Do You NEED to Seal Your Marble Countertop?

Do You NEED to Seal Your Marble Countertop?

The short answer is NO. You don’t NEED to seal your marble or granite countertop. You might be that special person who ALWAYS uses a coaster or a trivet or some other method of protecting your marble countertop.

But then again, maybe you’re like most of us humans who makes the occasional expensive mistake.

For today’s guest post, I contacted a LOT of stone restoration companies asking them for their feedback on sealing marble & granite countertops. Sadly, most of them replied with a bunch of marketing speak. Ken Frotten from First Impression Marble Restoration was the only one who treated my offer as an opportunity to genuinely help homeowners.

Of course, if you decide to have Ken protect or restore your stone countertops, he won’t say no to the business…..but I just wanted to give Ken props for his attitude of helping before selling.

Back to the article…let’s check out what Ken had to say when I peppered him with questions about sealing…or not sealing…your marble & granite countertop:


Do You NEED to Seal Your Marble Countertop?

Imagine that you’re planning to install a new marble or granite countertop installed as part of a kitchen renovation. After you’ve chosen your slab, debated edge profiles and prepared yourself to be kitchen-less for a pretty long time, you will presented with a final decision…..do you want to seal your new countertop?

Ken estimates that approximately 50% of people seal their countertops. Of those 50%, his experience leads him to believe that less than 20% are sealed properly.

To get a better idea of what can happen to an unsealed countertop, I asked Ken to outline the natural stone countertop damage that most end users need to learn about: STAINING and ETCHING

Staining

Natural stone, including all marble and granites, needs to be sealed to protect against staining because it is porous, meaning it has many pores or “gaps” within its structure that are not visible to the naked eye. Staining can be defined as any foreign substance being able to penetrate the surface of the stone, into these pores and gaps,  and leave a blemish or spot that changes the natural colour and look of the stone. When a stone is properly  sealed, these pores are essentially covered by the sealer, and staining agents are mostly repelled from penetrating too deeply into the stone. I say mostly repelled, because the initial surface protection and tension can be broken down if staining agents are not wiped up quickly. The surface tension and protection will also break down with general cleaning and wiping of the stone surface, meaning the sealer will have to be reapplied.

Etching

Natural stone also needs to be sealed in an attempt to protect against etching, although this is a much tougher task than protecting against staining. Many natural stones have a calcium carbonate makeup, and etching is a corrosive chemical reaction that essentially eats at the stone. Think of it like a burn that removes the finished top layer, it’s very noticeable on a polished surface because it appears as a dull spot. Any splash of lemon juice, orange juice, or acidic alcoholic drinks are going to leave a mark, as seen in these pictures:

Natural stone sealers will help with staining, but offer little protection against etching, as most of the offending chemicals will also eat through the sealer. Once a stone shows signs of etching, there are two options, learn to live with the marks, or have them removed and the surface restored by a stone restoration professional.

Okay….none of that sounds good….doesn’t look good either…see below for real-world examples of etching

How much will it cost to restore my stained and/or etched marble countertop?

As part of his stone countertop restoration business, Ken has a minimum charge of $450 per day, as do most of our competitors, which would mean $45/ft to restore a standard 5x2 vanity.  If there are several pieces, then the price would come down to as low as $20/ft, this usually has to be done annually to keep the marble looking as good as new. If the customer wants to push it to 2 or 3 years, they will have to be prepared to live with some staining or etching.

Conversely, TuffSkin (the sealant Ken uses) can be installed for $25-$30/ft and will provide lasting protection from between 3 years for an extremely busy bar, to up to 10 years in a home.


Are all stone countertop sealants the same?

Short answer: NO. Longer answer…..when it comes time to seal your marble or granite countertop, there are a number of considerations:

Do you want a natural or enhanced finish?

Natural sealants leave your stone looking natural. Natural sealers neither darken the stone nor alter the color or provide a sheen of any kind.

Enhanced stone sealants enhance or darken the color of most stone tiles, although they typically have little to no effect on polished stone. With an enhancing sealer, you’ll notice that the stone will have a sheen to it otherwise known as a “wet” look.


Do you want solvent or water-based stone sealants?

When we talk about ‘water based’ or ‘solvent based’ stone sealants, we are referring to is how the sealant is chemically applied to the stone.

Without getting too nerdy…..polymer molecules are what seal your stone countertop. These polymers form a protective barrier in or on stone tiles. But to get those polymers bonded to your countertop, we need water or solvents to both carry the sealer into the stone and then evaporate away, leaving the sealer molecules behind. Told you it was nerdy.

How are solvent and water-based sealants similar?

  • Solvent and water based sealers have “similar” performance ratings for UV resistance and durability.

  • They are applied in a similar manner.

  • Solvent and water based sealants may both be used for interior as well as exterior applications.

How are Solvent and Water Based Sealants Different?

Solvent Based Sealants

  • With solvent based stone sealants, polymer molecuses and mixed with solvents to create a solution. As the sealant dries, the solvent evaporates, leaving only the polymers to protect your marble or granite countertop. During this process, the polymers actually link themselves together to create that protective barrier in or on the stone.

  • What’s not cool is that solvent-based sealants often have a higher VOC (volatile organic compound) rating than water based sealants.

What are VOCs - Volatile Organic Compounds? 

VOC refers to the gases emitted from solids or liquids. You have probably heard of VOCs as they apply to household paints. The problem with VOCs is that they include chemicals that could become harmful without proper ventilation. For more info on VOCs - www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html.

Water Based Sealants

Water-based sealants are created when the countertop sealing polymer molecules are disseminated in water….as opposed to solvents. As this form of sealant dries, the water begins to evaporate and the polymer molecules are drawn together, becoming entangled and forming that barrier we are looking for.

Unfortunately, while water-based stone sealants are better in terms of VOCs, according to Ken, they don’t provide as effective a seal on the countertop :(


Do you need Penetrating or Topical Stone Sealants?

It depends if the stone surface to be sealed is indoors or outdoors.

  • Penetrating sealants…penetrate the surface of the stone. Makes sense, right? The stone actually absorbs the sealant into itself. This application is recommended for exterior applications and for thick, smooth polished stones like granite and marble.

  • Topical sealants bond directly to the surface of your stone countertop. These sealants are recommended for interior applications and for textured surfaces.


How do you know when the sealer needs to be reapplied?

 A proper stone sealer application will result in the surface having a beading effect when water is applied as seen in these two pics:

If your stone does not bead like this, then it needs more sealant in order to provide protection against surface staining. I said surface staining, because once a stone has been properly sealed, the sealant should have penetrated down into the pores to prevent stains from penetrating too deeply, thus allowing stone restoration professionals to hopefully be able to remove surface damage using a combination of resurfacing and or poulticing. Resurfacing might involve the use of diamond tooling to remove a layer of the surface of the stone including the stain, and then polishing or honing the surface back to its original look. Poulticing would involve applying a mud type solution to the surface that will pull the stain out of the stone and absorb it, a successful poultice usually requires knowledge that the surface had been previously sealed, knowledge of the staining agent, and often several applications for full removal of the stain.  

There are several products available to seal natural stone, and the formulas are constantly being changed and improved. Some of the better sealers have a higher fluid viscosity which allows them to penetrate deeper into the stone, others have more protective agents that allow for more covering of the pores and gaps. Consulting with a stone restoration professional when choosing a sealer, and having them apply it properly would be a prudent move to make.


At First Impression Marble Restoration, Ken is proud to be the sole distributor of TuffSkin Gloss and Satin sealants in Southern Ontario. Both of these TuffSkin products are topical sealants. They are fully transparent and breathable, and they also enhance the polish, colour and definition of most stones.

TuffSkin eliminates etching and staining caused by alcohol, coffee, water, wine, juice, oils, lemons, perfumes, toothpaste and makeups. It also tolerates heat over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit.

TuffSkin is a laminate that is liquid impermeable but also gas permeable, thus it lets the stone “breathe”. It disappears on surfaces and brings out the stone’s natural beauty. TuffSkin’s Gloss is perfect for polished stone while TuffSkin’s Satin complements a honed stone surface. TuffSkin is quick to install and, and adheres to a stone’s surface substrate. It can be removed and replaced from a counter or vanity top in less than two hours.  The following pictures are of stones protected by TuffSkin:   

As mentioned above, Ken and his team at First Impression Marble Restoration also offer installation and restoration services for all natural stones.


About the Author

Ken Frotten has been in the flooring/restoration service industry for over 25 years. He began my career at Servicemaster of Toronto in 1992, and in 1995, he jumped on board with a new side venture that turned out to be his life`s passion. Ken spent the next 18 years directly involved with doing stone restoration at Marble Renewal of Toronto. In 2013, Ken became owner of First Impression Marble Restoration, and recently has acquired the rights to TuffSkin Surface Protection in Ontario.

Contact the Author

Email: ken@firstimpressionmarble.ca

Website: http://www.firstimpressionmarble.com/

Instagram: @tuffskintoronto