Understanding Natural Stone Tiles
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Understanding Natural Stone Tiles

Natural stone tile information including, marble, granite, limestone, travertine and slate tiles.

Natural stone tiles are being produced in more sizes and finishes than ever before. With so many options available to them at affordable prices, many homeowners are choosing to install stone tiles in their home. Unfortunately, homeowners may also be uneducated in the types of stone, their use and their maintenance, which can lead to damage over time.

Types of Stone Tile

There are several types of stone tile on the market today. Most of these tiles will be available in several sizes and finishes, making the selection of tile based on style the easy part. What you will need to pay attention to is the nature of each stone.


Granite is an igneous rock, which is made of mica, feldspar and quartz. Granite tiles are hard, durable and hold up extremely well in wet or high traffic areas. While granite is most frequently associated with countertops, the sudden rise in popularity of stone tiles has led to granite being used in entry ways, showers and other areas where a durable stone is required.


Marble is a metamorphic stone made of calcite. True marble is perfectly white in color; veins, streaks and other colors are due to the presence of varying minerals in the stone. Marble is much softer than granite, and therefore more likely to scratch, stain or absorb impurities. While polished marble is frequently used for its elegant appearance, tumbled marbles may be the better choice in high traffic areas, since they are more likely to disguise wear and tear on the stone. White or light colored marble in particular should be avoided in wet areas, as they are likely to show the most stains.


Limestone and travertine are sedimentary rocks made of calcite. Marble is made from limestone which has undergone tremendous heat and pressure. Therefore, limestone and travertine are softer, more fragile versions of marble. These stones are frequently too soft to take a high polish on their surface and can stain easily. Travertine's naturally rustic appearance does help to disguise scratches and stains more easily than limestone, making it a better choice for wet or high traffic areas where a rustic stone is desired. Both stones require the use of a heavy, impregnating sealer to prevent stains.


Slate is also a metamorphic stone, which has formed in multiple layers. Slate tiles have an enormous degree of variation in color, surface texture and size. While this can make for a difficult installation, slate tiles hold up extremely well in high traffic areas, as their texture and color variation hide dirt and wear patterns. Slate tiles have a tendency to be dusty and to flake for the first few months after their installation as the stone becomes accustomed to its new home. For this reason, slate is not recommended for use by homeowners with allergies.


Onyx is an extremely fragile, translucent marble. Onyx tiles have extreme amounts of variation, with no two lots of the stone ever appearing the same twice. Onyx can be back lit, and should be used primarily for wall or decorative purposes, since it scratches and stains so easily.

Regardless of the type of natural stone tiles you decide to use in your home, make sure to take care of them properly. Always seal stone tiles to prevent staining, and wash them with a mild detergent. When care is taken, it is possible to maintain the beauty and durability of natural stone tiles for many years.

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