Marble Countertop Care and Maintenance
For millennia, craftsmen, builders and artisans have viewed marble as the consummate building medium. From Michelangelo’s Carrera Marble David, to Bernini’s massive marble colonnade at St Peter’s Square, marble has been venerated and cherished because of its brilliance, beauty and malleability. Two things specifically distinguished marble from other stones: the way in which it’s stunning white or blue-grey hues were able to capture and reflect light, and then, marble’s distinct offsetting veins. The Italians would say about a stunning block of Carrara marble, “Il marmo canta,” the Marble sings.
Five hundred years later and not all that much has changed with the way humans regard marble, be they architects, interior designers or consumers. Although the custom usage for marble has changed, it has become one of the most popular choices for kitchens, countertops and bathrooms. Today especially, marble is widely considered to be a status symbol of luxury, elegance and wealth.
While no one denies the stunning beauty of gleaming marble countertops, what many bemoan is its fickle nature and how readily it shows wear and tear: blemishes, discolorations, blots, soils, and spots. Some love the fact that marble wears its scars like tattoos, its surface marred and indelibly marked by past use, each stain or scratch a memory of a meal prepared or drink shared. Others, however, prefer for surfaces to be clean and pristine with nothing detracting from the marbles exquisiteness. As a result, they spend a lot of time, money and attention on upkeep of their marble surfaces.
If you are considering having marble installed in a new house or in a kitchen remodel, you will likely ask friends their advice on whether or not you should. Depending on which type of person you ask, you may receive conflicting stories or advice. They might say they love the way it looks and how pretty it makes the kitchen, but on the flip side, they might relay their annoyance with its durability and how easily the surfaces gets dirty. As mentioned, some really don’t mind marble aging, others will give your horror stories that push the message that it is not worth the cost or the hassle. While it is wise to speak to others about their past experience and take their advice into account, do not let that detract from your desire for marble countertops or bathrooms. Rather, simply take these things into consideration, know what you are getting in for, prepare for it and take preventative measures. If you do not let these problems catch you off guard, if you nip stains or blemishes in the bud, you can have beautiful marble and keep it immaculate without breaking the bank.
What Is Marble?
One of the more underrated aspects of marble is its texture and feel, cold to the touch, whether polished or honed, and how austere it is in its age. In order to treat and upkeep marble, and in order to choose the right cleaning products and utensils, it is important to fully understand what Marble is and why it reacts to substances the way it does. There are two general categories into which natural stone is classified: calcareous stone and siliceous.
Siliceous stone is predominantly made up of silica or quartz-ish particles. As a result of its chemical make up, Siliceous stone is strong, durable and quite easy to treat with mildly acidic cleaning solutions. Your typical siliceous stone found in a home would be sandstone, brownstone, bluestone, granite, slate and quartzite. Calcareous stones are predominantly comprised of the mineral calcium carbonate. Calcareous stones are sensitive to acidic solutions and require different treatments than Siliceous. Examples of Calcareous stone being, limestone, onyx, travertine and of course, marble.
Marble, specifically, is very porous on a micro level, which means it absorbs liquids quite easily and can be damaged by spilling acidic substances on it. Common acidic items you might find in the house being things such as, wine, lemon juice, tomato juice, sodas or milk. One spill from these acidic substances can damage the marble, leaving an enduring scar. The damage occurred in the reaction between acid and calcium carbonate is known as etching. Calcareous stones are not recommended for kitchen countertops because of how common acidic substances are in day-to-day life. Even water can stain a marble countertop, so you can imagine if you use your kitchen regularly how easily the marble could wear or accumulate imperfections. There are two important steps to take when dealing with marble in your home: prevention and maintenance.
Sealing Marble Countertops
Sealing your countertops falls into the preventative side of protecting the marble’s long-term aesthetic. Because of marble’s porous nature, the stone must be sealed in order to help protect the marble from undesired blemishes or etchings. A sealant can prevent spills and stains from digging deep into the stone and give you more opportunity to clean up any spill.
Before we continue it should be noted that many are under the understandable false perception that a sealer provides an impermeable shield. In reality, a sealant simply slows down the natural absorption rate of liquid in the stone. A good sealant gives you precious extra seconds to clean the spill and keep the stain close to the surface, so it can be removed far easier. The deeper a substance stains, the harder it is to get out.
Before you do seal marble surfaces, be sure to consider these various factors and more to determine which sealant to use. Is the marble expected to be in common contact with acidic substances? How porous is it? How fast does it absorb liquid? What is the finish of the surface? A honed surface is less resistance to stains than a polished one. Will the sealant change or alter the color or aesthetics of the marble?
Some marbles also do not need sealing or would react poorly with them, damaging the stone even more. If you do not know how to find the answers, speak to professionals or hire them to do it on your behalf. They have years of experience working with this delicate stone and if you are already investing in the marble, it could be cheaper, in the long run, to make sure it is done the right way.
For those of you who want to save money and do it on your own, it is fairly easy to do and the small cost and time drain are worth the long-term benefits to the health and quality of the stone. Before we begin, if you are sealing marble for the first time, multiple coats may be required in order to successfully seal the pores.
How many times you may need to reapply sealant depends on several things: the porousness of the stone, the quality of the application and the quality of the sealant. Contingent upon these factors, the effectiveness of the sealant could last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years. Darker colored marble will need to be re-sealed less often than white marbles, which wear their scars far more visibly.
There are five easy steps when it comes to sealing marble counter-tops:
- Step 1 – Selecting the sealant: It would prudent to select a high quality sealant, they last longer and are less likely to react bizarrely with your countertops. It is also important to know the difference between Topical Sealers and Impregnators. According to the Marble Institute: “Topical Sealers are coatings (film formers) designed to protect the surface of the stone against water, oil, and other contaminants. They are formulated from natural wax, acrylic, and other plastic compounds. When a topical sealer is applied, the maintenance program often shifts from a program focused on stone care to a program focused on the maintenance of the sealer (for example: stripping and reapplication). Impregnators are water- or solvent-based solutions that penetrate below the surface and become repellents. They are generally hydrophobic (water-repelling), but are also oleophobic (oil-repelling). Impregnators keep contaminants out, but do not stop the interior moisture from escaping. These products are considered “breathable,” meaning they have vapor transmission.”
If you need help, ask for assistance at the hardware store when purchasing.
- Step 2 – Cleaning Off the Countertop: Remove everything from the marble counters, including cookware, food, appliances etc. Use a soft rag to remove any crumbs, dust or other substances from the countertop. Once cleared, clean the surfaces thoroughly with a cleaner made for marble and let it sit for at least a minute.
Remove everything off of the top of the counter-top including all appliances, spices, and everything else. Next, using a soft clean rag and remove all of the dust and crumbs that might still be on the counter-top. After sitting for the appropriate time, dry off the countertops with a clean towel.
- Step 3 – Sealing the Countertop: It is up to your discretion whether to apply the sealer with clean cloth or a brush, either will do the trick. Carefully go over the entire countertop with a thin and even layer of sealant. Repeat if needed. Once you have finished, let the sealant dry for roughly five minutes. It is advised to do this in sections. After at least two levels of sealant, once again let the countertop dry before putting anything on the surface. It is better to err on the side of caution, so you do not need to re-do anything.
- Step 4 – Surface Dressing: Once sealed, a topical polish or shine enhancer can also be applied, providing a thin extra layer of protection while helping the stone really shine and sing.
- Step 5 – Reseal when necessary: In order to help your marble last longer and keep looking great, countertops should likely be re-sealed on an annual basis. Again, it’s a little bit of money and time in the short run that will pay off big time in the long run.
Marble Countertop Maintenance Do’s and Don’ts
- Do- Clean spills posthaste: Even with a proper sealant, Marble is very sensitive to acidic products and will absorb them rapidly. To avoid etching, clean any type of spill, oil or liquid, as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the deeper the solution can sink in.
- Do not – Use the wrong type of cleaner: Because of marble’s reaction to acidic compounds, use mild or neutral pH detergent or stone soap when cleaning the countertops. The vast majority of common household, name-brand cleaners are too harsh on marble and will damage it in the long run. Avoid using abrasive cleaners such as alkaline cleaners, acidic cleaners (lemon juice, vinegar), ammonia or bleach. Consistent use of cleaning solutions will dull the marble’s luster so it is wise to use hot water when cleaning regularly and be sure to buff dry with a soft cotton cloth or chamois. You likely paid a hefty price for the marble, do not scrimp by using a cheap or universal cleaner. In the long run the price you will play on maintenance, repairs or restoration is not worth the couple of dollars saved.
- Do- Take preventative measures to avoid spills: Put glasses on coasters, and coasters on table settings or napkins. The vast majority of drinks we consume are acidic in nature, juice, soda, and alcohol; all of these can harm marble or cause it to etch.
Work on cutting boards. They protect marble from scratching and marring and prevent any acidic juices from the food that could lead to etching.
Place silverware and other kitchen items on placemats to also avoid scraping.
Heats absorbing pads or trivets are recommended for hot dishes. Placing them directly on the countertop could damage the marble.
For marble floor tiles, rugs or doormats placed at entryways can help prevent, dirt, mud, sand or grit from accumulating.
- Do not- Treat your countertops like you would other surfaces: Marble is not durable. It is soft so you should never use it as a workbench, tools can scratch or gouge the marble and pressure can cause it to break. Do not stand or sit on marble countertops, they are not flexible and generally do not have plywood backing beneath. As a result, too much pressure or weight can lead to cracks.
If you treat your marble with the respect it needs and deserves, you can extend the life and quality of your countertops for years. Simple maintenance tasks and preventative measures such as sealing can make or break the longevity of your marble and save you money in the long run.