Table of Contents
- How Often Should You Seal Your Countertops?
- Sealing Granite, Marble, & Natural Stone Countertops
- How to Seal Granite Countertops
- How to Seal Marble Countertops
- When Not to Seal Natural Stone Countertops
- Professional Sealing for Natural Stone Surfaces
In addition to countertop care and maintenance, one of the most common questions we hear is whether natural stone countertops need to be sealed. Ask three people whether you should seal granite countertops, and you’ll get three different answers.
As it turns out, there’s a good reason for this range of opinions. Not all stone countertops need to be sealed. Some types of granite, like Ubatuba granite, for instance, is so dense that it won’t absorb anything anyway. It has a very low absorption rate and a low chance of staining.
However, the vast majority of natural stone countertops do need to be sealed once in a while. This is particularly true of counters with a honed finish. For these stones, sealant plays a vital role in keeping your countertop resistant to stains. A sealant also makes it easier to keep your kitchen countertop clean and looking good.
Properly sealing natural stone is important because most stones are porous — Quartz, which is engineered from natural stone, is the exception to this rule. Porous stones have small channels or pores in the rock, which are usually filled with air. An extreme example of a porous rock is pumice stone, where air channels are clearly visible.
The porosity of a stone is influenced by the number of channels, or micro-voids, in the stone itself. Granite has a reputation as a particularly non-porous stone. Marble is usually more porous.
In countertops, these channels are much smaller. However, their presence means that food or water can seep into the stone, leaving stains. By using a sealer or impregnator on the stone, you’ll prevent liquids from seeping into the counter.
How Often Should You Seal Your Countertops?
The next most common question we hear is how often you should seal your countertop. Many salespeople will recommend sealing your granite countertop every six months to one year. Others say it should never need sealing, and a number of people fall somewhere in between.
If you’re not sure whether your stone countertops need sealing, there are a couple of simple tests to help you figure it out:
Mineral Oil Test
Use a solvent test to figure out if you need to seal your natural stone countertops. Follow these tips for using a petroleum-based liquid or solvent to determine your countertops’ seal:
- Put a few drops of mineral oil in an out-of-the-way spot on your counter.
- Wait 10 minutes, then wipe up the mineral oil with a dry cloth.
- If a dark stain shows when you wipe up the mineral oil, it’s time to reseal your countertops.
Don’t worry if the mineral oil leaves a mark. Even if your counters need to be sealed, the dark spot from the mineral oil will evaporate in about 30 minutes.
Water Drop Test
Besides using mineral oil or another solvent to test whether you need to seal your natural stone countertops, you can also use water. Follow these steps to perform the water test on your stone surfaces:
- Find an inconspicuous area on your countertop.
- Sprinkle a few drops of water, up to a 1/4 cup, on the counter.
- Set a timer and track how long it takes for the countertop to absorb the water.
- Check to see whether the stone darkens and absorbs the water. If it absorbs the water and leaves a dark spot, the stone needs to be resealed.
To find out how often to seal your countertops, keep the following absorption rates in mind:
- Instant: You should seal your countertops once a year and wipe off spills immediately if the water absorbs in an instant. You may also need to apply a few layers of sealant to protect your surfaces fully.
- 4 to 5 minutes: You should seal your countertops about every 3 to 5 years if it takes a few minutes for the surfaces to absorb the water. You’ll need to apply a few layers of sealant.
- 10 minutes: You only need to apply one layer of sealer every few years if the water fully absorbs into your countertop after 10 minutes.
- 30 minutes: After 30 minutes, if there’s little or no water absorption from your countertops, you don’t need to apply a sealer at all.
How Do I Know If My Surface Is Still Adequately Sealed?
Please carry out the following water test; place a tablespoon of water on the treated surface for 20 minutes, then blot up the water with a tissue, pressing hard to soak up any water in the texture of the surface. If the water is absorbed or leaves a dark mark the surface needs more sealing.
Since it takes just a few minutes and no special materials to complete a water test, this is an easy test to do every few months.
We recommend that you decide whether to seal your countertops based on what your countertops need, rather than on an arbitrary calendar. Some counters don’t need any sealant, and this is normal.
Quartz, which is a crushed rock combined with resin, never needs sealant. Some granite counters are so dense that they don’t need it, either. Using sealant on these counters will actually give the stone a hazy or stained appearance unless wiped off properly.
Properly Sealing Granite, Marble, and Natural Stone Countertops
Sealing granite, marble, or natural stone countertops is a relatively easy home improvement process that usually takes less than an hour.
- A cleaner designed for natural stone
- Microfiber cloths
- Granite or natural stone sealer
Step 1: Deep Clean the Stone You Plan to Seal
Cleaning the counter well ahead of time will ensure you’re sealing only the counter and will help the sealant absorb more evenly. There are several recipes for DIY granite and natural stone cleaners, and there are also a wide variety of natural stone cleaners available in stores.
It’s a good idea to remove any stains as part of this cleaning process because the sealant will also help to lock in stains — which, of course, is something you want to avoid.
If you have a few problem stains you’d like to remove before sealing, start by identifying the source of the stain. This will help you to treat it properly. The Natural Stone Institute provides a detailed list of stains on natural stone, and how to remove them.
After cleaning, dry the counter thoroughly. If there is any doubt whether the stone is completely dry, error on the side of caution. Sealers require very dry stone to perform at their highest.
Step 2: Apply Sealer With a Soft Cloth, Lambs Wool, or Soft Brush
Application of any sealer should be in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Some manufacturers provide specific techniques and sealer amounts required for various stone types and their finish, for example, polished, honed, or flamed. Read the directions and inquire with a representative for further clarity.
Some companies will recommend one coat and others may recommend two or more. An optimal result with any manufacturer’s sealer is typically associated with the following:
- Make yourself aware of any precautions listed by the manufacturer before you start your project.
- ALWAYS TEST PRODUCT ON A SMALL AREA AND WAIT 24 HOURS FOR DESIRED RESULTS.
- Start with a clean, completely dry stone.
- Apply the proper quantity of sealer.
- Allow for the manufacturer’s recommended dwell times between coats.
Applying the sealant itself is straightforward. However, a bit of preparation beforehand will save you some trouble later.
Since sealants are applied as sprays, it will splatter on nearby surfaces if you don’t take precautions. Protect any surfaces you don’t want sealant on. Use plastic wrap on faucets, sinks or stovetops to protect them from the sealant.
We also think it’s a good idea to protect backsplashes and walls while you’re sealing. Just grab a magazine (or any other thin material you don’t mind getting sealant on). Place it along the seam between the wall and the kitchen countertop while you’re sealing.
When you use homemade granite sealers, make sure the ingredients are mixed together well by shaking the spray bottle before you use it. With commercial granite sealers, follow the instructions for mixing.
Once you’ve sprayed the counter, leave the sealant for approximately five minutes to allow it to soak into the stone. If the stone sealer you’re using specifies a different length of time, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
It’s best to apply sealer in small areas instead of over the whole surface at once. Since sealer doesn’t stay on the counter for long, this will let you wipe it off when needed.
Step 3: Remove the Sealer
Next, remove the excess sealer from the areas you’ve sealed. Some of the sealant will be absorbed by the stone itself. However, once a stone is sealed, there’s usually a bit of excess sealant on the surface.
Using a soft cloth, wipe up any sealer left on the surface. We like microfiber cloths for this purpose. They’ll soak up leftover sealer without leaving fiber on the counter. Do not let the sealant dry on the counter.
In some cases, you won’t have any sealer to remove. This means that the sealer has been fully absorbed by the stone, and it’s possible the perfect amount of sealer has been applied. It is always advised that the stone be thoroughly wiped down after the final application. In the event you notice any residue, most manufacturers recommend using the sealer itself to re-activate and wipe off any excess.
More likely, however, is that your natural stone counters could use another coating of sealer. If this is the case, go on to step four.
Step 4: Apply Additional Coats of Sealant As Needed
Applying more than one coat of sealer is normal. In fact, in some cases, it’s recommended to ensure even coverage.
The more porous the stone, the more likely you’ll need to apply additional coats of sealant. Luckily, more absorbent stone also means less waiting time between coats of sealant.
In general, it’s a good idea to wait at least 15 minutes before applying a second coat of sealant. This will allow the first layer to be fully absorbed by the stone. If you’re using a solvent-based sealant, the stone should look dry before you apply the next layer of sealant. With water-based sealants, the stone may still have a wet look.
Some sealants, particularly granite sealants, will recommend waiting at least 30 minutes between applying coats of sealant. If the manufacturer’s instructions specify a different time period, follow their recommendations.
How to Properly Seal Granite Countertops
If you’re wondering how to seal your countertops, you’ll need to use the right products to maintain their luxurious appearance. Review these lists of what to use and what to avoid.
What Not to Use
When you’re sealing your granite countertops, there are various things you don’t want to use.
Avoid sealing your granite countertops with:
- Citrus ingredients: Acidic juices, such as lemon and orange, can strip the sealant from your countertops and cause discoloration and dull the surface. Read the ingredients on your granite countertop cleaner and make sure there are no citrus oils in it.
- Linseed oil: Linseed oil is a popular food-safe sealer because it’s non-toxic. However, it’s not the best option for granite countertops, especially white ones, because it can turn the surface yellow.
- Silicone-based sealers: Silicone-based sealers have been the go-to material for many years, but they’re not as effective as other types. When you use a silicone-based sealer, you’ll have to reseal your countertops more often.
- Siloxane sealers: Siloxane sealers are slightly more effective than silicone-based ones, but you still need to apply them more often and they tend to be tougher on the surface.
There are several recipes available online for DIY granite countertop sealers that use either citrus solvents or linseed oil- or both! Avoid these recipes. Both citrus and linseed oil will discolor your granite. That’s why we suggest you use mineral oil instead of citrus oil to test whether your counters need sealing.
What to Use for Sealing a Granite Countertop
Instead of using unsafe materials that only last a short time, the best sealers for granite are:
- Impregnators or penetrating sealers: Impregnators and penetrating sealers contain a resin dissolved in water or a petroleum-based solvent. These materials get absorbed into the porous granite countertop and fill in the gaps to prevent etching and staining, giving you more time to clean up spills and residue.
- Sealers with fluorocarbon aliphatic resins: This water-based granite countertop sealer is non-toxic and lasts a long time on natural stone surfaces. It doesn’t evaporate or deteriorate, and it does an excellent job of repelling oil from your countertops.
- Sealers that are safe to use around food: You need a food-safe granite sealer if you store fruits and other food products on your countertops. The ingredients in a food-safe sealer provide peace of mind that your food is free of harmful chemicals.
Look for a sealant that’s designed especially for granite surfaces. These sealants are different than a sealant designed for natural stone. Because granite is so dense, the solvents and resins used in granite sealer need to be very lightweight.
The most effective granite sealants are usually called penetrating sealants or impregnators. These sealants contain a resin, a carrier and a solvent. They soak into the stone via channels in the surface.
By contrast, a surface sealer creates a hard barrier on top of the stone.
The type of resin in granite sealer affects how well it performs. Avoid linseed, silicon, and siloxane resins. Instead, look for a fluorocarbon aliphatic resin. They’ll last longer than other resins, and they are more durable.
How to Seal Marble Countertops
What Not to Use on Marble Counters
For marble countertops, there are also some ingredients you’ll need to avoid.
Don’t use the following types of sealers:
- Citrus solvents or ingredients: As with granite countertops, acidic juices and cleaners can etch the surface, causing discoloration and dull spots to form. Check your marble sealing products for lemon or orange oil and avoid use if you see these products present.
- Surface sealants: You want to seal your marble countertops with impregnators and penetrating sealers that go under the surface. Otherwise, the countertops won’t be properly protected.
- Linseed oil: Linseed oil can turn your white marble yellow, so it’s best to use a different product to maintain your countertops’ luxurious appearance.
Keep in mind, not all marble needs to be sealed. You can test your marble countertop with water or mineral oil to find out if it really does need to be sealed.
Many people see etchings on marble, and they believe the stone needs to be sealed. Unfortunately, sealing marble won’t help to prevent etchings. Etching is not a stain. It’s actually a change in the chemical composition of the marble. This occurs when an acid comes into contact with calcium.
Marble is a porous, calcium-based rock that reacts with acid. When acidic items, like lemons, vinegar, or even strawberries, come into contact with the marble, the acid and calcium interact to create these dull spots.
That’s why it’s vital to avoid sealers with acidic ingredients like citrus solvent. These will actually damage your marble counters.
Avoid linseed oil and tung oil as well. These will yellow over time, causing your once white marble counters to look old and dirty. Although linseed oil is often touted as a non-toxic, non-VOC sealant, marble is not the place to use it! Look for a non-toxic marble sealer instead.
What to Use for Sealing a Marble Countertop
Instead of using products that could dull or discolor your unique marble countertop, look for:
- Impregnators: Impregnators go under the surface of your marble countertops to prevent liquids from entering the pores. Keep in mind that this type of sealant doesn’t protect the surfaces against etching.
- Acid-resistant sealers: Since acids can damage your countertops’ surfaces, you should try to find a sealer that protects your countertops against acidic substances.
- Acid-resistant coating: There are coatings on the market that protect your surfaces from acidic materials. On the other hand, most have a reputation of cracking, chipping, peeling, or discoloring stone countertops.
The best sealants will be designed especially for the stone you’re sealing. Look for a penetrating sealer for marble. These are sometimes called marble and granite sealants.
If you’re sealing marble in the kitchen, we recommend that you look for a non-toxic marble sealer. These are sometimes labeled as “food safe” sealants. Avoid sealants that specify use for bathroom countertops and tiles, unless they specifically say “food safe.”
Honed marble tends to absorb more sealant than polished marble. And because marble is more porous than some other natural stones, this can make a big difference. If possible, find a sealer that’s designed for the appropriate finish your stone has.
What about water-based versus solvent-based sealants? Both will work on a marble surface, but the best choice depends on what you want to accomplish. Solvent-based sealants are better at repelling water. On the other hand, water-based sealants are better at repelling oil. Consider what types of activities you usually use the surface for, and choose the sealant accordingly.
When Not to Seal Natural Stone Countertops
There are some types of natural stone that don’t need to be sealed. Quartz counters, tables and kitchen islands fall into this category. Although quartz is made from natural stone, it’s combined with a resin in the engineering process. This resin means you won’t need to seal quartz. In fact, sealing quartz surfaces can actually leave them with a hazy film.
Some other types of natural stone don’t need to be sealed, either. Dense granites, for example, don’t always need sealing. In addition, sealing travertine, limestone, and some marble is recommended more for cosmetic reasons than for protective ones.
Professional Sealing for Natural Stone Surfaces
Over time, the resins and solvents in natural stone sealer will break down. This means that they’ll need to be reapplied. Depending on the type of stone and its finish, sealants may need to be reapplied every year. Others may need to be reapplied every three to five years.
There are a few professional-grade sealants for natural stone that don’t need to be reapplied. We recommend Dry-Treat products, three in particular.
- All natural stone products leave our shop sealed by us with a Dry-Treat product called Stain-Repella, a penetrating, invisible, and breathable water-based sealer. We offer a 15-year sealer by Dry-Treat called Stain-Proof or the 25-year sealer called Stain-Proof Plus for an additional charge.
- For soapstone, the sealing is at the discretion of the homeowner. They may go without sealing, use mineral oil, or we sell a product called Soapstone Enhancer from Green Mountain Soapstone. Customers who want a lighter look go with nothing. Some like the stone darker so they put the Enhancer or mineral oil on the stone. This may need to be applied more often, in the beginning, to keep it dark if that is the customer’s preference.
In many cases, professional-grade sealants have warranties that assure they’ll protect your countertop for the advertised length of time. Having a professional apply these sealants is usually necessary to activate the warranty. If you’d like natural stone counters without needing to seal them regularly, consider having a professional apply a sealant like Dry-Treat Stain Proof. If you’re local to the Central Pennsylvania region, give us a call, or contact us to apply your sealant!