I love the look of honed limestone and marble countertops, but I know that both stones are very porous and stain, scratch, and etch easily. I am not a pristine cook or a quick cleaner, so there's a great likelihood that staining substances will sit on our counters for hours (or, dare I say it, possibly days) at a time. So, for a laugh, the last time we ate some Indian take-out food, we decided to experiment on a small 4" x 4" square sample of honed, untreated, white limestone. We spread oily curries full of bright yellow turmeric and tomatoes on the stone as well as some tea and red wine for extra effect. As expected the oils and curries soaked right in. After about an hour, we rinsed off our stone sample and looked at the stains. It was a disaster--red yellow and brown oily splotches marred the surface. Then we tried to clean, first with dish soap and a cloth, then a cleaner, then a combo of vinegar and soda powder. We managed to lessen the stains somewhat, but the blotches remained. We laughed and realized that limestone, at least soft white, honed, unsealed limestone, could never work in our kitchen. But then something happened. About a week later, we took another look at our stone sample, which we'd left sitting on our current counter as a reminder of our folly, and to our amazement, the stains had vanished. TRULY VANISHED, by themselves, as if by magic... What did it mean? Was the limestone so porous that the stains just continued diffusing into the stone until they were so uniformly spread out that they left no mark? Had our cleaners somehow worked, but at an imperceptble pace? We decided to repeat our experiment.
So a couple of weeks ago we covered our square sample of limestone with (clockwise from top): tea leaves and water, sharpie, olive oil and turmeric, red wine, olive oil and mustard, spaghetti sauce, more red wine with tin can imprint, and plain olive oil.
We let the staining substances sit on the limestone overnight. In the light of day, the stone looked like this:
The next step was to rinse off the stone. This is how it looked after a rinse and a scrub with dish soap:
Obviously, a simple soap and cloth clean-up wasn't enough. We next tried vinegar, to no real avail, then a combination of lemon juice and baking soda. The lemon baking soda combination did lessen the stains somewhat, but the traces remain, and the smooth honed finish is rough and pitted. Here is the stone sample today:
So, our experiment is at an end. We believe that most stains could ultimately be removed from limestone with lemon juice and baking soda, but at the expense of the smooth honed finish. Of course, limestone and marble can be re-honed, and both surfaces would be sealed periodically to lessen their vulnerability. Still, stains are bound to happen. I think I might enjoy a counter that revealed its history, but N is not so sure. We love the look of real stone but may have to opt for something else. So, steel and zinc are options, as are the new quartz and acrylic products (although I'm not really a fan of their uniform manufactured look). I'm very partial to light counters for their reflective qualities--otherwise I would consider soapstone, which can be beautiful, but too light absorbing for our long dark winters. Luckily, we still have quite a bit of time before we'll be choosing our kitchen counters. The bathroom is still our current priority and we're planning on a marble vanity top (well-sealed) for that room. Stay tuned for a bathroom update in the next day or so.