Chemically speaking, there is little to no difference between travertine and limestone tile. They are both made up primarily of calcite, and both are sedimentary stones that have not yet been subjected to the heat and pressure that will metamorphose them into marble. That’s where the similarities end between the two stones, however. In fact, many people feel that the two materials are more different than alike.
While travertine and limestone are chemically similar and are both sedimentary rocks, the places they developed were radically different and helped to shape their appearance.
Limestone was typically formed in shell reefs. This means that often limestone tile is studded with small fossils, pieces of shell, and the impressions of small sea creatures. Some limestone such as Café Pinta are extremely fossil studded with numerous pieces of shell showing through the tile, while other limestone such as Lagos Azul only rarely show shells in its makeup.
Travertine was formed deep inside rapidly-cooling hot springs. There are few if any fossils present in the material, and instead what are visible are the many different holes, channels, and paths that the cooling water vapor used to escape the forming stone. This presents itself as numerous holes of varying sizes on the surface of cut travertine.
Both travertine and limestone are fairly limited in color, both ranging primarily in the gray, cream, tan, and brown families. There are some extreme color differences, though, with a very bright red travertine and some shades of green limestone.
Most limestone is too soft to hold a high polish, and therefore the stone is usually found either honed or tumbled.
Travertine also may be too soft to hold a high polish often, but regardless of whether it is honed or tumbled it still has multiple holes in its surface. These holes are either filled with epoxy at the factory to give it a smoother look, or they are filled at time of installation for a more rustic appearance.
Overall, limestone has a softer, more transitional appearance than travertine, which has a more rustic style. Both stones make beautiful additions to any home, however, regardless of choice.
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