Sunday, May 15, 2011

So many Stones to choose from. Which is the best Granite for me??

Here are a few considerations when making that "Big Granite Decision" 
Start with a well lit granite slab, preferably outside in the daylight, with your wall & floor tile, cabinet door, and wall paint samples in hand(s). Placing these up against will give you the best vantage point to make a decision. Consider though that the slabs are standing up and your granite will be lying down once installed absorbing and reflecting all colors and light around it, differently at day and at night. Your main/accent lighting, the walls, backsplash, and the cabinet shadows produced by their form will also be factors. Usually, for dark cabinetry, go with as light of a granite color as you can stand. This tends to separate the cabinetry from the granite and features both more equally. If too similar it all becomes very monolithic in form. Since the countertops and floors are on the same horizontal plane too similar a color match will dominate the room. Matching accent colors in the granite with the floor might tie a floor and the rest of the room together more gracefully. Your wall paint should remain neutral and serve as a canvas to showcase the rest of the kitchen. Lastly, but not least of, consider the grain pattern flow (if any) of the granite since color/pattern combinations will be perceived differently over the whole kitchen landscape. Although the varieties may overwhelm and their differences seem significant at this stage, once installed and finished any granite within an acceptable range of colors will become liveable and appreciated as it ties all the elements together beautifully. Enjoy Your Granite!!

Why does my "Quartz Engineered" countertop lack that certain something?

If you are shopping for or have recently installed a "Quartz Engineered" stone countertop and are wondering why it does not have a similar translucent depth and brilliant gloss as natural granite, or if you are frustrated as to why the stonecare products only marginally improve its appearance, then read on... Granite has solid quartz crystals formed over millions of years which give it real depth as it reflects the colors of the minerals around each quartz crystal. Engineered stone (Quartz, as advertised) is a composite of pulverized quartz gravel and mineral powders with epoxy plastic adhesives and color pigments added. The coloring pigments added to the epoxy and the crushed quartz matrix cannot produce the same color and light magic that natural stone can since it is more opaque and flat in its grain structure. The processed quartz and epoxies cannot withstand the high heat temperatures that natural quartz found in granite can and as a result cannot achieve the similar degree of gloss. Instead, plastic maintenance products and techniques are to be used for this type of composite/epoxy engineered surface.

Granite Myths and Truths

To Seal or Not to Seal?
If water does not bead on the surface and instead slowly absorbs and produces dark areas which a hair dryer will remove then your stone is not adequately sealed.
All untreated granites will absorb water and oils at different rates and are vulnerable to staining no matter how dense, this includes Black Galaxy, Ubatuba, Absolute Black and similar dark colored stones. The good news is that granite staining is not permanent and can be reversed. Even better still, granite sealing technologies are readily available which penetrate your stone to protect and prevent these problems from occurring in the first place. Your granite may have been factory epoxy-coated from the slab producer which will prevent sealers from penetrating. The finished edges and underside will still be susceptible to absorption and should be sealed. Sealers differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, as do their quality and molecular ability to sync with your granite's unique porosity. For best results a knowledgeable professional in your area should recommend the appropriate sealer for your particular stone and perform the initial sealing as well as successive sealing or instruct the homeowner in how-to applications. 

Granite Wannabe?
Not all granites are granites. All hard igneous type stones are generally grouped with granites which should rightly contain adequately high percentages of quartz and certain minerals to be considered a true granite by definition. Special considerations are to be applied for stones outside of the granite family in terms of cleaning and preservation methods.

Granite Vulnerability?
Vinegar, lemon juice; acids, as well as corrosive alkaline agents will not harm your non-coated granite. Granites are generally chemical resistant and even in extreme exposure can be easily restored to their original state. This is why granite is the first choice for monuments and commercial building exteriors.
Please note that some granite processors now coat their granite slabs with epoxy/urethane sealing technologies which may require special cleaning and maintenance considerations.
Enjoy Your Natural Granite!!

Granite Confusion - Selecting a Stone Right For You

Selecting your granite slabs from bundles where every slab looks different or else quite similar to another granite with a different name can be confusing. Some popular granites have random wavy patterns while others will have a more uniform look. No two slabs are ever the same with many variances from one slab to the next even when cut from the same block. Most important is to choose a granite based on what you like and can live with as a central feature in your home. The grade as noted by the quality of finishing of the slab itself should be your foremost concern followed by the craftsmanship from your potential fabricator and installer, rather than proper name classification. More so because the stone industry suppliers and fabricators rename the stones to create an aura of exclusivity for the consumer and confusion for their competitors. Enjoy your natural stone!

Maintaining Your Bianco Carrara Marble Bathroom "Good as New"

There is no singular product or products and without the appropriate techniques to effectively maintain your marble. Stonecare is a highly specialized combination of science and art which relies heavily on circumstantial assessment and technical problem solving. For marble cleaning the best acid-based stone cleaners cannot be used. You are limited to (alkaline-based) cleaners which are made from sodium carbonates/ hydroxides/ hypochlorites/ anionic and non-ionic surfactants/ citrates/ glycol ethers/ alcohols/ and sodium sulfates to name a few. Home Depot carries their "Zep" product line of cleaner/degreasers which are formulations based on these chemicals. If you have existing stains, mold, grout grime, or a yellowing of your marble this must all be removed before any sealing preservation otherwise discoloration will be trapped under the sealed surface. If your marble is new or "like new" in appearance and has been washed, rinsed, and dried completely then proceed with sealing preservation. "Dupont Stonetech Professional Bulletproof Sealer" is by far the best sealer and does not change the marble's appearance. Since it is an impregnating sealer it will not coat the surface and will allow the stone to breathe. There are epoxy coatings to make marbles resistant to scratching and bruising but they are difficult to apply on vertical surfaces, costly, and make the marble non-breathable. Breathability is important to allow moisture vapors and mineral gas exchanges from behind and inside your marble to be released. Enjoy your marble!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cleaning Ceramic and Porcelain Tile Grout

Dishwasher detergent is concentrated and a good de-greaser (alkaline ph) to clean tile grout. The best dishwasher detergents to use are the granular capsules which you cut open and empty into a small container. Make sure to saturate the grout with hot hot water first then apply the detergent with a firm toothbrush scrubbing along the grout. For heavy oily grime "Easy Off" oven cleaner will remove quite well. I sometimes use extra strength cleaning vinegar or a mild phosphoric acid in combination with alkaline de-greasers to get all the stains out. Be careful combining other chemicals like ammonia and bleach as the mixtures can be lethal. Also be careful when working with strong alkalines and acids especially at face level. (rubber gloves and an eye goggles are essential) Using a latex paint with an "acrylic paint reducer" will renew what cannot be removed by cleaning. This is basic information but a good intro into the complex world of stone, tile, and grout care without the specialized chemicals. I have field tested every professional tile and stonecare product available and will advise that proper technique and basic household cleaners can achieve "as good as" results at a fraction of the cost without the dangers. Caution: acids and strong alkalines will etch marble, sandstone, travertine, and limestone surfaces with the exception of Granites. Enjoy your stone!

Engineered Cast Stone Sinks vs. Natural Granite Sinks

Almost every commercially available "Black Granite" sink is not granite. They are synthesized from stone sand and plastic resin technologies. Contrary to widespread belief they will stain, they do fade, they do scratch, and are susceptible to heat damage. Fiberglass, plastics, and marine industry suppliers carry more specialized cleaning products for surfaces containing resins. You may use any of the following for difficult stains: Acetate, Lacquer Thinner, Rubbing Alcohol, Ammonia, Mineral Spirits, Vinegar, Formula 409, Paint Thinner. Try to first identify the stain type and then match with the appropriate chemical product for efficient removal. examples: water base, oil base, protein base, coffee and tea, juice and dye, organic, inorganic hard mineral deposits.
Safety First: As with any chemical product exercise caution and read instructions thoroughly before use, properly handle and store the chemicals safely after use and be sure to neutralize then clean-up chemical residue afterward with milder detergents intended for food-safe zones. ie: dish detergent. 

Caution: When using pads, scrubs, or brushes, be careful and use light-fine abrasiveness since medium-coarse will dull the finish of engineered, man-made stone. Some cleaning products may contain abrasives which in combination with your scrubbing action may dull the surface. Wipe or squeegee the surface periodically during this process and monitor your progress to avoid further damage.
The Preferred Method: Usually a hot water pre-wash, a mild de-greasing detergent or cleaning vinegar and some scrubbing action, followed with a hot-water rinse will remove most stains.

Real Stone: Granites are not considered sensitive stones and are unlike marbles, limestones, travertines which require special consideration. Granite cleans up easily with strong de-greasers. Acids will not damage granite and will remove what de-greasers won't as well as restore lustre. Cleaning Vinegar +10%, citric acid, oxalic, sulfamic, phosphoric, muriats, etc. A medium to coarse scrub brush will help facilitate the cleaning process. Always rinse well after any cleaning process. Seal your newly cleaned and completely dry granite with a top quality sealer so that water will bead on surface. This will help to prohibit staining formation. Liquid spray waxes buffed onto surface add an extra skin of protection and should be part of a regular cleaning program; Zep, Gel-gloss etc. These products can be added to without stripping off previous coatings. Silicone penetrating sealers and acrylic wax topcoats work better than older methods like mineral oils for example. Enjoy your stone!

Granite Countertop Cleaning: Free Advice from a Stonecare Professional

The easiest method is always to watch someone else do it. If you have been gifted with the task then no matter how sophisticated or expensive the products you use the techniques are all very similar. Dish soap is still the best, yes, the same stuff you use everyday for the dishes you eat from. Streak-free dish detergent is economical and plentiful, simple and safe to use, and will get the results you seek.

Basic Cleaning:
A dish-rag soaked in hot sudsy water should be used to saturate the granite surface. Allow a few minutes for the hot soapy water to work its magic. Scrub with same soapy rag shortly thereafter to remove any build-up or stubborn grime followed with a rinse or two of hot water from a soap-free rag.

For Heavy Cleaning:
Further agitate the soaking-wet surface with a coarse cloth or mildly abrasive ScotchBrite style pad, (white, red, and blue pads only) rinse as usual. Stains can be removed by cutting open a granular automatic dishwasher capsule and gently rubbing a small amount at a time into the stain and repeating until successful.

After any cleaning regiment and after your stone has dried some streaking may still remain. Streak-free dish soaps seem to minimize this. Use a clean cotton rag, microfiber cloth, or white color ScotchBrite pad to buff away cleaning product residue that remains. 

Maintaining Polish:
Periodic buffing when surface is dry with extra-fine(000) steel wool followed with a slightly damp clean cloth to pick up steel wool particles left behind. A spray and shine liquid wax like "Zep" buffed with a clean cloth will add some glossy brilliance.

Read more about sealing and preserving your natural stone in my blog titled "Granite Myths and Truths" Enjoy your natural granite stone!

The Artistry of Stonecare

Stone is a natural formation of various minerals into a complex grain pattern. These "grains" form a directional plane which the quarrier and manufacturers must consider when processing since the surface grains will determine the finished qualities of the stone once installed. Stone is appreciated for its timeless appeal as well as the many surface textures that can be created. Stone's ability to be refinished to an "as new condition". is one more important aspect with regards to its durability and value as a building material. The allure of a brilliant natural polish not only magnifies its myriadal grain patterning, but also serves to make a stone's surface less porous and impervious. Modern technologies have produced chemicals treatments available to the stonecare professional of today to fortify and alter a stone's appearance. Whether to make a stone less porous and impervious to staining and scratching or to add richness and added luster there exists a chemical alternative. Despite their initial effectiveness all chemical products disintegrate and need to be reapplied periodically. Claims of no-toxicity or low toxicity do not factor in environmental conditions and often performance results do not meet with expectations. The science of chemical success relies heavily on the techniques used by the stonecare professional in preparing the surfaces for application with an exacting assessment of the stone's state before any chemical based solution can be applied.  The variables between different stone types and variances amongst similarly finished stones as well as the non-specific chemical formulations that are broad spectrum engineered all need to be objectified.  Preventative Stonecare is an elaborative process which involves the initial design and material selection stages, before fabrication and installation construction, and with consideration for practical and effective maintenance programs.  Please feel free to contact me for more information regarding your project plans or for stonecare consultation and maintenance services at