The Shocking Truth About Marble Countertops – They’re Not As Scary As You Think

Marble is both timeless and totally on-trend, and many of you may be considering installing marble countertops in your kitchen. First of all, marble has some wonderful qualities. It is heat resistant, and you can definitely do an undermount sink with marble countertops. It’s an absolutely gorgeous natural stone with every slab being a piece of art. Marble has a patina that evolves over time and will last a lifetime – but it may not be the best if you are OCD or a perfectionist. Maybe you’ve heard the scary talk about why you SHOULDN’T use it. Let me talk you through this, ok?

Last night I attended a learning session at Daltile here in Nashville all about marble – specifically marble countertops. And I’ve got some news you can use about marble. The burning question is: should you or shouldn’t you do marble countertops in your kitchen?

check out Jeanne Oliver’s thoughts on her marble countertops here

Staining & Absorption

It’s true: marble is more porous than most granite and quartz products. BUT, different marbles (and granites, for that matter) have different absorption rates, and that’s something you should definitely look into. Absorption is the degree to which water will penetrate a stone, measured as a percentage of weight. The lower the absorbency, the lower the risk of stains. For example, Vermont’s Danby White has smaller pores than many other marbles, with only a .06% absorption rate. That’s lower than that of some of the more popular granites on the market. In fact, the one-and-only Martha Stewart loves Danby White and has it in three of her kitchens . . .

Martha Stewart and Vermont Danby white marble countertops in kitchenimage source

Other marbles with low absorption rates include Bianco Carrera, Thaddos, and Statuary.

statuary marble countertops and backsplash in white kitchenStatuary marble image source

If you choose a marble like that, spills that stain are not a big deal as long as you wipe them up fairly soon. It’s important to clean marble countertops with warm, soapy water only. No harsh chemicals, as they may etch the surface. Make sure to use a pH neutral stone cleaner or you may etch the surface. But what if you do stain your marble countertops? There are a number of poultice solutions that can be applied to draw out most stains. In the worst case scenarios, professional refinishing companies can assist in removing difficult stains.

The Finish You Choose

Etching, or dulling of the surface, is caused over time by acidic materials (such as lemon juice, alcohol, or tomato sauce) on the marble countertops. If it is not wiped up right away, the acid reacts and eats away at the calcium carbonate in the stone, creating permanent markings that look like dull, slightly darker spots or rings on the marble. Like I mentioned earlier, harsh cleaners can also etch the surface. How light hits the marble determines how noticeable the etching is. In some light, the scarring will not be evident at all, while certain lighting will reveal the dulled areas.

Polished marble is shiny and is more resistant to staining. Honed marble is matte and less resistant to staining. However, honed marble reduces the problem of etching (mainly, because it’s pre-etched). So it you want to reduce etching, choose HONED marble and be sure keep the surface properly sealed to reduce staining.

image source

Proper Sealing

Just because a marble countertop requires sealing, doesn’t mean that’s a huge maintenance issue. How often to seal? That depends on use and UV exposure, but typically 3-5 years. Click here for a sealer appropriate for marble.

I learned that the best way to test a countertop to see whether or not it’s sealed (or if it needs resealing) is to set a glass of ice water on its surface and wait a bit.  If water from condensation beads up on the marble’s surface when you pick up the glass from the counter, it’s sealed. If you pick up the glass and see a dark ring on the marble countertop, it definitely needs resealing.

Rather than simply relying on “the experts,” I decided to ask someone who actually knows what it’s like to live with marble countertops in the kitchen. So I checked in with a former client who I worked with several years ago when she remodeled her home. She is one of the few clients I’ve had that chose marble for their kitchen! Here’s what she had to say:

“I love my marble countertops for their timelessness.  I love to bake and so do my kids. I became enamored with old bakeries while traveling in Europe — they have beautiful old marble counters. Also, marble was considerably cheaper than granite when we were shopping for counters.

I had mine installed with the honed side up — very unusual as most people want the glossy side. Mine are etched and used in my very busy kitchen. I decided from the get-go I was not going to baby them.”

 Etched or not, you gotta admit they are still gorgeous:
If you are considering marble countertops, definitely do your homework and be honest with yourself about whether or not you can live with its beautiful imperfections!
You are more likely to maintain its newly-installed look by finding a marble that has a low absorption rate, choosing the right finish, wiping up spills quickly, avoiding harsh chemicals, and keeping it properly sealed.
If you want a look similar to marble with less hassle, there are many attractive and more-forgiving quartz options.

quartz tabletop in the beautiful Daltile showroom

Here I am in the Daltile showroom with a couple of my design besties, Amanda Carlson and Elizabeth Scruggs. Who says learning can’t be fun?

Kristie Barnett, Amanda Carlson, and Elizabeth Scruggs

And speaking of learning, if you are considering taking our next professional home staging course in June, there are only 4 spots left! I’d love to see you there:

expert psychological stager course by Kristie Barnett, The Decorologist

Quite by accident, I’m just realizing that the kitchen in the above photo is from another client’s former home with marble countertops, this time in the polished version. She loved them so much that she had them installed in her next home, as well.

If you have or have had marble countertops in your kitchen, please share your experience in the comments below!

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21 thoughts on “The Shocking Truth About Marble Countertops – They’re Not As Scary As You Think

  1. patti mccaleb says:

    I have creme marfal marble as the countertop in my powder room. It gets etched circles around the faucet handles – it is polished, not honed. Is there a way to restore the beauty of the marble?

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Lisa, thank you for the link about For the Love of a House’ experience with marble countertops – I think her insight is very helpful! I especially love what she said about how vendors/contractors will try to talk you out of it, even if they’ve never personally lived with it. My guess is they are afraid if you’re not happy with it, they will get all the complaints!

      Here’s that quote if anyone’s interested: “I have heard of so many stories of people who were talked out of marble by a salesperson. That’s unfortunate, but in my opinion, that was their own mistake. In building/renovating you must have a very clear vision of what you want your space to” feel” and “look” like because at every single turn some salesperson/contractor/carpenter/painter/plumber/etc… will try to talk you into their vision.”

  2. Judy says:

    We had marble countertops in our apartment when we lived abroad, in Turkey. I loved them so much that we bought a piece and shipped it home with our household goods to use atop an island. Marble is amazing for rolling out pastries and cookie dough. It takes a little bit of attention, but every surface does. You can’t set pots on Corian, and think of the staining that happened on Formica back in the day (my poor mother and our adventures with Kool Aid when we were kids…). My current kitchen had recently-installed granite when we moved in, and it’s fine, but it requires sealing and maintenance, too and for some reason, it isn’t as great for rolling out pastry. In the end, I honestly prefer the look of marble. To me, the benefits outweigh the small amount of extra care needed to keep marble looking nice. If we re-do this kitchen, I will replace the granite with marble.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Thank you so much for your input on this matter, Judy! You make a lot of great points, and I’m with you all the way. I am no baker, so I have to ask – what is it about marble that it better for rolling out dough than granite? Very curious about this!

      • Judy says:

        I don’t really know why. Granite is cold like marble, but my pie crusts don’t roll out as well for some reason. I wonder if it is something about the sealed finish of granite. The marble countertops we had were polished, but not sealed.

  3. ceil tarwater says:

    GREAT, & INFORMATIVE article on marble counter tops KB! Please write next on quartz and other counter top options.

  4. Dana Tucker says:

    So happy to see this post. I have helped many clients select countertops for their new kitchens and all have selected quartz. When it came time to select my own countertops, nothing but marble could give me the look and feel I wanted. I am sooooooooo happy with my marble.

  5. Kay says:

    I had honed Carrara marble countertops installed in my kitchen in 2013 and love them. I don’t baby them and don’t care about the etchings and other marks on them—patina in the making, I call it. They absorb oil, but after some time the oil stains disappear. I’ve never had a problem with red wine. The marble is perfect for rolling out pastry and croissant dough. And it looks gorgeous. I wouldn’t want any other surface.


    Such a chock full, professional blog post Kristie! I’ll save this to show my clients the inside scoop about Marble. I’ve only had one client go with marble, but she loves it and it looks fabulous after so many years!

  7. Carolyn Soltesz says:

    Love, love, love the look of marble and that will be my next countertop for sure. Working with the purchasing end of buying marble with clients though, the granite yards that also carry marble request the signature of many liability wavers and pretty much scare clients away from the purchase. Has anyone else experienced this when purchasing marble for countertops?

  8. patti mccaleb says:

    Thanks, Kristie, I will try that product you found on Amazon. As for rolling out dough on marble, I think the property that makes this such an ideal surface for bakers is the coldness of the stone itself.

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