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How to Clean Travertine Tile: Interior and Exterior Maintenance Tips

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Travertine tile will add a lifetime of beauty to your home, but only if it’s properly cared for. Before deciding that travertine stone is the best option for your home, it’s important to understand what’s involved in the cleaning and maintenance of tr𝚊vertine tile. You wouldn’t purchase a car without learning about its safety features or gas mileage. If you want your travertine tile to last a lifetime, it’s important to learn the ins and outs to clean travertine tile.

Maintenance of Travertine Tile Installed Indoors

There are generally two types of stone that are most often used in interiors: hone-finished stone and polished-finish stone. Hone-finish stone has a satin-smooth surface with little light reflection, while Polish-finished stone has a high gloss surface that reflects light and also accentuates the color and stone markings. Honed-finish travertine stone is commonly found in high traffic areas such as floors, thresholds, and treads, whereas polished-finish stone is found on counter tops, walls, tables, and furniture.

Interior stone can generally be cleaned by dry dust mopping to remove dirt and debris. To wash your interior stone, use a neutral (PH 7) and clean water. Honed-finish stone can tolerate only a neutral PH 7 mild abrasive cleaner. It’s ideal to use a soapless cleaner, as soap can often leave streaks and film behind, which may be noticeable on polish-finished travertine stone. Ideally you should use mild, phosphate-free, biodegradable liquid dishwashing soaps or powders or stone soaps to clean your travertine tile.

Follow the manufacturer’s directions on the cleaning solution and gently wash in an overlapping sweeping motion from the bottom up (on a vertical surface). Change the water often as you go and rinse thoroughly with clean water. If necessary, a wet vacuum can be employed to remove contaminants from the tile. If you’re cleaning a high traffic area, an automatic scrubber fitted with a disc brush will work effectively to remove dirt and debris without damaging the stone tile.


Many foods, drinks, and cosmetics contain acids that may etch or dull a stone’s surface. For this reason, it’s important to use coasters, trivets on counter tops and tables or where food preparation is likely. Many food preparation stone surfaces use a sealant; be aware that any sealant or impregnator must be nontoxic and safe for food preparation surfaces.  Spills should be blotted immediately or as soon after as possible to avoid damaging the stone’s surface. Regular cleaning with a solvent-free cleaner will keep surfaces looking their best.

Because travertine comes from the limestone family, you should never use an acid or chemical cleaner when caring for the surface. There are many cleaners readily available for stone cleaning. Your stone supplier or installer can direct you to the best cleaner available for your travertine stone.

Sealing Travertine Tile

In order to keep your travertine tile looking like new, it is important that a sealant be applied. Some tiles will not require this, as they will be pre-sealed. To determine if your tile needs to be sealed, apply a small amount of water to the surface. If the water is absorbed by the tile and the tile darkens, it needs to be sealed.  The surface preparation, density, and porosity of the stone will help you determine whether a water based or petroleum based sealer is indicated. Check for the tile manufacturer’s recommendation and then purchase the very best sealant in your budget.

Tips to Clean Travertine Tile

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Removal of most surface stains is possible by using the proper household or commercial cleaning product. The first step to removal, however, is identification. Once you have identified the cause of the stain, you will know what type of cleaning method is required to achieve the best result.

  • Oil-based Stains – An oil-based stain is one created by grease, cooking oil, cosmetics, tar, and other items that have any oil in them. An oil-based stain darkens the stone and will usually need to be chemically cleaned in order to dissolve and then rinse away the source. First, you must remove any excess staining agent by wiping it away if it’s soft, or in the case of tar, chipping it off. Then clean the area gently with a soft liquid cleanser. Suitable cleansers include ammonia, household detergent, acetone, or mineral spirits. It’s important that you don’t pour the cleaner directly on the staining agent itself, as that could cause the agent to thin and seep into more of the stone. Instead, wet a cloth with the cleaner and place it over the stain in order to draw the agent into the cloth. You may also use a cleaner specifically designed to remove oil-based stains such as an alkaline degreaser or a homemade poultice.
  • Organic Stains – An organic stain is one created by an organic substance such as coffee, tea, tobacco, fruit juice, food, paper, urine, leaves, bird droppings, or bark. These substances will often leave a pinkish-brown stain that, if outdoors, may disappear after the source of the stain has been removed because of the normal bleaching process caused by the rain and sun. However, if the stain is indoors you will have to use a cleaning formula. To make your own you can use 12% hydrogen peroxide mixed with a few drops of ammonia. You can also purchase commercially marketed cleaners or use a homemade poultice.
  • Ink Stains – Any form of ink, such as that found in magic markers or pens, could cause an ink stain. If the color of the stone is light, clean it with bleach or hydrogen peroxide. For darker stones use acetone or lacquer thinner. Do not pour a cleaner directly on the stain, as it could result in the staining agent thinning and spreading further along the surface. Instead, wet a cloth with the cleaning agent and allow the stain to be drawn into it.
  • Paint Stains – If the paint is covering only a small portion of the tile, scrape it off with a razor blade, or remove with a lacquer thinner. If a large area is covered by the paint, it must be removed with a commercially formulated liquid paint stripper. Under no circumstances should you use flame tools or acid to strip the paint from the stone.
  • Water Spots and Rings – Water damage occurs due to the surface accumulation of hard water. To remove these stains buff the affected area with dry #0000 steel wool.
  • Fire and Smoke Damage – This damage is typically seen with stone that is part of a fireplace. In order to remove the stain you must thoroughly clean the stone. This is most easily accomplished with commercially formulated smoke removal products.
  • Etch Marks – These stains are left by acid that has been left on the surface of the stone. Some acids will cause the finish to be etched but the surface of the stone won’t actually be stained; other acids will etch the finish and discolor the stone. Once the acid has been removed, wet the surface with water and apply marble polishing powder. Rub the powder into the stone with a buffing pad and a drill or polisher set to a low speed, or by hand with a damp cloth. Buff until the etch marks disappear and the surface shines. Honing may be needed for a deep stain that requires a professional stone refinisher.
  • Efflorescence – This is a white powdery substance that appears on the stone’s surface. It is caused by mineral salts within the stone being carried to the surface of the stone by water and then being left behind when the water evaporates. For new installations simply vacuum or dry mop the surface of the stone and repeat as needed until the stone has completely dried. Do not use water to remove the powder, as this could exacerbate the situation. If the problem is persistent, contact the contractor in order to identify and remedy the cause of the moisture.


A poultice is applied to a stone tile to remove a stain. To make a poultice you must combine an absorbent material with a chemical, or mixture of chemicals, in order to form a thick paste. The poultice is then spread over the affected area in a thickness of between ¼ ” to ½ ” with a plastic or wooden implement and allowed to stand for between 24 and 48 hours. During this time, the chemical will draw the stain into the absorbent material and away from the stone. This process may have to be repeated several times in order to remove the stain. However, it is possible that the stain may not be removed completely.

Poultice Materials

Absorbent materials you can use for the poultice include fuller’s earth, kaolin, diatomaceous earth, whiting, powdered chalk, talk, and white molding plaster. About one pound of your chosen material will be needed for each square foot of tile that must be cleaned. Whiting and iron based clays such as fuller’s earth should not be used with acidic chemicals, as the reaction will prevent the poultice from being effective. Highly volatile solvents such as mineral spirits or acetone can be combined with other absorbent substances such as white paper towels, white cotton balls, or white gauze pads. Commercially available premixed poultices that require only the addition of water may also be used.

Poultice Mixtures

The poultice you decide to use will depend on the type of stain. Each type of stain will require a different mixture for optimal removal.

  • Oil-Based Stains – Create a poultice with water and baking soda or combine one of the powdered absorbent materials and a commercial degreaser or mineral spirits.
  • Organic Stains – Create a poultice with one of the powdered absorbent materials and a 12% hydrogen peroxide or acetone.
  • Iron Stains – Create a poultice with a commercial rust remover and diatomaceous earth. However, be careful as many rust removers will etch stone. It may be necessary to consult a professional to remove an iron stain.
  • Copper Stains – Create a poultice with ammonia and one of absorbent materials. However, these stains are very difficult to remove and may require the services of a professional.
  • Water Based Paint Stains – Create a poultice with a commercial paint remover and one of the absorbent materials.
  • Oil Based Paint Stains – Create a poultice with mineral spirits and one of the absorbent materials. If the stain is deep within the stone, it may require methylene chloride. If you must use a highly volatile solvent in your poultice, pour it directly on a paper towel and then place the paper towel on the affected area.
  • Ink Stains – Create a poultice with mineral spirits and one of the absorbent materials. If the stain is embedded deeply within the stone it may be necessary to use methylene chloride. If you do use a highly volatile solvent, pour it directly on a paper towel and place directly on the affected area.
  • Biological Stains – Create a poultice with ammonia and one of the absorbent materials. Instead of ammonia you can use bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Only use one of the chemicals, do not mix as they combine to create a toxic gas.

*Flammable Materials – The above text does not purport to address all possible safety concerns which are associated with the use of flammable solvents. The user is cautioned to consult the manufacturer’s labeling and MSDS for complete cleaning directions and handling directions for the individual products. There are commercial cleaners available for many of the most common stains, which may have fewer safety and health concerns.

Poultice Application

First, you will need to prepare the poultice. If you are using powdered material, mix it with the cleaning agent or chemical until a thick paste with a smooth consistency is formed. If you are using a paper product or cloth soak it in the chemical and let the excess drain. You do not want the liquid to drip. Next, you must prepare the stained area by wetting it with distilled water. You are now ready to apply the poultice. Apply ¼” to ½” of the poultice to the affected area and beyond it by about one inch using a wooden or plastic scraper or spatula to apply evenly.

Once you have applied the poultice cover it with plastic and tape the edges to seal the poultice in. Make several small holes in the plastic covering to allow ventilation. You will now need to give the poultice enough time to completely dry and draw out the stain. This could take up to 48 hours. After 24 hours remove the plastic and allow the poultice to continue drying.

Once the poultice is completely dry, remove it from the affected area, rinse with distilled water, and buff dry using a soft cloth. If the stain is still visible, repeat the process. Repetition may be required as many as five times. If the surface has been etched by one of the chemical agents, apply a polishing powder and buff with the pad recommended by the manufacturer.

Cleaning Travertine Installed Outdoors

Exterior stone is any stone or stone tile that is used on the exterior of a structure. It may be utilized as a facing material such as siding or as a structural component. The first step to maintaining travertine installed outside is routine cleaning, ideally at least once per year. This can be done simply by rinsing with clean water in order to prevent an accumulation of dirt and other impurities. If regular cleaning has not been performed, the most cost-efficient method is one of the commercially available water systems such as hydro-air, plain water, or hydraulic.

Older buildings, with an accumulation of dirt on the stones, may be more difficult to clean. A pressure washer should remove most accumulation. If additional cleaning is necessary soft bristled brushes are recommended. However, the use of chemicals on exterior stone could be detrimental to the appearance and should be used only by professionals.


Before you begin a cleaning project choose a small section to test. This will ensure that the cleaning method produces satisfactory results and is not detrimental to the stone. Ideally, the section should be in the least visible place possible in case any discoloration takes place.

Grout Sealing

Not all grouts need to be sealed. To determine if your grout needs to be sealed apply a small amount of water to the grout. If the grout darkens, a sealer is required. The two types of grout sealers are a topical sealer and a penetrating sealer. The topical sealer will create a wet look and a penetrating sealer provides a natural look, which does not affect the appearance of the grout.

One method of sealer application is to apply the sealer directly to the grout joints and buff off any that happens to adhere to the tile. Another popular method is to apply the sealer over the entire surface of the tile and grout joints and then buff the sealer off the tile with a terry cloth or soft rag. For the best results follow the manufacturer’s guidelines closely.

Grout Cleaning

As with tile, it is important that any spills be immediately wiped up from the grout. Soap-less detergents and pH balanced cleaners should be used for routine cleanings. Loosen debris in grout joints with a soft bristled brush then rinse with water and allow the area to dry. Acidic cleaners should be avoided because they can make cleaning more difficult in the future and may permanently damage or discolor grout when used repeatedly.

Stained Grout

If you need to clean a stain, or if the grout has not been cleaned routinely, a pH cleaner and soft bristled brush is still recommended. Apply the cleaner and let it rest for a few minutes and then use the brush to ensure the cleaner is thoroughly worked into the grout. If this is not adequate, it may be necessary to utilize one of the alkaline cleaners that are often labeled as providing a “deep clean.”

Another option is the use of commercial cleaning machines or buffers. These are especially useful for large areas of tile and grout that need a deep cleaning. There are several cleaning solution options for these machines.

A final option is the use of acidic cleaners, although this is the least desirable due to the problems mentioned earlier. The two safest, and most effective, options are cleaners with sulfamic acid and phosphoric acid. If you do use one of these cleaning products, it is critical that you follow the directions exactly in order to harm your flooring and tile as little as possible. No matter what cleaning method you choose, you need to thoroughly rinse, dry, and polish the area you have cleaned.

Cleaning Grout Haze

Grout haze is the residue left by the application of the grout on the face of the tile. This can often be removed by using just water and a scouring pad. If that does not produce satisfactory results a scouring cleanser may be used or a poultice and a pad. Other options include a commercially available grout haze removal cleaning solution or an acidic cleaning solution.

No matter which type of travertine tile you choose or where you install it, taking proper care of it is essential for lasting quality. Following these tips along with your manufacturer’s recommendations will help keep your space in tip top shape and your travertine tile in like-new condition.

Do you have any cleaning tips for natural stone flooring?

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(62) Comments

  1. Hi,
    We had a fireplace hearth and asides done in honed travertine about 1 year ago. I now see where tape was left on the hearth part. I’m not what the best way to remove this as it stuck on there pretty well. Not something I can just peel off. How would you suggest removing this without damaging the travertine?

    Thank you.

  2. Thinking of putting travertine in 1200 SF of flooring, kitchen, breakfast room, quest room, ect! Horned and large tile to replace the saltilio tile that is down now. How hard will it be to keep-up? would have to move alot of heavy items to reseal every two years?????? worried about scratches! help is needed!!!!!!!!!! I am two weeks behind already! Thanks to anyone who can help

  3. I have a highly polished travertine coffee table and end table (blonde coloring) that was water marks from glasses when kids or my husband forgot to put something under them — Unfortunately I tried a couple of things like a bathroom tub and tile cleaner, so now I have a bit of a smeary looking finish in one area. Should I use the 0000 steel wool or will that further complicate the problem. I just want it back to looking nicy and shiny! There are no colored “stains” or anything like that. Thanks for any ideas.

  4. We just bought a house with a large area of travertine tile. My brother-in-law is in the tile and grout business and let us know that it will be high maintenance. We will treat and buff before moving in and try to keep my mother-in-law off it while she has any liquid or foodstuffs in her hands! 😉

  5. I am considering installing polished travertine tile in my kitchen, laundry room, bathrooms (3), and entry way of house. I have been using a steam cleaner on the ceramic tile floor. Can I also use it on the polished travertine tile?

  6. I have the same question as Sandy Jones and Bruce Matthews. Should I purchase a stone cleaner? Is there any advantage to a floor cleaning machine? If so which one is best for home use?
    I have the tile from the front door, through dining room, living room, and kitchen. I have a very small area where the while grout came out. What do I refill it with?

  7. We had honed travertine tile installed in our shower about a year ago. It was sealed then and I have used a cleaner/sealer purchased from the tile store. Our water here is very hard and we do not have a water softener (as yet!) and I noticed that we have orange stain coming up from the floor under the shower head and to the right wall and into the glass mosaic.
    I am sure it is iron. I don’t know how to get rid of it. Can anyone help?

  8. We are in the process of redoing our master bathroom. We picked out Durango classic travertine tile. When I called my tile man to tell him that I had picked out the tile, and that it was travertine, he told me that travertine tile is very high maintenance, and it shows spots on it when the seal is not put on right, and could get mold, and I would not be happy. He told me to look at a porcelain tile, and tight grout lines. I am confused. I am 75 years old, but very active, and live in my own home, which is 2800 sq.ft. And do all my own housecleaning. My husband takes care of the outside, so I do not need any extra upkeep. What is your experience with travertine tile. It will be used on the floor, in the shower, and on the surround of the jacuzzi tub. Thank you for any light you can share on this problem.

  9. I am planning to put travertine down as my bathroom floor and are also making it a heated floor. it there any pros/cons to this?

  10. I have travertine all over my master bathroom and after 3 years it needs to be sealed again. The water is taking its toll on the shower tiles. It is not glossy to beging with so I’m assuming it’s honed. What type of sealant should be applied? When the contractor did it – he wiped everything down with a rag and a sealant so I’m hoping it’s that easy.


  11. Thats a lot of information on Travertine Cleaning and Maintenance. May be the first place i have seen so much info on Travertine Cleaning. We have seen Travertine and limestone have problems around swimming pools. The pool chemicals breakdown the stone’s makeup and tend to have pits and discolor. So People need to avoid that.

  12. I have honed travertine floors in a powder room. We changed the toilet and there is gunk that needs to be removed because the new toilet doesn’t cover it. What can I use to remove it?

  13. How do I remove filler that was applied leaving long jagged lines and blotches? TheTileShop (which is where we purchased the tile) said that is how travertine is, but ours is so visible everywhere that no one would use this for a floor if they knew in advance what it would look like once laid.

  14. Hello, I have a Eureka hard surface steam cleaner which I used successfully on “regular” floor tile in another house. Can I use this steam cleaner on the travertine tile in my new house?

  15. We have travertine throughout the whole house except bedrooms, and marble in bathrooms. When we installed it 2 yrs. ago, we were told to seal it which we did. However, I now have scuffs marks all over and it has ruined the look I was trying to get. I like the shiny look, but do have grout filling in many of them. We have gotten an estimate to strip & polish the floors, but I’m not sure what to do. I am afraid of staining especially in the kitchen. Any suggestions, please, would be very helpful!

  16. Hello,

    we had our bathroom fitted out with these tiles, however this was over two years ago and since then we have developed a musty smell in the batheroom…although the shower is used daily we always take the pre-caution of wiping off the reamining water…i have cleaned the tiles and re-sealed them several times now thinking this would resolve the problem but the damp/musty smell still remains…can you or would you have any suggestions?


    John Groves

    • Hello John,

      Here is a good response from my colleague Eric in the tile department:

      It’s hard to tell exactly what is happening here without actually having a look at the bathroom itself. Here are a couple of suggestions:
      Mildew and musty smells can come from a number of places, but generally they are due to moisture. Water can often find its way through cracks and holes that you didn’t even know existed. Sometimes, water can get through to the wall and floor backing and cause the cement behind your wall or beneath your floor to become wet. Over time, this can cause what appears to be a constant musty smell. Unfortunately, the only way to know for sure is to rip up the tile and get to the bottom of it.

      Another more practical solution would be to check all your towels, hampers, and linen closets for possible mildew and mold build up. Also, check your shower curtain, underneath your toilet, and any other hard to reach areas for cracks and gaps where the smell could be coming from. It could also be a problem with the ventilation in the bathroom not being able to let the smell escape. Hope these suggestions help you find the source of the problem.

  17. My question same as Sandy Jones in May of ’11 and Bruce Matthews of Feb. 2012. I however want to shine up a travertine side table not a floor. What can one do?

    • Hello Paula,

      Yes, honed travertine, whether it is on the floor or a table, can be polished (it is not a do it yourself project and could be very expensive to get done – you will need to find a Natural Stone restorer to buff it out). However, if the travertine holes have been filled with grout, they cannot be polished so overall it may not have an ideal look. Hope that helps a bit!

  18. Sandy Jones’ question last May above is my question exactly. Can you please answer her question for me too. Many thanks….

  19. Would you be able to recommend anyone in new york city who could clean and seal my travertine coffee table? Thanks

  20. I bought a beautiful travertine bowl at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Is it safe to simply serve nuts out of?

    • Hello K,

      Like a lot of other things in life, the answer is it depends. As you may be aware Travertine is a porous stone and the natural holes are generally filled with a cement or epoxy filler. So if the bowl is unfilled, it should be ok, but if it is filled I don’t think that it is a good idea. Hope that clears things up!


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  22. I think we have honed travertine, because it is not glossy. It occupies a very large area on the first floor – the entrance way, living room, dining room, bathroom and kitchen. Is there a way to create a glossy finish for this travertine, without creating too much follow-up maintenance? We were told that the only way would be to wax it – then the wax would get dirty and have to be stripped and re-applied. Is there any other, less maintenance-intensive way to do it?

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