Understanding Your Marble

People often complain to us about their marble only being a week, a month, or a year old: “how is it that it my marble stained, scratched, lost its shine, water spots, glass rings, and dull spots.”

It took a billion years for the earth to form mountains of marble and in the blink of an eye, marble can lose its gloss, scratch, or get stained. Marble is calcium carbonate and for the most part is a very soft and porous stone as compared to granite whose mineral makeup is mostly quartz and silicon dioxide. Granite is a much harder and less porous stone as compared to marble; granite does not require as much (tlc) maintenance as marble, because granite is so much more resistant to alkaline and acidic encounters than marble. We’ll have a much more involved discussion about granite in the near future.

There are many myths and old wives’ tales about cleaning and maintaining marble. Some of the more popular; but, erroneous and truly damaging, marble cleaning myths are as follows: use vinegar, ammonia, bleach, fine steel wool, furniture polish (some contain lemon and other harmful materials), all purpose spray cleaners (some contain harmful petroleum based products or harsh alkaline chemicals). Some people use waxes, acrylics, urethanes, sealers containing polymers, all these products mask (hide) the marble blemishes and dullness; but, they all give marble an artificial look; these coatings are soft, they scratch and scuff, they crack, flake, and peel off over time; they really become a maintenance nightmare.

A very common problem, which is extremely damaging when used on marble, is the use of tile and grout cleaners. Tile and grout cleaners are formulated to clean ceramic and porcelain tiles and the grout between them. Tile and grout cleaners can be alkaline but the majority of tile and grout cleaners are acidic and are more corrosive in attacking the marble surface. There are so many over the counter kitchen and bathroom cleaners, glass and solid surface cleaners; and many of these cleaners list marble as one of the surfaces they can be used on. In order for these cleaners to be effective, they are formulated with chemicals that are extremely high in alkalinity and because of their chemistry, can be quite damaging when used on marble.

Be aware; especially, in bathrooms and kitchens, that marble will be damaged by soaps and shampoos, perfumes and other toiletries, by food and beverage spills, most foods and beverages contain citric acid as a preservative. Be aware of grit, tracking in sand and dirt from outside and walking on it, acts as an abrasive and wears off the marbles’ high gloss finish over time. Be aware of house pets tracking in grit and urinating on marble. Be aware of trades people working near and around areas containing marble, many times these trades people are not cognizant of the damage their tools and materials can do to marble if they don’t spend time prepping and protecting their work area.

Some popular marble cleaning misconceptions we hear all the time are: what marble cleaner can be used to make the marble look new again or what marble cleaner will bring back that high gloss look the marble had on day one; what marble cleaner will remove the dull spots, the glass rings, the water spots; what marble cleaner will restore the original color the marble had on day one? Please note: there is no “marble cleaner” produced anywhere in the world that will repair or restore the aforementioned problems. A credible marble cleaner should be formulated as follows: be neutral on the PH scale, so it won’t have a negative effect on the marble’s gloss, color, or clarity; be able to break through surface deposits and disinfect, have a pleasant smell.

Understanding the cause and effect nuances of damaged marble facilitates the formulation of corrective measures (using what products and techniques) to restore, protect, and maintain marble to its day one appearance and condition. Typically, when marble is damaged (lost its shine and some color) we usually say the marble surface is etched. Degrees of marble etching can vary greatly. The surface of marble when etched, develops microscopic to tiny craters (holes) and to a lesser extent, the marble surface can develop slight fractures; also, etched marble yields color loss in varying degrees (due to the depth of damage).

New marble, having a high gloss (factory finish) inherently has the ability to reflect light and clear images (mirror finish). When analyzing etched marble, pay attention to loss of light reflectivity, loss of image clarity (distortion) loss of color, check surface texture (is the marble still smooth or has it become rough when you touch the marble surface with your finger tips). Be aware, that not all marble species display a 100% high gloss, mirror finish; the mineral makeup of the stone is the determining factor. Evaluating to what extent the marble surface is damaged helps in determining what corrective course of action to implement when restoring marble.

Since we understand that scratched or etched marble have surface openings which don’t reflect light or images, it is necessary to close these openings in the marble surface, and once closed, the marble surface can be polished to a high gloss finish. The simplest and quickest way to restore scratched and etched marble is to first hone or sand the marbles’ surface, starting with a more aggressive abrasive (approximately 150 grit) and progressively using finer and finer abrasives (220, 400, 600, and 800 grit sizes respectively). Please note: only deep scratches and deep etchings require a 150 grit abrasive as a starting point, start with a 220 grit abrasive for medium scratches and etchings to be followed with 400, 600, and 800 grit abrasives respectively. Once the honing or sanding process is completed, the openings are eliminated and the marble has a new surface; the next step, is a polishing process. Polishing marble will restore its gloss and color and using the correct marble polishing compound and polishing pad is critical because not all marble polishing compounds and pads are manufactured the same way. It usually takes two and sometimes three polishing attempts to restore the marble surface to its original gloss and color. Please note: fine marble scratches (they can not be felt by your finger nail) and medium to light marble etchings (partially dull, reflects some light and partial images, slight color loss) can be corrected most of the time, just by polishing two or sometimes three times with our Marble Gloss Restorer and Ultimate Polishing Pad, without having to hone or sand first.

In conclusion, for those of you who have damaged marble, not to worry. Your damaged marble can easily be restored (resurfaced and refinished) to a brand new condition (factory finish). For those of you who have marble that is newly installed, marble in excellent condition, or contemplating purchasing marble, proper maintenance is crucial: using a bona fide neutral cleaner and sealer is most important. We’ll have an article on marble, granite, and grout sealers in the very near future.

Remember to use common sense around your marble: use glass coasters when putting drinks on a marble surface, be sure to pick up (remove) quickly and clean with a neutral marble cleaner, food and beverage spills, dedicate a section of a kitchen marble counter top as a food preparation area and have this food prep area covered with “butcher block” or plexiglass for example, don’t cut anything on marble, don’t apply any type of cleaning abrasive on marble, don’t drag chairs, tables, other types of furniture on a marble floor, don’t drag or push cleaning buckets or dirty vacuum wheels across a marble floor, be careful that children’s toys don’t scratch or damage a marble surface. Have area rugs near entrance doors, near bathroom sinks, shower/tub and toilets, near kitchen sinks and the food prep area.

We will be writing articles a few times per month to help educate and inform relative to why granite, grout, and marble inherently are beautiful, problematic, and needy of proper maintenance. We welcome responses to our articles and will try to answer comments and questions in a timely fashion.