The Stone Restoration Horizon is Changing. Are You Ready?

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The Stone Restoration Horizon is Changing. Are You Ready?

March 17, 2023 Fred Hueston Comments Off

The Stone Restoration Horizon is Changing. Are You Ready?

By Frederick M. Hueston

Does old ever become new again? In the case of how stone restoration is done, the answer very well could be yes. I am referring to the polishing system for stone flooring that was used many years before chemicals came into existence, which is once again becoming the preferred method specified by more and more architects and others.  Why is this? Think “Green”. ‘Going green’ is rapidly becoming more and more prevalent everywhere and our industry is not excluded. I am finding that many projects across the US are now being specified with strict specifications that a green and sustainable restoration process be implemented for restoring both natural stone and terrazzo surfaces.

What is Green?

There is an old Indian proverb that says something like, “We are not inheriting the earth from our forefathers. We are borrowing it from our children.”

As we hear more and more about the toll pollution takes on our environment, most of us are feeling some responsibility to do our part in saving our planet, not only for our present generation but for generations to follow. Everywhere you look, individuals, government agencies, universities and schools, and even private businesses are going green.

What Exactly Does Going Green Mean?

The term ‘green’ or ‘going green’ is a term we hear frequently these days, but few really know what the term means. Going green can be aptly defined as principles that minimize the use of nonrenewable resources and seek to prevent air, water and ground contamination and other activities that degrade the environment.

According to The US Green Building Council, worldwide buildings account for 17% of fresh water withdrawal, 25% wood harvest, 33% CO2 emissions and 40% material and energy use.

Going Green is simply changing the way we build, operate and maintain buildings to reduce the negative impact it is having on our environment.

Many small businesses as well as individuals feel that they are too insignificant to make any impact on the environment. If this is the way you think, consider the following:

  • A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to two million gallons of fresh water.
  • A 1/32″ leak in a faucet can waste up to 6,000 gallons of water a month, or 72,000 gallons a year.
  • Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year, and 2.5 million plastic beverage bottles every hour.
  • The amount of wood and paper we throw away each year is enough to heat 50 million homes for 20 years.

And the list goes on and on.

Can Stone Restoration Go Green?

Traditionally the restoration, repair and maintenance of stone and terrazzo surfaces are anything but ‘green’. We use chemicals that are harmful to the environment and to people in general. Chemicals such as polishing compounds contain acids. Solvent based cleaners and sealers emit harmful VOC’s, not to mention the carcinogens and toxic effects many of these chemicals have on humans.  The procedures used to restore stone surfaces also produce copious amount of waste and use large amounts of fresh water. Can such a non-green process be completely transformed into a green one?

The answer is a resounding yes. I am currently working with several stone restoration company that is on the leading edge in ‘going green.’ They are actively and continually developing methods to eliminate all of these harmful chemicals and processes from their services. Here is a summary of their process:

The floor is ground and resurfaced using a fixed diamond abrasive and water. These abrasives are similar to sandpaper but differ in that there is no grit that comes off and gets left behind on the floor. The diamond abrasive is fixed to a pad. There are no chemicals used at all.

The water used is recycled and reused in a specially designed system.

Superfine abrasives are then used to polish the stone or terrazzo. These abrasives contain no harmful chemicals.

This green stone and terrazzo restoration process has no negative impact on the building environment or the occupants since no chemicals or topical finishes are used. The maintenance requirement after the stone or terrazzo is restored is reduced by as much as 50% or more thus reducing additional costs on labor and chemicals.

The Advantages of a Chemical-less Process Go Beyond Going Green

Many stone restoration and janitorial companies use chemical topical finishes to achieve a high luster on stone or terrazzo floors. Not only do these finishes contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment, they also have a negative impact on the aesthetics of the surface.

Most finishes used on stone and terrazzo are soft and tend to show wear and scuff marks in a very short time. This increases the amount of maintenance as well as cost for daily maintenance.

All floor finishes at some point will need to be stripped off. The chemical strippers used are caustic and can cause damage to the stone or terrazzo (not to mention the environmental impact that the old finish once it is removed will need to be disposed of. Most of these waste finishes are considered a hazardous waste.).

Most finishes do the opposite of what they are designed to accomplish. That is, they become a dirt magnet. I have personally conducted experiments that prove that a coated surface will attract more dirt than a surface restored using chemical topical coatings.


There are many professional stone restoration companies and others who will object to the viability that stone can be restored, polished or maintained without some chemical procedure. So what are the objections?

Stone Cannot Be Polished Without the Use of Chemicals.

Many stone restoration companies will argue that it is impossible to achieve a deep clarity and high reflection on natural stone without the use of chemical polishes.

This is simply not true. Mechanical polishing, using diamond abrasives alone with the proper equipment can achieve results that are as good as or superior to chemical polishes. There are several great examples of this. Syracuse International Airport and Chicago OHare are two great examples of sustainable polish. I have worked with several school systems that have their terrazzo floors polished with this method very successfully.

It Costs More To Go Green.

Again this is not true. As a matter of fact going green may cost a lot less. This is especially true after the stone is restored and needs to be maintained. An independent study shows that the return on investment is realized in under 3 years with a savings of around $1.85 per square foot per year.

As A Small Contractor I Can’t Afford The Large Machines Necessary To Do This Work.

This is a valid argument I’m afraid. It does take large machinery that is in fact expensive. Furthermore, for small residential and commercial projects these large machines will be impractical. However, with that said, be aware that technology is advancing and there are now diamond abrasives that will achieve a polish equal to or greater than a polish achieved by chemical methods.

I am old enough to remember when there used to be small corner grocery stores all over the US. Today the large chains have put these small stores out of business. I’m afraid this is what will happen to the small contractor if they don’t keep up with current methods and seek to develop sustainable methods to compete with the larger companies.

Even With Small to Medium Hotels, etc., It Is Impossible To Use 220 V Or Three Phase Machines Since They Will Require A Large Generator That Is Too Noisy For These Facilities.

Again, I cannot agree more with this. But, there are propane powered machines available that are quiet and are rated by EPA and OSHA for use indoors. I know of several contractors who are using these machines and methods very successfully in small to medium size buildings.

A Word of Caution: Be Wary of Green Washing                                  

Be leery when looking at a “green” product claim. Many chemical companies have reduced the percentage of hazardous chemicals in their formulations and call it ‘green.’ However, this does not make the product any safer. Many articles have discussed this and have called it Green Washing. A great example of this is in an article by The Environmental Working  Group (, which uses the cleaner Simple Green as an example. The article states that Simple Green claims to be non-toxic and biodegradable but fails to mention that the principal cleaning ingredient it contains is a possible human carcinogen. The hazardous ingredient is still present along with all the dangers it exhibits. To be totally sustainable it is best to use NO CHEMICALS at all.

In Conclusion…

Times are changing and technology is advancing. Higher demand for sustainability is fast approaching and in no time it will be required in many states. Yale University has already put policies into place that ban the use of any chemicals for not only restoration but for maintenance. Several states now have legislation in place that will mandate that sustainable methods be used in maintaining flooring surfaces.

The small contractor that fails to be prepared for the future just may find themselves zapped back to the stone age and struggling like a caveman hunting for his next job.

What Can You Do?

Be on the lookout for stone restoration training programs to include ‘going green’ processes. The Surphaces( learning lab and MB stone(  now incorporating an introduction to ‘going green’ in its stone restoration training and will be announcing courses on this soon.


Fred Hueston is the Director of Stone Forensics (; Chief Technical Director for Stone and Tile PROS, Inc. (, and is an instructor for The Stone and Tile School where he teaches advanced courses.