BY TIM RIVIEREToday there are more options for stone maintenance than we know what to do with. Unfortunately, the more we hear, the more complicated it all seems to be. The fear of making a mistake and ruining a stone floor has always caused people to shy away from resurfacing, polishing and marinating stone.
However, there is no need to be afraid or worried about hurting a stone floor. It can always be fixed.I’m often asked, “Is there a simple approach to stone care or not? ”My answer is, “Yes! There is no need to over-complicate it, once you understand the simple do’s and don’ts, it becomes very clear. Whether you are dealing with hard granite, soft granite, hard marble, soft marble, limestone or terrazzo, the approach is the same.1. Resurface if it is scratched.2. Polish if it lacks gloss.3. Protect if staining could occur.4. Maintain to avoid the cost of the above.For many years in the United States our perception was that we need to “protect” the stone. Hence for years we have been taught by the major floor finish manufacturers that the only way to protect/maintain stone is to coat it with a seal that was ‘designed to bond to stone’ (or at least have the best chance of bonding of all of the coatings they offered).Then to apply a finish best suited for the traffic, buffing or burnishing frequency and desired gloss.The concept was formed due to the desire of wanting to protect the surface from damage. Then we learned that stone needs to breath. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why coatings have a hard time bonding to the stone in the first place. Coatings will not allow the stone to breathe. In fact trapping moisture in the stone can cause structural damage over time.Does it sound like I am building an argument against floor finish? Well, I guess that I am when it comes to stone.My customers generate a lot of revenue with coatings. There is plenty of VCT that needs finish. But please keep it off of the stone floors.Keep in mind the term ‘hard as a rock.’ Stone comes in a wide variety of hardness, so do floor finishes, but no floor finish will ever be as hard or durable as stone. The two basic enemies of stone are abrasives, such as sand, and anything that is acidic. Even the mildest acids will have a deleterious effect on a polished stone surface. The acids are found in products we eat, drink or clean with.In fact some of the products we consider to be the mildest (7.0 pH) can still have a deleterious effect on polished stone. So, our maintenance of stone should be focused on the above issues. In a perfect world we keep the sand from entering the building all together. But that is just not reality. A good matting system is the first line of defense. The matting companies have done many studies to determine the right amount and combination of materials to keep the majority of the soils from entering the facility.
From what I have seen it is a combination of scraper type matting first and a fiber type mat second that is needed. The more steps a person takes on both of these materials the better. However, I have often seen matting that is actually the source of sand rather than the cure.Matting must be cleaned regularly. The best three recommendations I could make are to dust mop, dust mop and then dust mop. We teach our customers that by eliminating floor finish you can easily afford to add staff to do more frequent dust mopping. Dust mopping is the fastest and least expensive procedure in floor care and goes a long way in extending the life of the polished surface.ResurfacingIf the stone does become scratched the only way to remove the scratches is to resurface the stone with an abrasive material.Traditionally, this has been done with several grits of diamonds. There is new technology available to simplify this step. The typical scratches created by foot traffic are about 400 grit in size.We found an abrasive that will remove foot traffic scratches and prepare the stone for polishing in one step. Very cool! Some polishing products are designed to mask the scratches by filling them with polymer during the buffing/polishing step. I do not recommend this as at some point in time the polymer will build up, discolor and create the need to strip. These products will also start to create a film on the stone similar to a floor finish. As a result a natural stone starts to take on an artificial appearance due to a plastic coating. Polymer? Floor Finish? Didn’t we decide earlier that coatings are not the right answer for stone?PolishingOnce the scratches have been removed we can polish the surface. Again, traditionally, this has been done with several grits of diamonds. The sequence of diamond grits is basically covering one scratch pattern with a smaller scratch pattern until the scratch pattern is so small that all you can see is polished stone.Polishing powders and liquids are often used on difficult stones as the final step to get the gloss and color to ‘pop’. We have discovered a polishing powder that can bring the gloss back in one step following the abrasive disc mentioned above in the resurfacing step. Again, Very Cool! Because of the huge labor savings of a two step system, we and our customers love our new products and procedures.Complicated systems are those that require multiple steps, strong acids, steel wool or other specialty pads that can be very expensive. They all work, but they require a high level of training and experience, not to mention long labor hours. There is new technology that I can steer you toward that utilizes standard floor machines, standard white polishing pads and most importantly your existing labor force.ProtectThe goal in protection is to defend against the two enemies mentioned earlier; sand and acids. Good matting and frequent dust mopping is all you can do to control the sand. To prevent the stone from staining you need a good impregnating seal. Impregnators are different penetrating seals. Penetrating seals will most likely have a significant amount of polymer. The penetrating aspect means the seal does a better job at sinking deeper into the pores of the stone and bonding. This is common in concrete sealers.
Remember from above that polymers limit the ability of the stone to breathe. Impregnators will treat the stone chemically allowing the stone to breath. Chemically, an impregnator increases the surface tension of the spill and repels it. This keeps the spill on the surface until someone can come along and clean it up.
Impregnators should be reapplied annually to ensure consistent protection. At $100.00 per gallon or more, the cost may seem high but in use it is only about $0.03 to $0.04 per square foot. The marketing on penetrating seals and impregnators may be a bit confusing.If the product changes the stone’s gloss and richness of color, it probably has polymer in it. Impregnators do not change the gloss or color of the stone. There are solvent-based and water-based impregnators on the market. As most of you know, solvent-based products are getting a bad wrap and will not be around much longer. Water-based technology is very good today and can be trusted.MaintainThe trend in traditional floor care is to avoid the expensive process of stripping by doing more frequent maintenance, i.e. buffing, burnishing, top scrub and recoat. The goal in stone care is the same. We try to extend the cycle between the need for resurfacing by fixing the small scratches in the stone before they turn into larger scratches. A polished surface becomes dull due to very fine scratches. This can be done with fine abrasive, either in a liquid format or powder format. The abrasive is designed to fix the small scratches on a routine basis. Agai n I suggest that you avoid products that rely on strong acids.They are hard to work with, and in the end they only make the stone shinier, and, they do not fix the scratches.Labor SavingsTerrazzo is one of the more dominant surfaces in the United States. It is the primary surface in schools and government facilities across the country. Now there are designer terrazzo installations in major shopping malls, office buildings and airports. Terrazzo is very durable and offers the architect control in color schemes that are not always available in granite or marble.Older terrazzo installations utilized Portland cement as the binder. Today there are two other types of binders: epoxy and an epoxy Portland blend.Traditionally terrazzo is being coated, buffed, burnished, scrubbed and recoated and stripped. All of which is very labor intensive compared to maintaining a resurfaced and polished terrazzo.I interviewed one school official that said after one year of traffic the terrazzo looked the same as the day it was polished. She was able to eliminate weekly burnishing, three scrub and recoats and will never have to strip the floor again.No scraping edges and removing finish from base boards either. This equates to huge labor savings over the years, not to mention the savings in product to do all of the tasks above.All of the above can be done by your in-house staff. Q Tim Riviere is president of Apeirn Stone Care.


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