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Ultimate Travertine Guide: Selection, Use, Maintenance

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Natural Stone Spotlight: Travertine

Although travertine has been used in construction for ages, the diversity and dependability of the natural stone makes it extremely usable for a variety of applications today.  There is evidence that ancient cultures valued it as a building material, but its popularity can be seen in a wide range of present day architecture as well, such as the UCLA Medical Center and the Getty Center in California.

In addition to its use in construction and modern architecture, stone tile made from travertine is commonly used for flooring in homes and businesses.  Its attractive appearance makes it a good choice for use in decor as well, leading many to choose travertine tile as a backsplash or to clad their walls. 

Overall, the natural stone is resilient enough to use in either indoor or outdoor settings, and it is considered to be both practical enough to use as a building material and beautiful enough to use as decoration.  It is easy to see why travertine was such a popular choice for ancient builders, and it makes sense that its appeal is just as strong, if not stronger, today.

Properties of Travertine

In terms of its physical properties, travertine shares many characteristics with both limestone and marble, and its appearance can take on the variation that is often found in these natural stones as well.  The array of colors found in travertine stone are created by the unique combinations of organic material that have created it, and results can range from a soft, pale white to richer shades of red and gold.

This natural stone is quarried from sites that span almost the entire globe, but the largest deposits can be found within parts of China, Iran, Italy, Mexico, Peru, and Turkey.  Each of these large deposits of travertine is unique to the area and takes on the appearance of the local materials that have formed the stone. 

Travertine can also be found in the United States and is rich in areas like Yellowstone National Park, Oklahoma, and the Hill Country of Texas.  You can even find a national natural landmark called Hanging Lake in Glenwood Springs, about 200 miles west of Denver in Colorado, which is famous for its shoreline composed entirely of travertine. 

Much of the travertine used in construction and residential application in the United States is imported from Mexico because the short distance required to transport the stone between the two countries often brings down its cost.  Turkey and Italy are also primary suppliers of high-end travertine stone to the U.S.

Working with Travertine

When travertine is quarried, it is initially taken from the ground in huge slabs before it is cut to create stone tiles.  Depending on how the stone is cut, travertine tile will have one of two distinct looks.  When the stone has been cut with the line of the stone bed, it has been cross cut, or fleuri cut, giving the resulting tile a relatively consistent look and feel throughout.  In contrast, when the stone has been cut against the line of the stone plane, it has been vein cut, giving the resulting tile a more linear, striped appearance.

Once travertine has been cut, it is evaluated based on several factors, including the consistency of its color and thickness.  The surface of the stone may also be treated using one of several different finishing options.  These include:

  • Brushed – Brushed travertine has been worn with wire bristles to give the natural matte finish of the stone a textured appearance.
  • Filled – To create an even, more solid stone tile surface, travertine with a less consistent texture may be filled with a colored or concrete material.
  • Honed – When travertine is honed, the stone tile is sanded to create a smooth, matte surface.
  • Polished – Polished travertine has also been sanded to create a smooth finish, but it is also polished to create a shiny, reflective surface.
  • Tumbled – A tumbled finish is created with travertine stone is mixed with other materials to give it a rougher look with a lot of texture.

Maintaining Your Travertine

Using travertine in your home can add a lot to its beauty and the value of your property, but it requires proper care like any other natural stone.  Properly maintaining your travertine is crucial to ensuring it lasts for the lifetime of your home and remains as beautiful as it was the day you installed it.

Most of the time, people choose travertine with either a honed or polished finish for use inside their homes.  Honed travertine is smoother and less reflective than the polished variety, and it is often used as flooring in higher traffic areas.  In contrast, the shiny, reflective surface of polished travertine stone may be found more often in countertop surfaces, wall cladding, and as a decorative element in tabletops and furniture.

All of these surfaces can generally be maintained with regular cleaning with a dry mop or soft cloth.  When a more thorough cleaning is required, a neutral cleaner is typically recommended for honed stone surfaces.  For polished travertine, a neutral cleaner that does not contain soap is usually advised to avoid the layer of streaks and film that soap often leaves behind.  

Prevention and Rapid Cleanup

To prevent damage to your travertine surfaces, be aware that anything containing acid can erode the surface of the stone.  As such, it is a good idea to use coasters or trivets to protect surfaces from acidic food or drinks, and you should also protect your travertine from acidic cosmetics that could harm it as well.  As an additional layer of protection, any stone surfaces you intend to use in the kitchen or for food prep should be sealed properly.

You should also take care to clean any spills that occur on the surface of your travertine as quickly as you can by blotting them with a soft cloth to absorb any remaining liquid.  Making sure that you quickly clean spills in this manner along with ensuring that your stone surfaces are sealed properly and conducting regular maintenance with a dry mop or cloth should be enough to keep your travertine looking flawless.


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