Choosing a Stone Countertop for Your Bathroom

When it comes to natural countertops, there are plenty of different stone surfaces appropriate for your bathroom - and each has its own pluses and minuses.

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Stone countertops in bathrooms are a natural choice. They have an organic beauty and they're very durable because (if you'll pardon the pun) they're hard as a rock. But the advantages don't stop there: Stone is heat resistant, easy to maintain (if properly sealed) and available in a wide range of colors and textures. However, that's not to say it's without its downsides. Natural stone can stain and it is expensive, too. Plus, if you use an oversize piece, you may need extra support under the floor.

Only you can weigh the pros and cons for your particular bathroom project, but here are some of the most popular options in stone countertops and what they have to offer:

Marble - Highly polished marble gives a bathroom an instant air of elegance. It comes in a virtual rainbow of colors, running the gamut from nearly pure white (marble, by its very nature, has obvious veining) to pale pinks and blues to dramatic blacks and browns. It is, however, one of the most expensive types of stone and susceptible to stains, perhaps more so than any of its counterparts. The good news, though, is that you can take preventative measures; staining need not be a problem if the stone is treated with a penetrating silicone sealer that is maintained regularly.

Limestone - For more informal interiors, limestone often proves to be a good choice. This sandy stone, readily available, often captures fossilized plant and animal life, giving it a certain primitive appeal. Unlike marble, limestone is most often honed to a matte finish. But the very fact that it is so absorbent makes proper cleaning and maintaining an imperative. On the other hand, limestone is very much like marble in that it comes in a wide variety of colors. In its purest form, it is white or cream-colored, but specific minerals can cause diverse coloration. Iron, for example, will typically cause limestone to take on a red or yellow appearance while carbon tends to turn it gray or black.

Slate - Due to its compression while being formed upon beds of clay, slate naturally splits into broad, thin layers - perfectly suitable for countertops. With its textured surface, this type of stone has an organic look that makes it another good choice for informal spaces. Most often available in solid gray, black or green, slate is much softer than granite but, nonetheless, extremely durable. And to protect your investment (slate, too, is expensive), it should be sealed and properly maintained to prevent staining.

Sandstone - Coarse-grained sandstone is precisely what its name implies - a sedimentary rock made up of sand masses created by moving water or by wind. The color of this particular stone is determined by the cementing material; iron oxides result in red or reddish-brown colors while other materials can cast white, yellow or grayish hues. Like all natural stones, too, this type needs to be sealed to prevent, or at least minimize, staining.

Granite - In terms of cost, granite is at the high end of the spectrum. But the rich look it provides is well worth it. This extremely hard rock, formed by volcanic activity, has a shimmering beauty that results from the crystals of quartz, mica and feldspar trapped within it. And its durability means that it will be yours to enjoy for years to come. It has the advantage of being bacteria-resistant and - with proper sealing - is highly stain-resistant, too. Plus, it's nearly impossible to scratch. Granite is available in a striking array of colors, and is the one natural stone that has a ready-made option; prefabricated granite is available at some home centers.

Soapstone - You may remember seeing a soapstone top on your high school chemistry table, but now this natural stone is right at home in the bathroom, too. Typically gray in color, it's highly resistant to heat yet softer than most of its counterparts. Still, it's a very dense (non-porous) material, even more so than marble, slate, limestone or granite. That's good news, especially for bathroom applications, because it means that the surface will not stain; liquids simply can't penetrate it. Very little maintenance is required, too. All that's needed is an occasional coat of mineral oil; once applied, the stone will darken to a charcoal gray or even black.

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