Natural stone is a pretty popular material for home construction, and if you’re re-doing your bathroom, it’ll probably be at the top of your list. It’s environmentally friendly because it doesn’t use any harsh chemicals in its processing, and doesn’t really need to be dyed. Stone is mostly just cut into the desired shape and dimensions, and maybe sealed. It can be finished by polishing, honing, or tumbling, depending on the effect you’re going for.
Outdoors, stone is favoured because it does well with temperature, remaining cool at high noon and not getting too chilly after dark. It’s great for humid regions and coastal residences, because it’s resistant to UV rays and salt. It also works well in poolside areas, because the chlorine won’t bleach its natural colouring. Some types of stone have a low-slip rating, so they’re safe to use near water bodies – and in bathrooms.
On the price hierarchy, marble is at the top while limestone and travertine are at the bottom. Marble is actually ‘evolved limestone’. All three are calcites, so they start out life as living sea creatures. When they die, they fossilise over thousands of years, and their sedimented remains become coral, limestone, or travertine. Then if the limestone is exposed to extreme heat and intense pressure, it re-crystallises into marble, with precious gems sometimes embedded within the smooth marble veins.
So if your bathroom make-over has a lower budget, take marble off the table from the start, pun intended. Now you can choose between limestone and travertine tile. Your stone can be applied to shower walls, floor tiles, sinks, or even the bathtub. How do you decide which way to go? Start with colour. Travertine usually comes in sandy, cream to beige shades that call to mind classical stone ruins. So if you enjoy neutrals and muted tones, travertine is a good pick. As for limestone, while it’s not as vivid as marble, you can get it in pale pinks and greys.
You can even find limestone in veiny blues and faded blacks, so it gives more scope in terms of colour scheme. Also, the way these stones are formed plays into your choice. Limestone has a smooth, flat finish because it’s made by layers of calcites piling on each other and being pressed down. Travertine comes from sedimentary calcite as well, but its formation is from the ground up, so to speak. Travertine sediments build upon riverbeds and beneath water bodies. Air bubbles from the bottom float through the stone, creating little pores.
As a result, while limestone has a clean, hard finish, travertine has a soft, pockmarked appearance, full of tiny little holes that are visible to the eye. That’s what creates that ‘ancient Roman ruin’ effect. So if you want something modern and ‘polished’ then limestone is the way to go, but if you prefer your bathroom to have a raw, wild appeal, opt for travertine.
Because both have calcium bases, you need to clean them regularly to prevent soap scum deposits. Use soaps specially formulated for calcites. Regular home detergents often have an acid-base (pun intended) and will make your stone surfaces cloudy and murky. You should keep a poultice handy in case of stains, though it helps to wipe any spills as soon as they happen. This will prevent them from sinking through stone pores and lodging permanently.
Travertine has more visible perforation than limestone, but limestone isn’t completely solid either. Both types of stone can let water seep through, which is fine for the outdoors. Inside, it’s less ideal, because the water will bypass the stone and reach the home’s plaster or concrete, causing it to crumble, develop mould, or acquire other forms of damage. And because it’s hidden beneath your stone tiles or slabs, you may not even notice.
To reduce this effect, you can have your surfaces sealed to make them waterproof. Limestone sealing will last longer, because it’s less porous. The resin that seals travertine wears off sooner, especially in a consistently moist bathroom. Whichever stone you settle on, mop the floor regularly to prevent fluid build-up, and install a bathroom fan to help with ventilation. Use a timed fan that automatically switches on when you turn off the bathroom lights, runs for the recommended time, then shuts itself off to conserve power.