Questions about marble countertops: color and color enhancer?

November 19, 2008

I find myself contemplating something I never expected to be: marble countertops. Actually, the marble we saw that we loved was an "empress green" or "empress jade" and we are interested in having it honed, not polished. (We started out thinking we wanted green soapstone.) I know from reading some of the threads here that sealing it is highly recommended for minimizing staining and etching but I am wondering if there is anything special about green marble that I should know...? I ask mostly because I have mostly only seen white variations mentioned here and wonder if there is any reason other than design considerations that cause colored marble to be avoided.

The second question I have has to do with color enhancing. One person suggested that might be a way to bring out the color more--seal it AND put a color enhancer on it. Since I trust all you GW'ers more than most salespeople, I am curious as to whether that is recommended and whether or not it is a food safe substance for a countertop.

Anything the marble lovers and stone experts can offer will be appreciated! Thanks.

Comments (24)

  • petra_granite

    I would do serious reading on the why you should be extremely careful with marble in your kitchen. So you have no surprises! I read as much as you are able to find on by using

    marble is not as durablue as other hard surfaces for kitchens. (great for powder & guest bathroom vanities) Marble is beautiful! May not always be what it appears to be or what it's called to be.

  • gailrolfe

    Petra, have you read the experience of people on GW? I have heard much of what you are saying from salespeople, particularly granite salespeople, but most people on this forum who have well-sealed marble are quite happy with it--recognizing of course that it does not have the same surface finish/impermeability as granite. But I have an old house and I feel that polished granite looks completely out of place and so am looking at some other alternatives. Thanks for the warning, though.

  • gailrolfe

    bump...hoping to catch some more attention tonight! PLEASE...?

  • lindawink

    I don't know a thing regarding green marble vs. regular white/grey. I do know that sealing does not protect against etching. The purpose of sealing is to significantly slow down the absorption of liquids that would stain. I think a honed finish vs. a polished one would help minimize etching. As far as an enhancer being food safe, I'd read what it says on the can. I've only heard of people using it on backsplashes. Are you able to get a sample? Putting a sample to some tests such as lemon juice, coffee, red wine, etc. on a sealed piece might give you a better idea of what you might expect in terms of the performance of the material you are considering.

  • gailrolfe

    Thanks lindawink. I do know that sealing does not protect against etching and will definitely get a sample to test...I was really just wondering if there were some problem that dark/colored marble might have that the more popular marbles do not have but the lack of response is telling me that probably not. I guess I may have to do as you say and go get a can of sealer at the store and read it...I've gotten spoiled I guess by the normal quick and thorough responses one gets on GW! :-) If as you say it is normally only used on backsplash, that may be because it is not food safe...I didn't know that so thanks for giving me that hint. If we can't use color enhancer on the countertop we may go back to green soapstone because without it the green marble is pretty gray when honed....darn.

  • bill_vincent

    gailrolfe-- just a quick note. Although there are many who don't have unreasonable expecations from marble countertops-- they see the minor staining and etching that occurs as "personality", or "patina"-- There are just as many stories that I've seen in person, as I'm sure petra has, of completely horrified homeowners who, once the stone has the smallest of etch marks or wine rings from the bottom of a bottle or glass, think that it's time to scrap the thousands of dollars worth of stone they just had installed in their home, get a lawyer, and go after the stone company that "hoodwinked" them. Up until a couple of years ago, I also used to warn people against getting marble countertops in here, and every time I did, I'd get people like you who knew what they were getting into, and tell me to calm down it's no big deal. For you, it's no big deal. But for someone else, it might be. I finally got to the point where I don't even bother with the warning any more. Petra's new here. He'll learn. :-)

  • ramses_2

    Green marble isn't actually marble. It's serpentine. It's far closer to granite than actual marble in regards to staining or etching. I've had my polished empress green counters for a few years now and can assure you that they've only been sealed the once and have stood up to a full range of interesting things spilt or poured on them. They don't stain or etch. If they scratch I don't know about it...nothing shows.

    I think honed empress would be lovely, I think I recall hearing that honing a stone makes it more prone to staining, but if you seal it you would probably be fine. I have semi honed rainforest green marble in my bathroom and don't believe we ever sealed stains or etches...or scratches.(rainforest isn't a serpentine but it's a fantastic performer)

  • kitchendetective

    Ramses--I was going to ask Gail to search for your serpentine counters and couldn't remember your name. So glad you're here! Serpentine is very cool stuff.

  • gailrolfe

    Thank you, bill, ramses and kitchendetective..and everyone! It's interesting that green "marble" is really serpentine. Several of the stones we've liked have been maybe we haven't really changed track all that much. I would love to see some pictures of your empress green, ramses, if you have any as it sounds like it's the same stone we are looking at. So encouraging to hear your experience with it. I guess I'll go learn more about color enhancer today and then see where we are.

    Thanks again, all!

  • ramses_2

    These are two VERY old pics. I have a brand new camera but can't find my cable to download.(I think son has it at college) I have to say I love, love, love my green marble and will...I swear...only ever use green marble as a counter surface for the rest of my life. I've had corian, formica and granite, and truly liked all of them but green empress is my hands down fav.

  • ramses_2

    Gail, I just noticed you had an old home, we have an 1840ish home that didn't feel right with polished granite...for us the choice came down to green/ honed white marble or soapstone. For us polished empress helped fit the new kitchen into an old greek revival.

    Waves at Kitchendetective!

  • gailrolfe

    Ramses, beautiful! That's just the look we're looking for. Your comments about old houses and the polished granite echo our surprised me that the first polished green marble I saw I actually considered as a possibility. Something about the polished marble was just less irritating to my eye than the polished didn't seem quite so "modern"...could that be because marble just seems more "aged"? But I"m leaning towards honed just because I think the etching may be a bit less obvious...though your comments about your experience are encouraging! Thanks for the photos.

  • trobs

    If you want a fool proof green, try Vermont Verde Cavendish from Vermont Quarries. It is harder than just about every granite out there. It is expensive but you cannot go wrong.

  • gailrolfe

    Trobs, we love Vermont Verde Cavendish (I think it's the same thing as Verde Antique from Vermont)and haven't ruled it out completely but we're in the LA area and no one here seems to have it in stock and the cost of shipping it from Vermont on top of the high'ish sf cost really adds up so we're spending a little effort to see if we can accomplish close to the same thing for a little less. But I agree that the Cavendish is really nice.

  • ramses_2

    Gail, I was nodding while reading your post...exactly...for whatever reason polished marble seems more appropriate for an older home than granite. Maybe it's because marble has been used forever on/in public buildings, threshholds, antique furniture and mantels?

    We were torn between honed and polished as we loved both looks, polished won out because it was much cheaper than honed.

    I've googled around and found repeated claims by the experts that green marbles that are serpentine do not etch. Here's a few:

    What is Marble?

    It is a natural stone formed from fossil sediment deposits, which have been placed under the earth's tremendous pressure for at least a few million years. The combination of the natural materials in these deposits, along with natural geologic events, produces unique veining with a richness of depth and intensity. Marble material is generally softer than granite, therefore scratching occurs more so on marble. This characteristic should be considered when making your stone selection. Generally, marble countertops are recommended for such places as: bathrooms, bar tops, fireplaces, etc; and granite countertops are generally utilized for kitchen countertops. Aside from our recommendations, if so desired, Marble can be used for any countertop.
    Marble is available in a multitude of colors from light to dark, and generally boasts beautiful flowing veins. This unequalled beauty makes marble a natural choice for countertops, bath vanities, wall and floor tiles or slabs, and tub and fireplace surrounds.
    Commercially, the term "marble" applies to any compact limestone that will take a polish, which includes most of the colored marbles, except some of the greens.

    Can I use a marble countertop for my kitchen?

    Marble countertops can be scratched more easily than harder stone such as granite. Marble is sometimes used in the kitchen as a pastry slab; its perfectly smooth, cool surface is ideal for rolling out dough and piecrusts. However keep in mind that the ideal material for the kitchen is granite. Marble pieces that have a honed finish will not etch because their surfaces start out with a matte finish.

    Because marble (and limestone) are calcium carbonate, the polished surface is more vulnerable to household acids including vinegar, mustard, ketchup, citrus and a host of other food-related products. These acidic substances cause a chemical reaction that will remove the polish.

    Does green marble countertop require special treatment?

    Some green stones, such as the "jades" from Taiwan, are not truly marble, but a different material called serpentinite. Serpentinites, or serpentines, as they are sometimes called, do not etch or react to acids the way limestone and marble do, and are somewhat harder. Green tiles of this family must always be installed with an epoxy adhesive to prevent the curling that can take place if a water-based setting material is used.

    And this:

    What is etching?
    Etching happens when acid in some form comes in contact with a polished marble or limestone surface. This causes a chemical reaction that removes the polish, or roughens the surface of honed stone. Green marbles, such as the "jades" from China are resistant to etching, and granite is impervious to any common household acids

    Hope this helps!

  • maydl

    We have honed Rojo Alicante marble on our island. We bought a sample tile and had it honed and had an enhancing sealer applied to be absolutely certain the result would be what we were hoping for.

    We are still VERY protective of our marble island. It is not a work surface, but more of a serving counter. We cover it when we have company and use it as a buffet. I know it's sort of self-defeating to cover its beauty, but all our friends have already seen it naked. We want to prevent etching, because it's a focal point in the center of the room, not a work surface around the perimeter. I don't think Rojo Alicante is the kind of marble that benefits from "patina".

  • gailrolfe

    Ramses, thanks so much for that research you passed along! I probably wouldn't have believed it based solely on reading it online but your experience seems to confirm it. Of course, we'll still do the sample testing but I am very encouraged. It seems more and more like a real possibility for us...and a choice we previously had not considered, i.e., that polished OR honed might work. It must be related to what you say: our eyes have seen marble on so many ancient things that the polishing just doesn't read quite as modern as it does on granite.

    Maydl, I have seen some samples of Rojo Alicante and it is a really dramatic stone. You are a dedicated caretaker as would break my heart to cover it up! But you're'll probably stay beautiful longer in your house than it would in mine. :-)

  • bill_vincent

    and granite is impervious to any common household acids

    Ramses, I was in complete agreement with you till that statement. Although that's right 90% of the time, you can't say that for ALL granites. I can't remember which ones react with food acids, but there ARE a couple.

  • ramses_2

    Maydl, I was just recently visiting a friend's home in Mexico and saw a stone that I fell in love with. My friend said it was Rojo Alicante. Unbelievably this stone was used like travertine outside and accent pieces inside and everywhere with no concern taken with it at, it was soooo gorgeous, even left to the elements. I don't know if it was the same stone but if it was me, I'd play with a sample to see what would happen. This stone looked amazing all honed and beaten up. Very elegant.

    Gail, definitely beat up a sample. H and I went into it thinking we could hone it later if need be. Years later and many run ins with polished green in bars, hotels and opera houses have convinced us that polished it will stay unless we decide we want a change.

  • ramses_2

    Bill, I hang my head in embarrassment for actually kinda knowing this but a lot of the 'granite' coming from India and China are very much like 'marble'. The gorgeous light colors...especially the blues are very delicate.(But not all blues) I was quoting from a google search but you're absolutely usual:) People think if they get granite they're home free...very often they've bought a headache. A stone that will stain and etch.

    I say this as a housewife who became so TKOed that she couldn't enter a mall, bank, opera house without instantly identifying the name/country of origin and hardness factor of any stone.(And bored all of my friends silly:) ) But people should ALWAYS research their choices.

  • bill_vincent

    became so TKOed that she couldn't enter a mall, bank, opera house without instantly identifying the name/country of origin and hardness factor of any stone.

    Welcome to my world. :-) As they say in show biz, it's a blessing.... AND a curse!

    Oh-- and you left one out-- checking for lippage. :-)

  • maydl

    Ramses_2, we have seen Rojo Alicante used for flooring in an indoor shopping mall in downtown Boston, and you're right, an all-over "scuffing" from thousands and thousands of people walking on it every day didn't seem to make the stone any less gorgeous--it just seemed to deepen the honed look and was a true patina of use.

    But when we were playing with our honed Rojo Alicante tile, we subjected it to kitchen stuff like mustard, ketchup, lemon juice, wine, coffee, and we found that these substances, sitting on the surface of the tile, seemed to develop gas bubbles. We left the stuff on the tile for several hours and when we washed it off, the bubble pattern was etched on the surface of the tile--plus the etching was BONE WHITE! Honestly, it looked awful, hence our desire to avoid it.

  • ramses_2

    "Oh-- and you left one out-- checking for lippage. :-)"

    Bill I'll never forget explaining to my tile guy what lippage was...the more he denied such a thing the more 'sorry buddy but BillV says' I became....and yes, it did come down to the thin dime on the floor test.

    I still remember you posting pics of a floor you had done with the sunlight spilling onto almost glasslike marble perfection to show a floor with no lippage. I may have drooled.

    Maydl, I'd avoid it as well then and just pamper the piece like crazy. It's such a beautiful stone, I'm sure it's like the jewelry or fine art that dresses up your space and makes it truly special.(I'd love to see pics)

  • maydl

    ramses_2: I just took "after" pictures this morning. It'll take a few days to "pretty" them up in Photoshop and then put them in some kind of order on Photobucket.

    So, "watch this space"! I'll put the pix in a thread titled something like Maydl's 99% Finished Kitchen.

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