There are three basic types of natural stone and several types of man-made, or engineered, stone used for countertops:
Granite is by far the most common, because of its abundance in the natural world and its scratch resistance. Granite or granitic (granite-like) stones are mostly quartz, feldspar, and mica, making them quite hard—around 7 on a 1-10 scale. They are igneous rocks, which are formed when hot molten lava cools into various crystalline forms. Granite is the most popular stone countertop material by far because it withstands heat better than other products, is stain resistant when sealed, is very hard (resists scratches), and comes in hundreds of spectacular colors.
Care and Maintenance: At our fabrication shop, we permanently seal every top with Dry-Treat STAIN-PROOF. It requires no maintenance throughout the life of the countertop. For daily cleaning use soap and water, or clear spray cleaners. While colored cleaners, like Simple Green and others, work well and won’t damage the finish, we’ve found that as they evaporate, some leave a tinted residue behind that can build up over time. We recommend and sell the StoneTech Professional cleaners Revitalizer and Granquartz 3-in-1 spray, and leave a complimentary can with every project.
For stone products that you own now, without a permanent sealer, you should re-seal every 1-5 years as needed. To determine this, sprinkle a few drops of water on your countertop. Wait a few minutes then wipe them up–if the stone is darker where the water was, then the stone is absorbing the water, so reseal it! Otherwise, enjoy it.
Marble, Travertine, and Limestone arise from different circumstances in nature, but all are composed of mostly calcium carbonate (think of very dense Tums). Limestone formed in ancient sea beds as the shells from microscopic organisms accumulated and were compressed. If that limestone were subjected to heat and even more pressure underground, it would eventually re-crystallize into marble, which is why limestone may include fossils but marble never does. Travertine forms as dissolved minerals at and around hot springs are deposited over time, similar to the formations at “Old Faithful.” All of these stones are softer than granite—3 on a 1-10 scale—and are susceptible to etching from even weak acids (Who spilled this Margarita?). So we recommend a honed finish (more about Finishes later) wherever acids may be present.
Care and maintenance: Care is similar to granite. These stones can be scratched by cutlery or unfinished ceramic, such as mug bottoms. Also, their polished finishes can be dissolved, or etched, and made dull by things like lemon juice, cola, or coffee, so more care is required. When you use acidic products, you need to diligently wipe them up before they can do any damage.
Soapstone was once the standard for New England kitchens, and people are re-appreciating its virtues. Predominantly talc, like the powder, it’s quite soft—1.5 on a 1-10 scale. However, it is non-reactive and non-porous (remember those high school chem-lab tables?), so it will survive almost anything. It is virtually impossible to stain soapstone because of its density.
Care and Maintenance: Soapstone never needs to be sealed because it is inherently non-porous. It is easy to scratch, but a few swipes with 80 grit sandpaper will bring it back to its original state. Most people choose to apply mineral oil to the surface to neutralize the tonal differences and hide minor scratches, while bringing out the depth of the stone. Un-oiled stone looks more rustic, and work areas will quickly develop a patina. Oiling the entire top will eliminate this. For another option that may last longer than mineral oil, we can apply a dry wax. This will give you a dark look without needing frequent re-oiling.
Quartz are “man-made” or “engineered” materials of natural quartz chips encased in a resin base. They typically are very consistent in their colors because they are made in factories using specific mixtures. They do not require resealing. Quartz is scratch resistant and heat resistant but manufacturers will always require the use of trivets for hot pans. You can buy quartz under the names Silestone, Zodiaq, Viatera, Caesarstone, Colorquartz, Chroma and others.
Care and Maintenance: Quartz products are typically cleaned with simple soap and water or mild household cleaners.
Green Products are made from 100% recycled glass and concrete and come in dozens of colors. They perform very much like natural stone and are sealed like granite or marble. Brands include IceStone, Vetrazzo, Eco, and other products with recycled content. To varying degrees, these products can accrue LEED points for your projects.