By Jon Anderson
There are many options for countertops, ranging from bog-standard Formica and tile to stainless steel, slab glass, concrete, marble, granite, manufactured quartz and now natural quartzite.
The minimum one expects from a countertop is durability. Many would think durability, along with stone rarity, should increase with price. I think we all know that marble, especially the lighter colored varieties, can be fussy and prone to staining. It requires regular sealing to protect from stains, which is why it’s more often used in bathrooms versus kitchens. Sealing doesn’t protect against etching.
Quartz is a very hard and durable mineral that’s imprecisely used to describe two types of stone. There is manufactured quartz like Silestone and Caesarstone that take quartz aggregate and mix it with resin under extreme heat and pressure to form slabs. Quartzite is an all-natural stone mined the same way as marble and granite.
Quartzite’s appearance varies greatly but has distinct veining and can have a look anywhere from crisp solid coloring to very crystalline in appearance (like crushed ice). I’ve seen quartz so perfectly colored, I’d swear it was fake. While some patterns are brilliantly crazy, it’s generally a more subtle stone group that definitely causes as much “WOW” for viewers as it does owner’s wallets.
But quartzite has a dirty little secret. There’s a high likelihood it’s been mislabeled which may lead to problems.
Etching: SOME Quartzite’s (and Onyx’s and Marble’s) Dirty Secret
According to the Marble Institute of America some quartzite etches because in slab preparation, resins are infused into the slab that enhance slab stability and make it shine. But when acidic liquids – wine, tomatoes, citrus, etc. – aren’t wiped up immediately, you’re left with a ghosted etch mark. Etching can also occur when cleaners that contain hydrofluoric acid are used. The resins are used before it gets to the distributor/fabricator so it’s not a “local” treatment.
Resins are natural or synthetic compounds generally originating from tree or plant sap. In the past, some stone slabs were rejected at the quarry because of brittleness. Resins can turn these previously unsellable stones into marketable slabs. I can’t help wonder if this is one reason why quartzite has only recently become popular.
Note: Most quartzite’s that etch are mislabeled. Actual quartzite is quite durable. The trick is to know if you’re being lied to.
Etching is especially apparent on light/white colored stone, but the dulling appearance of etching will be visible on any colored quartzite.
Reading across multiple message boards, it seems that because the etching is resin-related, etching is not universal. It’s dependent on the stone supplier (quarry) and what resin was used – some resins apparently don’t etch. While some suggest not all stones have been treated with resin, they seem to be outnumbered by stone experts saying that un-resined quartzite is next to impossible to buy.
Resin ingredients literally vary by country and even quarry which makes it hard to track what ingredient in the resin reacts to acids on the countertop.
Note: Some dispute that there are resins in the stone. Regardless, etching will occur if the stone isn’t a true quartzite.
Why doesn’t this problem occur with granite? Granites are formed via volcanic processes (igneous rocks) and are stable enough in slab form not to need impregnation of resins. Quartzite is a metamorphic rock that’s formed when sandstone-based rock is “morphed” from sand to glassy crystalline with heat and pressure. The crystalline structure creates a more brittle stone that is stabilized by resins.
All this I learned AFTER I’d installed quartzite (Actually Calcite) in my kitchen, started cooking and began to notice the un-cleanable etching. Recently I spoke with IMC, my stone supplier, and they were surprised to hear that no one had warned me. Nope, not once in the dozen-ish trips I made to IMC nor at any of the other stone yards in Dallas I visited, (including Allied Stone). Had I known, I NEVER would have purchased the stone, let alone pay extra over granite.
My neighbor has the exact same stone and is having the same problem. I recently saw it being installed at a remodel on Hanover Street in University Park and wonder how long before a new owner hears the ticking time bomb.
Basically, in my experience, the ONLY 100 percent safe, durable and un-etchable natural stone is granite. But unfortunately, I don’t have granite, so what are the options to minimize the problem?
Bad news. It’s likely unavoidable and not reversible. How quickly can it happen? I was told by one fabricator that in the time it took to grab a towel to wipe up a spot of lemon juice, one owner’s stone had etched. In the eighteen months I’ve had the countertops, I’d estimate that 10% of the surface is noticeably etched. There suggestions ranging from re-polishing to clear-coating it.
Re-polishing the stone would cost me $1,200 and the result would be just as susceptible to etching (requiring future re-polishing) and the resulting shine may not match the original finish. Either way, it’s an expensive, never-ending short-term fix.
Another option is a product called Clearstone that was developed in Australia. It’s a 1-2 mm thick overcoat resin that’s professionally applied. It comes with a 10-year warranty against etching (staining, etc.). However it has mixed reviews. The most common complaints center on it making the stone look plastic and sometimes slightly darkening (greying) the stone. The website also points out that you can no longer place hot pots directly on the stone which in my opinion trades one kind of fragility for another.
I met with the Clearstone rep in Dallas and his sample stone looks fine. I also found out that it’s true, hot pots aren’t recommended, but that after the four-month cure, while still not recommended, it’s kinda-sorta-maybe-OK. Which is a nice way of saying it’s not covered by their warranty so if you damage the countertop, it’s your problem.
…and then there’s the price! The stone cost me $6,500 installed. The Clearstone treatment would cost $4,200! In other words, the same cost to throw these finicky counters off the roof and install carefree un-etchable granite!
A third suggestion I’ve read is the most specious. Don’t buy high-gloss quartzite, buy a leather or honed finish instead. Well, DUH! If the whole slab already looks etched and imperfect, post-installation etching won’t show as badly. But equally, the stone’s beauty won’t show through either.
Learn from Me
Some posters suggest getting a chunk of stone you’re considering and taking it home for a literal acid test – leaving lemon juice, wine, etc. overnight to see what happens. But I’ve also read that etching can occur at differing rates on the same slab because some areas will have more/deeper resin than others. For this reason, the chunk test may not reflect the whole slab.
Eighteen months ago, I spent BIG to get the “cool” quartzite (mislabeled Calcite) that gets new etches with every party and made-from-scratch pot of spaghetti sauce. I’ve taken to covering the counters with clear plastic tablecloth sheeting sold by Jo-Ann Fabrics to protect the counters during parties. When cooking with acidic ingredients (like tomatoes or citrus) I cover my work area with silicone Silpats.
At the end of the day, I feel deceived and ripped-off, wondering if Formica would have been a better choice.
It’s criminal that consumers are being bilked by their stone suppliers into purchasing quartzite that is in fact something else … something more fragile. At the very least, if (fake) quartzite continues to be sold, it should include the cost of a sealer like Clearstone as part of the deal.
Having lost trust in labeling, I still say … Go Granite or Go Home.
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