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What is the Difference Between Penetrating Sealer and Topical Stone Sealers?

Natural stone tiles have become exceedingly popular in homes across the country. They provide a wonderful aesthetic to kitchens and are relatively easy to take care of. But, in order to keep your stone protected and looking great for years to come, everyone knows it needs to be properly sealed. 

Sealing your stone will keep it from getting discolored over time, and it will protect it from things like spills, or even slight cracks and chips if something were to fall on it. 

But, choosing the right sealer is important, and it greatly depends on how you plan on using your stone and your personal needs/wants. 

With that in mind, there are typically two types of sealers that get used on stone countertops and tile; penetrating sealers, also often called stone impregnators, and topical stone sealers, which are sometimes referred to as enhancers. 

So, what’s the difference, and which one will work best for you? 

What is a Penetrating Sealer?

An impregnator sealer is one of the most popular options for homeowners. As you might expect, thanks to the name, a penetrating sealer works by soaking directly into the stone once it is applied. Because of that, it doesn’t change the appearance of the stone on the surface. 

How does it work? 

Simply put, penetrating sealers help to increase surface tension on the stone. So, if something spills on the stone itself, it will bead on the surface instead of soaking into the stone and causing a stain. You can think of it the same way you might if water droplets were to fall on the outside of your tent while camping. They won’t soak into the material of the tent. Rather, they can be wiped or brushed away. 

Impregnator sealers also offer protection against heat and UV. 

What is a Topical Sealer?

Topical stone sealers are applied to the surface of stone tile or countertops. Unlike penetrating sealers, the solution remains on the surface and doesn’t penetrate through the stone itself. 

Topical sealers tend to be the most popular on the market because they are easy to use, and they can add a lot of shine to the surface of your stone. Topical sealers help to create an almost waterproof barrier on the surface of the stone, so if you were to spill something, it wouldn’t soak into the stone itself. Rather, it can be wiped away quickly without damaging the stone. 

It’s important to keep in mind that many topical sealers can change the color or appearance of your stone, so understand what sort of changes might happen before you apply it. 

Topical sealers are not recommended for stone that is already polished, so you should avoid using them on granite or marble as they can change the appearance. 

Do You Need a Stone Enhancer? 

Though we’re talking about the different types of sealers here, it’s also important to quickly touch on stone enhancers. While enhancers on their own do not provide any sealing protection, many stone sealers are formulated with an enhancer in the solution. With that being said, sealers are great for improving the look of your stone but don’t use one and assume your stone is protected from staining or discoloring. 

The job of an enhancer is to highlight the natural color of the stone by bringing out its richest and deepest tones. It can give your stone a sort of ‘wet’ look that makes it glisten and look richer, without actually masking the original color. 

So, while an enhancer isn’t necessary in order to protect your stone, it can improve the appearance if you choose a sealer that already contains an enhancer. Again, this is more personal preference than anything else, but if you want your stone to really “pop,” then consider choosing either a sealer with an enhancer or buying one separately to use after you have already sealed your stone. 

Which Sealer is Right for You? 

Now that you have a better understanding of the difference between impregnator sealers and topical sealers, how can you decide which one is right for you? 

There are several different factors to consider when you’re choosing the right sealer. Some of the most important things to keep in mind as you go through the decision process include: 

  • What is the environment like? Will you be sealing stone that is inside or outside? What are the weather conditions? 
  • What level of maintenance are you willing to put in?
  • Are there any environmental/governmental requirements in your area restricting the use of certain sealants?
  • How long do you want the sealer to remain before having to reapply it?
  • What are your preferences for the final color?
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want to DIY your sealer or have a professional do it for you?
  • How consistent will the sealer be across the entire application?
  • How does it cure?

As you can see, there are plenty of things to ask yourself before you make the choice between a penetrating sealer and a topical stone sealer. For the most part, however, it’s all about personal preference. When it comes down to it, penetrating sealers are invisible, and topical sealers will change the look of your stone. Everything beyond that is simply a matter of taste and how much effort you want to put into the job. 

So, don’t be afraid to do your research when it comes to which type of sealer you prefer and which will work better with your particular variety of stone. Both of these sealers work wonderfully in different ways, so don’t wait too long before deciding on which one to use. The most dangerous thing you can do is to leave your stone exposed without any type of protection. When you do, you risk staining and discoloration. If you just recently had it installed, not sealing it is a great way to ruin your brand new investment.