Everyone loves marble, don’t they? There’s something about this beautiful, patterned, glossy stone that evokes certain feelings. For bathrooms, it’s a luxurious and clean feeling, for kitchens, it’s a spacious and organic expression of exquisite taste and refinement.
Marble is evocative of old world mansions and estates, of Roman and Egyptian palaces where the pharaohs and Caesar ruled over mighty empires of gold and conquest. Aside from this, it’s just plain attractive.
Marble isn’t just the striated white and black that people envision, as there’s a wide, and we do mean wide variety of marble types with varied patterns, colors and reflectiveness to suit any number of tastes.
It can also be cut in a lot of creative ways, depending on the patterning and the skill of the stone cutters themselves. However, marble has its drawbacks, chief among them being that there are limits to how you can cut stone, and marble isn’t cheap.
It has to be quarried from specific places, and is a pseudo-limited resource, taking a long time and special conditions to form. Given there are justifiable regulations on quarrying so to preserve habitats and landscapes, and given how heavy and admittedly challenging it is to work with, you’re not going to get marble cheap.
Oh, it’s cheaper than it was even ten years ago, but this is because it has some serious competition, and it’s a competition you probably didn’t know existed – cultured marble.
What’s Cultured Marble?
You don’t hear this stuff mentioned very often, and that’s because it’s somewhat newer than other synthetics, and people attach an unfortunate stigma to any kind of synthetic vanity or countertop.
Before you give into that stigma and balk at the idea of cultured marble, let us point out that it’s actually marble mostly. 70-80% of the material is actual natural marble, sourced from the dust and waste cuttings in actual marble processing facilities. Rather than waste this material, ingenious chemists and engineers have figured out a way to reproduce a nigh-indistinguishable, cheaper marble surface by combining this waste material with a polyester resin.
This technology’s about four decades old, as we said, and it can take a long time for ideas like this to catch on, though you’ve certainly encountered this cultured marble material in homes, public spaces (especially fancy bathrooms and spas), and in hardware stores, and thought it was real marble.
In all honesty, there’s only one way to tell if marble is cultured or not, without being told, unless you’re a geologist or professional stone worker. The knock test, where you give it a knock, will produce a more hollow resonance akin to porcelain or thin limestone, than the duller thud of regular marble, granite or travertine.
Aside from the efficiency of this (not being wasteful) and the lower price, the real fun with cultured marble is the diversity it’s capable of.
With real marble, the pattern that a stone has, and its color, are what they have. There’s no process currently known that can really change the nature of marble, and if there are weak spots or ugly patches, they become waste. Sometimes, these weak spots don’t show themselves for a few years, meaning that on rare occasions, someone’s marble countertop will just develop a stress line. This is usually brought on by some abusive use to exacerbate it, and it is pretty rare, but it can happen.
On top of this, there are limits by the laws of geology and physics, in how thin this stone can be cut, and in what styles.
With cultured marble, the sky is literally the limit. Additional pigments, precise mixes and advanced processes can produce patterns, hues and textures that would just not be possible with natural stone. On top of this, thinner or more ornate styles and “cuts” can be achieved thanks to the pressure-molded approach used to manufacture it.
In other words, this is a mostly authentic marble with the flexibility and style range of something like ceramic or porcelain, without the fragility of such materials. That’s pretty cool, when you really think about it.
Marble isn’t a high-maintenance material, though it’s slightly more porous than cultured marble, and the calcites in it can be etched by acidic things (citrus, vinegar, some cleaning products). While cultured marble isn’t indestructible, it’s more resistant to these hazards thanks to the resin compound and treatment.
Should it become edged, scratched or chipped, special buffing gel or filler material can be applied to restore it to a solid, glossy, like-new state. Non-abrasive cleaners and rags can easily clean off any buildup or gunk that develops, and being pretty much non-porous, it’s very sanitary.
It’s also very durable, resistant to heat and impact, though not quite as durable as natural marble or its tougher cousin, granite.
Polishing cultured marble is very simple, and it should be done at least annually, or whenever you think the gloss has become dulled, or scratches begin to appear. Simply wipe it down with a damp cloth, and dry it with a soft chamois or other soft cloth.
Apply the polish, using something formulated for marble (cultured marble polish does exist, is readily available, and isn’t costly). You will need to apply the polish with a soft cloth, and let it set for some time. The manufacturer will provide instructions for how long it takes to set – this varies significantly from one polish to another, depending on how their activators and catalyzers work.
Finally, just put some elbow grease into buffing it with a soft cloth, perhaps using a spray bottle filled with water. Areas that develop scratches or especially dulled surfaces will require more buffing than others, but overall, it’s not that difficult nor that labor-intensive.
Cultured marble is an affordable, versatile, durable and easily-repaired alternative that’s popular for vanity tops, and increasingly, for countertops, backsplashes and even flooring. With further advances in polyester resin and controlled introduction of additional mineral sources, this material will only become more impressive.
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