by Cora L. Diekman
Not all countertop materials are created equal – especially in the case of marble, which requires special care. Read on to learn how to care for your marble investment, and keep countertops looking beautiful and stain-free for years to come.
Is Marble Is Right For You?
Let’s start from the beginning. In case you’re still shopping countertop materials, plan to do a little investigative homework before making the big purchase. Marble (especially white) is riding a wave of popularity at the moment, but what looks beautiful in the pages of design magazines or featured on popular television shows isn’t necessarily right for you. Consider your lifestyle and how you use your kitchen on a typical day. Do you entertain often, have kids, drink red wine, or clean up frequent spills? Believe it or not, selecting the right material is about much more than simple aesthetics.
Why? Because not all countertop materials are created equal, especially in the case of marble. Softer, more porous, and full of calcium carbonate (which is highly reactive to acidic solutions), marble is more prone to staining and etching than granite and engineered materials – and once a difficult stain has set in, it can be virtually impossible to repair.
The bottom line: marble is beautiful, but not a practical choice for every kitchen. Know that there are other more durable options available like engineered stone (think Caesarstone or Silestone) that replicate the look of marble AND stand up to daily life.
Sealer, sealer, sealer. The first step in protecting marble is to seal it well, and seal it often. The amount of action your countertops see on a daily basis will determine how frequently you need to seal them, but no less often than every six months (every three for heavy wear and tear). Why? Because a quality sealer prevents marble from absorbing liquids that cause stains and etching, meaning that if spills are cleaned up quickly, properly sealed countertops will be virtually unaffected. But, not just any sealer will do, and for kitchens (where surfaces regularly come in contact with food) a non-toxic (certified food safe) sealer is a must. Akemi Nano Effect is a great option, promises not to yellow, and is available through stone specialty suppliers that sell to countertop installers and homeowners alike, such as Braxton Bragg. (And of course, always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the frequency and manner of application, as this will vary.)
Cleaning and Maintenance
According to the Marble Institute of America (MIA) countertops should be cleaned with a mild liquid dishwashing detergent or a cleaner specially designed for marble. Surfaces should always be cleaned thoroughly of any soapy residue with a soft cloth. Use coasters and trivets to protect against spills and damage from heat. And if a spill occurs, blot rather than wipe to prevent spreading the spill any further.
Worst Food Offenders
There are two types of damage to avoid – staining and etching (which is a chemical change to the countertop’s surface, leaving it looking dull and somewhat darker in color). Obvious offenders are those likely to leave stains, such as red wine or anything with large amounts of artificial color. Less obvious are those that are high in acidity and prone to cause etching, such as pickle juice, lemon juice, vinegar, alcohol, and tomato sauce (okay, this one is a double offender). Likewise, soaps and cleaners that contain acid, alcohol, or bleach should be avoided as well. And perhaps the least obvious of all is milk – while it won’t stain, milk’s acidic properties will definitely etch a countertop if not cleaned up promptly.
Treating Stains and Etching
Aside from sealing, the best way to avoid staining and etching is to clean spills immediately. As mentioned previously, blot spills rather than wipe them. Flush the area with water and continue to rinse with a mild soap. Difficult water spots and rings may be buffed away with dry 0000 steel wool, and common oil-based stains can be tackled with a mild household detergent, specialty stone cleaner, mineral spirits, or acetone. For more detailed stain removal advice straight from the experts, the MIA provides specific instructions based on the type of stain (oil-based, organic, metal, biological, ink, paint, etc), and even lets you know when it’s time to call in the professionals.
Finding Professional Stone Care Products
Suppliers that specialize in stone care products, such as Braxton Bragg, provide professional-grade sealers and cleaners – all of which may be conveniently purchased online. Or, if you have specific questions, contact them directly and ask. Specialty companies such as these (as opposed to big box retailers) are more likely to have quality answers to your toughest countertop queries.