Are Marble Countertops Durable? (5 Things that Can Ruin Them)

Durable marble countertop

Marble offers an unrivaled aesthetic to any kitchen but is notorious for being high-maintenance.

But what about durability?

Marble Countertop Durability

Marble countertops can last for decades, but they’re softer and less resilient compared to other materials. They’re susceptible to staining, scratching, etching, dents, or even chipping without proper care.

Let’s go over the pitfalls you must watch out for with marble countertops and why marble remains a valid option despite those not-so-positive aspects. Let’s dig in!

5 Things that Ruin Marble Countertops

There’s a reason why marble isn’t considered a particularly durable material for countertops.

In fact, there are a few reasons, not just one.

Here are the five main factors that affect a marble countertop’s durability.

1. Porous Surfaces Are Prone to Staining

Compared to granite or quartz, most marble slabs are highly porous.

This aspect usually translates to staining in a relatively short period since any minor spill can fill up the pores and change the surface color.

For instance, pigmented drinks like juice and coffee can easily leave discolored spots on marble countertops with repeated exposure.

Yet, manufacturers try to combat that with sealing pours that cover up the majority of these surface pores.

The reason why there’s no universal porosity estimation for marble is that the sealer material differs.

On the other hand, honed marbles can be more susceptible to staining since they lack the glossy finish of polished countertops.

However, discoloration isn’t the only risk, either.

After some time, these pores filled with debris will attract bacterial growth that requires harsh cleaning agents to tackle.

These cleaning agents eat up the sealant more, putting you in a repetitive cycle of needing to deal with stains and re-seal.

2. Acids Etch Away the Calcium Carbonate in Marble

Another major form of damage that can happen to marble countertops is surface etching, which is the chemical equivalent of scratching.

It basically means that the calcium carbonate in the marble slab is eaten up by a solvent, usually highly acidic in nature.

If you go back to high-school chemistry classes, you’ll remember that carbonates react with acids to release salts and a carbon dioxide fizz.

Since acidity and alkalinity are relative concepts, there are a lot of possible agents to complete this reaction right at home.

Without digging deep into the technical jargon, the gist of it is that there are a lot of chemicals in your kitchen that can dull the finish on your marble countertop, including:

  • Muriatic acid,
  • Lemon (or any citrus) juice, and
  • Vinegar.

Usually, the etch will look a lot like how a mark from a wet cup looks on wood countertop, and it’s mostly there to stay.

To reduce its appearance, you can try and buff it out. However, regular sandpaper won’t cut it here.

Instead, you might need steel wool or diamond abrasives starting at 50-grit to remove the mark.

Then, you’ll need to pour in a sealer once again.

It’s important to note that the seal here has nothing to do with the etching.

It only protects the marble from staining, not chemical reactions with acids.

To cut the hassle out, some people opt to get honed marbles since the etching won’t be as visible on the already dull surface of the countertop.

Similarly, dolomitic slabs (marble with magnesium) can be slightly less prone to etching.

3. Polished Marbles Scratch Easily

Scratch-prone marble countertop

It doesn’t always take chemical reactions to ruin a marble countertop.

Sometimes, a simple mechanical impact can scratch the surface.

From a geological perspective, marble is just calcite, which ranks a three or a four on Mohs’ hardness scale.

That’s pretty low resistance to scratches compared to the quartz at a whopping seven.

So, while your fingernail (a two on the scale) won’t cause a dent in marble, something as simple as an iron nail (a five) or even a copper penny is potentially dangerous for your smooth countertop.

In a hectic kitchen setting, you can take only so many precautions to keep sharp knives and glass from scuffing your countertop.

That’s why many people will advise you to keep your durability expectations low with marble and prepare yourself for a few occasional scratches from time to time.

Polished slabs might show more scratches than the honed ones, but both need quick intervention to prevent more damage.

Once again, buffing and sealing are the way to go.

You might even need to do it annually, depending on how much abuse the countertop is subjected to.

4. Marble Countertops Can Chip at The Edges

Your marble countertop might seem like a chunky and hefty thing, but it’s actually a soft material compared to alternatives like granite.

So, aside from the scuffs and scratches with normal wear and tear, your countertop could chip if you take the abuse up a notch.

That includes throwing heavy pans and utensils on top or dropping the marble itself.

In most cases, the chipping starts at the edges and creeps in with cracks if you keep the pressure going.

While the slab will never go back to its minty state, it’s possible to repair these chips with marble cement and resin kits.

In fact, blending quartz with marble to create what people call “quartzite” can surgically reduce the durability of the quartz portion significantly.

5. Excessive Heat Damages the Marble Finish

Since the marble countertops are made to withstand kitchen abuse, they’ll handle moderate heat from a nearby oven or a hot pot on a trivet.

However, they’re not entirely resistant to heat damage.

For instance, a burning cigarette can be hot enough to leave a burn mark on many marble cuts.

Similarly, hair styling tools and hot trays out of the oven can all leave permanent markings on your countertops.

Yet, you can say the same for almost all countertop materials.

So, it’s better to be safe than sorry when putting hot items on your marble.

Just keep in mind that highly-porous slabs are more prone to heat deterioration.

What Makes Marble Countertops Appealing?

Although a lot could damage a precious (and expensive!) marble slab, it still remains a common option for many households. So, why is that?

1. Longevity

A cultured marble countertop that is well-cared for and re-sealed regularly can live for up to a whopping 20 years!

In fact, some people even appreciate the oxidation patina that the slab acquires over time.

Of course, this longevity is tied to a thorough maintenance routine.

Otherwise, the countertop loses its value in only a couple of years.

2. Aesthetic

Add the versatile patterns to the longevity, and you’ll see why many people opt for marble over granite despite the high maintenance.

From the gray-ish Carra to the gold-veined Calacatta, there are marbles to suit almost every taste.

3. Cleanliness

While marble is porous, the sealant cover usually reduces this porosity.

As a result, you get a decent level of microbial resistance from a slab of sealed marble.

Just keep in mind that the moment that this seal is compromised, the debris will accumulate.

Then, the countertop will turn into a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, and mold in no time!

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