Don’t call it a comeback, marble’s been here for years. But in the last decade, marble has become more popular than ever, especially in bathrooms and kitchens. But… how good of an idea is that? In this week’s mini lesson, we’ll look at the pros and cons of using marble in our new homes, and the difference between 2 of the most widely requested types of marble:
Calacutta and Cararra marble.
Before we get into that, let’s go over a couple of Pro Terms: Topical sealers and Impregnators.
-Topical Sealers are coatings designed to protect the surface of the stone against water, oil, and other contaminants. They are formulated from natural wax, acrylic, and other plastic compounds. Topical sealers are not ideal because when it’s time to reseal the stone, the sealer on the stone must be stripped before reapplication.
Impregnators are water- or solvent-based solutions that penetrate below the surface of the stone. Impregnators repel water and oily substances. And although they keep contaminants out, impregnators are “breathable,” meaning they allow any moisture that gets into the stone to escape.
For marble or any natural stone, you ideally want an impregnator, as long as the stone you choose is compatible with an impregnator.
Moving on to the mini lesson...
It’s becoming more and more difficult to find quality marble because, if you think about it, it’s a finite material that been used for centuries. There are hundreds of types of marble that vary in their veining and coloration. But most good quality marble has a fairly consistent color palette and veining pattern. For some homeowners, nothing but real marble will do. Here’s why.
Let’s talk about the pros of marble.
Pros of Marble
1. Classic and beautiful. Marble is a classic surface that adds timeless beauty and elegance to almost any space. It works in traditional and contemporary homes, and everything in between.
2. Easy to work with. Marble is easy for installers to cut, shape and apply to different surfaces.
3. It’s familiar. Marble is used often and has been around for a very long time. So most experienced installers are very familiar with it. But just in case they aren’t, always specify that you want your marble, or any natural stone, installed according to the current specifications of the Tile Counsel of North America.
4. Heat resistant. Because marble is heat resistant, it’s great for avid cooks, and especially bakers. It’s cool, smooth surface is ideal for rolling out dough. But beware: despite its ability to withstand high temperatures, you never want to place a piping hot pot on marble (or any natural stone) because of the risk of discoloring or burning the surface.
Cons of Marble
1. Soft. Marble is a soft stone that’s very absorbent. It is easily stained, scratched, chipped and etched. Etch marks are dull spots from acidic or chemical corrosion. Kinda like a chemical burn. Since an etch mark is clear or whitish in color, it’s sometimes erroneously called a "water stain.”
Marble can be etched by acidic products, such as lemon juice, cleaning products, wine and certain toiletries. And on the forums I’ve read comments from homeowners with marble in their homes who said that marble can sometimes etch or stain, even if it’s sealed. They say that even toothpaste and soap have etched marble. This a good reason not to put marble in a child’s bathroom.
If you plan to use marble on a floor, because it’s soft, eventually you’ll see signs of wear from foot traffic. In addition, beware that using this soft, porous stone on the floor near a toilet. That’s because if you have boys or men in your family who, how can I say this, who sometimes "miss the mark", any urine that lands on the floor can be absorbed by the marble and there is a risk that the marble will hold the smell of urine. YIKES!
2. Potential future discoloration. Because marble contains minerals, there's always the risk that its iron content will rust or discolor in a wet environment like the bathroom or kitchen. Marble can also be discolored by efflorescence, a mineral salt residue left on the surface of the stone when water evaporates.
Your brand new marble shower may look pristine when initially installed, but there’s a chance the iron buried deep in the marble might cause future, patchy, discoloration from humidity and moisture. It’s thought that more veining in the marble indicates a higher iron content, causing more discoloration as compared to marble with less veining.
To help you select a marble that is less likely to discolor, test a sample with a soak test. For the soak test, put a tile you're considering into a bucket of water for two days. Take it out and let it sit for two more days. Then look carefully for any discoloration that may have developed.
Now, to be fair, Some people like the stains, scratches, discoloration and etching that can happen to marble over time. They think of the imperfections of patinated marble as character.
3. Maintenance. Most marble should be sealed on a regular basis. How regular? Well, that depends the distributors recommendations. But the color and finishing of the marble you choose, and how often the marble gets wet and potentially stained will determine the frequency of sealing.
Every 3 months to a year with an impregnator sealant is a common recommendation. The lighter in color the marble, and the more contact it has with water and/or products that will potentially stain or etch it, the more often you should seal your marble. Now, keep in mind, a sealer won’t protect your marble completely, but it will buy you some time to wipe off products that might stain or etch your marble.
You can seal your marble countertop immediately after installation since the underside of the countertop is open and exposed and any moisture can evaporate from the stone. But wait 3 weeks after installation of marble tile before you apply the marble sealer. This is to let all moisture evaporate from the newly installed tile and grout, so that moisture won’t be trapped inside tile.
For more in depth instruction on the maintenance of your marble, take a look at this PDF from the natural stone institute called the “Guide to the care and cleaning of natural stone.”
4. Not sustainable. As I alluded to in the introduction, there is a limited amount of marble in the world. Obtaining the marble from the quarry and transporting all over the world can contribute to a big carbon footprint, which isn’t good for the environment.
Alright, those were the pros and cons of marble. Now let’s talk about the differences between Carrara and Calacatta marble, 2 of the most requested types of marble on the market.
Carrara VS Calacatta (surprisingly, that's the correct spelling)
Many people mix up these two varieties because both Calacatta and Carrara are classic favorites. Sometimes their names are incorrectly used interchangeably because they are both white with gray veining. To make things even more confusing, a lot of Calacatta marble comes from Carrara, Italy.
In general, Carrara tends to be grayer with softer, skinnier veining. Calacatta is whiter with bolder, thicker veining.
You see more Carrara in older buildings and houses. Calacatta has gained popularity with homeowners over the last decade. Calacatta is rarer than Carrara and Calacatta is considered a luxury stone, costing at least 4 times more than Carrara marble.
Calacatta Gold is is a variation of Calacatta with gold mixed in.
If you’re someone who wants the marble to look the way it did the day you bought it, if you or your family members are NOT diligent in wiping up spills pretty quickly, if you don’t have the time or interest in sealing your surfaces every few months to a year, a natural marble product is probably not for you, especially light colored marble.
Instead consider porcelain tile, porcelain slabs, man made quartz or a more resilient natural stone like quartzite. Or limit light marble to backsplashes and walls since they are less easily stained and worn. Maybe combine a marble backsplash with a solid colored quartz or porcelain slab countertop.
If you still have your heart set on marble, even after hearing all the cons, here are a few tips for you.
1. Look for good quality marble, preferably from Italy, Greece or Spain. I’ve read on Houzz that the closer to Italy, Spain or Greece the marble is sourced, the better it will hold up in a wet environment
2. Seal your marble regularly, wipe down countertops after each use and clean marble floors often.
3. Look for cleaning products for marble that have a sealer included. Use this cleaner/sealer combo once in a while in high-use areas as a spot treatment.
4. Consider polished vs. honed marble. A polished marble, or any polished stone for that matter, is more resistant to stains and less absorbent. Some professionals say polished stone doesn’t even need sealing. In fact, the sealer itself may not absorb.
One test you can do to see if a sealer could be needed, is to let some plain water sit on a stone sample for a several minutes and see if the stone darkens. If it darkens, that means water was absorbed and a sealer is probably needed. Ultimately you’ll want to follow the sealing recommendations of the stone distributor or installer.
5. When considering any stone tile, ask for at least 3 samples of the current lot to see the shade variation.
6. Consider Arabescato marble, instead of expensive Calacatta. Arabescato is a decent quality marble with a fairly bright white background and thicker veining than carrara, although no quite as thick and bold as Calacatta. And it’s way more budget friendly as compared to Calacatta.
7. Check out three websites to find sources of quality marble.
-The Marble Institute of America
-The National Tile Contractors Assoc
-The Terrazo and Tile & Marble Association of Canada
Choosing marble for your home is neither right or wrong. You have to decide what is best for you, but, as with everything, I want you to make an informed decision. Before we finish up, let’s do a couple of quiz questions to test and review some of the key points.
1. True or False. Impregnators are sealers that penetrate below the surface of the stone. Impregnators repel water and oily substances. They keep contaminants out, but are “breathable,” meaning they allow any moisture that gets into the stone to escape.
That’s true. Impregnators are the type of sealers we want, not topical sealers, which only sit on the top of the stone and need to be stripped off before it’s reapplied.
2. Which marble am I descibing, Calacatta or Carrara?
Marble with a whiter background with bolder, thicker veining and a more expensive price tag
That’s Calacatta. Remember, if you like the look of Calacatta, but want to spend less money than required for Calacatta, take a look at Arabescato marble, which doesn’t exactly like Calacatta, but it looks somewhat similar and is much less expensive.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it’s subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.
That's all I have for you this week. I hope you learned as much as I did. Thanks for stopping by.