Natural Stone- The Do’s and Don’ts

One can make the argument, nothing beats the look of natural stone. There is just something about the look of a real marble floor, or travertine, or a granite counter top. No two stones are the same. Natural stone isn’t made in a factory or by a machine. It is cut from the earth itself, so the cost tends to be higher off the bat. It can be soft or hard, depending on which process it followed during its formation. In order to decide which stone is best for your project, here is a crash course about your options.

Mohs Scale

Understanding Mohs Scale helps shed light on the best options out there. You don’t want to put a soft stone as a counter top that will be exposed to heat, scratches or certain acids from cooking ingredients. You would want something hard and durable. To put your options into one list, using the hardest stone and softest stone as reference, with the scale ranging from 1-10 with 10 being the hardest stone:

  • Talc- Hardness of 1
  • Soapstone- 1-2
  • Your fingernail- 2.5
  • Copper penny- 3.5
  • Limestone- 3-4
  • Marble- 3-4
  • Travertine- 4-5
  • Slate- 5.5
  • Steel Nail- 6.5
  • Granite- 6-7
  • Quartz- 7
  • Quartzite- 7-8
  • Masonry drill bit- 8.5
  • Diamond- 10

The durability of the stone is greater the higher it is on the scale. A penny could scratch soft marble, limestone or soapstone, but wouldn’t leave a mark on travertine. A steel nail would scratch travertine or maybe even granite, but not quartz. The same works for stains, the softer the stone, the more porous it is as it needs to be sealed to prevent stains. Any natural stone with a hardness less than 6 should be sealed to protect it.

How will my natural stone hold up against heat? Water? Foot traffic? Cleaning supplies?

Most natural stone is fairly heat resistant. Granite and quartzite are the most resistant against extreme heat, with quartz being the least resistant. With that being said, it is not a good idea to put a boiling pot of water on your quartz counter top.

Natural stone holds up well in wet areas. Shower enclosures, floors or a back splash are all applications that can accept natural stone. Most of these stones were created in one way or another from water. Sedimentary rocks are formed in bodies of water so they will be just fine in your steam shower or in a mud room. Just keep in mind the hardness of your stone to see if you should seal it from staining in those areas.

The great thing about natural stone is it is through color. Meaning if you scratch the surface, the same color you see on the surface is straight through the rest of the stone. So if you are apprehensive about putting any type of natural stone in a higher traffic area on the floor, you can have peace of mind knowing if it happens to get scratched, it may not be that noticeable. You should look again, to the hardness of the stone to see if it needs to be sealed to protect it against the elements.

One of the homework questions you will ask is if you can clean your natural stone with daily household cleaners. The answer will of course, depend on your stone. Some natural stone have a sensitivity to acids, both in cooking ingredients and in detergents. Marble tends to be the popular choice of stone for most shower applications and for a back splash. But marble is composed of a soft mineral called calcite, which reacts to acids and can leave stains or can even dissolve some of the surface. Be sure to purchase cleaners that do not have harmful chemicals to natural stone and seal the stone as often as recommended by the supplier.

Lets talk dollars and cents

Overall, the cost of installing natural stone is quite a bit more than your standard ceramic or porcelain tile. The materials cost and labor cost will be more. Contractors tend to charge more to install natural stone as it requires the right equipment, and generally more time. Installers must take proper care during the installation to ensure the stones don’t break, chip or scratch. As far as raw materials cost, since there is technically a limited amount since it is cut from a quarry, manufacturers can charge more.

Natural stone carries a perceived value. It gives a timeless, real look and feel. So the added cost to buy and install may be worth it as you can get a return on your investment in a re-sale situation. There isn’t much of an aftermarket for ceramic or porcelain tile, but we have seen on numerous occasions, people re-purpose an old slab of natural stone to make a decorative side table or center island piece.

Bottom Line

If you crave the natural look of a natural stone, or you are trying to give your project that one of a kind look, then natural stone is the way to go. It is timeless, elegant and no two stones are the same so you will never have to worry about your project looking too similar to someone else. The cost and the maintenance is slightly more than your day to day ceramic or porcelain tile, but nothing beats the end result.

For all you DIYers, good luck and be safe!

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