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Natural Onyx Stone Surfaces

It is an intriguing natural stone that is unforgettable when seen in the right context. In fact, just looking at it in its natural state is enough to make an impression. It forms in a number of colors, but most of the time it is a color that resembles honey. That's right, the stone we are talking about is onyx.

What is Onyx?

Natural onyx is a natural stone material that is characterized by its banded look. Consisting of a high level of calcite, natural onyx is a relative of a number of other natural rock. Some of these include:

  • Marble
  • Travertine
  • Limestone

Being a calcareous material like the stone mentioned in the list above, onyx has properties that give it very specific qualities that are important to know before making use of it in specific applications.

Properties of Onyx

Since it is a calcareous material, onyx is considered a "soft" natural stone. However, despite the fact that it is softer than other natural stone, onyx is still stone and therefore is hard enough top be used for all sorts of surfaces. For example, you can see onyx bar tops with back lighting that really shows off its translucency. That's right, natural onyx has a distinct feature of being translucent in its banding. So when a light shines through the back of the stone, a measure of that light goes right through the stone making a spectacular view of the stone's surface.

Because of the mineral content of natural onyx, you will see it referred to by names indicating that it is a "marble". For example, it sometimes is referred to as "onyx marble" which makes it obvious that the material contains the same minerals as a marble slab. Although it is technically classified as a different type of stone.

Working With Onyx

In the stone industry, there are a few applications for this spectacular looking material. Because of its eye-popping, attention-grabbing appearance and its elegant look, onyx is used in high-end resorts, businesses, and restaurants. Although, it can be scratched relatively easily, the shear visual appeal makes it worth the required upkeep in these contexts.

Since natural onyx is composed of the same minerals as marble, travertine, and limestone, working with it is best done using tools that are designed for it. Therefore, when cutting, drilling, or shaping natural onyx, use tools that are made for working "marble" to get the best results. Bridge saw blades, turbo blades, core bits, and other stone tooling engineered to work with softer stone yield the best results and although many blades, for example, will cut soft stone, the task may not be as smoothly executed as it is when performed using the proper tool.

Natural Onyx Care & Maintenance

One of the primary aspects of care and maintenance as it relates to natural onyx is cleaning. Depending on what kind of cleaning is being done, specific cleaners will be needed. For example, daily cleaning of natural onyx needs to be done using a cleaner that is formulated for cleaning natural stone containing calcium carbonate. Why is that the case?

Best Daily Cleaner for Onyx

Natural stone that contains calcium carbonate (also called calcite) will etch if it is exposed to acidic substances. The acid reacts with the calcium carbonate and the calcite is dissolved in the process. This means that acidic substances literally eat the stone. Using a cleaner that is acidic has a detrimental effect on onyx surfaces and therefore should not be used. The best daily cleaner to use on natural onyx is one that is pH neutral so it does not react with the minerals in the stone.

Stain Removal

In addition to daily cleaning, there will be times when onyx gets stained. Although there are various kinds of stains and many kinds of stain removers, the most common on many surfaces are stains that come from oil or water based liquids. Think of milk, tea, olive oil, etc. Liquids that are water or oil based penetrate the pores of natural stone and discolor the material inside the pores. The solution is to reverse the process that discolored the stone in the first place. Using a poultice, this is possible.

Etch Remover for Onyx Materials

As mentioned above, acid reacts with calcium carbonate material. When this occurs there is a discoloration that remains behind. These are referred to as etches or etching. Because the minerals in the material are dissolved, it makes the area look different from the rest of the stone. Depending on the type of finish the stone has, it will look dull or perhaps darken a bit where the acidic liquid was. While you cannot replace the material was dissolved, you can blend the area by using an etch remover that reduces the contrast between the affected part of the stone and the unaffected part.

As we have seen in this consideration of natural onyx, it is a very distinct and appealing material that has unique characteristics like any other material. The translucency of the material make it an interesting choice for some spectacular effects achieved with lighting. Like other natural materials though, it is good to be familiar with how to work with it and what kind of care and maintenance it needs.