During a Marble Institute of America+Building Stone Institute (MIA+BSI) New York Metro Chapter meeting held this summer at Stone Source’s showroom in New York City, Mike Sawicki, vice president of commercial sales at Miracle Sealants Company in Arcadia, CA, addressed an audience about stone care and maintenance. He stressed the importance of caring for stone materials to ensure a long-lasting and aesthetically pleasing application.

“Indeed, buildings in Greece and Rome have been there for thousands of years,” he said. “Some people say stone is self-cleaning. Let it go and it continues to perform. The reality is if you want proper care and maintenance, you have to take some consideration. In my opinion, the client isn’t thinking about care and maintenance. They are thinking about color. Everything wears. Some stones wear faster than other stones. The good news is if stone does get damaged or get scratched, it can be restored. You can’t do this with other products like porcelain. That is an advantage.”

When discussing cleanability, Sawicki explained the MIA+BSI launched an independent study of surfaces several years ago that concluded stone could be properly sanitized. “Research showed it is the easiest to clean dirt and bacteria off granite countertops,” he said. “This was good information because there had been reports saying food poisoning is occurring on surfaces where food is prepared. A Ph neutral cleaner is the best cleaning solution for stone surfaces.”

Sawicki went on to talk about what to tell consumers when they bring up staining. “Customers are constantly asking, ‘Will it stain and how can I take care of it?” he said. “They are savvy. We try to relax them and have them understand what expectations are and down the road how to maintain them.”

Some considerations to share with customers include natural stone verses engineered stone. “There is a big difference,” said Sawicki. “Natural stone comes from the earth. Engineered is bonded with resin in a factory.” Another factor to consider is the porosity of a stone. “This is sometimes not thought about,” said Sawicki. “Some stones are very porous and some stones are very dense. The more porous the material, the more likely it will retain a stain.

“People think marble is a very porous material, but not necessarily so,” he went on to explain. “They might be softer and scratch easier, but not necessarily porous. There is a difference between porosity and softness.”

The type of finish also plays a role in how a stone will perform. “A rule of thumb, a polish finish is denser and less porous than a honed finish, which is a less absorptive finish,” said Sawicki. “[Also], a polished marble countertop really looks beautiful, but be aware it might not be polished forever. It can get spots on it.”

Slip resistance is also an important consideration, especially when specifying stone for a floor. “Generally speaking, a polished finish is more slippery than a honed or textured finish,” said Sawicki. “There are ways to deal with that. There are different products out there. There are ASTM standards that can be done to determine slip resistance.”

The cycle of stone care

Sawicki also spoke with the audience about the sequential steps that should be taken to care for a stone application. “During the first install, you want to treat the stone with a penetrating sealer so it is resistant to stains from the start,” he said. “Then apply a maintenance cleaner and then if you see wear and tear you can fix it. Protect it and then maintain it.”

For stain protection, penetrating or impregnating sealers can be used, as well as topical sealers. “It doesn’t eliminate cleaning, just makes it easier,” said Sawicki, adding the longevity of the protection depends on a variety of factors, including wear and tear as well as cleaning chemicals and methods.

Sawicki also wanted to clarify the difference between penetrating sealers and impregnators as opposed to topical sealers. “Penetrating sealers —- or impregnators — are designed to go below the surface so it doesn’t go in if you spill on the stone,” he said. “A topical finish makes the stone shiny. It is a coating that sits on top.

“The advantage of a penetrating sealer is it allows vapor transmission through the stone and doesn’t allow coefficient of friction,” Sawicki went on to explain. “In case of a coating that is now wearing the surface, it’s going to show wear and tear more quickly. If there is vapor transmission, the stone will get water spots and it will be more slippery. It’s usually not recommended for exterior applications.”

Sawicki also explained that an impregnator doesn’t stop from acid etching because it is not on the surface. Technically, a topical sealer does. Sawicki also told the crowd that an impregnator and topical sealer can’t be used together.

When it comes to penetrating sealers, the most important main function is to make maintenance easier, according to Sawicki. “If you want a honed finish, it stays. If you like a specific color, it stays that color. For contractors, it’s a very important benefit. There is grout release so the stone is not stained with the grout color.”

Solvent vs. water

According to Sawicki, there are a number of reasons a solvent is a better sealer. “A solvent will evaporate more readily than water,” he said. “If it is 50 degrees out, water doesn’t evaporate. It sits on the surface. A solvent is more affective.”

Some reasons water-based products are used, however, include no odor and lower VOC emissions.

Sawicki explained some color enhancers can provide stain repellency in addition to color enhancement. “It may need to be reapplied more frequently; check with the manufacturer regarding performance,” he said.

When discussing routine maintenance or cleaning a stain, Sawicki instructed the audience to determine proper products to use. “Different stains require different chemicals,” he said. “Acids clean mineral stains — typically cement or grout hazes, rust stains and efflorescence. Alkaline cleaners remove coatings.

“Have the right equipment — abrasive pads or brushes and a wet vacuum to extract loosened dirt or soils,” Sawicki went on to say. “Acid etch is not a stain. You can have every cleaner under the sun, but it won’t fix an acid stain.”

For routine maintenance, Sawicki told the audience to use an appropriate cleaner for the surface and the condition. “A Ph neutral cleaner is best,” he said. “Specify the sealer and the cleaner from the same manufacturer. I encourage specifiers to put something in there about maintenance.”

Poultices can be used to treat deep stain removal. “They are designed to suck out penetrating stains,” said Sawicki. “They are designed for spot stains. You make a paste with poultice powder and over a 12- to 24-hour period the poultice will suck the stain out.

“For protection against stains and wear, floor mats are so valuable in our business to protect that entryway surface,” said Sawicki. “It takes grit off the bottom of people’s shoes. I had a project in Atlantic City a few years ago. There was marble throughout the entryway. There were no walk-off mats. The owner thought mats took away from the look of the casino. Sand takes it off. If they used mats, they wouldn’t have to do restoration every three to four months.