Slate has been a staple building material going back thousands of years to when it was used as one of the earliest permanent roofing materials on churches and castles. Slate roofing is still used today, as well as for flooring, countertops, showers, and accent pieces. Due to the way it’s formed, it has some unique and interesting properties that help make it not only a useful building material, but its layered grain structure made it easier to work than some other stone.
So, whether you’re looking into using slate for your flooring, countertops, shower, roofing or are just curious about the stone, here are 6 facts you might not have known about slate:
1) It Has a Unique Clefted Surface
Due to the way it’s formed, slate is easy to spot once you know what to look for. Slate is a metamorphic rock formed from the gradual compaction of sedimentary shale made of clay, volcanic ash or other layered minerals. After slate is quarried, instead of being cut into slabs like granite or marble might be, slabs and tiles are cleaved and split away (you can find videos on YouTube showing the process).
The way the slate is split away reveals that natural clefted texture that not only gives the surface its signature look, but also makes it quite useful for grip in flooring. The surface can of course be honed for a uniform surface, as it has been used for everything from countertops to being used as chalkboards and even billiards tables.
2) It’s Not All Gray
Most of the time when we think of slate, we picture a dark gray surface, but there are many other shades to be found. In addition to grays and blacks, slate can be found in rich copper, gold, green, red, blue, white and even lilac. This can make for interesting tile patterns for flooring or backsplashes, especially for use outdoors to add some unique coloring to a patio or walkway.
These colors can be found in relatively uniform slabs, or with dramatic streaking. This is why we always recommend going to check out the specific stone you’re looking to buy in person, as you can find some really unique pieces that might have otherwise been missed.
3) It Isn’t Just For Flooring
We’ve seen a resurgence in the past few years of slate being used for countertops – especially with the rising trend of modern rustic design. Due to the unique way it naturally splits into sheets has lent itself as a uniquely easy material to work in the days before power tools.
This plus slate’s durability and low water absorption made it a popular roofing material dating back over 1,000 years ago. While a slate roof is expensive in terms of up-front cost, they will most likely outlive you – hence why they call them 100-year roofs.
4) It’s Perfect For Flooring
The natural texturing and grain structure make it a near-ideal choice for use in flooring and on walkways. This is especially true in bathrooms, showers or walkways where water often settles to give yourself plenty of grip even in wet conditions.
That low water absorption also makes slate a great choice for bathrooms and showers, lasting decades when properly sealed. For outdoor use, the water resistance also makes slate safe from cracking due to frost. Water expands when it freezes, which can crack or split other materials if they take on too much moisture.
4) It’s Resistant to Stains When Cared For Properly
Tying back in with that low water absorption, that goes for other potentially staining liquids as well. The porosity of the stone can vary based on composition, with darker shades typically being less porous than lighter colors.
That’s not to say, however, that it can’t stain or etch. Like most natural stone, slate needs to be sealed regularly to avoid these issues, as liquids can in fact penetrate the surface and leave a stain. Also, due to the presence of calcium carbonate in the stone, acidic chemicals such as vinegar, wine, fruit juice or coffee can damage the surface through a process called etching. This is a chemical burn on the surface of the stone and is permanent damage.
You can read our sealing guide here.
6) It’s Easy to Maintain
Once you’re aware of the common pitfalls that apply to most stone choices, slate is a piece of cake to maintain. We recommend sticking to pH balanced cleaning solutions, such as Granite Gold Daily Cleaner®, as it is free of harmful phosphates and ammonia and formulated specifically for use on natural stone.
For stone tile, it’s important to remember that the health of your grout is just as important to maintain as the stone itself. Grout can also take on water and even harbor mildew and mold, so it’s important to seal your grout at the same time as the stone – especially in wet environments.
Have more questions or concerns on how to care for your slate or other natural stone? Consider reaching out to our team of stone care experts with more than 60 years of stone-care experience at 1-800-475-STONE. Be sure to check out our full line stone care products to make sure you’re doing your natural stone justice.