Beautiful marble flooring started its journey into our homes as limestone. Millions of years of metamorphosis—intense heat and pressure—produced a dense variegated stone that can be polished to a high shine. Marble is now mined throughout the world and is highly prized as a natural product for countertops and flooring. Polished marble reflects light to make rooms seem more spacious while offering a touch of elegance.
Yet for such an upscale material, marble is also durable and easy-care. You’ll find it often installed in “wet” environments, such as kitchens and bathrooms, where frequent water splashes can be simply wiped away without causing damage. So if you’re thinking about incorporating this fabulous flooring into your home design, read on to learn what types of marble are available, how to choose the best one for your budget, and glean some DIY tips should you opt to tackle installation yourself.
Marble, limestone, crema marfil, travertine, slate, quarry tiles, etc. will need to be stripped, polished and sealed at regular intervals, or they will lose the deep lustre that makes them such a beautiful flooring solution.
Our clients are always ecstatic when we carry out cleaning, polishing and sealing restoration works on their marble or natural stone floors. The majority have been extremely frustrated for some time with their floor – no amount of cleaning will take out the stains, the floor has completely lost its shine, has dull patches and the grout is very dirty.
So, when we restore their marble or limestone floor to new, they are extremely pleased and are left with that newly laid floor look. More often than not, they say the floor looks even better than when it was newly laid! Generally, however, the first question they ask is: how long will the shine last?
Our stock answer is that your floor should stay looking good for one to three years. Some floors may last up to five years without requiring attention, but this would be in low traffic areas. Our operatives will always leave you with advice on how best to maintain your stone floor, but general management is generally the same whichever natural stone you’ve opted for.
Polishing marble floors in a busy facility can be inconvenient, time-consuming and expensive. So when your floor has been polished back to looking its best, it’s a good idea to think about how you can keep it that way for as long as possible. That’s why having a good cleaning and maintenance plan for your polished marble will save you $1,000s over the life of a floor and will keep it looking brilliant for much longer.
Now, let’s try to answer this very tough question.
How long will a well maintained polished marble floor last before repolishing is needed?
OK, got a confession to make… this question is impossible to answer. No one answer fits everyone’s circumstances.
The reality is, the moment your floor is opened to traffic, it will start wearing slowly. This starts on day 1. A polished marble floor can be destroyed in 1 day or look beautiful after years of traffic. Here are some variables that matter when assessing the time interval between marble polishing processes.
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When to polish marble flooring?
A floor that is dust mopped twice a day will last a lot longer than if it was dust mopped once a week. Dirt and sand act as an abrasive under peoples feet. That’s the enemy of the shine which is why we need to remove as much of it as we can as often as we can.
Types of dirt and sand
Facilities with marble floors close to the beach, for example, don’t tend to stay highly polished for as long due to sand being highly abrasive. More regular dust mopping and floor scrubbing are required in these environments.
A marble cleaning program regularly using floor scrubbers and polishers can expect better results in the long term than if you use a mop and bucket.
Traffic and footwear
How busy your floor is and what people wear on their feet has a drastic influence on how long a marble floor stays polished.
What you believe is an acceptable standard will be different to someone else. Your standards for a foyer in a 6-star resort with lots of light might be very high. Your standard for your bathroom at home might be very different. These differing standards will affect how often polishing is done.
Quality of equipment used
The equipment you use does matter; however, on most marble floors provided the speed of the floor polisher is right, and the technician is patient, excellent polishing results can be expected. More even weight over the marble floor polishing machine is helpful most of the time. Adding weight to some machines can be a problem though because more weight can then be present on the inside of the pad holder than the outside, which will give uneven polishing results.
Marble polishing compounds
They are not all the same, far from it. Some burn faster, some polish faster, some are super safe and forgiving, they are all different. Prioritise ease of use over speed. It’s fine to polish fast, but it’s much more difficult getting the perfect shine when you’re racing. The Pro Glo marble polishing system is an excellent balance between speed, ease of use and polishing results. Try it out for yourself and let us know what you think.
The expertise of the person polishing
Don’t be scared off doing this work yourself or having your facility maintenance team start polishing your marble. It’s not rocket science, but there is a learning curve. Know that as your experience grows, your results and efficiency will improve too.
Effective entrance matting
Polished marble floors love entrance mats. Entrance mats stop dirt, sand and grit at the door drastically reducing abrasive wear due to foot traffic. Quality floor matting choices keep your floor looking good much longer.
How often you repolish your marble will be dependant largely on your budget and the standards your facility has set. Re-polishing marble is something you’re in house team can do provided you don’t let the floor deteriorate to the point where professional restoration with diamond discs is required to deal with severe scratching and wear.
Sealing marble floors
Marble is a very porous material, and it is through these pores that dirt gets in underneath the tile surface. This is why it is necessary to close up these pores by sealing the marble, preventing the dirt from getting in. Generally, when a marble floor loses its natural lustre, it is a sign that the seal has worn off. This is when it needs to be re-sealed.
Domestic buffers for maintaining a marble floor
If you have a large area to maintain we would advise you invest in a domestic floor buffer. This will greatly help retain the lustre and shine of your floor and lengthen the time between re-sealing. Buffing will not only restore lustre and shine to your floor, but it will also help remove small scratches and nicks.
Stone and grit brought in on shoes is the primary cause of scratches on your floor. It is, therefore, paramount to eliminate this as much as possible. The first thing you should invest in is good doorstep mats, both inside and outside all entrance doors.
Marble and all stone floors should be dry mopped daily and in cases of heavy traffic twice or three times daily. Again, depending on traffic, you need to wash your marble or stone floors once a week. If washing with a buffer or mop, ensure all grit and dust has been swept or vacuumed away beforehand. This is especially true if using a buffer as grit caught in your buffer can cause serious damage to your stone.
Eliminate a build-up of cleaning residue on your marble tiles
Another reason that floors lose their lustre quicker than they should is due to a build-up of residue left from your cleaners. We recommend you use P Mac stone soap (a pH-neutral soap) to wash your marble floors. This should also be used in your buffer – all that is required is a cap-full in a bucket of water. It is also a good idea to wash your stone floors with boiling water every so often to eliminate any build-up of soap residue. DO NOT, however, do this if your floors have been sealed with a topical seal, as the boiling water will break down the seal. Never use anything except a recommended soap for marble and natural stone surfaces on your floors.
If mopping by hand, ensure you use a clean mop and follow the instructions on the bottle. It can also be a good idea to spray your soap directly onto the floor and then remove with a clean wet cloth.
Always buff your floors dry after mopping
Ensure all product is completely removed before you dry buff your floor with either your floor buffer or a clean white cloth. It is essential to dry buff your floor as this will bring up the shine in your marble floor.
Change water frequently when washing marble and stone floors
It is also imperative you change the water frequently when washing your marble or stone floors. Dirty water is notorious for lodging into your grout and causing it to deteriorate quicker than it should.
Using a penetrating seal
We generally seal all marble, limestone, travertine and crema marfil floors with a penetrating seal. This is a water-based sealer which will not alter the appearance of your tiles. It penetrates the stone and is useful for preventing spills seeping deep into your stone. You still, however, have to mop up the spill straight away, the penetrating seal just gives you more time.
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Using a topical seal
The more porous stone is generally sealed with a topical coating, which leaves a film on top of the floor. A topical seal sits on top of the tile, and, when caring for your floor, you are caring for the coating. The maintenance programme is the same as for a floor sealed with a penetrating seal, except for the boiling water trick of course! Generally, a floor sealed with a topical seal needs to be treated more often.
Things to Know Before Choosing and Installing Marble Flooring
Marble flooring comes in a wide range of colour options but is often sorted into three main categories.
Marble flooring tiles come in varying colours and surface patterns. The contrasting colour lines running through the surface are known as veining, which can be heavy and pronounced or delicate and barely noticeable. While more than a hundred varieties of marble exist, there are three main categories, each type identified by its appearance.
- Carrara: This popular white marble was used centuries ago in ancient Greece and Rome, appearing in massive pillars and elaborate statues. Today, Carrara marble flooring tiles can be found in limited hues, ranging from light to warm white, and its surface features medium to light grey veining.
- Calacatta: A white marble similar to Carrara, Calacatta is closer to pure white and features darker grey veining, which creates a contrasting look.
- Breccia: For more colour and warmth in marble flooring, consider Breccia marble, which comes in a range of deeper shades, including warm golds, tans, deep browns, and reds. The dark grey and black veining in Breccia marble tend to appear in ornate swirls, and it frequently includes perfectly round outlines that resemble bubbles trapped beneath the surface.
Marble flooring isn’t always shiny—nor should it be
The above types of marble can be finished to either a high gloss or a matte look, depending on what’s best suited for the location.
- Polished Marble: The most popular option for marble flooring comes with a high-gloss appearance, achieved by grinding the surface with a stone-polishing machine. Polishing brings out the veining in the marble and gives the floor a radiant luxurious look. With the right maintenance (see below), polished marble will retain a reflective finish for many years.
- Honed Marble: This type of finish is only lightly polished, just enough to produce a flat smooth surface, but not enough to create a shine. Honed marble offers a durable surface with a soft matte finish some consider more down to earth than flashier polished marble.
Marble tiles smaller than 2 feet across are most common in home installations
Marble flooring comes in tiles of differing sizes, ranging from small, 2-inch by 2-inch squares, to large, 6-foot by 8-foot slabs. For residential purposes, marble tiles are rarely larger than 2-foot by 2-foot, because larger slabs, which are very heavy, require specialised installation. Large slabs are usually found only in commercial and public buildings. Tile thickness ranges from ¼-inch to ¾-inch for residential tiles, while commercial marble slabs can be up to 2 inches thick.
Quality also varies by surface design and density. While no industry standard exists, a few factors can tip you off to the tile’s quality.
- Mesh-backed tiles are mounted on a backing of fibreglass resin. These are typically lower-end marble tiles, which are often less dense and more prone to scratching or breaking. Mesh-backed tiles are suitable for low-traffic rooms, such as bathrooms, but they are less desirable in high-traffic areas where they may show signs of wear more quickly.
- Lower quality tiles may feature-filled areas. When you look at the tile straight on, you might not notice any difference, but if you turn the tile at a 45-degree angle, you might spot irregular dull patches, which indicate holes in the tile’s surface have been filled with a resin compound. Over time, the filled areas may work loose, leaving holes in the surface that require patching.
- Marble tiles with deep fissures are at a greater risk of breaking under the pressure of heavy furniture or appliances. When trying to determine the quality of a marble tile, turn it over and check the backside—if a fissure is noticeable on both the front and the back, the tile may crack something heavy is placed on it.
The coveted shine on polished marble is slippery when wet
Unfortunately, the slip factor makes polished marble unsuitable in homes with elderly residents at risk of falling. To reduce the slip factor of polished marble, consider using multiple area rugs with non-slip backing, or apply a non-slip product to the floor’s surface, such as SlipDoctors Polish Grip Floor Treatment (available from Amazon). Non-slip products are designed to increase the grip traction of the floor without reducing its shine. Honed marble floors are natural less slippery than polished marble floors.
Marble is one of the more expensive flooring options in terms of materials and labour costs
A good amount of labour goes into quarrying and finishing marble tiles, so even lower-end marble is a pricey flooring choice. The least expensive tiles start around $5 per square foot, and higher-end tiles can run $10 to $40 per square foot, depending on density and veining patterns (fine veining is preferable to heavy veining). Also, the larger the tile, the more expensive the square foot cost. Ceramic and porcelain tiles, in comparison, run just $1 to $3 per square foot.
Professional installation can add $3 to $7 per square foot, depending on the going rate for labour in your area and whether additional work is needed. Factors that could add to your installation costs include:
- Removing and disposing of the existing floor.
- Specialised installation, such as incorporating decorative tile motifs or borders.
- The need to beef up the existing subfloor. Marble tiles are heavy, and if the existing subfloor isn’t structurally sufficient, it will have to be reinforced before the tiles are installed.
Unless you have experience with tile-setting, don’t DIY marble flooring to save money
As with ceramic and porcelain tiles, homeowners who are knowledgeable in basic tile-laying practices can save a lot of money by installing their marble floors. If you’ve never laid tiles, you’ll be better off having a professional tile setter do the work. If you opt to DIY the project, keep the following tips in mind:
- The subfloor must be perfectly flat, without dips or bumps that could interfere with the tiles. If the floor isn’t flat, you can apply a self-levelling compound to fill in dips and smooth out the surface.
- Marble tiles should be installed over cement board underlayment, which resists moisture damage. Regular plywood subfloors are not suitable for installing tile.
- Marble tiles can be butted tightly together for an ultra-smooth look, or you can choose to install them with gaps between the tiles and then fill the joints with grout. If you go the grout route, be sure to use un-sanded grout as sanded grout can scratch the surface of the marble during installation.
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Marble flooring requires daily cleaning, prompt attention to spills, and regular sealing.
While marble is a durable flooring, it requires a little extra care to help it retain its beauty.
- Sweep marble floors daily to remove tracked-in sand or grit. Walking over sand particles can lead to scratches on a marble floor.
- Wipe up, spills promptly. Acidic liquids, such as orange juice or vinegar, can stain the marble. Water won’t stain marble, but over time can dull its surface.
- Seal polished marble floors with a good stone sealant, such as Miracle Sealants’ 1-Step Natural Stone Sealer and Color Enhancer (available from Home Depot) at least once a year. Honed marble is more porous than polished marble, and it’s a good idea to seal a honed marble floor twice per year to help it resist staining.
- Use a mild, non-acidic floor cleaner for regular mopping. The product should specify its suitability for marble floors on the label. Alternately, make your own gentle floor cleaning solution by combining ½ cup of ammonia and one tablespoon of dish soap in a gallon of water.
Marble is a sturdy stone that can last for a long time if it is regularly cleaned and maintained properly. However, the durability of marble stones also depends on its quality. Factors such as the climate, chemical agents, heat and moisture play an important role in testing the endurance strength of the stone. Despite marbles tough-looking surface, it’s a very permeable rock that can absorb spills and accumulate dirt into its pores if not cleaned properly. Even in its all polished and refined glory, acidic liquids, oils, and even water can stain and wretch marble stone as its sponge-like structure sucks the solvents inside. And once marble is stained, it can be quite the hassle to remove it without damaging the entire tile.