Home health check

Bear­ing the wear and tear from the foot­steps of gen­er­a­tions, old stone floors are an im­por­tant fea­ture of char­ac­ter, so fol­low this ad­vice on how to re­store, main­tain and re­pair them

Period Living - - Contents - Fea­ture Roger Hunt, au­thor of Old House Hand­book

Roger Hunt ad­vises on how to pro­tect and re­pair stone floors

Pol­ished smooth and gen­tly un­du­lat­ing from the pas­sage of many feet, old stone floors are in­grained with a sense of per­ma­nence and his­tory un­matched by any other floor­ing ma­te­rial. The flag­stones and tiles form­ing these floors were fre­quently cleaved from lo­cally quar­ried sand­stone, lime­stone, slate and gran­ite. Stone floors were tra­di­tion­ally laid on bare earth or chalk and, although some­times dressed so the edges were square, the thick­ness of the stone of­ten var­ied greatly. Im­pos­ing floors were cre­ated in the Ge­or­gian pe­riod us­ing im­ported mar­ble.

De­spite the seem­ing so­lid­ity of the ma­te­rial, stone floors are vul­ner­a­ble to dam­age, and all that makes them won­der­ful is eas­ily de­stroyed through overzeal­ous clean­ing or at­tempts at re­lay­ing.

The pri­or­ity is to re­tain old stone floors in situ, wher­ever pos­si­ble, and to un­der­take ap­pro­pri­ate main­te­nance and re­pair to pre­serve their charm.


Grit and dirt trod­den into the sur­face of a floor causes sig­nif­i­cant dam­age, so in­stall good door­mats at ex­ter­nal en­trances. Clean­ing should be ap­proached with cau­tion and the stone should never be soaked, as even clean wa­ter may cause dam­age. If re­quired, em­ploy a de­ter­gent, such as mild wash­ing-up liq­uid di­luted in hot wa­ter, and scrub gen­tly with a stiff bris­tle brush, rins­ing reg­u­larly but spar­ingly. Be­fore us­ing any clean­ing prod­uct test it on an in­con­spic­u­ous cor­ner as some stones are eas­ily dam­aged. Where white salt ef­flo­res­cence is present, it is not gen­er­ally a cause for con­cern, but wash­ing with wa­ter ex­ac­er­bates the prob­lem; in­stead vac­uum it off.

If sig­nif­i­cant stain­ing or in­grained dirt is ev­i­dent con­sider spe­cial­ist stone clean­ing prod­ucts. Avoid abra­sives, such as wire brushes and grit blast­ing, which will quickly dam­age the stone’s sur­face. Al­ways seek spe­cial­ist ad­vice when in doubt.

Be wary of ap­ply­ing sealants and pol­ishes. A light coat of beeswax and tur­pen­tine, along with some pro­pri­etary prod­ucts, may be suit­able but will in­vari­ably change the look of the stone and can re­strict the floor’s abil­ity to breathe.


Crack­ing and un­even­ness is not un­usual with old stone floors and fre­quently re­sults from his­toric set­tle­ment as well as nat­u­ral wear and tear. Where ➤

prob­lems are sus­pected they may be caused by voids be­neath the floor or re­late to other struc­tural is­sues within the house, so should be fully in­ves­ti­gated. Where nec­es­sary, a struc­tural en­gi­neer or sur­veyor ex­pe­ri­enced in work­ing with old build­ings should be con­sulted.

Any loose or wob­bling stones must be re­set be­fore they are dam­aged. Cracks can be re­paired with lime mor­tar if nec­es­sary. Where stones are se­verely worn it’s oc­ca­sion­ally pos­si­ble to turn them over. Lift­ing stone slabs re­quires great care to avoid crack­ing, and there is a dan­ger of break­ing the edges of sur­round­ing stones when lev­er­ing against them. It is some­times pos­si­ble to fill voids be­neath flag­stones with­out lift­ing them by in­ject­ing a weak, lime-based grout or slurry, but use wa­ter spar­ingly. With many stone floors, the joints are left un­pointed, help­ing breatha­bil­ity. Where point­ing is present but has failed, rake out and re­point with lime mor­tar.

Damp prob­lems

Stone floors were part of the breath­able fab­ric of old build­ings. Damp prob­lems fre­quently oc­cur when mois­ture is trapped due to changes made to the floor or within the house as a whole. In all cases, it’s es­sen­tial to deal with the prob­lem rather than the symp­toms. Lift­ing and re­lay­ing an old floor and in­stalling a damp-proof mem­brane is fre­quently dis­as­trous, es­pe­cially when in con­junc­tion with the in­tro­duc­tion of a con­crete slab, as mois­ture is sim­ply pushed else­where.

Of­ten damp is caused by leak­ing wa­ter pipes and cracked or blocked drains, as well as raised ex­ter­nal ground lev­els higher than the floor. An­other fre­quent cause of prob­lems is the use of in­ap­pro­pri­ate mod­ern ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing ce­ment mor­tars used for point­ing or re­pairs, rather than lime-based prod­ucts.

Some prob­lems are due to con­den­sa­tion on the sur­face of the floor, so en­sure the room is well ven­ti­lated and main­tain some heat­ing. Mois­ture will be trapped by vinyl and syn­thetic or rub­ber­backed rugs, re­sult­ing in sweat­ing be­tween the floor and the rug; this is likely to mark the sur­face and may lead to its de­te­ri­o­ra­tion.

Lift­ing and re­lay­ing

An old floor should never be lifted with­out good rea­son as its orig­i­nal char­ac­ter will be de­stroyed. Where re­lay­ing is un­avoid­able, num­ber each flag or tile with chalk so that they can be laid back in po­si­tion, and al­ways draw a plan or take pho­to­graphs be­fore lift­ing. When ex­ca­vat­ing the floor, the build­ing’s foun­da­tions must not be un­der­mined. Lay­ing stone floors takes skill and is of­ten best left to a pro­fes­sional.

Main­te­nance check­list

● Reg­u­larly sweep or vac­uum floors and en­trance mats.

● Fit pads un­der metal ob­jects to pre­vent any rust marks.

● Wipe up spills promptly; red wine is par­tic­u­larly dam­ag­ing to stone floors.

● Check loose, cracked or dam­aged stones.

● Re­place de­fec­tive point­ing.

● Rec­tify damp prob­lems.

Fit for the fu­ture

Adding ther­mal in­su­la­tion with­out dis­turb­ing a stone floor is dif­fi­cult. Breath­able floor cov­er­ings, such as coir rugs, can help and will also smooth out un­even­ness. Where an orig­i­nal floor, or one laid on a con­crete slab, has to be re­layed be­cause of damp or other prob­lems, a lime­crete sub­floor is a good op­tion. Com­posed of lime and ag­gre­gate, this ma­te­rial en­ables the cre­ation of a floor slab that can breathe, while al­low­ing the floor’s makeup to in­clude a high level of in­su­la­tion and, where nec­es­sary, un­der­floor heat­ing.

Above: Mois­ture can get trapped un­der rub­ber­backed or syn­thetic rugs, so use only breath­able floor cov­er­ingsBelow: Take care when clean­ing stone flags; don’t soak with wa­ter, and scrub them gen­tly with a bris­tle brush

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