Uses for Natural Stone in Bathrooms

Kitchens may be the most popular room in the home to boast natural stone, but a close runner up is the bathroom. And considering your home only has one kitchen, but likely has at least 2.5 bathrooms, you will be selecting multiple materials for those spaces. Let’s take a look at all things bathrooms. The pro’s and con’s of natural stone in the bathroom, and the variety of ways you can use natural stone in the bathroom. I’ll give you a hint – it isn’t just on countertops.

Advantages of Natural Stone in a Bathroom

Style and Uniqueness

Natural stone can make a bold or subtle statement depending on the stone chosen. While a man-made material may be sleek and “clean” looking, natural stone carries its own unique character giving your space an elegant look with pattern and flow. The one-of-a-kind markings, dramatic colors, and rich finishes can transform a utilitarian space like a bathroom into a spa-like retreat. In centuries past, natural stone was chosen as a building material because of its strength and durability. Today you have many options of materials offering similar strength and durability yet what will never change is that natural stone carries with it a style and uniqueness that man has long since tried to imitate but succeeds marginally. Every quarry in the world has a slightly different form of stone, and even within the same quarry, individual slabs of stone will have slightly different veining and coloring This means that a floor, countertop, or wall made of natural stone will always have a unique look from any other space in the world. Even if you select the same “color” stone as another person, your finished product may look totally one of a kind.

Maintenance

Natural stone can be just as easy to maintain as a man-made surface in most cases. Routine maintenance of the natural stone in your bathroom can be achieved with either a natural stone cleaner, or 99% of the time a wet washcloth will work just as effectively. For a tougher job, you can use a mild dish soap diluted with water and a soft cloth. You can use a cotton cloth or soft sponge to clean your natural stone, and dry with a soft cloth to minimize streaks and leave the surface shining.

Prior to the early 1990’s there were no natural stone sealers on the market and staining was a relatively minor issue. We have found that sealers have progressed over the years and now in fact provide additional protection against moisture migration. This additional step takes a product that was already substantially resistant to staining, and  increases it’s resistance a little more. Natural stone is typically sealed prior to installation by the stone fabricator. In our experience, once the sealer is applied in an interior application for most stones it will not need to be reapplied again.

In our bathrooms we are likely using soaps, lotions, and makeups which can all land on our countertops. Natural stone such as granite has a low porosity and is stain-resistant. As long as you wipe your counter routinely, for example at the end of your morning routine, you should not experience stains. Some natural stones are less forgiving than others, such as marble, travertine, and limestone. Let’s explore the pros and cons of natural stone options for bathrooms.

Granite

  • Granite is the most durable natural stone available, requiring the least amount of maintenance.
  • Most frequently all you need is a wet washcloth to maintain your granite countertop.
  • There are hundreds of choices of subtle granites and equally as many choices of artistic, high impact granite options.

Marble

  • Marble is classified as A, B, C, or D. Classifications of A and B have few veins or inclusions, where classifications of C and D have more. These classifications are givien by the industry in regards to the working characteristics of the marble. They do not have anything to do with the durability, maintenance, or consumer interaction with the stone.
  • Marble can be sensitive to oil and acidic based products so beauty care products could be a concern in the bathroom.
  • Water can sometimes cause slight discoloration in marble until the moisture dries up.
  • Marble in general needs to be treated as a piece of fine wood and if given the same care will last decades.
  • Marble can be refinished at any point in time by a professional and brought back to new condition. Many of the oldest buildings around the world and at the Vatican have a great deal of marble finishes that have lasted hundreds of years.

Travertine

  • Travertine is sensitive to citric and other acids, similar to Marble, therefore beauty care products in the bathroom can be a concern.
  • The surface could be “etched” by acids.
  • Most of the precautions that apply to marble apply to Travertine since it is geologically similar in mineral content.

Limestone

  • Limestone can be used in applications in the home but is generally not a good candidate for bathroom applications.

Sandstone

  • Sandstone is porous and can easily stain
  • In general, Sandstone is not a good candidate for most interior applications.

Onyx

  • If you are really looking to make a statement, install backlit onyx in your bathroom. This may be an excellent addition to a powder room or a luxury master bath.
  • Onyx is a frequently translucent and layered, cryptocrystalline calcite. Onyx has been used for centuries for decorative elements and jewelry. With its translucent properties, it can be backlit, showcasing it’s unique veining while adding ambiance to your space.
  • The key to backlighting is using the correct LED panels to ensure an even coverage of light, eliminating any “hot spots”.
  • Onyx is the most fragile of all the materials mentioned above, so it definitely needs TLC.
  • Due to its fragility, you can take a step of covering onyx with a thin plexiglass sheet and then replace that every few years to protect your onyx.
Back Lit Onyx Stone Sushi Bar
While not a bathroom, the photo shown here is a good example of back lit onyx.

Disadvantages of Natural Stone in a Bathroom

While the advantages definitely seem to outweigh disadvantages in this space, there are a few drawbacks to having natural stone in the bathroom.

Slippery when Wet

With any natural or man-made flooring material, there is a tendency for it to be slippery when wet. This is to be considered, especially when you are thinking about adding natural stone for the shower or bathroom flooring. All stone has the option to have differing finishes applied to reduce the coefficient of friction (slipperiness). One of these options is to “hone” the floor. There are different grits of hone that can be applied to make the floor more or less slippery.

Natural Stone can be Cold

Walking on natural stone with bare feet can be a pretty chilly experience. To reduce this unpleasantness you can lay natural stone over a radiant floor heating system. If you are considering a natural stone floor, you may want to opt for a radiant heated floor as well, and factor this into your remodel or building cost.

Staining

As we mentioned above, granite is typically less porous and rarely stains. However, marble, travertine, limestone, sandstone, and onyx are more porous and therefore run the risk of staining or etching, especially when they come in contact with acids, oils and colored pigment products.

If a stain does occur, in most cases the stain can be removed using a poultice. A poultice is a mixture of powders that are highly absorbent and when wetted down, act to draw the stain out of the stone. A poultice can be purchased from your fabricator and instructions on how to apply it are available from the fabricator as well. If you prefer not to tackle the job, or are having difficulty, you can engage a stone fabricator to remove the stain for you.

Weight

Stone is heavy and can exert a greater than normal load on the wood subfloor. Your architect or contractor can recommend reinforcement of the subfloor before installing a natural stone floor. This could, of course, increase the overall cost of your project.

Applications for Natural Stone in the Bathroom

Vanity Top

The most common area for natural stone in the bathroom is, of course, the countertop, or vanity top. In some cases, you may start by selecting your vanity top material and color and then finish your bathroom selections from there. Granite is one of the most desired materials for bathroom countertops. Granite’s natural beauty and the fact that it is available in a nearly limitless variety of colors, patterns, and styles make it a popular choice. Granite is durable and scratch resistant, as well as being resistant to heat and humidity. Marble with its stylish elegance is another common option for bathrooms. The main drawback with marble is that it is more prone to staining and scratching.

Bathroom Vanity

Makeup Vanity

Another nice touch in a master bath is to have a sunken vanity countertop. This is commonly on one edge or in the middle of a longer vanity top. A perfect spot to apply your makeup or dry your hair. You would typically see this in the same natural stone as the rest of your vanity top, just at a slightly lower height.

Makeup Vanity

Sinks

Typically in the bathroom, we see undermount or vessel sinks. A vessel sink sits atop the countertop and on the market today, there are vast options of decorative and unique vessel sinks from copper, brass, stainless steel, glass, and more. This affords you a way to really amp up the creativity in your space.

Black Vessel Granite Sink

Showers

Natural stone looks great on shower walls, ceilings, and floors. Granite works well in showers, as many types of granite are not damaged by acid, ammonia, or alcohol. Marble is another option in showers, although perhaps not as popular as granite. When utilizing natural stone in the shower, it is recommended to use a squeegee on the walls after a shower to keep surfaces looking fresh and avoid water marks. You can also leave the door option to allow moisture to escape the space. No matter what type of stone you select you should start off cleaning with clear water and a soft cloth. If you need a stronger cleaner, work with your fabricator to determine the best cleaner for your particular stone.

Natural Stone Wall Shower

Curbs and Thresholds

These are the pieces of stone that sit between your shower and bathroom floor or the entrance to the bathroom from another room. In the shower application, the proper threshold will limit the movement of water and prevent it from going into other areas. Marble or granite are common choices for curbs and thresholds as are available in a range of colors and can be the perfect finishing touch for any bathroom.

Bathroom Shower Threshold

Wall Caps

If you have a half wall in your bathroom, or your shower is half tile or natural stone and half glass, you can top that wall with a natural stone wall cap as a beautiful finishing touch.

Bathroom Wall Cap

Jacuzzi Tops

If you have selected a Jacuzzi tub for your bathroom, you are likely thinking of long soaks in the luxurious tub, but have you considered the area surrounding the tub? Think of how it would look with a beautiful marble or granite surround. This surround provides a frame that acts as a strong support for your jacuzzi tub. A tub surround is not only visually appealing, but offers a surface for things like a beverage, book, or candles to create your relaxing soak.

Natural Stone Tub Surround

Undermount Tub – Vertical Face

To finish off the jacuzzi look perfectly, in addition to the tub surround, you may want to consider a natural stone “face” (or riser) on your undermount tub. Your luxurious jacuzzi will not only provide hours of relaxation, but it will also look like a luxury spa.

Natural Stone Vertical Face Tub

Flooring

Natural stone is a common choice for bathroom flooring. As noted throughout the article, it can be honed and heated with radiant floor heat to provide the best experience possible.

Conclusion

Whether you are embarking on a new home design or a remodel, you will likely be visiting a natural stone manufacturer and it won’t just be for your kitchen. We’ve talked about multiple applications for natural stone in the bathroom – from showers, floors, vanity tops, and even high-end luxury touches there is a natural stone to fit every need. Take these tips into consideration in designing the bathrooms you’ll enjoy for years to come.