Few materials have the elegant durability of marble. A single marble accent, such as an end-table top or fireplace mantel can add class to a room, and larger areas such as countertops and floors become focal points of a home's design. Marble has a heavy, cool and simple-clean smoothness that's naturally beautiful, and its durability over time is remarkable -- unless it is marred by stains.
Despite its tough-looking surface, marble is actually porous and really soaks up liquids. Even when polished and smoothed into what looks to be an impenetrable shine, marble surfaces can be kind of like sponges for thick, thin, oily, watery and acidic stains of all kinds. And when stains get into marble, often it takes more than mere surface wiping to remove them.
As hard and austere as it is, marble needs some TLC to keep it from being mottled with food, drinks and kid stuff, but is there a way to clean it gently enough to keep the polished surface polished? We'll look at some specific kinds of stains and methods for cleaning them, next.
Ink and Paint
Liquids soak into marble really well, and a cool way to think about ink or dye and paint removal is that they can be soaked up in the reverse. Marble surfaces have pores, and similar to skin, a reaction pulling out -- for example a sponge or clay mask lifting out blackheads and impurities in facial skin -- is kind of what happens with marble stains.
Applying a layer of poultice, or a thick powder including a mixing agent called whiting and a low to medium concentration of hydrogen peroxide, will actually lift the stain from the marble. It may be best to leave the mixture to settle into the stain for 12 hours or more and even to cover it with plastic wrap to keep moisture seeping in before pulling up and sloughing off the stain pigments.
If the stain is still visible after treating, repeat this process until it lifts and rinse with warm water and gentle soap to remove any residue from the porous surface and edges.
Fruit juices may be good for the body, but the acidity can be tough on even the hardest of materials. Where the body has fluids to counteract the corrosive effects of acids, a natural material even as hard as marble just receives the acid without reacting against it.
A hydrogen peroxide and polishing powder combo -- similar to the poultice mentioned earlier -- might include a tin-oxide compound that works well for sucking up acidic stains, but with acids, the marble finish suffers a bit. While the chemical cleaning will likely work, once the stain is gone, you'll notice that the acid and acid-stain cleanup have dulled the surface of the marble.
Acid stain removal may require a secondary step called rebuffing, which will polish and re-shine the surface with just a little extra wetting, circling and smoothing with a cloth and fine powders or may require some fine drilling and sandpaper finishing for renewed shine.
Rust and Soot
Marble lends itself to decor in metal, and copper, silver and steel objects really complement its lines and smoothness. Some metals, however, also stain the polished surfaces and allow for oxidation and rust buildup. Early on, rust is easy to remove with a wire brush that can reach into crevices without being firm enough to damage polished surfaces. Set-in stains will need a poultice or other powder and chemical treatment, sometimes with a rust remover, to draw them out.
Black soot and fireplace buildup are similar in their dark, penetrating effects, but they can usually be removed with just a soap and water cleaning or gentle baking soda scrub followed with cloth rinsing or wet paste treatments set in overnight then rinsed and repeated.
Both of these stains may require some scraping to get at deeper discoloration, which would lead to some rebuffing or re-polishing too.
It would seem that a creamy, oily mixture would do a marble good, but ingredients in makeup, peanut butter, margarine, milks and creams can seep in and create dark stains. Lukewarm or warm water and concentrated ammonia can help remove the stains either on the first try or after a few applications.
If the ammonia and water mix doesn't do the trick, acetone, a solvent used in products such as nail polish remover, can help lift the stain and get into the craggy pore of marble. Pouring the acetone concentration into or onto the stain probably won't be effective, though. Making a paste and leaving it on the site for a day or two will likely yield the best results.
Coffee, Tea and Wine
Considered some of the "organic stains," wine, tea and coffee are dark-toned beverages leave a mark while keeping us happy and/or hydrated. They hydrate marble, too, though but only to the extent that the marble holds the memory of the drinks in its porous surface.
A pasty poultice applied and left on the marble works well, and hydrogen peroxide or hair bleach is effective as with other stains. Floors, counters and tables of marble are coveted because they look so good in just about any home, but using them can be a little intimidating if you're worried about cuts, stains or dulled finishes.
Fortunately, it's not hard to take care of marble without losing your marbles. So, err, shine on!
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- Hueston, Frediric M. "Removing Stains from Marble and Other Natural Stones." EuroTechMarble.com. 2010. (June 1, 2012) http://eurotechmarble.com/removingstains.htm
- Hueston, Frediric M. "Removing Yellow Discoloration from Marble." GSA.gov. Feb. 24, 2012. (June 1, 2012) http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/112906
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