Natural Stone Flooring: What's the Difference?

Jim Williams
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Buying Guides

Naturally occurring, beautiful, durable, versatile, and ornate, stone flooring has always been popular for many interior and exterior applications. 

The natural stone family – limestone, granite, travertine, onyx, and marble– are composite of sediments and minerals formed in a range of ways. After millions of years, and changes to the earth's movement and landscape, today most mass deposits of natural stone are actually found inland. The sediments solidify into stone and are harvested in huge quarries across the world. Stone blocks are cut out of the earth with diamond wire cutting systems or other heavy duty equipment. The blocks are then transported to a manufacturing plant and cut and polished into tile, countertops, and large slabs of natural stone. 

Before designing your natural stone flooring you must decide on the best type of stone for your home. Before we start comparing the types of natural stone, let's define each of the stone materials:

Limestone: A sedimentary rock consisting of organic material such as sediments and shells. Most limestone is natural colored and porous (unless treated). This type of stone, although sensitive to harsh acidicy cleaners and stains, is enjoyed for its fossilized appearance.

Granite: This natural stone is formed in the earth's molten mantle. Granite is formed from quartz, feldspar, and mica which are fuzed together by a natural heating and cooling process. Granite can come in many colors and can be fabricated to many textures. This type of stone is well known for its durability - in fact it's been cited to be able to withstand up to 480 degrees and a lot of wear and tear. 

Marble: This type of stone is formed through calcium carbonate deposits. According to, "True geological marble is limestone that has been subjected to great pressure and heat, which has changed its structure to a crystalline, sugary texture. It is generally white or whitish, sometimes translucent, with some veining or color provided by other minerals present at its formation." Marble is less dense as a granite, but equally as beautiful. 

TravertineTravertine is formed by geysers. When the piping hot water below the surface of the earth disinigrates the underlying limestone, it moves upwards towards the face of the earth. When the water falls to the ground and evaporates, it leaves behind the dissolved limestone which re-hardens into stone. Travertine is available in natural hues, but with abundant finishes.

Comparing Materials

Travertine vs. Limestone

Travertine and limestone are often used in similar applications because of their similar makeup (of sediments). However, it’s important to note that while travertine is the more expensive of the two, not all types of limestone are durable. If you’re looking for a limestone floor, consider purchasing limestone that has been compressed or treated to avoid staining or chipping.

Marble vs. Onyx

Some of the most high-end natural stone materials, marble and onyx are known for being luxurious looking. Marble has a natural crystallized veining and comes in a variety of colors. Onyx can be expensive and also has a limited color variety (as the name indicates, it's available in shades of black), but is breathtaking when used in bathrooms or as a decorative accent around a home or commercial property. These stones, which are known for their opulence, actually have a quite different makeup and appearance. Onyx's makeup is similar to that of the travertine family.

Granite vs. Sandstone

Granite is known for its unmatched durability, and is used in showers, sinks, counter tops, and on floors. Granite is also available in a variety of decorative colors. Sandstone is known for its gritty “sandy” texture. Both types of stone are incredibly strong and good for natural stone floor applications.

While there are similarities in the strength and use of these natural stone materials, the decision will ultimately depend on the look and style of the project, as well as overall budget. Compare each type against each other and choose the best natural stone flooring fit for your home.