I spent part of this past weekend resurfacing a limestone vanity top and am on my way today to measure up for new limestone for a kitchen remodel. There were also pictures in this month’s feature article of Bloom Magazine of a limestone kitchen that we installed in a house that we built two years ago. In fact, I’m typing this post on a limestone slab that sits on a desk that I made a number of years ago. As such, I’ve been spending a little bit of time today thinking about the pros and cons of limestone surfaces.
Historically, I have been a huge fan of limestone. I love the look and feel of natural stone. I love the fact that it is a local resource, which allows us to both buy and source locally, cutting out the environmental and monetary costs of shipping, as well as keeping money in our local economy. However, the fact that I mention resurfacing a top hints at some of the cons of using limestone tops in high use spaces.
The reality is that limestone is both porous and reactive. Limestone (like marble) is reactive to acid solutions. Thus, if you leave an acidic liquid (think fruit juice) on the countertop, it is quite possible that it will etch. This etching is not just a surface discoloration; it penetrates relatively deeply into the stone. The countertop that I was resurfacing was etched by a bottle of grapefruit based soap that sat on the countertop. Drips from the bottle were enough to etch the stone.
Ideally, we could seal the limestone tops enough that a little bit of acidic material would not damage the stone. However, there do not seem to be any magic bullets in terms of limestone sealers currently on the market. I have experimented with various combinations of penetrating and topical sealers and have found nothing that is both food-safe, good looking, permanent, and totally stain-proof. The method that I have arrived at involves multiple coats of a penetrating sealer and enhancer (I like the darker color of the stone when it is enhanced, though this is not necessary). I then follow that with an application of a special countertop sealer made of bees wax, carnauba wax and mineral oil. Thus far, this combination has shown the most success in terms of keeping acids and other liquids from either staining or etching the surface.
The second big problem that I see with limestone as a counter top is the softness of the material. Unlike granite or quartz, limestone is very soft and can easily be chipped or scratched. If you cut on your limestone with a knife, drop a large item on it or bump a corner with something like a cast iron skillet, there is a good chance that it is going to chip or scratch. Thus, it requires quite a bit more in the way of care when working on and around them.
In spite of both of the above-mentioned issues, people still choose limestone and I still install it. In fact, we have two limestone tops in our own home and will be installing limestone kitchen countertops soon. The fact is that for many in Bloomington (myself included), the beauty of the natural stone, along with the local nature of the material, outweigh the cons. However, I will not install it without giving the homeowners a strong caveat that there is a good chance that it will scratch or stain, and it will require much more care than other tops. For some people, that risk is fine. For others, having a surface that can withstand anything that they can throw at it outweighs the pros. My goal with homeowners is to lay down the options in a clear and concise way and then help them settle on a surface that meets their needs in terms of budget, aesthetics, and wear and tear properties.
Here are a couple photos of limestone tops that we have done over the past couple of years.