What is Etching?

A picture of etching and staining on natural stone.

Etching and staining are two common forms of damage to natural stone that can occur at the same time if the stone is not properly sealed. Depending on the type of liquid spilled on your countertops, it may leave a visible stain, or it may cause a chemical reaction called etching. When your stone develops etches, only a stone restoration expert can fix the damage. Stains, on the other hand, can usually be lifted on your own. Here's how to tell whether your stone has etch marks or stains.

What Is Etching?

Etching can be mild to severe, and it's a chemical reaction in the stone due to exposure to acids like lemon juice, wine, soda, or ammonia as well as common household cleaners. These harsh chemicals can eat away at the stone and dull the surface of your countertops. Some stones are more prone to etching than others. Stone with a high calcium content like marble and travertine is more likely to etch than most types of granite, but this damage can occur with any type of natural stone.

What Does Etching Look Like?

Because etching is a form of physical damage, unlike a stain, techniques to "lift" the mark will not do anything. When viewed at the right angle, you will also be able to see that the etch marks are on the surface with visible dulling. Etch marks are often whitish or light in color. The longer the harsh substance remains on the countertop, the more severe the etch mark.

What Is Staining?

A stain happens when the pores of the stone absorb a liquid below the surface. Unlike etches, stains do not affect the surface finish of the stone. Stains are typically the same color as the spilled or absorbed liquid. Unless the stone is already very damaged, most stains can be lifted with the right product.

Stains and Etches Often Go Together

In many cases, an etch mark and stain occur in the same place, which happens when something like coffee or tomato juice is spilled on the countertop. The acidic liquid etches the stone, which then makes it more susceptible to staining. If not cleaned up, the stone will absorb the liquid and leave a stain.

How to Treat Stains Versus Etches

For oil stains, mix acetone and baking soda to create a paste and apply to the stain. Allow the paste to sit for 24 hours, then rinse with water. For organic stains, including stains from pets and food, apply a terry cloth or paper towel soaked in liquid bleach to the stain, then let it sit for 24 hours before rinsing. Liquid bleach can also be sprayed onto stained areas of the stone and scrubbed with a soft nylon brush. Always reseal the stone after using bleach or the acetone and baking soda paste. Treating etch marks is very different. Etching isn't trapped liquid or pigment. It's actual damage to the professional finish of the stone. A stone restoration expert may be able to restore the stone to its original condition, especially if the etching is mild.

Preventing Stains and Etch Marks

It's important to clean up spills as soon as possible with a specially formulated granite daily cleaner. Always use a cutting board as a food prep surface to protect your countertops. Do not use common household cleaners that contain vinegar, ammonia, citric acid, or other chemicals that could etch your stone. The best way to protect your stone from stains and etch marks is by proper sealing and polishing. Applying a high-quality sealant like Granite Gold Sealer® seals the pores of the stone and repels liquids that cause stains and damage. Polishing also enhances the shine and luster of natural stone and helps it resist fingerprints and water spots.

Granite Gold® are the Stone Care Experts. If you don’t know how to seal natural stone, you can find the guidance you need on our blog. Give us a call at 1-800-475-STONE if you have any questions.


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