How to Clean Travertine

Ah, Travertine. You are so pretty but alas, you are stone. Why is stone being installed in every new and newly remodeled home? From granite to travertine, slate to marble and everything in between – stone. Oh yes, because you are so so pretty.

Stone is like a high maintenance woman. People are attracted to her because of her looks but once you get to know her you see it is not easy being pretty. Nails, hair, waxing, working out, eating all that salad. Oy! Which brings us back to pretty travertine. I love the look. I even installed a hallway in my last house. However, that hallway was sixteen by four feet long; not too much to maintain. We even put slate into the bathroom surround, again, we went into it knowing we would have to reseal it every year, or so, but the deck and the tub/shower part were all a nice easy to care-for cultured marble. Now, the problem – we have moved into a new house that has somuch travertine. Entry hall, kitchen, dining room, study, master bedroom, every bathroom floor, and the entire shower and bathtub walls and floor – even the stairs. Those spiffy little cleaners they sell at Home Depot, in a spray bottle, are just not going to cut it at five to seven dollars a pop – we’ll be buying them weekly (you know, if I actually cleaned all of this travertine…at one time…weekly)!  So what is a thrifty homemaker to do?  Internet research, of course.

The real problem in cleaning natural stone is in it’s nature.  Stone is porous.  Granite is really hard, but still porous.  It, and other natural stones, suck up liquid like a sponge.  So, the solution is that you seal stone.  Good job!  Research over!  Seal it and clean it with whatever is handy!  Nay, nay Fifi.  Sealants wear off and depending how often your stone is used and to what degree you may need to reseal from every six months to every two years.   And, the big kicker, is that even a properly sealed stone may still stain (a.k.a. suck up that wine you spilled and leave a red spot for all of eternity).  So, perhaps a five dollar spray bottle is the lesser of many evils – like paying a whole ton of money at once to have the plethora of travertine running amok in my house professionally resurfaced and sealed.

So, stone is porous.  It should also be noted that natural stone is basic – as in alkaline, acids and bases, not that it is a simple little rock.  Most people paid enough attention in high school chemistry to remember that mixing acids and bases produces a reaction as they try to neutralize.  Which, naturally leads us to the inevitable problem that most cleansers are acidic and will eat through your sealant and etch your beautiful stone.  So, the occasional reach for good old Windex, 409 or one of their cronies is probably okay, but on a regular basis it will produce etching.

One more drawback of some natural stones is that they can be ‘soft.’  This is especially true of marble but also most other natural stones like Travertine.  Granite, as stated and universally known, is very hard but sealants are not.  Abrasive agents like brushes, steel wool and anything with a grit will scratch your stone, wear away the sealant and make etching and staining that much easier.

If you are now starting to formulate a plan to go green and cheap with a water and vinegar mix (where my brain first went to – because you can use vinegar for anything, right?) this is the appropriate place to say that vinegar is also an acid and, as such, it needs to stay away from your precious stone.  What can be safely used are products specifically designed for granite and other natural stone.  They can be found at home improvement stores and some grocery stores – this is the “No, duh?” statement.  These products range greatly in price and for my purposes are beyond what I want to pay, since I have a very large area to cover.  Additionally, they will vary in effectiveness.  Some will simply polish and your stone will look great, but will it disinfect and really clean? 

So, for you (and me) I scoured the Internet to find that cheap solution.  After many hours, eureka!  I found it!  The secret solution of affordable, effective cleaning of  travertine and other natural stones.  The amazing part is it all came down to that basic high school chemistry lesson.  We want neutral.  That is what stone cleaners are, neutral solutions.  And, it was not exactly a secret just something that was rarely mentioned and never disputed.  The amazing reveal is: isopropyl alcohol (a.k.a. rubbing alcohol) mixed with water.  A solution of somewhere between one quarter to one half cup per quart will clean nicely, effectively and cheaply.

If you harken back to the days of Chemistry 101, you will recall that the acid/base scale goes from one to fourteen.  Neutral is seven.  Neutral is good.   Whenever you hear of something being “PH-balanced” they are trying to get it as close to seven as possible.  Milk is a seven.  Isobropyl Alcohol is not technically a seven but, for our intents are purposes, it is neutral (a little confusing because alcohols are not acids or bases) .

Getting down to the nuts and bolts of cleaning a natural stone floor.  First, dry mop with a soft cloth or microfiber cover to remove debris that can scratch, if you start using a little elbow grease.  The grit that drops off of your shoes can scratch your stone. If you really want to go all the way, don’t wear shoes throughout the house.  However, with young children this can be a bit impractical so do your best to remove debris on a regular basis.  If you are cleaning a counter top, such as in a kitchen where daily cleaning is necessary,  plain jane hot water will do fine with a once a week cleaning with your preferred stone cleaning agent.

Once your space is clear, clean with your agent of choice.  If you are using a specific stone cleaner follow their directions but with most, once you apply it mop or wipe and you are done.  Dousing the floor is not necessary.  Below is a list of the cleaning agents that are safe and unsafe to use on natural stone. 

Here’s the good news.  Travertine, marble, and granite are stone (yes, really!).  There is a reason stone has been used as a building material for thousands of years.  It is durable and attractive.  Stone will outlast most of the materials used to build your entire home.  So, in a thousand years your house may not be standing but your floors and counter tops will be (though probably not as pretty).  So, put your pretty girl’s face on and enjoy being seen with her.

SAFE: Water, Granite and/or Natural Stone specific products, Water and rubbing alcohol mix 16:1 (a.k.a. 1 quart water to 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol)

OCCASIONAL USE ONLY: Soap and water mix (soap scum will build up and dull the stone, yes, even if you rinse afterward)

NOT SAFE:Bleach, Ammonia, Vinegar (and water/vinegar mixes), generic cleaners and degreasers (Windex, 409, Fantastik, etc.), Lemon/Lime/Citrus juice (pretty much anything with a citrus scent), Abrasives (steel wool, Brillo pads, brushes, etc.), CLR

NOTE: Please, do not attempt to blame or sue me for your damaged stone.  I am not a stone professional, just a simple mom who is sharing her research.  I heartily encourage you to do your own research.  This is merely what I am doing.

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5 Responses to How to Clean Travertine

  1. Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  2. Many thanks so significantly for bringing this all together, you rock woman.

  3. annuaire says:

    Great tips,thanks for the post.

  4. Pingback: How To Clean Travertine Countertops, Floors, Shower Tiles & Backsplashes - The Fun Times Guide to Household Tips

  5. Debby says:

    I was thinking alcohol would work – thanks for the post. FYI to all – alcohol works great on granite counter tops and windows as well!

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