Countertop Etching, Can it Be Repaired?

What do marble, granite, and quartz all have in common? They are beautiful stones that when used as a countertop can be functional as well as gorgeous. We often select our kitchen countertop based on color, material, and how it will blend with the other elements in the kitchen such as cabinets, floors, and appliances. The surface is used throughout the day, and by a variety of people depending on your household. It can take a lot of abuse and may not get the care and attention needed to keep the stone looking the way it did when it was first installed.

There are a variety of options out there when it comes to kitchen countertops, many with unique attributes, one thing they all have in common though is that they will show signs of wear and tear over time. If there is one downfall to the practicality and functionality of the various stones used for countertops, it is the inevitable etching, chips, and cracks that go along with such a high-use area.

Many of these issues can be repaired, either by the homeowner, or in some more severe cases a professional.

What is Etching and How Does It Happen?

Natural stones such as marble contain calcium carbonate in its makeup. When acid reacts with calcium carbonate, it literally eats away a tiny bit of the surface, creating dull spots which are known as etches. Etching is not a stain, it is an actual changing of the stone, think of it like a burn that removes the finished top layer of the stone.

Acidic materials that could cause etching are:

  • Citrus such as lemon juice, orange juice, grapefruit
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Wine or other Alcohol
  • Coffee
  • Vinegar
  • Cleaning Products (i.e. bleach, ammonia)
  • Condensation rings from glasses or cans

Typically when this occurs, you can see the etching only in some lights and from some angles. You may see water spots or circles, especially if you lean over and peer down the stone from the side. Marble is a common countertop choice in upscale hotels, restaurants and bars. The next time you are in one of these locations check out the countertop, you will likely see etch marks on the surface.

Etching Example
The center shows marble that has been etched. This appears as a dull spot in the stone.

Does Etching Affect All Stones?

Etching is more likely to occur on natural stone surfaces, such as:

  • Marble
  • Limestone
  • Travertine
  • Onyx

Though less common, etching can happen on Granite and Quartzite materials as well.

How Can You Prevent Etching?

Preventing contact with damaging substances and cleaners is truly the only way to completely prevent etching. Since most of us use our kitchens regularly, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid acidic materials, what are some more practical tips?

Quickly Wipe Up Stains

If you quickly wipe up any stains, especially those of an acidic material, you will minimize your risk of etching. It’s best to blot the stain rather than wipe it which could spread the acidic liquid over a larger area. Place a paper towel over the stain to absorb as much as possible. If you react quickly the etch mark may not even be noticeable.

Cover Your Surface

Use a cutting board when preparing food, preferably a large cutting board with a perimeter well to catch any excess or runoff liquid before it settles on your countertop. You could even get an extra-large cutting board to use as a work surface. Use coasters, trivets, placemats, etc when placing cups, bottles, cans, and dishes on your countertop. Even though natural stone is known to be able to withstand some level of heat, it is always a best practice to use a trivet or hot pad as a precaution.

Everyday Maintenance

Warm water and mild dish soap is best for everyday cleaning. Ammonia free Windex can also be used. Normal cleaning will not restore etching but will help to prevent future issues.

Sealers will help to prevent stains, but will not prevent etching. The sealant could buy you some time to clean up splatters and reduce the potential damage. Your best defense against etching is everyday cleaning.

Selecting Your Countertop Finish

There are choices when it comes to your countertop finish, polish may be the most popular, but it isn’t the only option. A honed finish has a matte look, not as shiny as polished. Some refer to this as a more casual look, it really comes down to your preference in design. Etching is very noticeable on a polished surface, as that particular spot becomes dull. If you chose a honed finish, the etching is less visible as the stone has a duller matte finish to begin with.

Etching, Can you Live with it?

If you have selected marble as your countertop, you are bound to get etching, so you have to decide if you can live with it. As you visit any upscale bar or hotel with marble countertops, take a look and you will definitely see some etching. It can add character, if you choose to see it as such.

Can marble Etching Be Repaired?

The extent of the etching will determine the difficulty of the repair in most cases. The quicker you have wiped up the spill, the better. The longer an acidic liquid sits on your countertop surface, the worse the etching becomes. To tackle the repair on your own, you’ll want to follow these steps:

Step #1: Clean the Etched Stone
Take time to thoroughly clean the stone before you begin the repair process. Add two drops of stone soap (or a mild dish detergent) to a one-gallon container of water, mix to combine. Soak a rag in the solution and thoroughly clean the stone surface. Wipe away the soapy residue with a clean rag. Using a dry soft towel, dry the surface completely.

Step #2: Apply Polishing Powder

There are stone polishes you can purchase. You apply the polishing powder and buff the area with a soft cloth until the mark disappears. You can use a variable speed electric drill with a soft buffing pad as well if you choose. Depending on the severity of the etching, this may take several applications. Once you are finished buffing the stone, use a clean rag to wipe away the leftover powder paste residue.

If you have a honed finish on your stone, you can remove etch marks by mixing a few drops of mild dish detergent with a few cups of warm water and apply the solution to the etched surface. Allow this to sit, then buff the area. If the etch mark is deep, you may have to request the help of professionals. They can hone, polish, and refinish stone surfaces.

Is Repairing a Granite Etch the Same as Marble?

Similarly to marble, you want to ensure the surface is clean before you start your repair. With granite, you have to first remove the finish otherwise the new finish will not adhere or the epoxy will not set.

Step #1: Clean and Sand the Stone
Attach a 120-grit sandpaper to your sander and use medium pressure to sand down the area. It’s best to continuously wipe the area down while you are sanding. Once the granite’s surface looks dull and you can feel the texture of the stone, the finish is removed. Wipe it down well with a damp rag to remove the dust created from sanding.

Step #2: Fill the Etches

You will need a clear epoxy to repair the etched granite. Epoxy is a thermoplastic adhesive material.
You should be able to find this from your local hardware store, or online. It typically costs between $20-30. Follow the mixing instructions on the container of epoxy, and make sure you have proper ventilation in your work area and wear safety equipment such as goggles and a particle mask to protect yourself from the fumes the epoxy can release.

After both parts have been mixed, use a plastic spoon to fill the etches in the granite countertop. You will use a putty knife to smooth out the epoxy, and push it deeper into the etch. Wipe excess epoxy away carefully using a damp rag.

Step #3: Finishing the Repair
The epoxy will need time to cure and harden. After the epoxy has dried (approximately 24 hours) you can gently sand it down to ensure you have a smooth surface. Then you will want to restore the original finish of the stone. The best way to do this is by using a granite finish or polisher, following the instructions on the container.

When to Call in Professional Help

Most DIYers may be comfortable using polishing powders and compounds to repair etching, when it comes to grinding and sanding, professional help is recommended. Without proper knowledge and experience doing this, it is possible to make the area worse by burning the surface, removing too much of the finish surrounding the initial area or grinding too much and creating uneven countertop surfaces.

How to prevent future damage

  • Always use a cutting board
  • Do not place hot objects on the countertop, use a trivet
  • Do not spill acidic substances on your quartz countertops, if a spill occurs, wipe it up immediately
  • To maintain the shine of your countertop, avoid using an abrasive material to clean it. Use gentle cleaning sponges or microfiber cloths
  • Do not use strong chemicals on your countertop. Using bleach, acetone or paint remover to remove stains will only make the situation worse.
  • For everyday cleaning, use mild soap and a soft sponge. If your countertop sustains tougher stains, use a non oil-based solution or glass cleaner to wipe it off.