Marble Countertops: All You Need to Know
Used for centuries around the world, marble is a signature staple in design that’s been made popular through ancient architecture and sculptures. It’s widely recognized to be a symbol of luxury and timeless beauty that persists regardless of shifting trends. Consequently, it’s a top choice for many homeowners when deciding what material to choose for applications throughout the home. But is it the right choice for you?
We’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of marble and all that there is to know about its strengths and weaknesses, popular applications, and maintenance tips. Our hope is that by the end of this post, you’ll be able to assess and decide whether your lifestyle and expectations fit what marble has to offer. Let’s get into it!
What is it?
Marble is a metamorphic stone formed from carbonate minerals, typically limestone or dolomite. When subjected to extreme heat and pressure, the geological makeup and appearance are changed in a process called crystallization, resulting in what we know as marble. It typically falls between a 2 and 3 on the Mohs scale, making it one of the softest materials used in building applications.
It’s important to know that in the stone industry, we use the term marble to encompass the stone in both its pre- and post-crystallized forms. The purest, most exquisite and most popular marbles are typically quarried in the northern regions of Italy, though it’s exported around the world from Turkey, Greece, Spain, Iran, and the U.S. Each quarry yields unique colors and designs that result from the various clays, sand, pigments and other impurities found within the region.
Calacatta Borghini marble. Photo by Greg Premru.
What are the benefits?
It’s unique. Each slab of natural stone is like a fingerprint: no two are exactly the same. This is the personal touch that many people seek to add to their home, and what we find to be one of marble’s biggest selling points for homeowners.
It handles the heat. As you now know, marble is no stranger to extreme high temperatures, so you can place very hot items on your counters without fear. However, to prevent any transfer of residual food or grease, we always recommend using a trivet for maximum protection.
Its naturally dramatic designs. Marble has been called “nature’s masterpiece” and is widely known for its grandiose statements in art and architecture for centuries across the globe. Its strong, vivid presence has a tendency to command the attention in a room, and is often a first choice for high-end designers.
It adds value to your home. Well-maintained marble is a look that’s highly sought after, so it’s no surprise that having it in your home will increase its value. It’s also timeless, meaning that there is little chance of it depreciating unless you really left it in bad shape.
It’s timeless. A staple of luxury and opulence dating back over 2,000 years, marble has continued to evolve alongside design and prove it can keep up with the times.
Some popular variations of marble include:
Calacatta: Quarried in Calacatta, Italy, nearby Carrara. Dramatic, typically thicker veins that come in dramatic shades of gray or gold.
Popular Colors: Gold, Caldia, Bluette, Original, Lincoln, Michelangelo
Bianco Carrara: Quarried in Carrara, Italy. White, blue-gray or gray bases composed of fine, glittery particles. Thin, feathery veins that manifest on the surface as capillaries or specks.
Popular Colors: Bianco Carrara, Carrara Extra, Carrara Gioia, White Carrara, Carrara Bella
Danby: Quarried in Danby, Vermont. Clean, white bases with light veining, usually in shades gray, gold, brown and sometimes green. Danby is less porous and has an absorption rate lower than that of other marbles (0.06%-0.08%) like Calacatta (0.13%) or Carrara (0.18%).
Popular Colors: Olympian White, Imperial, Royal
Statuario: Quarried in Italy, nearby Northern Tuscany. Slightly darker base shades with sharp, darker gray veins. Statuarios are named for their popular usage in sculpting.
Popular Colors: Bianco Statuario, Statuario Bella, Statuario Venato, Statuario White
Honed Calacatta Borghini marble. Photo by Greg Premru.
What are the drawbacks?
It etches. If you’re at all familiar with marble, you’ve probably heard about its infamous fatal flaw: etching. Etching is a term used to describe the dull marks left behind by acidic substances on certain natural stones. It’s not a stain, but rather a chemical abrasion that occurs in calcium carbonate stones when contact is made with acidic substances. Etching is the number one reason we advise against marble for inexperienced owners, busy families and perfectionists.
It can stain. Marble has a high porosity and will absorb any liquids that make contact with its surface fairly quickly. Sealing creates a protective layer, but does not make marble nonporous, so it’s always wise to wipe up spills immediately to prevent permanent staining of the stone.
It’s soft. Marble is softer and more susceptible to chipping and scratching than other natural stones.
It can be expensive. As with anything coveted, high desirability and extensive production time result in an overall higher price range with marble. Price can depend on the location and yield of the quarry, the amount of color and movement in the stone, and market demand among other factors.
Care & Maintenance
Start by wiping surfaces with a dry microfiber cloth to clear any debris that could scratch your marble. Once your surfaces have been dusted, you can use a different microfiber cloth, pH-neutral dish soap and warm water to gently clean your marble. If you’d like, you can also use a stone cleaner specifically formulated for marble, but dish soap is your best bet for avoiding any surprise cleaning agents that could pose issues. Stay away from anything that contains vinegar, bleach, lemon juice, rough surfaces, or abrasive chemicals.
Sealing your marble is crucial in preserving its beauty and pristine appearance. We recommend doing so about every 3-6 months, with lighter colors falling on the more frequent end of the spectrum. A good rule of thumb? Sprinkle a few droplets of water on your marble. If it leaves a mark after 5-10 minutes, it’s time to reseal.
While a standard sealant can be bought anywhere online or in hardware stores, there is also the option of having your stone permanently sealed. Companies that offer this service will sand down the stone and apply a protective coating that can last for years, often even the entire lifespan of your countertop. While we are supportive of our clients regardless of their ultimate decision, we have to be real here: we don’t recommend marble unless you either a) have the ability to permanently seal it, or b) enjoy the character and authenticity that everyday wear-and-tear brings to the stone.
Honed Rajado marble. Photo by Jared Kuzia.
For true marble aficionados, there is nothing in the world that can compare. Its raw beauty and authenticity far outweigh any hassles or risks. They are committed to the graceful aging of their marble, and will accept any chips, scratches, etching, stains or other imperfections as part of the stone’s ever-changing character. To them, it’s a piece of natural history that they are able to preserve and continue within their home- and to them, that is what makes their investment worthwhile.
Hear us when we say: it’s okay to know you’re not that person. It’s okay to know that you’re a perfectionist who will lose sleep if there’s a scratch. It’s okay to be the person who doesn’t always remember a coaster, or the person who can’t be bothered to seal the counters every few months, or the person who isn’t sure whether they’re ready for the investment if there’s a risk it won’t stay perfect. Our mission is to help you find the stone that not only meets your expectations, but will continue to do so for years to come. Whether that ends up being marble or not is up to you. Regardless, whatever decision you make, you can now say that it was at least well-informed.