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Marble & Porcelain Compared

In the sea of choices for use in design projects there are many materials. Although many materials are versatile and can be used for a variety of applications, people have preferences that influence decisions about which surface materials to use for a given project. In this article we will explore what can be learned in the light of marble & porcelain compared. As we consider these materials we will discuss the differences and similarities. We will also make general comparisons and see how it affects the use and care of each.

Usage Comparisons

One of the areas to which we need to give thought when looking at differences and similarities between marble and porcelain are the uses. After all, if two materials are used for different purposes it can give a clue as to how they differ. And looking at how marble and porcelain are used, something interesting is revealed.

Marble's Uses

There are many ways marble is used. But let's look at just three. First, marble is used for countertops. Even though marble countertops take a bit of extra attention when compared to porcelain, to many people their beauty is unmatched. Second, marble tiles are used for walls and flooring, again the appearance of the material is desirable to many people. Third, marble is used for sculptures. Because of its workability, marble is more easily shaped than other materials, including porcelain.

Uses for Porcelain

Like its comparative counterpart, porcelain is also used for a variety of applications. Even though the properties of porcelain are very different from marble, some of the uses are the same. And yet, the usage differences are indicative of how these materials contrast. Some uses for porcelain include the following three applications. First, porcelain tiles are used for flooring. Porcelain is durable and offers the ability to withstand a lot of traffic. Second, porcelain tiles in larger formats are used as wall cladding. Third, porcelain has more recently become a material used for countertops.

Comparing the uses for porcelain and marble may not seem like it reveals anything particularly noteworthy. However, the fact that marble is used for sculpting and porcelain is generally not, tells us something about the differences between these materials.

Marble's Properties

Marble's use in sculpting indicates that it is a material that is relatively easy to shape. That is to say that marble is relatively soft when compared to other surface materials, like porcelain for example. It is still a rock and that means it is a hard material. So, it is used for surfaces like flooring and countertops as well. It is just not as hard as other natural stone or some of the man-made materials used for similar purposes. This is one feature that makes marble such an elegant material.

Why is marble softer than other materials? Marble is composed of minerals just like other natural stone is. However, one of the primary substances in natural marble is calcium carbonate in crystal form, also called calcite. This substance is a "soft" substance and is what makes marble (and other kinds natural stone) easier to work if the right tools are used.

Characteristics of Porcelain

Porcelain too has some distinct traits that make it very useful for specific applications. One of the noteworthy traits of porcelain is its hardness. This hardness makes it a very durable material that resists scratching and enables it to withstand heat. For this reason, porcelain is desired by many for use in various projects.

What makes porcelain such a hard material? Well, without going into too much detail porcelain is a material that is produced through a process called "sintering". This process involves intense heat operating on particles of material. Wikipedia defines sintering as follows:

Sintering or frittage is the process of compacting and forming a solid mass of material by heat or pressure without melting it to the point of liquefaction.

One of the effects of sintering is that the resulting material is extremely hard. This makes it scratch resistant. And since the process itself involves intense heat, the resulting product is heat resistant as well.

Comparing Performance

So how does the performance compare when looking at marble vs porcelain? Well, it depends on what the application is. But for the purpose of this article, let's use one application in which both materials are used; countertops. It might be tempting to conclude that the harder material performs better, but that would be a hasty conclusion.

Both materials have benefits and drawbacks. It just depends on what is important to the final owner of the surface, in this case the countertop. While it is true that marble countertops will scratch easier than a porcelain surface will, it still resists scratching in household environments relatively well. Furthermore, the harder a material is, the more it tends to be brittle. You can imagine what might happen if a dense heavy object were to be dropped on a very hard surface. So, it really depends on knowing what can and cannot be done with or to the material you select for a countertop.

Caring for Marble vs Caring for Porcelain

Sticking with our scope of comparison, we will look at caring for surfaces (particularly countertop surfaces) that are made from each of these materials. We'll first consider marble and then we will look at porcelain.

Marble Care

Caring for marble is not as much of a challenge as some make it out to be. Using a couple of basic principles, one can keep a marble countertop looking good. It should be noted that some prefer to allow marble to develop a natural "patina" that comes from regular use.

One thing to keep in mind regarding marble is that the primary mineral it is composed of is susceptible to being dissolved by acids. So, if the surface is a polished marble, acidic liquids will dissolve the crystals and leave a dull spot. If the surface has a honed finish, acids will leave a dark spot. This is called etching. Etching looks like a stain but in reality, stains and etches are very different things.

Sealing Marble

Additionally, natural stone like marble is porous and will absorb any liquid that is left on the surface long enough. So, to protect against non-acidic liquids, sealer needs to be applied to marble surfaces periodically. This slows the rate of absorption of the marble so non-acidic liquids that could stain the stone can be wiped up before they get the opportunity to make their way into the stone's pores.

Regular Cleaning Product Choice

In light of the fact that marble must be regularly sealed, cleaning product choice makes a big difference. How so? Well, acidic liquids not only etch marble, but they also destroy sealers. So, sealing marble does no good if an acidic cleaner is used on the surface after sealing it. Therefore using a daily cleaner suitable for marble is recommended so that the sealer can remain intact to do its job. If a stain makes its way into a marble stone surface, it can be treated using one of the appropriate stain removers.

Porcelain Care

Porcelain surfaces have a care and maintenance routine that is simple. There are some incorrect conclusions that get drawn because of the simplicity of caring for porcelain. Let's look at how to care for porcelain surfaces.

Porcelain Is Non-porous & Needs No Sealing

We already noted that porcelain is a sintered material. One of the results of sintering is that the material produced is non-porous. This means that liquids do not penetrate the surface of the material. Since liquids cannot get into the material, it simply rests on the surface. If liquids do not get into the material, then there is no need for the material to be sealed. This makes care and maintenance of porcelain relatively easy compared to natural stone like marble.

That porcelain surfaces need no sealing does not mean that they are maintenance free or that they are stain proof. Any surface that gets used will need to be cleaned and maintained. Porcelain countertops are o different. However, stains that occur on porcelain countertops stay on the surface of the material. Treating them then becomes a matter of knowing which type of stain remover to use.

What to Clean Porcelain Surfaces With

Porcelain is relatively resistant to most types of cleaners. Reading the care and maintenance instructions provided by the manufacturer of your surface will ensure that you use an approved cleaner. However, as a general rule porcelain surfaces can be cleaned using a variety of cleaners. Certain cleaners work better on certain kinds of stains than do others. Below is a table showing which types of cleaners (acidic, alkaline, oxidant, and solvent) work well for certain kinds of stains.

Stain Cleaner
Grease Alkaline Detergent / Solvent
Oil Alkaline Detergent / Solvent
Tar Solvent
Plaster Acid
Ink Solvent
Rust Acid
Lime Acid
Chewing Gum Alkaline Detergent
Cement Acid
Wine Alkaline Detergent / Acid
Coffee Alkaline Detergent / Solvent
Rubber Solvent
Nicotine Solvent / Oxidant
Epoxy Adhesives Solvent
Candle Wax Solvent
Iodine Oxidant
Blood Oxidant
Ice Cram Alkaline Detergent
Resins Solvent
Hair Dye Degreasing Detergent
Fruit Juice Oxidant
Permanaent Marker Solvent
Aluminum Scratches Acid
Cola Oxidant
Acid cleaning products can include any of the low pH or descaling agent etc. Alkaline products include basic agents, ammonia etc. Solvents can include products such as universal solvent, turpentine (white spirit), acetone, alcohol etc. Oxidants include products such as hydrogen peroxide and diluted bleach.
Warning: Always read the guidelines provided by the cleaner manufacturer for any dilution ratios and exposure times.

As we have seen, marble and porcelain are two very different materials that can each be used for a variety of applications. Knowing a little bit about each materials and how it is to be careed for can help you to inform your customers about the material they are inquiring about. Thi will ensure that the project goes smooth and that the owner of the surface is ahppy with their decision.