Caring For My Stone and Tile
May 22, 2019
Posted by D. A. Burns
Joanne in Clyde Hill asked, “Now that you’ve made my bathroom tile look great, how do I keep it looking this way?
Good question Joanne, whether we’ve cleaned your entry floor, your shower enclosure or polished a vanity countertop, it makes sense to keep them looking good.
The starting point is keeping soils that might damage your stone and tile surfaces away from those beautiful surfaces.
Here’s the short list of recommendations:
- A sealer should be applied after each restorative cleaning (something D. A. Burns can offer). The proper sealer gives you time to blot up spills that might otherwise damage your stone and tile surfaces.
- Keep natural stone floors looking good by using rugs to capture gritty soils or swap outdoor shoes for socks and indoor shoes. Avoid using dry mops that leave a sticky residue that attract soil. (i.e. Swiffer)
- Use a shower squeegee to remove water from shower enclosure surfaces after each use.
- Use coasters and trivets to protect stone from acidic food and scratches.
- Wipe up spills as soon as possible, before they have time to etch your stone surface.
An occasional light cleaning is the best way to extend the time between needed restorative cleanings. Simply wiping down your tile and stone surfaces occasionally will rinse contaminants away. Using a neutral pH cleaner, according to the manufacturer’s directions, is the safest way to keep your stone and tile surfaces clean. Neutral cleaners will have a pH near 7 and may be labeled “safe for stone” or “safe for all surfaces.”
A web search or phone call may be needed if you want to find something locally. Products available at supermarkets and home stores are often designed to quickly cut soap build-up or kill mold on man-made surfaces, and the chemistry is more aggressive than you need for maintaining an already clean area.
The next question is often, “What can happen if the wrong cleaning product is used?”
- The grout may be damaged.
- A natural stone surface may be damaged.
- A man-made surface may be damaged.
- The lifespan of the sealer may be compromised.
Cement (cementitious) grout is the most commonly used grout. Cement grout will be damaged by acidic products that are sold to remove water marks and cut soap residue. Products sold as grout whiteners are typically acidic, and they sacrifice a little of the grout to expose clean grout under the soiled surface.
Often the negative effect of an acidic solution isn’t noticed right away, but the compromised grout will begin to allow moisture to wick behind the tile, eventually softening the grout will soften to the consistency of chalk. At that point the grout will need to be removed, and the tile installation re-grouted and resealed.
Calcite-based stone is sensitive to acidic products like lemon juice, vinegar, toothpaste and many skin care products. Marble, limestone, travertine, and concrete will be etched and dulled by any product containing acids. Penetrating sealers will guard against a degree of etching but cannot totally eliminate the possibility of acid damage to these surfaces. Polishing will usually correct minor etching and scratches, but the process can be time consuming and more expensive than just cleaning.
Terrazzo and quartz are made by mixing chips of stone with a binding material. If the binding material is cement, acid etching can be a problem. If the binding material is a polymer resin, strong alkaline solutions may cause problems. Many one-piece vanity tops that look like marble are completely made of resin. Either way, exposure to non-compatible acidic/alkaline solutions may be permanently change the surface reflectivity.
Man-made products like glass, porcelain and glazed ceramic tile are pretty durable.
Good quality penetrating sealers go below the surface to keep moisture and staining agents out. Solvents and products that have either a strong high or low pH can strip away the sealer from the grout or stone and allow surface staining to occur. Repeated use of these products will make the sealer less effective with each use.
Know Your Grout and Stone
Knowing the type of your stone or tile surface, as well as the grout used, can be helpful if you have a stain you would like to tackle on your own. If you don’t know what you have, the following may be helpful:
Poke it with a sharp metal object. If rubbery, it’s a polymer that cleaning products won’t hurt. If hard, it’s cementious grout in good shape. If chalky it may need some repair.
Although many man-made products closely mimic real stone, the following natural stone characteristics are common:
- Granite has a distinct crystal pattern. Granite is less sensitive to cleaning chemicals than other stone.
- Limestone is typically gray, tan, cream or a mixture of these colors. Tiny shells or fossils can be seen in some limestone. Limestone is sensitive to acids.
- Marble comes in a variety of colors and usually those colors are in veins. Marble is sensitive to acids.
- Slate is mostly used as a flooring material and may have a flat or textured surface and have a variety of colors in each tile. Slate used for flooring is typically not sensitive to acids, but softer varieties may be damaged by acids.
If you don’t know what you have, there is one test to see if your stone is acid sensitive, and that’s to put some acid on it. Since this is a destructive test, it needs to be done in an inconspicuous place that doesn’t show. If there is no sealer on the stone, the acid will bubble and fizz as it reacts with the calcium in the stone. Unsealed grout will act the same way.
Is Your Natural Stone Acid Sensitive?
When an acidic substance is put on an acid sensitive stone surface it may etch.
An etch is defined as: A rough or dull mark produced by acid eating away at a polished surface.
Most Common Acid Sensitive Stones
- Most Grouts (Epoxy grout is acid resistant)
Polished stone is more likely to show etching. Grout: Over time acidic cleaners can deteriorate your grout
Most Common Acids
- Ketchup, Mustard
- Juice ( most all )
- Tile and Toilet Cleaning Agents
- Coffee, Tea
- Toothpaste, Mouthwash
Rule of thumb: If it goes into or on your body, or if it cleans bathrooms, it could be acidic. An Acid: has a pH of less than 7.
Acid Resistant Stones
- Epoxy Grout
- Ceramic, Porcelain
- Quarry and Terra Cotta
Strong or specific acids may still etch any surface. Example: Hydrofluoric acid will etch granite.
Our service techs can tell you about your stone, tile and grout when they prepare for cleaning and sealing.
For more spot and stain removal consumer information, follow this link to The Natural Stone Institute website at consumer care recommendations for stone.
For building maintenance personnel, follow this link to Care of Natural Stone.
To inquire about our cleaning and rug repair services, or request a service proposal, contact us today.