One new homeowner recently expressed her confusion regarding the granite countertops in her new house. While the countertops were lovely, they had a dull appearance and feel, not the silky-smooth texture she was used to from the granite in her old home. What’s more, if she spilled or sprayed water onto her countertops, the puddle seemed to disappear before she had a chance to wipe it up. “Those were some thirsty granite countertops!” she laughed.

You may be the original owners of your granite countertops, or like this homeowner, you acquired them through a house purchase. Either way, staying on top of routine maintenance is crucial to the longevity of your countertops. Granite countertops in your kitchen or bathroom need considerably less maintenance than other types of natural stone countertops, but that doesn’t mean that they are maintenance-free. With very few exceptions, granite countertops require sealing at least once a year from the time of install, though depending on the type and location, you may need to seal more often than that.

What does sealing do?

Even though granite is incredibly durable, it is still a porous stone, and it will soak up liquids when given a chance. A sealer essentially plugs the holes in the stone so that water, oil, grease, and other liquids can’t get through and damage the stone. Sealer provides excellent protection against stains, but it’s not 100% effective. You still need to clean up spills as soon as they happen because wine, vinegar, oil, and even water can stain your countertops permanently if they are allowed to sit for long enough.

Does all granite need to be sealed?

This is a tricky question, and you’ll get a different response depending on who you talk to. Generally speaking, you need to seal most granite surfaces about once a year, but that’s not always the case. Some granite is significantly denser than others (we’re looking at you, black granite), and it may not ever need to be resealed after the initial sealing during fabrication. Other granite might require sealing twice a year to keep things clean and stain-free. Light-colored granite usually needs more attention than dark-colored granite because it shows stains, water spots, and other marks more easily than darker-colored granite.

How can you tell if you should seal your granite?

The easiest way to check if your granite needs to be sealed is to do a water test in an inconspicuous spot. Just make a little puddle of water (about the size of a half dollar) in several places on your countertop and set a timer. If your countertops absorb the water within seconds, you need to reseal and quick! If it takes a couple of minutes for the water to soak into the granite, you could probably get away with resealing in a month or so as long as you are being extra diligent wiping up spills as soon as they happen. That said, don’t put off resealing for too long – if your granite is absorbing water at all, it’s at a greater risk for permanent staining or damage. If you find that your water droplets aren’t absorbing at all and it’s been 30 minutes or more, they are probably good to go and don’t require resealing at this time.

What happens if you put off resealing?

If you put off sealing your countertops for too long (and your water test shows that they need to be resealed), you run the risk of doing permanent damage. While sealing doesn’t guarantee that your countertops will remain stain-free forever, it does offer a significant level of protection from everyday spills. Even the most well-maintained granite will discolor if oil is allowed to sit on it for too long, and it may etch or pit in the presence of acids if the granite has large amounts of calcite. The process of sealing your countertops blocks the tiny pores in the stone that would otherwise absorb materials that could damage the countertops. By delaying the resealing process, you are opening yourself up to potential heartache when you, your child, or your significant other forgets to wipe up the orange juice, spaghetti sauce, or olive oil quickly enough.

Can I seal my countertops too much?

Yes, you definitely can. Or perhaps it’s better to say that your countertops won’t look better (and might even look worse!) if you seal them too often or not well enough. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly when you seal your countertops, otherwise, you could end up with a streaky, hazy finish that is difficult to remove. The general rule for granite is that you need to seal every six months or year, though if you use your kitchen a lot, you may need to seal the trouble areas (around the sink, by the stove, etc.) more often than that.

Sealing the granite countertops in your kitchen or bathroom is not a difficult thing to do, but for most granite owners, it’s necessary. If you set a reminder on your calendar to do this piece of routine maintenance once or twice a year, you are well on your way to keeping your granite looking beautiful for years to come.