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11 April 2008

Marble Counters in Kitchens

A lot of people in the US have stayed away from marble in the kitchen due to various misconceptions. However in Europe, marble is used in kitchens quite extensively. Marble counters may require a little bit more care than granite counters. One of the advantages of marble though is its softer and warmer appearance than granite. The main thing to note is that when marble is used in the kitchen it should be leathered or honed rather than polished (the reason for this is discussed near the end of this post).

One misconception is that marble will stain easier than granite. This is not entirely true across the board. The two main factors that affect the likely hood of staining a particular stone are 1) the surface finish (i.e. polished, leathered, honed, etc.), and 2) the underlying porosity of the stone, sometimes expressed as density.

First lets talk about the underlying porosity of stones in general. As a general rule lighter colored stones tend to be more porous than darker colored stones. Most igneous stones (true granites, basalts and gabbro stones) will have a low porosity, however lava rock (or volcanic rock) found on the surface is quite porous. Sedimentary stones (limestones, sandstones, and travertines) on the other hand are likely to have the high porosity. Metamorphic stones (gneisses, marbles, schists, slates) are somewhere in between and vary according to the degree (or stage) of metamorphism. Most stones know commercially as granites are really gneisses. To wrap up a dark colored marble (like Hulien Jade) is likely less porous than a light colored gneiss (say a Madura Gold or Shivakash). On the other hand a light colored marble (Colorado Yule or White Carrara) is more prone to staining than say Absolute Black.

Surface finishes also play an important role in the ability of stone to repel stains. A polished surface acts as barrier (although not an impenetrable one). This is largely due to the “closing” of pores in the surface layer of the stone during the polishing process (with the use of successively finer grits). A honed surface while being more “closed” than a rough sawn surface is not as “closed” as a polished surface. A leathered surface is somewhere in between a hone and a polished in how “closed” the pores are.

The biggest issue with using marble is that the surface can be etched by acids (orange juice, vinegar, etc). This is very obvious on polished surfaces and requires a specialist to come in and re-finish the tops on-site. On a honed or leathered surface etching is less noticeable and can be refinished by the homeowner with the use of the appropriate scotch-brite pad. Also etching is more noticeable on a darker colored stone than on a lighter colored stone. Due to the issue of etching it is recommended that all marbles be either leathered or honed for use in a kitchen.

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