How Steam Cleaning Affects Natural Stone

Steam Cleaning

There are many ways to clean natural stone, some are wrong, and some are right, which is why it is always recommended to leave heavy cleaning to an experienced stone care professional.

However, spills and other things can happen that need to be cleaned up right away. An often-asked question is: “Can I have my natural stone steam cleaned?” Steam cleaning is a very effective way to remove soil and contaminants without harsh chemicals. However, on marble, granite, and other natural stone, steam cleaning can be harmful.

These are some of the problems steam cleanings can cause on natural stone

  • Spalling – Steam cleaning can cause a condition known as spalling. Since most stone is porous, the high temperature of steam cleaning can cause pressure within the stone, which can lead to pitting and/or flaking of the surface of the stone.
  • Sealer Removal – Natural stone sealers inhibit staining. Impregnating sealers penetrate the surface of the stone. Color enhancing impregnating sealers intensify the colors in natural stone. Topical sealers form a strippable or permanent coating that covers the surface of stone. If natural stone is sealed, steam cleaning can remove the sealer leaving the stone unprotected.
  • Accelerated Crack Damage – As natural stone is fabricated, transported, and installed, stress on the material can sometimes cause cracks to form. Stone may also be cracked after installation because of accidental damage or environmental stresses. You may not even realize that any cracking has occurred. If natural stone has any cracks, the heat and pressure from a steam cleaner can cause the cracks to expand and open up, making the cracks more obvious and problematic.
  • Grout Damage – Grout can also be negatively impacted by continued use of steam cleaning if used regularly. Damage may include discoloration and the grout cracking and falling apart. Steam cleaning may also remove sealers that were applied to the grout.
  • Iron Oxidation – If the composition of your natural stone includes iron, steam cleaning poses a risk of discoloration. Moisture reacts with the iron, creating rust-like stains on and in the stone. Iron oxidation discoloration can be extremely difficult or even impossible to remove.

Residential vs Commercial Steam Cleaners

Can I use my store-bought steam cleaner on my natural stone?

Home-type steam cleaners may be safe to sparingly use on natural stone since these steam cleaners do not reach the same high temperatures as commercial steam cleaners. The maximum temperature of residential steam cleaners is about 250 degrees F, whereas commercial steam cleaners can reach temperatures of over 300 degrees F. However, even home-type steam cleaners should not be used on a regular basis.

Types of Steam Cleaners

There are several types of steam cleaners.

  • • Vapor steam cleaners look like a canister vacuum. They emit a fog of steam vapor to the surface with a wand. The temperature can reach over 200 degrees F.
  • Steam mops inject steam into a cloth mop. Generally, these are safer to use on natural stone than other types of steam cleaners since the temperature is lower. However, again, regular use is not recommended.
  • Handheld steam cleaners are simple to use and are good for spot cleanup. Using them on stone countertops or shower walls can result in the same type of damage as larger, higher temperature steam cleaners.

Steam cleaners are excellent at cleaning many, many things but, to be on the safe side, use a pH-neutral, stone-safe cleaner for routine cleaning of your natural stone, and let your stone care professional take care of any heavy cleaning.

By Fred Hueston. This article is one of a series of articles written and published on behalf of Surface Care PRO Partners.