Sealing Travertine Shower

sealing travertine shower - beige travertine tile shower wall with faucets


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


Yes... and No... let me explain about sealing travertine showers...

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" easily... but do not stain easily. This always confuses people.

Not every spot is a "stain." Stains occur when a substance absorbs into the stone, causing a dark spot.

Etching is like a chemical burn (from acids and harsh cleaners) that damages the surface finish creating a dull or chalky spot.

More on this below and see our Travertine Cleaning Do's & Don'ts Guide.

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

Honed travertine and tumbled travertine, on the other hand, will usually take an impregnating sealer without any problems.

Yes, travertine has natural holes so it seems logical that it would be very absorbent.

However, these holes are filled in before or during the installation of a travertine tile shower.

Use un-sanded grout for small holes, but for large holes and grout lines use sanded grout, which looks better with the more rustic tumbled surface.

It's typical to use wider grout lines with tumbled surfaces and sanded grout holds up better with wider lines.

If you leave the holes unfilled. They'd collect dirt and soap scum and get moldy right away... can't do it that way.

Filling the natural holes in travertine is the way to go.

Two Factors To Consider For Sealing Travertine:

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

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

Travertine Floor Tile Sealing

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.

Usually, the floors have a honed finish, so sealing is effective.

Travertine Tile Shower Sealing Pros & Cons

It's not nearly as beneficial to seal natural stone showers as it is for a countertop or floor.

Sealing a travertine shower generally is not necessary, even if testing shows it could be sealed.

The common wisdom is not to seal stone in a wet environment.

The risk of staining is very low in a shower and sealing stone in a wet environment can lead to bad problems in some situations.

On the flip side... sealing travertine shower tile and grout won't create any issues in most cases.

It can aid a little bit in keeping the grout and tile cleaner, but it's a minor factor.

Regular and proper cleaning and good ventilation are the key factors to maintaining a stone shower in good condition.

For cleaning we recommend the Soap Film/Hard Water Remover. It's safe for travertine, very effective, and won't etch and dull the stone as most standard shower cleaners will.

So, it really comes down to whether or not it's worth it to you as it doesn't provide a major advantage.

IMPORTANT: If you do decide to seal a travertine shower, you must wait at least 2-3 weeks after installation to allow all the installation materials and moisture in the grout and tile to dry out, so it isn't trapped.

Same thing for new stone floor tile as well.

And you want to consider problems it can create if the shower is not installed well, or develops damaged grout, etc.

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

Poor ventilation can be a factor in some cases as well.

Most tile showers are installed correctly, but enough will have problems.

You may get away with sealing a travertine shower without any issue (or appreciable benefit, for that matter), but, you really want to let the stone breathe, 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 have to tear out the shower and start over.

This can also happen when cracks develop in the grout or gaps in caulking and water seeps beneath.

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

Note that sealing does not prevent "etching."

Etching occurs far more often than staining in a travertine shower. Most often, the cause of etching is using the wrong cleaning products.

Stains and etching are different phenomena (click to learn why).

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, and 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 the 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! (Technically, it will evaporate much more slowly).

So you want to periodically check your grout lines and caulk joints to ensure there are no cracks or gaps where water can pass underneath the tiles.

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 90% of the time, sealing a shower is a useless exercise.

But... if it's a heavily used shower with many stored shower products. In this case, sealing a travertine shower is worth the trouble.

And many people will choose to seal a shower for this peace of mind, which is fine if the above scenario is considered in the decision.

If ever you have a structural problem in a shower (common enough), a sealer will only make it worse.

So, our base recommendation is to NOT seal showers. But it isn't a "hard" no. We just don't see much advantage to it except for peace of mind (which is important too).

Again, trying to stop water absorption 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.

Test and seal the floors if necessary using these recommended marble & granite sealers.

Test again in a few years to see if they may need it again (probably not).

Don't worry too much about sealing a travertine shower (unless you do have bad ventilation and the tiles never dry out, or it is heavily used... then sealing would be beneficial.)

Or if applying a sealer gives you peace of mind... go for it.

Definitely use a quality stone sealer if you do decide to seal your shower tiles.

And be sure to always follow proper guidelines for cleaning travertine.

Comments for Sealing Travertine Shower

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Resealing a Travertine Shower
by: Howie

My travertine tile shower walls were sealed when it was built two years ago.

The tile used was polished 12x12 tile with about 1/16 grout line. Should it be resealed?

The floor is 2"x 2" unpolished tiles. The floor is dull and lifeless.

Can I use a color enhancer/sealer on the floor, or is there something else I could use?

==== Countertop Specialty comment:

Showers don't absolutely need sealing. The risk of staining is very low.

Polished travertine is practically non-absorbent to begin with, so sealing really doesn't help or improve the stain resistance.

And you don't need to protect against water absorption (unless the tile doesn't dry out between uses, then sealing makes sense).

You probably don't need to reseal the polished travertine walls, but resealing the floor is a good idea.

The floor tile is honed for good traction. A honed natural stone tile doesn't have the depth or intensity of color of a polished tile. This is normal.

A color-enhancing sealer could be applied to darken the color a bit. This is the best option to darken or enrich the color.

It will also give a slight sheen to the honed tile. Keep in mind though, that the color may end up being quite different than your wall tiles.

Travertine Tiles Say to Seal in the Directions
by: Joe


I'm trying to figure out whether to seal the travertine shower I am installing.

The packages of tiles (3x6 subway stile) say to seal them but do not indicate for what type of installation.

I am using them on the walls of a 3'X 4' shower. It will have a glass door, good ventilation, and very hard (but softened with salt) water. Any input is appreciated. Joe

==== Countertop Specialty comment:

As the article discusses, sealing a travertine tile shower is not essential as staining in a shower is relatively rare (vs. a countertop).

The directions will suggest sealing to prevent staining as who want stains. But stains are rarely permanent, so it depends on where the tiles are installed to determine if a sealer is really of benefit.

It's etching that occurs far more often. So, the most crucial factor is using the correct cleaning products made safe for use on travertine and marble.

But applying a stone sealer to travertine in a shower will not cause a problem (in most cases) and can offer some protection against mold growth or hard water stains into the travertine and grout.

However, soap scum, hard water, and mold growth occur on top of the tile. Thus, regular cleaning with the Soap Film / Hard Water Cleaner solves these issues, and sealing has very little to do with it.

Floors, benches, and shelves are at the highest risk for staining from personal products used in the shower. So, it's a good idea to seal these areas.

Shower walls are seldom stained and do not absorb much water so sealing walls isn't of much benefit. But if you are going to seal the floor, bench, etc., you might as well seal the walls.

Also, note that if the tiles are polished (shiny) travertine, they may not even absorb a sealer. Polished marble and travertine have low absorbency and do not stain easily.

Honed or tumbled travertine is more absorbent, and applying a sealer can be beneficial.

But again, these are wall tiles. So, stain risk is small, and so is the benefit of applying a sealer.

Ultimately, it comes down to your preference. If it makes you more comfortable applying a sealer, do so.

It just isn't nearly as crucial as sealing a countertop or a kitchen floor.

Seal showers!
by: Anonymous

You DEFINITELY should seal a stone shower. If it is used daily, there is no way the saturated stone will dry out between uses. It won't even dry out in a WEEK!!

Sealing the stone will protect it from stains and will drastically reduce the amount of water absorption. A good penetrating sealer will still allow the stone to breath. Seal it very good, like 3 or 4 applications, then silicone all corners with a color matching silicone.

==== Countertop Specialty comment:

Certainly, if you are more comfortable sealing the shower then do so, but in most cases it is not needed.

No marble or travertine (or any stone really) is going to actually absorb much water let alone get "saturated" from a couple showers.

And if the shower tiles do not dry out in a day, then the bathroom has very poor ventilation.

I agree that if the stone was saturated completely through the entire tile, then it could take a week to dry out, but that just doesn't happen.

Any absorption that occurs into stone shower tiles is just at the surface of the tile and it will evaporate very quickly.

But certainly, if you find this not to be the case with your shower and the tiles are absorbing water and not drying out daily, then definitely I would apply a sealer (after allowing whatever time necessary to let the stone tiles dry out completely.

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.

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 safe, non-etching application on travertine tile 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.

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.

Saltwater 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 the 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 saltwater pool to protect against efflorescence, spalling from salt, and freeze-thaw cycles.

I'd suggest using a sealer specific for a saltwater 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 saltwater 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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