How to Protect Natural Stone Countertops
LESLIE: Natural-stone surfaces for kitchens and bathroom countertops and even floors have been the popular choice for several years. Their durability and attractive look really make them a good choice.
TOM: They’re also high on the list of must-haves for home buyers, so they do make a good investment, as well. But to keep them looking as great as they did the day they were installed, they do need some specific care. Here to tell us about that is Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House.
KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be back.
TOM: So, these stone countertops are super-popular, they’re very durable. But even though the stone is somewhat indestructible, they need a lot of care to stay clean.
KEVIN: They do. And I have just a couple disclaimers. First of all, I love natural stone.
KEVIN: It’s my first choice over all the other alternatives. And second of all, I don’t actually care if it gets a little dinged up, beat up or stained because I sort of like when that natural patina gets worked over, over time. But I –
TOM: You kind of consider that like charm and well, character.
KEVIN: Yeah, well, you know, my wife has dragged me through enough antique stores looking for that hundred-year-old marble that’s got all that character in it. And I’m just like, “Aren’t those stains?” One man’s stain is another man’s character.
But I do understand that not everyone goes for that and they do want to protect their natural stone. And there’s reasons to do it. So the first thing you want to think about with natural stone is you should seal it. You’re going to want to actually put a sealer into the stone. And that’s going to help it stand up to things like stains from wine and coffee and such.
And we’ve seen some cool technologies, that I think might be coming, where there’s actually a sealer put on at the fabricator.
KEVIN: And they claim it’s a permanent seal, something you’ll never have to do again. I think that remains to be seen. But certainly, the idea is that they can get a much better seal there, when they are fabricating the stone, than you can at your house when you’re rubbing it on in your, say, your kitchen. Because it is something – if you do seal the stone, it is something that you need to do on a regular basis.
KEVIN: Once a year, maybe, twice a year, three or four times a year, depending on what type of stone you have.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And also depending on the color of the stone.
KEVIN: Yeah. I mean white marble, right? So soft. And if you really like that white look and you want to protect it, that’s something that you might actually have to seal maybe four times a year, because we’re keeping it as pristine as you originally got it.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Well, I think it’s interesting. You see white marble countertops so many times on like a woman’s cosmetic vanity, which is the worst place for it. Because how many times do you spill blushes or eye shadows or things that are so pigmented?
TOM: That happens to us all the time.
KEVIN: Yes, I know. I know.
LESLIE: Well, I know. I’m looking at your beautiful makeup jobs today.
KEVIN: I know.
LESLIE: But given that, if I do spill something on a natural surface, what really is the best way to clean it up other than immediately?
KEVIN: Well, immediately is obviously the easy answer. But if it does stain and if it does penetrate, you’re probably going to be going with something like a limestone poultice, where you’re actually going to be making this layer. It’s sort of a thick, pasty layer.
You’re putting it down and it’s sitting on the surface for a couple to three days. And what it’s doing is it’s absorbing the stain up and out of the stone. And then you wipe it clean and then you want to reseal that surface as quickly as possible.
LESLIE: And you can’t just spot-seal. You’ve got to do the entire surface, correct?
KEVIN: You really should be – these are porous materials.
KEVIN: So it always behooves you to seal the entire surface.
TOM: Well, there’s going to be areas where the stain is maybe not quite that obvious. And so, if you pull it all out together, you’re more likely to get an even finish when you’re done. But again, as you said, you’ve got to reseal after that, because you’re essentially taking off some of that finish through this process of drawing that stain out.
KEVIN: Right, right. And the other thing to keep in mind is the best offense is a good defense. If you can avoid getting the stains on there in the first place, that’s really the way to go. So think about using things like coasters and trivets: things that will keep those stains off of that natural stone.
There’s a lot of good ways to protect your countertops that aren’t sealing them. And if you can avoid putting the hot pots on them, the grease, the ketchup and stuff like that, spilling the wine and the coffee, you’ll be better off. If that does happen, get them up right away.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And what about just day-to-day care? I feel like there’s so many different rulings on this: don’t use bleach, use bleach, just soap and water, dry it immediately.
KEVIN: Quite honestly, soap and water seems to me to be the best recommendation. If you use something that is strong and acidic, it’s not going to be a good idea. If you use something – you know, sometimes people think, “Oh, I’m going to use the bathroom cleaners.” I don’t think that’s a good idea, either. They tend to be abrasive.
You don’t want to do anything that will etch the stone. You don’t want to do anything that will scratch the stone. Some of these stones, like marble and travertine, can actually scratch very easily. So, soap and water is a great way to clean these stones up. A great, safe way.
TOM: So, stone countertops are beautiful, they’re strong. They need a little care and maintenance, much like Leslie.
LESLIE: I like the beautiful and strong part.
TOM: Just a little.
Kevin O’Connor the host of TV’s This Old House,thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: Thank you, guys, for having me.
LESLIE: Alright. Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.