How to Maintain Marble
Updated: Feb 28, 2022
Marble and stone are highly durable, but after a little time you’ll be asking yourself how to maintain marble. Here’s your primer on marble care.
You may have chosen marble or stone for its style and high perceived value, but its lasting beauty is only as good as its maintenance! Whether you have marble or natural stone in your home or commercial building—maybe luxurious marble showers and vanities, glossy flooring in a lobby or foyer, or exquisite kitchen countertops—you’ll soon discover they require upkeep.
In this article, we’re going to look at four of the most common marble-installation situations:
Marble lobby floor maintenance in NYC (and beyond)
Marble countertops and vanity top maintenance
Exterior marble patio maintenance
Marble shower maintenance
MAIN CHALLENGES WITH MARBLE MAINTENANCE
Throughout the years working in the premium stone repair industry, we have discovered many frustrations that property owners have with their new or existing stone materials. Among the most serious are cracks, discoloration, and mold. These are normal, but preventable!
Unfortunately, suppliers and manufacturers typically don’t have a natural source for support or customer care to refer to their end consumers. Property owners are left to their own research on how to maintain marble, or possibly the generalized advice of individual stone artisans, which includes:
marble refinishing or possibly surface marble restoration
baking soda and/or other citrus mixtures for cleaning marble, etc.
The trouble is, while these will help in certain situations, none of them will protect your marble once it’s in place and in use.
Not one of these sources of stone care will resolve the most difficult challenges without involving physical reconstruction or replacement. Surface refinishing and sealers are really only effective as short-term cosmetic or aesthetic appearance fixes. Let’s look at solutions for each of the four main stone and marble applications.
Situation 1: MARBLE LOBBY FLOOR MAINTENANCE IN NYC & BEYOND
While this example discusses a high-traffic location, even residential customers can learn from it.
Walk into most any NYC building and observe the marble floor lobby. You’ll see missing grout, broken pieces, loose materials—yet the surface glows like a mirror! They’re achieving this result either by chemical crystallization or waxing the surface as a form of routine maintenance.
Yet it’s often because of this attention to short-term beauty vs long-term preservation that the clock starts ticking to the need for a full and costly replacement!
The problems associated with marble and stone floors (or almost any application) are the same—it’s primarily the speed of deterioration which is different. With the right care these surfaces can be durable, yes, but they’re affected by:
subtle material damages caused by slight structural settling movements,
water and the many minute particles in it,
the wrong cleaning solutions,
lack of proper preventive repairs and protection.
From our experience, the marble building materials in lobbies have been neglected from the most critical repairs and maintenance, which will preserve the integrity of the entire flooring; in the end, the only alternative is to have those premium materials replaced.
Here’s a sample of finished crystallized polished lobby marble floor and an example of grout joints never adequately repaired, as no one stabilizes the loose moving tiles, causing the grout to keep breaking. With time, those materials become detached from the original setting mud or underlayment.
When it comes to flooring, how can marble be maintained?
We recommend securing the materials by injecting flowing epoxy to stabilize the loose and broken tiles or panels, and by performing proper crack and grout repairs. It's vital not to ignore broken tiles, damaged or missing grout joints, as the damage will continue with heavy commercial rolling delivery carts and foot traffic.
Proper preventive repairs will retain the integrity of the marble floor that will preserve those materials original to the building.
Compared to the standard surface repair and restoration, the polished or glossy finish will not protect or preserve the floor, and depending on the methods used, it can even cause more harm than good to the marble!
How? The systematic surface maintenance methods of crystallization or waxing on marble floors in the short- or long-term can cause the materials to spall (break into tiny pieces) the surface; it can also create yellow stains on light-colored marble. (See our marble solutions here.)
What’s different with residential marble floor maintenance?
The main difference is that the structural movement in a house (typically constructed mainly with wood), is far more evident than in high-rise built of steel or concrete. With a new home or remodel, it is almost inevitable that the floors will develop hairline cracks or fissures on grout joints as the floor settles in place.
Without proper maintenance, the tiles will continue to shift or become loose, developing cracks and stains as impurities become trapped.
What to do? Your marble installer is not an expert in repairs. We know installers do fantastic work, but the structure settling after installing the marble is beyond their control.
Once more, you will be on your own to contact the marble installer, grout or tile repair, or restoration company for solutions. Common recommendations such as sealing the grout, replacing broken or loose tiles, or patching the grout are only temporary solutions and will not prevent future deterioration.
In this example, our TERSO MR® team stepped in to help our friend—the marble installation artisan—and complete the repairs for him. We bonded the new tiles with premium flowing epoxy to fit in the same position as the traditional thin-set, requiring grinding off some of the existing thin-set.
Our recommendation to property owners: invest in retaining the integrity of your marble materials and worry less about the unnecessary glossy, polished finish, which can be restored any time in the future. See our marble solutions here.
Situation 2: MARBLE COUNTERTOPS AND VANITY TOP MAINTENANCE
When it comes to marble countertops, most homeowners are more concerned with the aesthetic appearance of the surface: the glossy or polished finish. They tend to be less aware of how critical it is to take care of the fine cracks—often in and around joints—that happen due to natural settling, and/or areas that develop stains (which signal water infiltration).
It’s vital that you protect the integrity of your stone surfaces once the materials have settled in place by repairing sealants around the sink. Similarly, you must properly repair broken seams where water and impurities will infiltrate and can cause irreversible damage.
We receive calls from homeowners requesting to have their marble countertops cleaned and sealed in hopes that the service alone will restore the finish. The trouble is, regular marble impregnating sealers do not restore or improve the finish of your marble.
Once your marble has surface wear, such as etch marks, ring marks from any citrus spill, scratches, hard water minerals, etc., your marble will need to be refurbished using the same original methods employed at the factory before sealer application.
To be clear, it’s not that we are against sealers; it’s that impregnating sealers will be more effective when the stone materials do not have open gaps where debris and moisture will infiltrate and create other reactions!
NOTE: Impregnating sealers do not have to be applied every six months or so, as some stone experts recommend. Our time-tested sealers are often used on marble countertops every 3-4 years, depending on the homeowner's lifestyle.
Also, if your marble has already been stained with oils, rust or organic stains, removing such stains is a whole other process. Pouring sealers and surface waxes on marble will not protect the materials, and there will always be surface wear and tear, which can always be restored to its original conditions.
Situation 3: EXTERIOR MARBLE PATIO MAINTENANCE
Wet-laid marble patios will need preventative repairs to ensure the marble stays in place and retain its integrity. Based on our experience, the first two years are critical! It's within those two years that the stone settles in place.
It is vital not to ignore broken or missing grout on water-exposed marble. Any cracks and fissures on grout need immediate repairs to prevent ongoing water infiltration that leads to cement base decay, loose tiles, discoloration, calcium buildup, etc.
In performing exterior marble patio grout repairs over the years, we’ve found the following three-step protocol for how to maintain marble has the highest success rate for achieving durable grout repairs, yet find they are rarely performed in the industry:
Remove damaged grout from corner to corner.
While the grout joint is open, apply a premium epoxy to stabilize the tile movement, preventing the new grout from cracking again.
Locate the exact original brand and color grout and pack it in (The new grout can look different but will age the same)
Maintain the surface every year or, depending on the surrounding environment, routine yearly surface maintenance of purify and sealer to prevent any surface organic matter building up.
We do not recommend power washing or using harsh acidic chemicals for outdoor marble patio surface maintenance.
Outdoor marble, stone, or porcelain exposed to the elements can only be managed with proper repairs and maintenance to keep the beauty of your patios for the long term. Preventive repairs and maintenance are the best investment.
Situation 4: MARBLE & STONE SHOWER MAINTENANCE
Showers tiles are not water-resistant, thanks to the grout and many structural parts in a building that are prone to shifting. Untreated, the resulting tiny fissures will lead to water and impurities sipping under the tiles.
Don’t blame the tile or your marble installers!
Water infiltration is a problem all the manufacturers of tile underlayment, tile adhesives, thin stone sets, etc., are trying hard to resolve in showers, but are not yet successful.
Moreover, the stone materials either have nothing to do with water infiltration or with porcelain tiles. (Though in porcelain tiles, the problem is not as noticeable.) Noticeable or not, if nothing is done about the water that infiltrates, damage will occur to the underlayment, and subsequently damage the marble or tile that sits on top.
What we can a Waterlogged Shower™ happens when water becomes stagnant underneath marble, stone, or porcelain. This causes the material to loosen, crack, stain, discolor, and even leak outside the protective shower liner. Often homeowners who have this experience will get the advice to rip out the whole shower and start again.
But that’s not always necessary.
After working with numerous marble installation artisans, we know that untreated showers start to get water infiltration from the moment you start using them, through micro-fissures, which later develop into cracks, then loose tiles, and more. The damage becomes increasingly evident within the first two years of construction.
Within these two years, you will need proper repairs to stop the water infiltration.
How to maintain marble in your shower—the most effective steps
We’ve had excellent success with this three-phase approach to keeping your marble showers in excellent condition:
Evaluate the scope of the problem to identify where the source of movement originates,
Thoroughly dry any wet areas and repair cracks using appropriate epoxy injections.
Preserve your showers by maintaining them with surface purification and sealer application every two years. Only at this stage will sealing your natural stone tile shower have the desired effectiveness.
The result: lifetime durability for your stone and marble showers.
For those who want to avoid costly shower or bathroom reconstruction down the road, our advice is simply to keep up with other minor but essential details such as:
Grout and/or joint inspection, to ensure no additional structural movement has occurred and no water infiltration occurs through any grout fissures
Replace shower glass door sweeps when they show wear
Replace shower glass plastic seal strips and gaskets
Seal the shower escutcheon plate or fixtures
Check for gaps around the shower floor drain perimeter
In the picture below, you will find an example of a new shower, water-resistant at all joints; it will only require surface maintenance every two years.