Want to keep your work surface stain-free? Seal your natural stone countertops. Here, professionals break down everything you need to know about this easy project.
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The kitchen is where you learn heirloom recipes and prepare your family's meals with care, so it's only fitting that you consider it a sacred space in your home—which is why it should be as beautiful as it is functional. Of course, there's more to great kitchen design than following the latest trends or installing a luxe island; it's important to also maintain the basics. Case in point: your natural stone countertops. From spilled spaghetti sauce to the occasional coffee stain, these porous surfaces see a lot of wear and tear. That's exactly why it is so important to seal (and reseal!) them.

While your contractor likely sealed your natural stone surfaces upon installation and might offer this maintenance service for an additional fee, it's a relatively easy project, one that most homeowners can tackle on their own.

Kitchen Countertop Types to Seal

Marble, quartz, granite—there are a myriad of natural stone countertop types, and their respective upkeep requirements aren't always uniform. Luckily, though, stone type doesn't ultimately change the sealing process. At most, you might see a variation in dwell time and the number of coats required to finish the job, says David Akenhead, head of construction at Block Renovation.

"Some stone varieties are more porous and absorbent than others, and the dwell time for the sealer may require a few minutes more or less," says Ryan Burden, the owner of Countertop Specialty. "Additionally, a more porous stone, like many white granites, will require two or three coats to effectively seal the surface and adequately protect against stains."

Only Seal Natural Stone

Before you assume that every countertop needs to be sealed, you'll want to make sure the surface in question is actually composed of natural stone. "Natural stone material is porous, and if left unsealed, can be damaged or stained," Akenhead says, which is why these surfaces require this level of care.

Thanks to modern technology, however, some well-appointed countertops only look like the real deal. Akenhead points to common engineered alternatives, like quartz and caesarstone, that masquerade as natural materials; silestone and icestone are other popular non-natural countertops that don't require the traditional sealing process. "These equivalent products, which do not require sealing, are easier to maintain and are more cost-effective," he says.

What You Need to Seal Your Kitchen Countertops

First, you'll need to select the right sealant. According Akenhead, there are two types of sealants: water-based and solvent-based.

Water-Based Sealants

"Water-based sealants are more eco-friendly, but do not penetrate as deeply—nor are they as durable as solvent-based sealants," Akenhead says, noting that less dense stones, like marble, limestone, soapstone, and travertine, are most compatible with water-based formulas. These sealant types have little to no volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—hence their environmentally-friendly reputation—and are odor-free and extremely easy to apply. They're also more budget-friendly, though you'll likely have to re-seal your countertops more often (think every six to 12 months).

Solvent-Based Sealants

Solvent-based sealers are not as environmentally-friendly as their water-based counterparts (they have higher a VOC count) and may emit a strong odor, explains Akehhead. They will, however, penetrate deeper, which is why they're often necessary on granite, a dense natural stone. This is also why they are slightly more complicated to apply, more durable (and offer greater protection for your stone surface), and typically more expensive.

Water-Based Sealant Solvent-Based Sealant

Best for

Marble, Limestone, Soapstone, Travertine

Granite

Sheen

Natural or Low-Gloss

High-Gloss

Longevity

6 to 12 months

1+ years

VOCs

Low

High

Odor

No

Yes

Cost

Budget-Friendly

Expensive

Other Tools

Once you've determined the best sealant for your needs, you'll also want to pick up a paint brush, dry towels, plastic tarps, and tape.

orange and blue complimentary color kitchen
Credit: Eric Piasecki/Otto

How to Prep Your Kitchen Countertops for Sealing

Before you start the sealing process, it's important to clear your counters of all clutter and give them a thorough clean. (If you don't wash your counters before sealing, you're essentially locking in dirt particles and food crumbs.) "Use a stone cleaner and cloth to wipe off all debris," says Burden. "Then, wash your stone countertops with mineral spirits or acetone to remove any gunk or glue that is stuck. These solvents will not harm natural stone."

Once you're done, Burden recommends letting your counters dry for 15 to 30 minutes. While you wait, cover the surrounding cabinetry, floor, and furniture with tarp to prevent sealant from dripping and damaging non-stone surfaces.

How to Seal Your Kitchen Countertops

Materials? Check. A clean, dry surface? Check. Now it's time to start sealing. Fortunately, the process can be done in a few simple steps:

  1. Carefully read your sealant's directions. "It sounds basic, but you can't go wrong with the manufacturer instructions—especially if it's a product you haven't used before," Akenhead says.
  2. Slowly pour sealer onto the surface while spreading it around with a paint brush or pad. Create a thin layer of sealant that covers a small section, about four to six square feet. "Do not try to apply the sealer to a large area all at once," says Burden, who advises sealing the countertop in manageable chunks.
  3. Allow the sealant to "dwell," or absorb into your countertops without fully drying. Consult (and follow) your sealant's directions, but typical dwell times range from 2 to 10 minutes.
  4. As the sealer absorbs and the surface begins to look dry, wipe the area with a cloth dampened with more sealer. "Dried sealer residue will leave dull, hazy streaks that can be difficult to remove," says Burden. "This will re-wet the surface in case of any streaks." Let this second coat sit for 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Wipe the surface completely dry and buff with a towel or microfiber cloth.
  6. Move onto the next section and repeat steps 1 through 5 until the entirety of your surface has been sealed.
  7. Give your surfaces plenty of time to dry. "Typically, you would let everything cure for 24 to 48 hours before putting your kitchen back together," says Akenhead.

A Mistake to Avoid

One of the biggest mistakes DIY enthusiasts make, says Burden, is not applying enough sealer. "It is necessary to completely cover the area in one thin layer of sealer versus simply wetting the surface with a light spray," he says.

How to Reseal Your Kitchen Countertops

Nothing lasts forever—including your now-perfectly sealed countertops. But, don't fret: Resealing your countertops is no different the next time around. In fact, Akenhead argues that future sealing jobs will be even easier. "Think of resealing like a touch-up, where the initial sealing is the primary base," he shares. "This just means that you don't have to be as thorough on your resealing passes so long as the countertops are in decent shape and its initial sealing was done correctly."

How Often to Reseal Kitchen Countertops

So, how often should tackle this recurring project? While your sealing frequency will ultimately depend on the condition of your countertops, Akenhead says they generally need to be resealed once per year. Watch for visual clues, such as water spots around the sink, though; these signs indicate that your countertops need to be resealed sooner.

Water Test

"A better method is to annually perform a water test to determine if it's time to reseal your countertop," says Burden. "First, spill a puddle of water on the surface. Wait and watch how long it takes to create a dark spot using a clock or the stopwatch on your phone." If you see a dark spot in 10 minutes or less? It's time to reapply a sealer.

When to Call a Professional

Though sealing a countertop is a relatively easy task—as Burden explains, "if you can paint a wall, you can seal your counters"—not everyone wants to take it on. If you're working with a large kitchen or damaged stone with cracks, you might want to call in a professional. "To find a reputable and competent company for sealing or resealing your countertops, interview countertop fabricators or stone restoration professionals," Burden says. "Ask them to describe how the sealer will be applied and which sealer they will use."

Burden also recommends purchasing the sealer yourself to ensure that a high-quality or permanent-bond sealer is applied. Whether you take advantage of the DIY opportunity or enlist an expert, you'll have some peace of mind knowing exactly what your counters need to look their best.

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