Marble is one of the most timeless and elegant flooring options available. It has been a popular choice for designers, architects, and artists throughout much of human history. Natural marble is quarried from mountain ranges in various locations around the world, and this diversity is reflected in the wide range of types, finishes, sizes, and colors available in marble flooring tile. While marble is a highly durable flooring material, it does require some special care and maintenance. It must be treated on a regular basis to protect it from spills and moisture, and it is always susceptible to certain kinds of stains and damage.
Start With a Sealer
Marble is a natural stone and all natural stone materials have porous surfaces. This makes marble susceptible to damage from a variety of stains and spills. To protect against stains, a new installation of marble should be treated with both a below-surface sealer and a surface finishing treatment. This fills the pores in the material while also creating an invisible protective layer on top. For ongoing maintenance, the same surface sealing treatment should be applied every 6–12 months, depending on the amount of traffic the floor gets.
Watch Out for Acids
Marble is an alkali, which means that it is a base in an acid-base relationship. This is important in flooring because if any acidic substance falls on an untreated marble floor it will create a chemical reaction that can lead to permanent discoloration of the marble. Common acidic substances include fruit products and juices, sodas, vinegar (and vinegar-based mixes), as well as a variety of soaps and cleaning agents. Spills should be wiped up immediately with a damp cloth. Regular sealing of the tiles offers some protection, but it's best to keep acid off of the floor at all times. Never use acid-based cleaning solutions on a marble floor.
Check for Slip-Resistance
In flooring, slip-resistance is measured by the coefficient of friction, or COF, which indicates how much force it takes to move a specific weight over a surface. The higher the COF the less slippery a floor is. The COF of a marble floor depends on the type of finish the stone has. A polished marble floor has a very low COF, especially when wet. This makes it a potentially serious slip hazard in areas prone to wetness, like bathrooms, kitchens, and entryways. Honed, tumbled, or brushed marble tiles all have greater traction due to the dimensional elements in the surface of the stone. These and other marble tiles with a higher COF are more appropriate for wet and high-traffic areas.
Protect from Physical Damage
While it's common to think of stone as a very hard substance, marble is actually quite a soft stone and can crack, chip, and break. Proper care taken during installation helps alleviate some risk of damage, by making sure there are no gaps in the thinset (tile adhesive) under the tile. Gaps can create pockets of air that can result in faults or weak spots in the floor.
An additional concern with polished marble is the potential for scratching. Placing acrylic or rubber pads under furniture legs and taking care when moving large pieces of furniture can help minimize noticeable scratches in the tile. Regular cleaning to keep the floor free of grit and dirt helps to prevent small scratches and blemishes caused by everyday traffic.
Cost of Marble Floor Tiles
The cost of marble tile can range from as little as $3 per square foot to more than $20 per square foot, making it one of the more expensive natural stone flooring options. In general, the larger the tile, the higher the cost per square foot. Discount tile stores may offer marble tile at extremely low prices. This can be a good way to save money, but be sure to check the store's return policy, as the materials you receive may be cracked or irregular. Some dealers also allow you to negotiate a discounted price for large jobs.