Green Ways to Seal Granite

Green Ways to Seal Granite

One frequently asked question is about the struggle to find a sealer for granite countertops that most people feel comfortable using. Is there a suggestion for a green — or greener — sealer for this purpose?

There are two water-based sealers for polished granite countertops (and other natural stone) whose low concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) should put your mind at ease. The first is Sealer’s Choice Gold from Aqua Mix, whose data sheet lists VOC concentrations of less than 0.01 grams per liter. And Universal Stone Sealer from Brightstone lists VOC concentrations of 50 grams per liter. We are not saying these are the only cleaners around, however they show good green ingredients.

Although Green Seal, an independent non-profit that establishes environmental standards for products and services, doesn’t have standards for countertop sealers per se, that organization’s VOC levels for paints and coatings indicate that VOC concentrations of 50 grams per liter or less would be acceptable.

VOCs are emitted as gases from thousands of household products — from paints to sealers and dry cleaning — according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These emissions include a variety of chemicals, some of which may cause short-term health effects (headache, allergic reaction, nausea) or long-term ones. Some VOCs are suspected to cause cancer, while others are known to do so.

“The science community has told us to be cautious about [VOCs] because of what they could potentially cause,” says LEED Accredited Professional Carl Smith, CEO/executive director of GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, an independent non-profit that establishes emission standards for indoor products, environments and buildings. As such, he advises consumers to read products’ Material Safety Data Sheets (often posted online as “MSDS”), looking for the lowest VOC levels possible.

Once you get your low-VOC sealer home, consider using it less frequently. Experts say that most people seal their countertops too often. In fact, depending on the absorption rate of your granite countertop, it might not need to be sealed at all, says Tom McNall, founder/owner of Great Northern Stone Care in Ontario.

A simple test will help you determine when and if you need to seal: Pour water on your countertop and let it stand for about 10 minutes. If the water doesn’t leave a dark mark on the granite, then it doesn’t need sealer.

Maintenance matters too. Rod Sigman, technical field manager at Aqua Mix, says that many readily available cleaners are chemically harsh enough to break down a countertop’s seal. His company’s spray-and-buff cleaner, Stone Clean and Shine, has a mild cleanser and sealing component to rejuvenate and protect the original seal. “If you’re using the right cleaning product,” he says, “you shouldn’t have to seal but every two years, and more likely every three to five years.”

One more thing to know about your countertops: Many environmentalists say granite isn’t green at all. A good deal of concern centers on the potential depletion of a natural resource. In addition, granite slabs must often be transported internationally, which leaves a large carbon footprint.

Those who are concerned about the carbon footprint from transport “should be aware that there are hundreds of varieties of granite quarried right here in the U.S.,” says Garen Distelhorst, accreditation manager and green building liaison at The Marble Institute of America. “Additionally, minimizing the impact on the original environment [from quarrying] is a major concern for the EPA and the natural stone industry in the U.S.”

Distelhorst is part of The Natural Stone Council’s Committee on Sustainability, which has commissioned a study from The Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. That study will examine stone’s “life cycle costs” — a measure of energy consumed over a products’ life — from quarrying to installation and maintenance. Says Distelhorst: “It’s the hypothesis of The Natural Stone Council that natural stone will compare very favorably to competing building materials in terms of life cycle costs.”

There are many products out there for the purpose of cleaning, sealing and treating granite, this may be one for you or not, please shop for more opinions before you decide.

Denver, Colorado