Sealing Travertine Shower

by Sharon Wiest
(Orem, Utah)

QUESTION:

Should I put a sealer on my new travertine showers and floor tile?


ANSWER:

Yes... and No... let me explain...

Many travertines are dense enough that they don't need sealing to avoid staining. They do it naturally!

I know this little bit of insight may go against what you've previously read about how easy marble and travertine stain, but it's the truth. Marble/travertine "etch" easy... do not stain easy. This always confuses. More below.

Polished travertine tile will almost never need or even be able to absorb a sealer.

Honed travertine, on the other hand, will usually take an impregnator/sealer without any problems.

Two factors to consider when sealing:

1. Porosity / absorbency of the stone
2. Location and use of the installation

First, you should test the porosity to determine when and if any stone needs sealing and/or re-sealing.

Travertine Floor Tile: It's a good idea to seal travertine flooring at least once especially in the kitchen, bar and bath. But only if testing shows it is absorbent enough to need a sealer.

Travertine Showers: should NOT be sealed.... even if testing shows it could be sealed.

Most problems that develop with showers or wet environments are the result of a poor installation.

You may get away with sealing a travertine shower without any issue (or appreciable benefit for that matter) but, you really want to let stone breath and sealing may end up trapping moisture in the stone.

How? Well... If the shower installation isn't perfect (and many aren't), then water will eventually find its way underneath the tiles where the sealer will prevent the trapped water from evaporating through the stone, which will lead to degradation of the stone.

At that point you'll just have to tear out the shower and start over.

The primary reason you seal any stone installation is to help prevent staining.

Note that sealing does not prevent "etching". Stains and etching are different phenomena (click to find out how).

Water does not stain and the risk of staining from bath products is minimal given that any time these are used all the water is washing them down the drain, so not much is ever left on the surface unless a leaky bottle goes unnoticed.

Only in certain outdoor installations is it necessary to consider sealing against water penetration.

One exception... A white marble shower is the one exception to not sealing a shower.

The travertine in your shower gets wet, absorbs some water that quickly evaporates. Not a problem.

It takes a long, long time for water to cause significant change or damage in stone. Certainly won't happen in your lifetime.

Now, if water is getting behind the tiles due to voids in the grout or a poor installation and getting trapped, well that's a different story.

A stone can rather quickly degrade when constantly saturated with water. And in such a situation sealing only makes it worse because it seals the water in!

Showers are a unique type of stone installation, but you can use the porosity/absorbency test on any stone to see IF it may need sealing. Then, also consider the risk of staining and determine if you want to apply a sealer.

You see... stains are almost never permanent in stone. Stains can be removed, so it doesn't make much sense to seal a stone installation that has little risk of staining.

You can do it. It won't hurt in most cases, but sometimes it's just overkill.

It makes sense to apply a granite sealer to a kitchen countertop because you have a near daily potential for staining.

Far less risk in a bathroom although sealing a vanity usually makes sense. Sealing a bathroom floor is not a bad idea, but 99% of the time sealing a shower is a useless exercise.

Now, many people still choose to seal a shower for peace of mind I suppose, which would be fine it not for the above scenario. If ever you have a structural problem in a shower (common enough) a sealer will only make it worse.

So, our recommendation is to NOT seal showers. Again, trying to stop water absorbing is not the reason to apply a stone sealer.

Of course a sealer manufacturer is going to tell you that all stone no matter what should be sealed every 3-5 years yadda yadda. Great for their sales, but completely untrue.

Some stones are too dense and simply cannot be sealed and as I've tried to explain above applying a sealer in some instances provides little if any benefit except a bit of exercise and a "check" on your "To-Do" list.

I'd test the floors first and seal them if necessary once using recommended marble & granite sealers.

Test again in a few years to see if they may need it again (probably not) and forget about sealing the travertine showers.

Comments for Sealing Travertine Shower

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Salt water Pool, seal travertine or not?
by: Newton

Please advise as to whether to seal travertine that's around a pool, if yes what sealant is recommended that lasts longest?

The travertine looks rich with deep coloring only when wet, when dry it has a dullish look what is recommended for staining?

The travertine has a bit of what appears to be Mildewy in some spots (Florida) how best should I clean and prevent this from recurring?

Any suggestions on this will be much appreciated.

==== Countertop Specialty comment:

Yes, it would likely be a good idea to seal the travertine around a salt water pool to protect against efflorescence, spalling from salt and freeze-thaw cycles.

I'd suggest using a sealer specific for salt water environment like the Dry Treat 40SK.

Sealing can also guard against mold development.

However, if you'd like the travertine to permanently have that deeper, darker "wet look", then you'll need to first apply the Color-Enhancing Sealer and then the salt water sealer.

Prior to both applications, you'll want to clean the stone thoroughly. For the mildew, clean with the Mold & Mildew Stain Remover

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Sealing to Protect Against Hard Water and Soap Scum
by: Anonymous

Everything you said contradicted the previous thing.
I've had travertine showers and after a while soap scum builds up on them, and since the area has hard water, calcium builds up.

The stone looks terrible after a while. I had to polish out all the gunk and seal and protect them.

So YES, you need to seal, and YES, you need protection more than a sealer if you are in a hard water area.

===== Countertop Specialty comment:

Many apologies if you were confused by the article. I don't think there is anything contradictory in the article, but will certainly take a look.

Sealing stone can be confusing for many. Let's see if we can clear up any misunderstanding...

True, soap scum will build up on the walls and floor of any shower including travertine tile showers. And if you have hard water, then calcium deposits will build up as well.

However, neither of these films has anything to do with sealing the stone. Applying a sealer to marble or travertine shower tile will NOT prevent soap or hard water films from building up.

I'm not sure where you got this idea a stone sealer would prevent this issue, but it is 100% false.

These films build up on the surface of the stone. Sealers work below the surface to prevent any liquid from absorbing into the stone and leaving a stain.

Soap scum and/or hard water deposits will build up exactly the same on un-sealed travertine as on sealed travertine shower tile.

Also, these films can be easily cleaned with the correct cleaner. You don't have to re-finish or polish the stone to remove soap scum or hard water deposits.

To remove hard water and soap scum on travertine shower tile use this Hard Water and Soap Film Cleaner. Very effective and totally safe to use on marble and travertine.

A standard stone cleaner will not remove soap/hard water films on travertine (or any stone) and you cannot use common bathroom and shower cleaners as they are too harsh and will etch or damage the stone.

But using the above cleaner as your "regular" shower cleaner will solve the problem and keep these films from building up.

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Grout Mildew Travertine Shower
by: Anonymous

My grout lines in my Travertine Shower are mildewing. What is the best way to clean this and keep it from mildewing in the future?

==== Countertop Specialty comment:

Shower mildew is due to one or more of several factors.

1. Too infrequent cleaning
2. Poor ventilation in the shower
3. Cracks or voids in the grout allowing water to get behind the tiles

The first thing to do is check for any cracks or voids in the grout. Water under the tiles will cause a persistent mold problem.

If grout damage is present, then stop using the shower and allow it to dry out completely. Probably needs a week or two. Then repair the grout.

If no grout damage, then ensure good ventilation so the shower dries quickly and that water is not remaining in the grout lines for hours.

If no cracks in the grout and you do have good ventilation, then you simply need to clean more frequently to keep mold from growing.

Use this product made specifically for use on travertine and marble to clean shower mildew when present.

Use the "Soap Film Remover" product (found at same link as above) as your regular shower cleaner.

By maintaining grout lines, cleaning regularly (at least 1x per week) and ensuring good ventilation and quick shower drying you will eliminate any mold or mildew problem.

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This was very helpful
by: Anonymous

I hope I did not damage the travertine stone tiles by bleaching the mildew that had accumulated and I will let it dry for 2 weeks as there are areas of wear in the floor tile grout.

Will regrout. How can I test that the water is not getting behind the tiles? It is a steam shower with and surround membrane? Thank you.

==== Countertop Specialty comment:

Well, you'd notice the damage right away as dull chalky spots if the bleach did harm the travertine. If it was diluted a lot you may get lucky.

There is no test to determine if water is getting behind the tile, however, if the tile seems constantly wet and/or if you have a persistent mildew problem (i.e. you clean it and it comes back quick).

Mold in the shower is only a issue if there is some problem with poor ventilation, standing water, or too infrequent cleaning.

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