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Since people first began building homes and other structures, natural stone featured heavily in the architecture and design. This was due partly to the availability of the material, and partly to its durability and beauty. Today, people choose to use natural stone tile in their decorating for its unique, attractive appearance.
Any stone product quarried from the earth is usable to make natural stone tiles. However, the more common types are:
- Cantera stone
Natural stone comes directly from the earth, often imported from other countries due to the differing geological formations found around the world. These widely varying characteristics create very different rock formations, even within the same family.
Natural Stone Tile Finishes
Finishing varies according to the material. Some stones, no matter how much you polish them, never shine. Others require little polishing to create a glossy surface.
A honed finish leaves the stone with a velvety appearance. The surface displays very little gloss. This finish is most common with slate, granite, and limestone, and some experts recommend it for marble as well.
A polished finish creates an almost mirror-like surface with a high level of gloss. Light reflects off the surface, bringing out the stone’s natural colors and details.
A tumbled finish helps give the stone an aged appearance, as the tumbling process (using pebbles, sand, and ball bearings) creates imperfections such as chips.
The antiqued brush finish is similar to the tumbled finish, as its goal is creating a tile with an aged appearance. Compare it to the distressing process used on wooden furniture.
Buying and Installing Natural Stone Tile
When ordering natural stone tiles, be sure to buy at least one case more than you need, and preferably two. Even though one of the benefits of natural stone is the lack of uniformity, there may be enormous differences between lots. This is especially true if you need to replace tiles later.
For installation, you really need an experienced, professional installer. This is not a project for the casual DIY-er. Slate tiles, especially, require an experienced pro. However, you should remain involved in the process and work with your installer on the layout of your tiles, mixing the stones from different boxes to create your perfect look.
You also want a sealed surface, which helps protect the stone against staining and other damage.
How to Care for Natural Stone Tile
Talk to your installer about the best way to care for your new tiles. You may buy cleaners specifically created for your chosen stone, such as a neutral PH stone cleaner. You may also add warm water to mild dishwashing liquid, applying your cleaning solution with a soft cloth or rag mop. Be careful though, as too much soap may cause streaks. It’s best to change the rinse water frequently.
If you install natural stone tiles in the bathroom or other wet area, use a squeegee for cleaning every time the stone gets wet. Remove soap scum with a non-acidic soap scum remover. Never use harsh cleaning products, or anything containing acids, vinegar, or lemon juice. Also, avoid scouring creams and powders, which scratch the surface.
When spills happen, soak up the spill with a cloth or paper towel, and then flush the surface with warm water and soap. Rinse thoroughly before drying with a soft cloth. If a stain occurs, you may need to apply a stain remover several times. Test the product first, especially with darker tiles, to ensure it does not bleach the stone. Talk to your installer or the retailer where you purchased the tile for an approved stain remover.
Do’s and Don’ts for Natural Stone Tile
- DO use mild detergent or stone soap to clean
- DO rinse and dry thoroughly
- DO protect surfaces with area rugs (floors) and coasters, placemats, and trivets (tables and countertops)
- DO dust mop frequently
- DO blot up spills immediately
- DON’T use harsh cleaners containing acids, lemon juice, or vinegar
- DON’T use abrasive cleaners, either dry or soft
Where to Use Natural Stone Tile
You may use natural stone tiles just about anywhere in and around the home, as long as you choose the right stone for the area. For example, in outdoor and wet areas, you want stones that hold up well to wetness and humidity, such as slate and cantera. Granite does well in the kitchen or bar, because citric juices and other acidic substances do not damage it. Marble works wonderfully in the bathroom and around the fireplace.
Do some research into the stones you like to determine where to best use them.
Cantera: Description and Uses
Found in Mexico and Central America, cantera forms when volcanic ash, lava, dust, and other stones combine. Its colors vary greatly, depending on the region of origin, ranging from grays to browns to reds to greens.
Cantera stone is highly durable, yet soft enough to allow easy carving. The stone does not expand with humidity or water, making it popular for outdoor use. Designers, architects, and landscapers use cantera tiles around the pool, fireplace, and in flooring. You also find it used as decorative tile in backsplashes and around edging.
Granite: Description and Uses
When it comes to kitchens, you won’t find a more popular stone than granite. Incredibly strong and durable, it also offers unique beauty thanks to its wide variety of colors. It holds a beautiful shine and repels water and other liquids extremely well. It is also one of the more economical natural stone choices.
Granite’s durability, beauty, and versatility make it a popular choice both inside and out. Its ability to stand up to moisture makes it a great choice for the kitchen and bath. Its hardness makes it a popular choice for flooring. However, some find it too slippery for outdoor patios and walkways.
Limestone: Description and Uses
Limestone offers the soft, striated colors and texture of travertine, but with a much harder formation, making it more durable and resilient. You find unbelievable patterns and colors in natural limestone, with a warm, peaceful feeling. Finish may be polished or honed, and sometimes its striations make it resemble wood.
Limestone absorbs water, so avoid installing it outdoors. Use it in the kitchen or bath, living areas, and hallways.
Marble: Description and Uses
Due to its incredible beauty, marble has been in use in decorating since ancient times. Artisans use its natural colors and patterns to create stunning works of art, even if said artwork is your fireplace. Colors may be subtle or bold, and veining throughout the stone adds a great deal of interest and detail.
Although marble is vulnerable to acids, a protective sealant helps protect it. Even so, it is not ideal for kitchen counters, although many people love the look of marble countertops. It also absorbs water, so avoid using it outdoors. It’s a beautiful addition to bathrooms and living areas.
Onyx: Description and Uses
Onyx is very similar to marble in appearance and has a polished, glossy surface. You find onyx in pastel tones of brown, green, orange, white, and yellow. Also like marble, onyx is softer and more vulnerable to scratching. Therefore, avoid use in kitchens. However, it makes a beautiful addition to your bathroom.
Quartz: Description and Uses
Quartz has a sparkling, shimmering surface, thanks to its composition of quartz crystals. Its colors vary considerably, from whites and beiges to pinks and purples. It’s strong and durable, with a surface that makes it ideal for both indoor and outdoor flooring, as it resists skidding. It also resists scratching, meaning you can use it in high-traffic areas. It’s also a popular decorative tile for backsplashes and countertops.
Sandstone: Description and Uses
Sandstone’s colors depend entirely on where the rock originated, but typically fall within the earth tones. Compared to other natural stones, sandstone offers less color variability, making it a popular choice for flooring. It’s tough and stands up well to traffic, making it ideal for living areas, hallways, bathrooms, and kitchens. Sandstone is also weather resistant, so you can use it outdoors, as well.
Slate: Description and Uses
Slate forms via compression, creating beautiful layers within the stone and making it easy to turn into tile thanks to those layers easily splitting into sheets. Colors vary widely, including browns, grays, pinks, yellows, and lavenders. You may even find all of those colors in a single tile.
The durability of slate makes it a popular flooring choice throughout the home. Additionally, its ability to withstand the elements and remain slip-proof makes it ideal for outdoor use.
Travertine: Description and Uses
If you want natural stone tiles with a distressed, aged appearance, travertine is for you. Its colors are warm and soft, and so is its texture. Travertine is much less “cold” than most stone tile, with a beautiful matte finish. This stone is more fragile than most, but a good sealant helps protect it. Just be sure to use area rugs in high-traffic areas, and add protectors to chair and table legs.