The Science Behind Your Benchtop: Natural Stone Properties Explained

If you’re renovating or updating your kitchen, your choice of benchtop is one of the most important choices you’ll make. But with so many materials to select from when choosing your benchtop, do you *really* know what you’re getting?  It’s easy to choose a new benchtop based on looks alone. Odds are, you already have a favourite whether you enjoy the timeless aesthetic of marble, the premium appearance of dolomite, the charm of quartz or another stone entirely. But what exactly is your benchtop made from? Can it withstand everyday wear and tear? And just how hard is it?  The table below outlines the results of popular stone options on the Mohs Scale of Hardness – a measure of scratch resistance from 1 (least resistant) to 10 (most resistant). The higher the Mohs score, the less likely your benchtop will become scratched or scuffed.
Natural Stone Mohs Scale of Hardness
Marble 3
Limestone 3
Calcite 3
Dolomite 4
Granite 6.5
Natural Quartz 7
To help you plan your next kitchen upgrade with confidence, we’re breaking down the science behind your most popular benchtop choices. Let’s get right into it!

#1 – Marble Benchtops

Look up any kitchen design blog and you’ll encounter a sharp divide over the utility of marble.  Some people wouldn’t dream of designing a kitchen without marble. Others find marble’s reaction to acid as impractical. The truth is, few stones can match the warm glow, flowing colours, and the authenticity of marble. There’s a good reason this stone has been used for over 5,000 years!

The science of marble explained

Marble is a metamorphic rock – meaning it has been through a transformation. Before marble becomes marble, it’s first a sedimentary limestone which forms on the floor of the ocean as an accumulation of calcite shells and coral (and may have occasional layers of clay or lenses of sand).  As a quick science lesson, oceans are basically geologic conveyor belts. When a limestone seabed gets dragged down into the Earth’s crust, the heat transforms calcite grains and fuses them together. A rock in this heated state won’t melt but it is warm and flexible like a chocolate bar left in your pocket.   This process of heating and warping is responsible for marble’s trademark aesthetic of gracefully flowing bands of colour. The grey swirls in marble are clay layers that got folded, smeared, and re-folded into the marble like a ribbon of chocolate infused throughout fudge ripple ice cream.

The properties of marble explained

The mineral content of marble is the same as the limestone it came from. Both of these stones are made of calcite (calcium carbonate).  Calcite is 3 on Mohs hardness scale, which means it will get scratched by knife blades, ceramics, and a cast iron skillet accidentally slid across the kitchen island. Calcite is also chemically reactive with common acids, such as those found in lemonade and wine.  When acidic liquids land on a marble slab, a tiny amount of the stone is dissolved, or “etched.” This doesn’t affect the integrity of the stone, but it does leave a slight change in the colour and/or lustre. Etches can be polished out, or they can be left alone and considered part of the natural patina that marble will acquire over time.  Looking to refresh your marble surfaces? Marble Touchup can be used to polish out etch marks in marble and restore the shine to your favourite kitchen surfaces.  See here for more information 

Is marble more porous than granite?

The metamorphism that bakes marble also knits the minerals together tightly meaning the porosity for marble is similar to that of granite. That said, the porosity of all stones varies, so check the stone specs and do your own tests with a sample of stone. Marbles are typically sealed to reduce the likelihood of staining. Keep in mind, sealing does not make marble any less prone to etching as this is a chemical reaction.

#2 – Dolomite

Dolomite is a marble that has been infused with groundwater containing magnesium.  If you’re planning a new benchtop, it helps to know that Dolomite ranks higher than marble on the durability scale, largely due to its dense mineral composition. Slightly harder than most marbles, dolomites tend to resist scratches and heat more readily.  While similar in appearance (but varying from slab to slab), Dolomite is a far denser stone than marble. This means it’s less porous, making it better for areas of the home that are exposed to significant amounts of liquid like bathrooms and kitchens. It also means that it’s tougher as well, though a Dolomite benchtop will still need regular sealing to ensure it looks its best. 

Is Dolomite durable enough for a kitchen benchtop?

Without question, yes. However, this stone is not quite on par with the durability of granite and quartzite. Although dolomites will hold up better than marble to acids and etching, they can still etch – this process will just be a bit slower. This characteristic may give you the moment needed to wipe up an accidental spill before the chemical reaction takes place. In terms of performance, you’re better off thinking of Dolomite as a harder form of marble. In other words, a Dolomite benchtop is a good middle-of-the-road option for kitchen and bathroom renovation projects when it comes to durability.  Super White Dolomite is increasingly being featured in luxurious kitchen and bathroom designs. As a bold alternative to common Carrara marble, Super White Dolomite offers stunning hues of grey and white giving it that desirable marble-look, but with a little more strength. This stone is frequently mistakenly labelled as quartzite but it is still a type of marble, so don’t be afraid to put your local stone supplier to the test by asking questions! Other dolomites include the Western Australian Austral Dream and Pilbara Red.

#3 – Natural Quartzite

Quartzite is probably the hardest and most durable of the countertop options. At the same time, quartzite may be the most confusing natural stone out there. A quick Google search will only leave you with mixed, confusing messages, so here are the facts.  For a start, Quartzite is commonly mislabelled. Some quartzite is the real deal, but sometimes marble or dolomitic marble are labelled as quartzite. Because of this people often assume there are a variety of types of quartzite – but there isn’t. Quartzite has very consistent properties and we’ll break them down for you now.

The science of quartzite explained

Quartzite is a metamorphic rock made almost entirely of the mineral quartz. Quartzite begins its geologic life as sand grains, perhaps on a beach, desert dune, or riverbed.  Over time, the sand grains become compressed and stuck together to form sandstone. As the sandstone gets buried deeper underneath layers of rocks, it gets hotter and more compressed. With enough heat and pressure, the sand grains lose their original shape and fuse to their neighbours, forming a dense, durable rock. The process is similar to individual snowflakes merging into solid, glacial ice.

The properties of quartzite explained

You needn’t be a geologist to appreciate the hardness and durability of quartzite. Not only does this make for a tough stone, but it also makes it easy to tell quartzite from the imposters.  Quartzite is 7 on Mohs hardness scale. That means it’s harder than glass and harder than a knife blade (so you won’t easily leave scratches when you’re whipping up a masterpiece in the kitchen). As an added bonus, quartzite will not etch from acids like lemon juice or vinegar. If a rock labelled as quartzite becomes etched from acid, then it has been mislabelled.  Quartzite has a range of porosities. Some, like Taj Mahal, have been highly metamorphosed, and the minerals are bonded together tightly. Whereas White Macaubas has been exposed to less intense pressure, so it is more porous and will benefit from sealing.

#4 – Granite

Granite is a whole separate category of rocks that form from liquid magma. Sometimes quartzite is mislabelled as granite (which is not the worst mistake because they have similar properties).  Granite and quartzite are both harder than glass, and neither will be etched by mild acids. Geologically speaking, they are different classes of rocks, but that is less important than how they will behave on a countertop. White granites are rarely a consistent, even-toned colour as most light-coloured granites have more than one colour in them, and it’s rare to have a white granite without any darker minerals at all.  Save time and money by choosing the best granite benchtop builder in Perth

The science of granite explained

Granite has a Mohs average hardness of 6.5 but can vary between 6 and 7 depending on its mineral composition. As an example, White Feldspar has a hardness of 6.5 whilst crystal quartz is 7. In comparison, most engineered stones are a hardness of between 5 and 6.  Though they consist mainly of quartz – which is a 7 on Mohs scale – by the time the product is manufactured with added resins and polymers, the end result is not as hard as natural quartz. If the slab has minerals larger than a couple of inches, then you’ve got a pegmatite. This is a special type of granite with super-sized crystals with Alaska White and Azul Delicatus both dramatic examples of a granite pegmatite. In contrast, if it contains garnet, it’s granulite or a gneiss. Garnets are small, round minerals that are dark pink, burgundy, or reddish brown in colour. Their presence is an instant giveaway that you’re looking at metamorphic variations of granite. Gneiss has stripes or bands of lighter and darker minerals, while granulite tends to have few or no stripes and is generally light coloured overall. There are many white granulites on the market, including Bianco Ghiaccio while Venora White is an example of gneiss. Finally, mica is common in granite. Mica is present in small amounts in granite, and it makes an appearance as glittery minerals that can be silver, gold, bronze, or metallic black. If a stone is mostly made of mica, then it’s a schist like Cosmic Black.

Is granite suitable for a kitchen benchtop?

Whatever the type, granite is definitely one of the strongest and most durable options for your benchtop. Some lighter coloured granites may need sealing once a year however this is a simple process of wiping on the sealer, letting it soak in and then wiping off the excess. As it is so easy to do, it should not be a deterrent to using the lighter granites.  Looking for prices? Here’s how much a granite benchtop costs in Perth Some darker granites are so dense that they wont even take in a sealer and therefore never need to be sealed. These are some of the most maintenance free granites available. Granite has fast become one of the preferred choices for benchtops as it is stronger and more heat resistant than most engineered stones. In an outdoor alfresco area, granite is the clear winner for durability, UV resistance and the ability to handle the extreme heats put out by a BBQ. 

Looking for more striking natural stone options?

Class is officially out! Now you know what the most popular benchtop products are made of inside and out. Understanding the composition of each option can help you choose the stone that meets your needs, offers aesthetic advantages, and stands the test of time in your home. Whatever product you decide is best for your project, Granite Warehouse can help you find the right material to suit your needs.  With over 40 years of experience and over 200 stones so you’re sure to find a product that fits seamlessly into your kitchen’s design and your lifestyle. Plus, our business model means you pay less with our highly competitive rates, so browse our wide range of products today or contact us on 08 9209 2620 to speak to a member of our team!