What is Stone Etching?

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Natural stone makes for an elegant addition to any home, office, or space. Maintenance and upkeep is essential in keeping these natural stone surfaces pristine and clear of any imperfections. However, when a cloudy, white patch appears on the stone, you may wonder what caused it.

That rough, white patch is called an etch, which is the word used to describe imperfections on various materials caused by solvents, acids, or other dissolving solutions. In this article, we'll be tackling what an etch is, and how to address and prevent etch marks from happening on your natural stone surfaces.

What is Etching?

Etching happens when there is an originally smooth surface comes in contact with a harsh solution, causing a cloudy-white appearance, and a rough texture on the surface. The resulting etch is susceptible to water permeability, and can start the deterioration of the stone or glass material. 

Etching can be seen in natural stones such as marble, granite, and limestone. These stones, as well as most other natural stones, can get etch marks from acidic, harsh, or corrosive chemicals. What happens is that these harsh solutions eat away at the top layer of the stone, dissolving the mineral. 

Etching can also happen on non-stone surfaces. Glass, resin, and some types of varnish can suffer from etching, which is why expert cleaners always suggest trying a new cleaning solution on a small, discreet part of your furniture before using it on the surface entirely. 

Unfortunately, getting rid of etches on stone, glass, or resin surfaces requires some handiwork to remove the top layer and apply a new polish. It is better to prevent etches in the first place rather than having to remove them afterwards. 

breakfast served on marble countertop

Common Causes of Stone Etching

1. Acidic Solutions

The most common cause of etching on natural stone surfaces is acid, more specifically, acidic cleaning solutions. Cleaning solutions that claim to be multi-surface may not be suitable for your marble countertops, particularly ones with harsh acidic solutions that can eat away at the top layer. 

Even mildly acidic solutions that are not typically corrosive, like vinegar and lemon juice, can be a cause of etching on stone. In the age of DIY cleaning solutions and internet hacks, natural stone is the integral exception to these homemade cleaners as they can etch the surface over time.

Even while using stone-safe cleaning solutions, the rise of marble kitchen countertops also gave rise to the incidents of accidental etching through food preparation. You may have created etches from spilling your salad dressing, or splashing lemon juice as you slice the fruit. 

For these reasons, it is essential to protect your natural stone articles from etch marks by polishing them, and avoiding direct contact with acids. But, acids aren't the only dangers to natural stone surfaces.

2. Alcohol Cleaners

Depending on the type of varnish your natural stone surface may have, alcohol can also cause etch marks to appear on natural stone. Not many people realize that, while rubbing alcohol is safe enough to use on hands and various surfaces, it is a solvent that can still dissolve a variety of varnishes and resins.

Varnishes on dark wood furniture are most susceptible to etching by alcohol, as well as some resin materials, nail polishes, and even natural stone. Because alcohol cleaners are so commonly used to sanitize hands and surfaces, many homeowners find out about its etching properties the hard way.

Marble and alcohol do not mix. Marble is considerably softer and more sensitive than most architectural natural stones, and alcohol can easily create a corroded top layer of the material when in contact with the disinfectant. 

3. Acetone (Nail Polish Remover)

Acetone, also known as nail polish remover, was made to dissolve nail polish. Acetone can dissolve varnish, natural stone, and even leather materials the same way. Acetone is a solvent, and can even create etching on fingernails on certain occasions. 

Acetone can etch your natural stone surfaces with ease. Acetone etching is particularly common in households, as homeowners rarely think twice before setting their nail polish solvents on a natural stone table, floor, or countertop. Bathroom countertops tend to suffer from acetone etching the most.

How to Address Stone Etches

If your stone countertop already has etch marks on it, don't fret just yet. Before you set that date with a renovator, first assess the size of the etched mark. Is the etch a small, unnoticeable area? You may get away with some home remedy in the meantime, and some store-bought stone polish to protect the area from moisture and oils. 

However, if the etch mark is considerably large, or you're worried about possible further damage in the future, have a word with a home maintenance expert on properly removing that etch mark for good. For large etch spots, or for articles with multiple etch marks, you may need to have the stone polished.

Polishing stone surfaces requires some renovation work. An experienced handyman will first strip off the first layer of stone, where the etch marks are located. After sanding, and buffing out the etch marks, the worker will rinse the area with clean water to prepare it for the next step.

The stone will be left to completely dry, then a new layer of varnish or polish is set to bring back the shine on the stone. Any dust and debris will come out after a good wash, and the entire area gets a good wipe to dry before presenting to the homeowner.

modern kitchen with marble countertops

How to Prevent Etches on Stone Surfaces

Prevention is the key to maintaining your natural stone surfaces free from etch marks. Etch marks are difficult to deal with, and most homeowners may not deal with etched stone articles at all, leading to further damage, as well as a shorter lifespan of the natural stone material. 

Talk to a natural stone specialist on preventing etches on stone. You can also read our blog at Luce SG for more tips on how to properly care for your marble, limestone, and other natural stone surfaces.

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