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Practical Suggestions For Stone Care and Maintenance

Stone restoration contractors often get calls to remediate accidental damage done by homeowners, cleaning services, janitorial services, and building service contractors who mishandle the care and maintenance of natural stone surfaces.

As an example, one of the most frequent mistake we see residential customers make is to use vinegar to clean a calcium-based stone like marble or travertine. Vinegar is an acidic substance that chemically reacts with the calcium in natural stone, transforming once-beautiful and elegant stone finishes into dull, rough-looking surfaces.

Commercial customers have their fair share of missteps with stone care, too. For example, a commercial client sought professional services shortly after a maintenance employee (who did not have the knowledge, experience, or credentials to provide care or maintenance on engineered stone) applied a clear coating to three thousand square feet of flooring. The high traffic concentration at this facility caused dullness, damage, and wear patterns in walkways while the edges near the walls were still shiny. Every time the housekeeping department wet-mopped the floors, pieces of the brittle finish came loose.

The calls we get usually start the same way, with the customer hoping that what was done to their stone didn’t ruin the finish and that they might be able to avoid having the stone replaced. Although we are always ready and willing to provide restoration services, we would like to offer some practical suggestions for avoiding natural stone damage during care and maintenance procedures.

Practical Suggestions for Care and Maintenance

  • Dust mop floors daily to remove any excess grit that could scratch the surface.
  • Use a neutral stone cleaner for mopping. For commercial clients who do auto scrubbing, use a very soft pad and keep the squeegee clean and free of soil.
  • Do not allow the floor to be sealed with any film-forming finish, such as conventional floor finishes or over-the-counter products that “add shine.”
  • Do not use any penetrating petroleum distillate products that seem to darken and shine by clogging the pours of the stone with an oily finish. Not only is this difficult to remedy, but it can also increase the risk of slip and fall accidents.
  • Do not allow acidic products to be used near marble or other calcium based natural stone. Although stone care professionals may use acidic polishing compounds, these chemicals can cause serious damage in the hands of those without the proper training and experience. Especially make note of toilet bowl cleaners. If they are used near natural stone, they should not be acidic.
  • On showers and counter tops, do not allow any abrasive cleaners, even abrasive products considered “soft.” Many marbles can scratch and dull very easily when abrasives are used on them.
  • Don’t use products for hard water removal unless they clearly state they are safe for natural stone as most of them contain some sort of acid.

Sealers Are Important

A stone impregnating sealer will repel spills, giving you enough time to clean up before they are absorbed by the porous stone and become stains. A professional stone restoration contractor can select the appropriate sealer for your stone and ensure it is properly applied. However, keep in mind that although impregnating sealers inhibit stains, they don’t protect the surface of the stone from etching. Although most granites are not susceptible to etch marks, something acidic like lemon juice, vinegar, or some cleaning chemicals can still create etch marks on marble or other calcium based stones, even if they are properly sealed.

Following these suggestions will help you to avoid accidental damage. If you use a cleaning service, janitorial service, or employ building service contractors, be sure they are aware of these basic care and maintenance instructions for natural stone surfaces.

This is one of a series of articles written and published  on behalf of surpHaces Partners.

What To Do About Cement Stains on Sandstone

We recently were asked how to remove 3 year-old cement stains from sandstone walls without changing the color of the sandstone. Although this is not a question we get frequently, we thought it was a good one.

Projects involving cement (DIY or otherwise) can be messy. If spillage or splatters are not addressed immediately, they can be difficult to remove, particularly once they have dried. In areas where sandstone is commonly used as a building material, removal of cement stains can become even more challenging.

First things first. Is the cement chunky?

If the cement was splattered (rather than smeared, for example) and looks as though it is sitting on top of the stone, you will want to carefully chip off as much of the chunky bits as possible first. Remember to use safety equipment, such as safety glasses, during this process. No one wants cement in their eyes.

Cleaning with muriatic acid

Muriatic acid (also called hydrochloride acid), diluted with water could be used to remove the cement, but since sandstone is often held together with calcite or dolomitic cement, which are broken down by acids, muriatic acid may do more harm than good. Before using any kind of acidic cleaner, it is important to test how your sandstone will react.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Muriatic acid is just that – an acid! It can be harmful to pets, children and adults (plants don’t like it much either) so be sure to follow ALL safety instructions and precautions on the container and keep the children and pets away.

To test how your stone will react

Dilute one part muriatic acid with six parts water and place a drop in an inconspicuous location. If the drop of diluted acid fizzes, that means the acid is breaking down calcium carbonate within the stone. Do not use an acidic cleaner.

If the drop of diluted acid does not fizz, don’t assume you are in the clear yet. Dilute one part muriatic acid with four parts water and test the stone again. If the less diluted acid still does not fizz when in contact with the stone, things are looking good. You will still want to be vigilant as you clean.

Be sure to clean the stone using a pH neutral cleaner once the cement is removed.

Working with a professional

Cleaning with acid can be daunting, and we highly recommend you leave this tricky cleanup job to an experienced, trained stone restoration professional rather than doing it yourself or hiring a handyman who doesn’t understand the properties and characteristics of natural stone. We are always happy to answer your questions or provide an estimate.

This is one of a series of articles written and published  on behalf of surpHaces Partners.

How to Clean and Protect Limestone Floors

Limestone floors are relatively easy to maintain and can bring a timeless elegance to any kitchen, bath, or living area. However, limestone can become dull and dirty with time and use. Here are some tips to keep your floors looking their best.

Dealing with Dull Spots and Etching

First and foremost, it's important to use a pH-balanced cleanser that is formulated specifically for marble and limestone floors. Chemical abrasives and acidic cleansers can cause etching, a phenomenon that occurs when a calcium-based stone like limestone, travertine, or marble comes in contact with anything acidic and creates what looks like a cloudy white watermark. Spills from acidic liquids like vinegar, soda, tomato sauce, and lemon juice can also cause etching. Limestone polishing compounds or etch removers for getting rid of light etching are available for DIY use on polished (not honed) limestone. Ask us about specific product recommendations. For more information, view How to Polish Out Etch Marks. Heavier etch marks, that is, any etching that has a texture, as well as etching that covers larger areas, should be removed by an experienced stone care professional.

Getting Rid of Stains

Stains that leave dark spots on natural stone can usually be removed with a poultice. A poultice safely absorbs stains from the surface without discoloring the stone. You can buy a ready-to-use poultice or make one yourself. For more information, visit our Stain Removal Application.

The Problem with DIY Finishes

Over-the-counter finishes and lacquers can create that desired "wet look" and a temporary guarantee to protect your floors, but in reality, they may actually cause more harm than good. These finishes eventually flake away, leaving your floor vulnerable to damage from foot traffic. They can also block the pores of limestone and cause premature degradation and dullness over time.

If you already have such a finish, it's best not to remove it yourself because the process can be very difficult and may cause permanent damage to the stone if done incorrectly. An experienced stone restoration professional will be able to remove the finish with the appropriate equipment and stripping agents, and then hone and polish your floor to a low sheen or even a high-gloss, depending on your preference.

Sealing Your Limestone Floors

Limestone floors may need to be sealed periodically, to inhibit staining. Keep in mind that sealers will wear away over time, so it's best to have sealed limestone floors cleaned and resealed by a professional restoration contractor every two years or so.

Restoring Worn Floors to Like-New

If your limestone floor is worn, scratched, or damaged, don't replace it. One of the most wonderful features of natural stone is that your floor can be professionally refinished to look brand new again.

Keeping Them Looking New

With the right care and maintenance your limestone floors can always look like the day they were installed and give you a lifetime of beautiful service.

This is one of a series of articles written and published  on behalf of surpHaces Partners.

Taking the Mystery Out of Terrazzo

Many of us remember terrazzo floors from childhood schools we attended or hospital corridors that we may have visited. Although many terrazzo floors have muted colors, terrazzo actually can be made in limitless color choices. With its environmental friendliness and versatility, it is a smart flooring choice for both residential and commercial properties. Understanding terrazzo, it’s history, and care will help direct design and maintenance choices wherever it may be found, from historic to modern spaces.

A Little Bit of History

Terrazzo is one of the oldest forms of installed flooring with examples that date back 9,000 years to the ancient cities of Jericho. Invented out of necessity, terrazzo was an easy way to use leftover chips of stone and was often mixed with clay, compacted, and coated with goat’s milk. At that time, it was an inexpensive and durable floor; so durable, in fact, that some of these floors are still in existence today.

As the centuries passed, cementitious materials took the place of the clay matrix and a more sophisticated sorting of the colors and size of the marble chips gave a more custom look. Terrazzo was used extensively by the Venetian’s in the 16th century and eventually migrated into the rest of Europe, from sacred spaces and large buildings to private homes. In the late 1800’s and the first half of the twentieth century, the use of terrazzo exploded in the United States with commercial, healthcare, and civic application. In 1959, designer and builder Frank Lloyd Wright, chose terrazzo for the floors of the famous Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Modern Terrazzo

Twentieth century terrazzo was almost always sealed with film forming finishes to prevent staining. In the 1970’s, with the onset of more complex polymer technologies emerging, a new generation of terrazzo using those polymers and then epoxy matrix completely changed the game. This new mixture allowed the terrazzo to be applied at depths of 1/4″ to 3/8″ rather than the standard 1-2″ in the old style floors.

Terrazzo has come a long way. Aggregates in new terrazzo are not limited to stone chips and can include mother of pearl, abalone, post consumer glass, porcelain, and mirrors chips. Custom designs can be achieved with the use of separators installed on the substrate that allow many different mixes of color in the same floor. These strips can be made of zinc, brass, and even colored plastic.

Caring For Terrazzo

Property owners and managers should be aware of terrazzo strengths, weaknesses, and best maintenance practices. Both cementitious and epoxy terrazzo can be maintained with a natural shine achieved using the same polishing processes used on marble and other natural stone. Glossy waxes and shiny finishes on terrazzo look good at first, but eventually become scratched, trap dirt, and turn yellow. Natural polishing methods not only can achieve a beautiful shine, but eliminate the need for stripping and waxing. In very high traffic situations, or in facilities such as schools or hospitals where nonslip and antimicrobial floors are important, a high performance coating may be beneficial.

This is one of a series of articles written and published  on behalf of surpHaces Partners.

Is Natural Stone Hard as a Rock?

People have been hearing the old idiom “hard as a rock…” since they were young, and over the years, it has contributed to the formation of imprecise opinions about stone surfaces.

You can’t imagine how many times we’ve been asked “is it normal that my floor has become dull and lost a lot of its beauty?” It seems that not all installation companies do a very good job of explaining what their customers should expect from a natural stone floor or what to do to maintain the luster over the years. So here are some basics and guidelines that may help.

Mohs Scale of Hardness

All architectural stone is graded to fall somewhere on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, with talc on the very soft end and diamond on the very hard end. All other stones fall somewhere in the middle. Marble is about a four or five on the Mohs Scale, whereas granite is about an eight.

The bad news is that softer stones will be scuffed and abraded much easier than harder stones, like granite or quartz. On the bright side, softer stones will also respond to repolishing very easily.

Planning a Refinishing Schedule

If you have polished marble floors, countertops, or other surfaces (or other calcium-based stone like travertine), it is reasonable to expect and plan for repolishing within an eighteen month to three year time frame, depending on traffic and use, for example, if you have a large family with dogs or like to throw frequent parties, or if your business sees a lot of foot traffic. Quality floor matting at the entries may help extend the amount of time between regularly scheduled services.

In bathroom areas, on counters or in showers, marble might need professional attention even sooner, depending upon the chemical composition of the water and whether a squeegee is used after showering. In really heavily used locations like busy hotel lobbies with lots of guests and luggage wheels, professional attention will likely be needed at intervals of eighteen months or less.

Beautiful, Renewable Natural Stone

Hard stone surfaces like granite or quartz take much longer to become dull (assuming stone-safe cleaners are used and they aren’t exposed to acidic substances). However, restoration of harder stones is more expensive because it requires a more difficult and time-consuming restoration process.

We explain to customers who have second thoughts about purchasing natural stone that although there is some maintenance involved, natural stone is one of the most beautiful, renewable building materials available. A stone restoration craftsman can make a 100 year old floor look almost new again.

This is one of a series of articles written and published  on behalf of surpHaces Partners.

Environmentally-Friendly Natural Stone

Is Natural Stone An Environmentally-Friendly Choice?

Granite, marble, travertine, and other natural stone materials can create a warmer and more inviting atmosphere in a home or office space and serve as an excellent choice of décor, especially for nature lovers. However, environmentally conscious people may wonder whether it leaves a significant carbon footprint. We asked Fred Hueston, Chief Technical Director for surpHaces and Founder of Stone Forensics to weigh in on whether natural stone is an environmentally friendly choice. Here’s what he had to say.

Stone Is Not a Limited Natural Resource

Stone can be found in almost every country in great abundance. For example, marble has been quarried in Carrera, Italy for centuries, and there is still an abundant supply. In the United States, there are quarries within 500 miles of nearly every major metropolitan area. Quarry techniques have also improved worldwide, and most of the time, explosives are no longer required. “It’s a pretty clean industry with zero waste,” said Hueston.

Natural Stone is Minimally Processed

There is very little environmental impact in stone fabrication, because fabricators use specially designed wet blades to greatly reduce the amount of silica, or stone dust, that is released into the air. Unlike stone, composite materials like wood, brick, ceramic, glass, and concrete require natural resources and energy to create.

Many recycled composite materials contain polyester binders, which are basically plastic, and can emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds), because they are solvent based. The lifespan of composite materials is also limited, unlike natural stone, which virtually lasts forever. Polyester resins in engineering materials will break down over time and are sensitive to heat and sunlight, which is why natural stone is the preferred choice for outdoor décor.

What About Cleaners and Sealers?

Environmentally friendly, pH neutral cleaners are recommended over harsh cleaners for natural stone. And according to Hueston, nearly all sealers used on natural stone are water-based and FDA approved.

High Durability Means Little or No Waste

Have you ever visited to an old church or historical building where the original granite or marble floors, walls, and other surfaces were still in use and looking untouched by time? Natural stone not only can withstand centuries of traffic and use, but with proper care and regularly scheduled maintenance, it can continually look brand new.

When natural stone is damaged, in most cases, it can be completely restored, and if for some reason it is damaged beyond repair, it does not have to end up in a landfill. It can be used for other building materials, like gravel, for example.

According to Hueston, calcium-based residual material from marble quarries is used for vitamins, medicines, and antacids. There is even a North Carolina quarry that uses their waste for local chicken feed.

The great thing about stone is that it came from the earth, and whatever is not recycled can be simply returned back to the earth.

This is one of a series of articles written and published  on behalf of surpHaces Partners.

The Unexpected Stone Stain Remover

Once upon a time a woman was preparing to dye her hair and accidentally spilled some 40 volume creme developer on her marble vanity top, which happened to have a severe stain. As she cleaned up the developer, she was pleasantly surprised to discover the stain had disappeared, as well!

Okay… we totally made up that story. But whether this stain removal method was the result of a happy accident or otherwise, it is, in fact, very effective for removing some stubborn stains that are unresponsive to traditional stain removal methods, such as poulticing.

Instructions

  • Head down to your local beauty supply store and get some 40 volume creme developer (a concentrated form of hydrogen peroxide).
  • Wet the stained area with water.
  • Before applying creme developer to the stain, test a small area in a less-visible spot and leave it on for about an hour to determine whether it will discolor or etch your stone. If the area looks good, then you can apply the creme developer to your stain with a rubber spatula.
  • Let the application sit for 4-8 hours uncovered, checking periodically to gauge whether the stain is removed.
  • Once the stain is completely gone, use paper towels and a pH-neutral, stone-safe cleaner to remove the developer and clean the area.

Precautions

  • Keep children and pets away from the developer, as it is caustic to skin and can cause blindness.
  • Use caution to avoid the developer coming into contact with eyes and limit its exposure to skin.
  • This technique is not recommended for rust or oil-based stains.

This is one of a series of articles written and published  on behalf of Stone and Tile PRO Partners.

How to Remove Polyvinylether (PVE) Stain

Hooray for air conditioning and refrigerators! We don’t really stop and consider how fortunate we are to have them until our popsicles melt and heat stroke sets in. Sometimes when refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioning systems are repaired, PVE (polyvinylether), an oil used in refrigerant systems, finds its way onto the floor underneath. If you have a porous type of flooring, such as natural stone, the stain this oil leaves behind can be difficult to remove with your average stone-safe cleaner.

Before you break out any heavy-duty chemicals that could damage your stone, we have a few DIY suggestions for you to try before you have to call in a pro.

If you have the time, motivation, and patience to deal with the problem on your own, here are a few options that are good for this and any type of oil-based stain. All of them involve creating a poultice to remove the stain. A poultice is a paste that you can spread over the stained area that draws or wicks the stain out of the stone.

Diatomaceous earth or a poultice powder can be mixed with a number of different chemicals to create your poultice solution. Regardless of your poultice ingredients, your poultice should be the consistency of peanut butter.

Apply the poultice solution directly onto the stained area and an inch or two beyond. Put plastic wrap over the covered area. Blue tape works well to keep it in place. Wait 12-24 hours. After that, remove the plastic and let it completely dry.

We suggest you perform a test in a small inconspicuous area first, if possible.

  1. Consider mixing the powder with a tool cleaner, but only if it is not acidic. Acidic substances chemically react with the calcium in natural stone, resulting in etch damage.
  2. You can try using a mild, all-natural degreaser. Look for commercial janitorial products containing D-limonene. Some paint strippers also have this ingredient, and they are marketed as “natural or green.”
  3. If you don’t get the results you want, mix the poultice powder with acetone or a butyl-based degreaser.  The ingredients will list this as “butoxyethanol.” This substance is commonly used in high-powered concrete cleaners, such as the heavy duty “purple” cleaners. Just be careful and use gloves/wear glasses, because the pH will be very high. Also make sure that the dye that is added doesn’t make your poultice too colored, because it can be transferred to the stone. Add some water to lighten the color of the poultice, if needed.

If you get a stain to “move” or lighten, that is good news. This process can be repeated as many times as necessary to completely remove the stain.

To learn more about mixing and applying a poultice, visit Stone and Tile PROS’ Stain Removal Application. And of course, if you feel like you are in over your head and would rather entrust this difficult stain to a professional, give your stone restoration technician a call.

This is one of a series of articles written and published  on behalf of Stone and Tile PRO Partners.

White Residue on Stone

If you have white residue on your stone, here are a few tips and tricks for identifying the cause and possibly removing it.

First, take a close look. If the substance can be scraped into shavings, it may be an accumulation of cosmetics, soaps, cleaning products, or hard water build up. If it is powdery, then it is likely efflorescence.

Accumulation of Cosmetics, Soaps, or Cleaning Products

Here’s a quick and easy test can tell you whether the white residue on your stone is an accumulation of cosmetics, soaps, or cleaning products. Use a nylon pan scraper or a razor blade to carefully scrape the residue. If it can be easily removed, then you are dealing with dried products on the stone. The shavings will either be soapy when water is introduced or smeary or oily if it is conditioner, lotions, or hair treatments.

Hard Water Build Up

Like the test above, hard water deposits can be scraped away, but only with significantly more difficulty.

Efflorescence

The good news about efflorescence is that most of the time, it is a minor inconvenience that can be remedied without having to replace the stone. When moisture evaporates from the stone, it leaves behind salts and minerals. The stone will need to be periodically professionally cleaned, but eventually all the moisture will dissipate and the efflorescence problem will disappear.

The bad news is that every now and then, efflorescence is just the visible symptom of a much bigger problem underneath the stone — moisture in the substrate. An experienced stone restoration contractor can determine whether the stone can be restored or if it will have to be replaced.

Getting Rid of the Residue

If you want to attempt to remove product residue or hard water build up yourself, spray the stone with a pH-neutral, stone-safe cleaner and allow ample dwell time to soften the residue. Then using gentle pressure and a white Scotch Brite pad or a Dobie pad, clean the stone. If you see a difference, then you should be able to rinse and repeat this cleaning process until all the residue is removed.

For stubborn residue, you may be tempted to use a stronger cleaning agent or a heartier scrubbing pad, but doing so may do more harm than good. Calcium-based stones can etch if you use the wrong chemicals and the finish on soft stones can be scratched if the abrasive is too hard. It may be best to call a stone care professional rather than cleaning the stone yourself.

This is one of a series of articles written and published  on behalf of Stone and Tile PRO Partners.

Removing a Stain Left By a Potted Plant

Question: I have a water ring where a plant was sitting on my hearthstone, which I believe is limestone. Is there any way to remove it? I appreciate your help.

Great question.

Simply put, the water ring you see is either a stain or an etch… or a combination thereof.

You must first determine if the “stain” is a true stain or an etch mark. A general rule of thumb when dealing with stains on natural stone is that a stain will always be darker than the stone. This means the stone has absorbed contaminants such as oil, grease, dirt, etc. An etch, on the other hand, will always be lighter than the stone. Etching occurs when an acidic substance comes in contact with a calcite based stone such as marble, travertine or limestone.

With potted plants that sit directly on natural stone, there are a couple of possibilities. If the ring you see is darker than the stone, then soiling has penetrated into the pores of the stone and left a stain. Moisture that accumulated under the pot may have contained acidic properties that could have reacted with the stone surface causing the stone to etch.

We first suggest cleaning the stone surface thoroughly with a heavy duty stone cleaner to clean deep down into the stone to remove any ground in dirt and soil. (Ask us for recommendations.) Rinse thoroughly, then let dry. If the ring is still there, then it’s time to address the stain or the etch or a combination of both.

Removing a stain (remember, a stain is always darker than the stone) will require the use of a poultice. A poultice is an easy and effective way to draw stains out of your stone. A poultice is essentially a cleaning/chemical agent to break down the stain and an absorbent material to draw it out. There are many ready-made poultices on the market today, but you can easily make one yourself. (http://stoneandtilepros.com/stain-removal-application).

If the stone happens to have any etching (damage that is lighter than the stone), it could be possible to restore this yourself. Minor etching that is smooth to the touch can possibly be removed with a marble polishing powder or compound IF (and this is important) the stone is light colored and polished. If the stone is honed, or if the etch mark is rough to the touch you will need to contact us to restore the surface of the stone.

TIP: Avoid placing potted plants directly on the stone surface. Condensation or moisture from spillage could result in a stain or etch.

This is one of a series of articles written and published  on behalf of Stone and Tile PRO Partners.