The Pros and Cons of Marble Countertops

Save some extra in your kitchen renovations budget to splash out on high-end countertops -- maybe marble -- that will upgrade the appearance of the entire room.

If marble was good enough for Michelangelo, it ought to be good enough for your kitchen counters, right? Not so fast. Marble is gorgeous, sculptural and upscale-looking -- it has many ideal qualities for kitchen counters. But there are some concerns to be aware of before you make the big commitment.

Why Marble Works in the Kitchen

White marble, the most popular choice for marble kitchen counters, brings a lot of light into the room and goes with almost any kitchen decor.

You can, however, find marble in a rainbow of colors to match your decor: creams, whites, pinks, grays, greens, blues, reds, browns, purples, tans, blacks and golds. No two pieces of stone are exactly alike.

Marble is cheaper than granite, quartzite and many other natural countertops, cleans easily and ages gracefully. With the proper care, marble will outlast the kitchen; it's a long-term investment that will be functional and beautiful for generations. Marble style is classic and enduring. Marble stays cool so it's the ideal surface for rolling out pastry or kneading bread.

What's Not to Like

Marble is a porous stone, not as open as limestone or soapstone but nowhere near as hard and dense as granite. That means it stains when you spill red wine or oil on it, so all spills should be mopped up immediately. Citrus juice and anything acidic can "etch" marble, creating a cloudy mark on the surface or even eating into the stone, although that is an extreme occurrence.

Lighter marble hides etching better than dark marble colors. Marble has a low abrasion rating, meaning it scratches more easily than harder stone -- you must use a cutting board. Marble is heat resistant but not heat-proof. Don't put hot things -- a pot off the stove or a pan out of the oven -- on it and leave them there.

TLC for Marble Counters

Take care of your marble countertops and they will mellow handsomely, showing both evidence of use and the enduring beauty of polished, well-tended stone.

  • Protect them with regular food-safe resealing
  • Polish them when the shine dulls. 
  • Mop up spills when they happen. 
  • Clean with a mild detergent -- dilute dish soap and water -- and a good rinse. 
  • Avoid abrasive cleaners entirely. 
  • Use hot plates and trivets for baking pans and hot pots. 

Finishing Touches

Pick the finish that best matches the level of performance you expect from your countertops:

  • Honed marble has a matte finish -- not too dull but not super-shiny. It won't show scratches and other wear as readily, but honing the surface does change the marble. The sanding creates a smooth-to-the-touch surface but opens the stone's pores so staining is more of an issue. Explore a penetrating sealer to make maintenance easier. 
  • Polished marble is buffed to shiny sleekness, with very slick, very visible veining. The technique shows off the marble's character and doesn't leave the stone as porous as honing but does make it more likely to etch. Watch the lemon juice. 
  • Leather finish, used mostly for darker colors, creates a textured leather-like surface on honed marble. It isn't reflective so it won't show smudges or imperfections in the stone as quickly as polished marble.