soft cloth to maintain its beauty.

  • Granite countertops have never been known to emit dangerous levels of radon gas. Environmental Health and Engineering (EHE) recently conducted one of the largest studies of granite countertops, in which no stone was identified as a health risk when used as a countertop surface. EHE also conducted a global review of published studies, and these data show that radon emissions from granite countertops pose no health threat. For more information on these studies, go to www.marble-institute.com for the “Radon Information” article and links to the scientific study data.

  • Many varieties of natural stone do not need to be sealed, although many are for customer peace of mind.

  • Stone is a product of nature and has its own unique qualities that distinguish it from quartz surface materials. The wonderful character that is offered by vein patterns, color variations, and other design characteristics of stone should be taken into consideration when selecting the perfect stone for your project. Discuss these characteristic with your natural stone supplier.


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How to Select a Natural Stone Contractor

  1. Visit www.marble-instutute.com to find a stone professional like American Cabinet & Flooring, Inc.

  2. Ask family, friends, and neighbors for referrals and call local stone/tile suppliers for recommendations.

  3. After you have identified several contractors, schedule appointments for estimates. Most will be free, but confirm in advance.

  4. During your estimate, describe the “look” you’d like to achieve and ask questions.

  5. Evaluate your quotes, request references, and check them. Ask to see examples of other projects recently completed by the contractor.

  6. Request proof of liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

  7. Select a contractor you believe is skilled and trustworthy, and with whom you feel comfortable. Make sure everything you and your contractor agree to is included in your contract. Don’t sign anything until you understand and agree with all the terms.

  8. Plan your project carefully, then keep the lines of communication open with your contractor throughout the project. Keep a job file of all important documentation.

  9. Ask your contractor to estimate a time frame for the job and plan accordingly.

  10. Schedule periodic inspections with your contractor to achieve the end result you desire.


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