How to Choose Between Natural Stone or Porcelain Slabs for Your Home

natural stone kitchen marble stone

About Porcelain or Natural Stone Slabs

Homeowners who are in the happy position of being able to buy an especially luxurious type of material for their kitchen, bath or other room can choose between natural stone slabs and those made of porcelain. Both materials are tough, durable and beautiful, but there are important differences between them. This blog will explore some of them.

Stone vs. Porcelain

The basic difference between porcelain and stone is that stone is a natural product and porcelain is artificial. Stone is made up of minerals such as calcium carbonate, garnet, pyrite and feldspar and is shaped into its final form over eons. Stone can be metamorphic, sedimentary or igneous. Metamorphic means it changes from one type of stone to another due to untold millennia of pressure and heat. An example of this is limestone slowly changing into marble. Sedimentary rock such as sandstone is made of layers of sediment hardening over the years, and igneous rock is formed in or near volcanoes. Examples are granite and basalt.

On the other hand, porcelain is a type of ceramic. Like other ceramics, porcelain is made of clay and heated, or fired, in a kiln. In the case of porcelain, the temperature, from 2200 and 2600 degrees Fahrenheit, is higher than it is for other ceramics. A chief ingredient in porcelain is kaolin, a mineral made of repeating molecules of Al2Si2O5(OH)4. The ingredients and high firing temperature makes porcelain glassy, or vitreous and very tough while giving it a unique beauty. After it is fired, porcelain is nearly always white and translucent, though it can be glazed and painted.

Though natural stone slabs need to be quarried, cut and polished, porcelain slabs are created in forms before they’re fired.

Natural Stone Slabs

Visitors to Carmel Imports’ natural stone showroom Palo Alto have a variety of stone to choose from. Among them are:

Limestone

Limestone is a type of sedimentary rock that’s made largely of kinds of calcium carbonate. If a buyer looks closely, they might see grains in the stone that are made of the shells of fossilized animals such as ancient coral and other marine animals. Pure limestone is mostly white, but impurities can color it.

Marble

Marble is a metamorphic rock that forms when limestone recrystallizes over a great stretch of time. It is famously cool to the touch and pale examples of marble seem to hold the light within it. Marble can come in colors from pure white to solid black, and it is prized for its veins, swirls and clouds. These are what’s left of the minerals that were originally found in the original limestone. Marble that is pure white, such as Carrara marble comes from limestone that is poor in silicates.

Granite

Granite is a very tough igneous rock made up of feldspar, quartz, mica and plagioclase. It may contain accessory minerals such as pyrite, zircon and apatite. It comes from solidified magma, is commonly found in the earth’s crust and has been a favored building material for centuries because of its durability and hardness. Yet, granite’s beauty can rival that of marble. It can come in a rainbow of colors depending on its accessory and additional minerals. Granite is commonly speckled, no matter its main color, and granite that is only one solid color is unusual. It can be polished to a high gloss.

Onyx

The onyx sold as slabs isn’t quite the same as the form of chalcedony that can be polished and worn as jewelry. Onyx used as building material is a sedimentary stone that is created by sediment leached out of warm waters. It often has a beautiful, watery look. Onyx comes in shades of green, white, paler shades of brown, blue, amber and yellow. It’s a stone for a homeowner who wants to make a statement or who wants a different type of backsplash in their kitchen or bath.

Travertine

Travertine is a type of limestone and is famous for its beautiful bands. Used extensively in construction, it is found around streams, waterfalls and springs that can be hot or cold. Most travertine is deposited near hot mineral springs. It is often gray, beige, tan or reddish if there is a lot of iron in the water. Its also enjoyed for its pitted surfaces, though it can be polished smooth.

Quartzite

Quartzite isn’t the same as engineered quartz, which is made of powdered quartz, resins and pigment. Quartzite is a very hard, natural, metamorphic stone that developed from sandstone that was made entirely of quartz. The way the quartz is arranged in a slab of quartzite gives it a pleasing texture like sandpaper and a glassy appearance. Accessories and accidental minerals such as iron oxide can give quartzite a range of colors such as gray, pink, blue, green and yellow.

Care and Maintenance of Stone and Porcelain Slabs

Another difference between natural stone and porcelain slabs is how they’re cared for. Stone slabs need to be sealed every few years to help them repel stains and other types of damage. Porcelain, which is vitreous, doesn’t need to be sealed. Homeowners should also avoid spilling even mild acids on stone slabs, because even substances as harmless as lemon juice or vinegar can etch them. Screaming hot pots and pans should also not be placed on stone and if stone covers a floor, it must not be walked on by people wearing heels or cleats and needs protection from heavy furniture through putting pads beneath the feet.

Natural stone is best cleaned with a neutral pH cleanser and lukewarm water.

Porcelain can tolerate a bit more abuse than natural stone. It does not mind hot pans being placed on it, is impervious to mild acids and won’t stain. It is best cleaned with a mild abrasive or a paste made of water and baking soda. However, porcelain is so smooth that if it is used as flooring it needs to be textured or covered with area rugs to reduce the risk of slipping.