Chemically, travertine and limestone are extremely similar. Both are sedimentary stones formed mostly of calcite. A quick glance, however, shows radical differences between the two stones. Anyone considering one or the other should understand these differences to make a more informed decision.
While both stones are similar in composition, and travertine is actually even classified as a type of limestone, the two stones formed in very different ways. Limestone typically formed in shell reefs, while travertine formed inside cooling hot springs.
The shell reefs left their imprints behind on the limestone in the form of many small fossils appearing as shells and small sea creatures in the surface of the stone. Some limestones, such as Café Pinta or Seagrass are extremely studded with fossils, while stones like Jerusalem Gold have relatively few.
Travertine on the other hand has almost no fossils present in its makeup. Instead, it’s characterized by the many holes of varying sizes left behind by the hot springs. When the cooling water vapor escaped the rock, it left behind channels as it cooled. These channels show up as holes that go right through a counter or tile. Because these holes make travertine structurally weaker than other stones, they need to be filled with either epoxy or grout.
The different appearance between travertine and limestone may lead some people to believe that travertine is the stronger stone. This is because of its naturally rustic appearance, which makes a good choice for Farmhouse and Country-style homes.
Because travertine is in the limestone family, however, it should be treated exactly like limestone. Both need to be sealed with an impregnating sealer designed for porous stones and washed with PH neutral cleansers. Neither should be used in wet areas without a lot of maintenance.
Regardless of which one is chosen for the application, both travertine and limestone are beautiful natural stones that will enhance many different applications.