Marble is the epitome of luxury, and yet it is surprisingly one of the most affordable natural stones. So why doesn’t every home have marble countertops and backsplashes in its bathrooms and kitchens? Let’s explore the pros and cons of this timeless stone to determine if it’s the right stone for you.
Exactly what is marble?
Marble is a metamorphic stone found in mountainous regions of North America, South America, Asia, and Europe—from Colorado to Brazil and Italy. It’s created by the physical or chemical alteration of sediment into a denser form through heat and/or pressure. The resulting rock has a crystalline nature enabling it to take a polish. It also has veins of mineral deposits that pattern it, no two slabs are exactly alike.
Marble is one of the more porous of the metamorphic stones, which is why it’s prone to staining. While not as hard as its metamorphic cousin granite (which comes from deeper in the earth where it’s exposed to more heat), marble is not as soft as soapstone. It generally has a low abrasion rating, meaning it scratches quite easily. The stone’s chemical makeup (calcium carbonate) makes it particularly sensitive to acidic solutions, which can result in etching on the surface (see below to learn to manage this). On the plus side, marble is heat resistant, strong, and generally doesn’t chip or dent.
What colors can marble be found in?
One of the attractions of marble is that it’s available in a wide variety of natural colorations. Marble comes in hues of white, black, gray, yellow, green, and pink, some with dark, prominent veins and others with more subtle patterning.
Despite the variety of colors available, white marble is generally the first choice for use as kitchen countertops. Like a white button-down shirt, white marble is adaptable, mixing well with different styles and a wide variety of materials (stainless, wood, tile). It can be dressed up with a polished finish, or made more casual with a honed finish. Another benefit is that etching is less visible on white marble than on dark. Worried about white? Stone Source offers useful Insights on White Marble.
What kinds of marble finishes are available?
The most common finishes are polished, honed, and leather (also known as antique). Finish affects the look and performance of marble countertops; here’s what to know about each.
- Honed (or matte) finish: Created by sanding the marble so that is has a satiny-smooth, almost soft feel, a honed surface doesn’t show as many scratches and flaws as a polished finish, and it also mutes the color of the stone. Warning: Honing the surface opens the pores of the marble, making it more susceptible to staining.
- Polished finish: A grinding and buffing process results in a high-gloss slick surface, favored for bringing out the details of the marble’s color, veining, and character. While polished marble is the least porous of the finishes, it’s the most susceptible to getting etched by household acids and cleaners.
- Leather finish: This option is created by adding a leather-like texture to a honed surface. It has a soft sheen, but is not reflective like a polished finish, and is most commonly used with dark marbles. The texturing is an effective concealer of fingerprints and other imperfections. Note that the amount of texture created in the process varies from stone to stone.
What is the best way to clean and care for marble countertops?
- Wipe up spills when they happen, limiting the time they have to seep into your countertop.
- For cleaning, “the old rule of thumb is never use anything you wouldn’t use on your hands,”, advises Pietra Fina. This means avoiding powdered cleansers, tub and tile cleaners, abrasive pads, or even general “all-purpose” cleansers that may contain acidic ingredients.
- Mild liquid dishwashing detergent or a similar mild soap and warm water with a non-abrasive towel or sponge are the best for day-to-day cleaning.
- Use a neutral stone cleaner for tougher cleanups.
- Protect the surface by using cutting boards for food preparation.
- Reseal the countertop annually, or more often if needed
Marble Countertop Recap
- Natural material
- Each piece is unique
- Available in a range of colors and veinings
- A historic favorite in kitchens
- Works with many different design aesthetics
- Develops a patina over time
- Porous material susceptible to staining
- Low abrasion resistance means scratching
- Requires ongoing maintenance
- Etches if exposed to acidic liquids
- Develops a patina over time
Want to learn more about different countertop materials? Click HERE