Q&A: Why does marble etch?

A: Etching is the result of a chemical reaction between acid and the calcium carbonate found in marble (and also limestone and travertine).

Here is a picture of a sample of marble that has been etched by a lemon left on it for 5 and 10 minutes. You can see how quickly the chemical reaction takes place. It’s actually an immediate reaction that will continue to eat away at the calcium carbonate in the stone until the acid is removed.

Because acids are so prevalent in the kitchen – orange juice, lemons, alcohol, ketchup, tomato sauce, etc, many fabricators recommend against marble in the kitchen. Here at Stone Center, Inc., we feel that proper education will allow you to make an informed decision about what is best for your space and your family. So, today we tested the etching effects of lemons and red wine on a Carrara marble tile.

wine and lemon acids will etch marble

Marble is a beautiful stone with many different looks. The white colored marbles are becoming increasingly popular, so we chose a Carrara marble for these tests. It’s one that many customers are choosing for their kitchens and bathroom vanities. The tile we chose has both a honed and polished half, to compare the notability of the etching. We sealed the tile twice, just as we do with all of our counter installations. Then, we spilled red wine and placed an overturned lemon on the counter and left it to sit for a few minutes.

wine spill on carrara marble

We then wiped up the spills and looked at the results. As expected, both the lemon and wine etched the marble. Because we had sealed the marble, the red wine didn’t leave a stain.  You can see that while the etch marks are not as visible from straight above, they are distinctly visible from an angle. Also, the etching is less obvious in honed marble, which is why we strongly recommend choosing a honed finish for marble kitchen countertops if you do decide to go with marble. The reason for this is that a honed finish is more similar to an etched one, whereas the high gloss polished finish is drastically different from a dull, etched surface.

Etching on carrara marble tile etching on carrara marble tile from above

People often ask if there is anything we can do to prevent marble from etching. The answer, unfortunately, is no. Sealers will protect against stains as you can see with the red wine here (more about that in a future post), but they can’t prevent the chemical reaction from occurring. For more information on marble cleaning and sealing, check out this page.

Soon we will do a longer post about choosing marble counters for your kitchen. So stay tuned for that! In the meantime, please let us know if you have any questions, and feel free to stop by our showroom to see this etched Carrara marble sample in person!

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