What Is Etching on Marble and How Do You Prevent It?

Quartz Countertops in New York & ConnecticutNatural stone countertops like marble, granite, and quartzite are incredibly strong and resilient. They are, after all, stone. However, they’re not entirely immune to damage, and the risk of harm could depend on the type of stone you choose. 

Although marble is stunning, thanks to its uniquely luminous nature, it’s not quite as hard as granite or quartzite. While these types of stone rank at 6 to 7 and a solid 7 on the Mohs hardness scale, respectively, marble tends to fall somewhere between 3 and 5.

What does this mean? Marble is still stone, so it’s very strong — just not quite as strong as other stone types. It’s also more porous, which means it is slightly more susceptible to potential damage like cracks, chips, and stains, if not properly cleaned and maintained. It could also be subject to etching.

The good news is you can take precautions to keep your counters pristine when you understand the risks and take steps to avoid damage. What is etching, and what can you do to prevent it from marring your beautiful marble countertops?

What Is Etching on Marble?

Etching is sometimes confused with staining because both can change the look of your marble (and may be caused by similar substances). The difference lies in how the harm occurs.

Staining is the result of a dark substance penetrating the porous surface of the stone and discoloring the material. On the other hand, etching occurs when an acidic substance comes into contact with the stone and has a corrosive effect, eating away at the sealant and even the stone below.

Etching creates a spot that is distinct from surrounding areas (often dulled and lighter in color) and more susceptible to further damage, such as staining. While household items like coffee, wine, and citrus are common culprits of staining, they can also cause etching due to their acidic nature.

Countertops in Connecticut and New York

Light vs. Dark Marble

You might take one look at the Calacatta Gold marble in this beach-style New York kitchen and envision all of the stains that could occur in your busy household. In truth, stains are always a concern when you choose white countertops.

However, you should know that you won’t have precisely the same worry when it comes to etching. As it turns out, etching is more likely to create a lighter spot on the surface where it occurs.

So if you opt for a Nero Marquina marble, like in this traditional kitchen, you won’t necessarily have to worry about the appearance of stains, but you’ll certainly have an eyesore if etching occurs. To be clear, you’re not going to see a white spot appear; the area will just be slightly lighter in color.

You should also consider that etching and staining could result from a single substance, like coffee, in which case the darker staining would likely be more evident than the lighter etching. This is just something to think about when choosing the best counters for your home environment.

Polished vs. Honed Surfaces

When choosing a high-shine polished surface or a matte-honed surface, your main concern is likely cosmetic. However, you should know that the finish could impact risk factors for etching or staining.

Polishing reduces surface porosity, which helps to prevent staining but not necessarily etching. A polished Carrara marble is a great idea for a space where staining is more likely than etching, as in this transitional bathroom.

While honed surfaces aren’t exactly less susceptible to etching, they’re less likely to show the dulling that is a telltale sign of etching because they already feature a matte appearance. The honed Calacatta marble countertops in this beach-style kitchen are ideal if you’re a bit more concerned about etching than staining.

How to Prevent Etching

If you use a lot of acidic ingredients, like citrus, or your countertops are exposed to frequent spills (coffee, wine, pasta sauce, and so on), you’ll be glad to hear there are steps you can take to keep prevent etching and keep your counters looking like new.

Proper maintenance is essential, so you’ll want to seal marble regularly. This could mean resealing every six months or every two to three years. It will really depend on the use and abuse your surfaces suffer.

You’ll also want to avoid contact with acidic substances as much as possible. During food prep and dining, make sure to use cutting boards, placemats, and coasters to create a layer of separation, and wipe up any spills immediately.

Avoid acidic or abrasive cleansers that can dull the surface, erode the sealant, and damage your marble countertops. Cleaning with gentle soap and water is a good option, although you can also choose natural stone cleaner. This may even help to protect the sealant.

Reversing etching is no easy feat — you’ll need a professional to sand and refinish the surface where etching has occurred. Prevention is the best way to avoid the harm of etching.

The friendly and knowledgeable professionals at Academy Marble & Granite will help you choose the perfect marble for your home and your needs. Visit one of our showrooms in Connecticut or New York to get started today.