Soft Stone - A Cleaning & Care Guide
I’m not sure what I hear more - clients retelling horror stories of how they, or someone they know accidentally ruined their marble or stone; or clients asking me to use water alone as they’re so scared of doing damage. Understandably so, not using the right product can be a simple yet costly mistake and only goes to show how little is known about the correct care needed for these gorgeous, incredibly heavy, slices of luxury. We're Melbournians, how else would we adorn our homes?
First things first: If you’re building/upgrading your bathroom; Do 👏 Your 👏 Research 👏 If you don’t intend on maintaining stone, you’ll only get a couple of good years before it becomes visually dull, etched, marked or stained; an expensive venture indeed. If you've bought a home that already has stone, the same still applies; knowledge and maintenance is key to keeping it looking its gorgeous best!
Now, I might have scared a few people off stone already but that’s not my intention; some hints and tips below will make sure your effort is kept minimal and its beauty is kept maximal, this will give you (and everyone else) a never-ending supply of swoon at such a tasteful display of marble or travertine.
The usual suspects of soft stone are marble, granite, onyx, travertine, slate and polished concrete, and they all like gentle cleaners, so you can throw out all of those nasty, harsh chemicals - win-win!
Maintenance cleaning; a how to -
When it comes to cleaning marble and soft stone from a maintenance standpoint, more often than not, all you need is to slightly dampen a cloth with water and gently wipe down the surfaces. Only use soft materials such as tea towels, cloths or microfibres, no abrasive scourers or scrubbers allowed! If your stone is in the bathroom or shower, wipe it down after each use - this will help prevent it from developing watermarks (particularly unsightly for darker stones or shiny finishes), reduce wearing down the sealant and overall dulling in colour. Further, this will help reduce long term build-up.
As soft stone is typically porous, it is important to wipe up spills quickly - especially so in the kitchen and particularly if the sealant is non-existent or old. Even if the stone and area does have a sealant (I’ll speak more on sealants shortly) it can still mark or stain very easily. If exposed to either an alkaline or acidic substance, whether lemon juice, vinegar or an unmixed, pure essential oil; expect trouble.
A good rule of thumb, especially in the kitchen, is to use coasters, cutting boards or trays to keep from marking or damaging the stone, and wipe down regularly with a dry cloth to minimise any bits of debris that could scratch the surface. Products such as shampoo and handwash bottles left directly on stone surface over time can leave irreparable and unsightly doughnut-like rings. Oils of any kind that you would usually use in the kitchen can also seep into the stone itself and cause permanent discolouration. Your best plan for maintenance is to keep on top of the cleaning - if that's not as possible as you'd like it to be, that's what we're here for!
Want a more thorough, cleanier-clean? What to use above water alone:
If you’re feeling your H2O is not cutting the mustard, keep in mind that stone only wants either a pH neutral cleaner or something between 7 and 9 to sit within the safe zone. Anything significantly below a pH of 7 is too acidic, think vinegar, citrus - anything significantly above is too alkaline. Bleach and ammonia are thought of as great stain removers, but will do more damage than good when stone is involved. Neither end of the pH scale are kind on these surfaces. Be careful with generic products as many contain damaging chemicals such as chlorine. All of the above similarly applies to the cleaning etiquette for vintage furniture and mid century modern pieces we adorn the rest of our homes with.
To save a trip to the supermarket, you’re likely to have all you need on hand to make a safe and effective cleaner. One option is to use castile soap with water (1 teaspoon of castile to 1 cup of water in a spray bottle), and another to use gentle organic dishwashing liquid with water (1 teaspoon of liquid to 1.5 cups of water). Both mildly alkaline cleaners, yet balance out well for a neutral pH when combined with water at the above ratios. Spraying the desired area/stone with the above mixture, alongside a gentle scrub should do the trick.
Note: scrub means a little bit of elbow grease and a soft cloth, not a scourer!
Soft stone is exactly that - soft. This is why it’s important to use gentle products and materials so as to avoid scratching the sealant, or worse, the actual stone itself. If maintained regularly (as per the previous method), it is highly unlikely anything more than a soft cloth and the above mixtures will be required. In terms of effort, this is what we refer to as a 'light clean', compared to a mid or heavier clean, and yes that's all that's needed if regular attendance is in place.
Sealing and Damage:
Things to note:
· Marble needs to be sealed
· Being sealed doesn’t stop etching or stains
Marble and stone are typically sealed before or just after installation, however, it isn’t everlasting, nor is it a guaranteed buffer. Surfaces will eventually need to be resealed. If I wasn’t in this industry, and wasn't working with marbles, travertines and slate surfaces daily, I would have assumed that sealant meant 'it is sealed' and we were good to go... bring on the red wine! Alas, it’s important to understand that the function of sealant is to help minimise the risk of stain.
Think of it in like an umbrella on a heavy rain day. It will keep you mostly protected, but isn't an invincible defence. Wiping up stains and keeping the surface clean and dry are your best defences to keep your stone looking fresh and lovely in-between sealing stages. A good rule of thumb is to do it at least once a year. You can do this yourself, or get a professional if desired. Lastly - an important item to take note of are cracks, dents and chips. The existence of these will almost all but compromise your stone by leaving water and contaminants to seep through these non-sealed areas. Moisture and grime will linger and do damage, resulting in mould, increased erosion and discolouration. A word of warning and excellent example - some of our clients recently discovered a hairline crack in a bathroom marble tile, barely noticeable/visible to the eye (thankfully we're there on our hands and knees to notice!), but had clearly been sealed over after the fact as no damage had yet started to take place. This is a ticking time bomb and obviously means it occurred during the build, with an attempt to cover it up - take note of that reality! There are many fantastic builders in Melbourne, and plenty more excellent Melbourne soft stone professionals, but be aware that cover-ups do happen. Make sure that if you are renovating or building, take detailed visual notes and make thorough inspections before giving the green light to your builder/renovator.