Natural stone countertops are a beautiful investment for your home, though they do require a little bit more maintenance than other surfaces. Although we’ve talked a little bit about caring for your stone before, it’s also important to know about the most common ways chips, scratches and stains occur in first place in order to really understand how to prevent them. This is particularly important for your kitchen countertops, as they tend to experience the highest traffic and are exposed to more potentially damage-causing substances than other surfaces in your home. But, fear not! Keeping your stone in tip-top shape is easy once you know what to look out for. Let’s check out some of the most common ways your stone can get banged up by everyday use.
Strong as stone
Stone can be an incredibly strong and durable material, but as a natural substance it isn’t infallible and can be damaged when exposed to certain substances. This is because of the mineral composition of stone and also the fact that it’s a porous substance and can, therefore, absorb moisture, dirt and other particles, which can cause damage over time. Although granite is one of the toughest stones on the planet, it can still weaken and break if the pores absorb too much moisture and debris. Softer stones, particularly those made of calcium such as marble or limestone, are more prone to scratching and degradation when exposed to acidic solutions. It’s also important to remember that although stone is a strong material, it’s not flexible and can break easily if it is bearing a heavy load while unsupported. This is particularly true for stone countertops, which are long, relatively thin slabs of material. If not supported properly, a heavy load placed in the middle of the countertop can crack or fully break the stone, which can be costly to repair.
Cuts and Scrapes
Cuts and scrapes are the most common kinds of damage you’ll face with a stone countertop. Often, this is due to knives or other sharp instruments being used directly on the surface. For softer stones, the knife will leave a mark that will need to be buffed out and/or re-sealed. If you’re cutting an acidic or highly-pigmented food such as a tomato or lemon directly on a marble or limestone countertop, the damage will be more severe as the food will then penetrate into the stone surface and into the cut. Ultimately, this will cause both a stain on the countertop and an etch, which is a noticeably dull spot where the acid has begun eating away at the stone. Again, these can be fixed buy buffing out the scratch and re-sealing the area, but it’s best to always use a cutting board on top of your stone countertop to prevent the damage in the first place.
Granite is somewhat of an exception to the above. Because it’s such a hard stone, a common household knife — even a very sharp one — shouldn’t scratch it. However, cutting directly on granite will actually dull your knives very quickly because the surface is so much harder than the knife itself. So, make sure your use a cutting board even on granite so as to not damage your nice chef’s knife!
Scratches can also occur when moving around pots and pans on the countertop, so it’s important to always use a cork or fabric-backed trivet. The issue isn’t the pot or pan itself — it’s the fact that dirt or food debris can sometimes be stuck to the undersides, which can scratch the countertop when moved around. Trivets are also handy to use when placing a hot pot onto a stone countertop. Although most stones shouldn’t break or crack due to thermal shock, it’s still possible and better not to tempt fate! It’s also important to note that hot pots won’t warp or discolor natural stone, but they can damage quartz countertops. This is due to the resins used to bind the quartz chips together, which are more susceptible to heat-induced damage. So, get yourself a few nice trivets and make sure you use them!
Finally, remember to only use a soft cloth or sponge when cleaning your countertop. Steel wool or tough scrubbers will definitely scratch your stone, as can gritty cleaners designed to scour tubs. When in doubt, remember to be gentle. Even a stone that has been recently re-sealed can still be scratched!
Stains are another common issue for natural stone countertops. As we mentioned above, acidic and heavily-pigmented foods and beverages are usually the culprits: we’re talking about red wine, carrots, beets, strawberries, tomatoes and citrus fruits. So, it’s best to always get in the habit of using a cutting board while cooking and to sop up spills as quickly as possible after they happen. Because natural stone is porous, stains can easily penetrate deeply into the stone and be more difficult to remove if left to linger. At that point the stain may be too deep you may not be able to sand it away, and the last thing you want is a permanent red wine-ring on your beautiful white marble countertop! That’s also why you should get into the habit of using coasters under all drinks. Even the condensation from a water glass can seep into a stone and cause a permanent moisture ring, so do be careful!
Stains can also be caused by using the wrong cleaner on your stone. Glass cleaners, de-greasers, and acidic cleaners (vinegar, ammonia and lemon juice, in particular) will all either stain, etch, or otherwise damage your stone. Use only a mild soap and water on a soft cloth or sponge, or better yet use a cleaner specially designed for natural stone.
Finally, keep an eye on your metal appliances. Rust can stain and discolor natural stone, so make sure to frequently check the bottoms of metal kettles, pots, pans, coffee makers, and other common kitchen containers or gadgets and remove any rust spots that may be forming.
Cracks and Chips
Most chips and cracks occur when something heavy, like a cast iron pot, is dropped onto the countertop. This frequently happens by complete accident — a heavy pot just slips out of your hand and whoops, there’s a chip! However, you should also think twice about plopping down any heavy, solid objects onto your stone countertop. Better to place them gently onto the surface or place them on the floor, if possible, to reduce strain on your countertop or accidental damage. If a chip does occur, we’ve outlined an easy way to DIY the repair. Larger chips and cracks may be harder to tackle at home, so we recommend calling in an expert in those circumstances. Having a damaged countertop is heartbreaking, but bungling the repair is even worse!
Natural stone is a wonderful durable material, but it isn’t infallible. Knowing the common ways your stone countertop can be damaged is the best way to understand how you can prevent the damage in the first place. Coasters, cutting boards, and trivets are all quite inexpensive, so it’s good to make sure you have a healthy stock of all of them on hand. They’ll protect the health of your countertop for years to come, along with regularly re-sealing the surface. Trust us, the maintenance is quick and easy and worth it in the long run when your countertop looks just as beautiful 50 years from now as it does today!