Kya deLongchamps explores the best way to clean and protect that gorgeous old marble fireplace surround.

IN terms of stately loveliness, an antique or vintage fireplace really has it all. If you’re lucky enough to own one or even more than one, give that proud old face the care that it deserves. 

Marble is a metamorphic rock, originally a limestone. It has an open porous crystalline structure.

Unsealed, antique marble will draw standing liquids, waxes and oils down into the stone, causing discolouration, rings and rust marks, (stimulated by natural pyrite inclusions).

To avoid turning those glossy tablets of natural beauty into scarred headstones, start any cleaning with gentle, inert ingredients (a duster is the main event) and work your way forward with extreme caution. Use a soft micro-fibre cloth and as little product as possible — put away the vinegar and baking soda. 

Bleach, gritty cream cleansers and solvent sprays are all enemies, and even traditionally gentle cleansers will murder that glossy surface over time. Repeated dusting is preferable to any solvent based spray ‘polish’.

Start dry, add water and work forward from there. Before starting the summer clean, the cleaning team at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, remind us to look out or any gilding or painted decoration — avoid these areas of applied authentic detail. 

Veining, though lovely, marks out areas of weakness — don’t soak these crevices as even water leaching down into the stone can cause staining. Clean the entire fireplace with a non-abrasive microfibre cloth starting with clean, pure water, rinsed and wrung until the water runs clear.

Dry off any moisture spots immediately and finish with a commercial marble polish.

FOR a really dirty surround, try hand washing soap flakes (Ph neutral) dissolved in a bucket of water, and clean intricate marble details with a soft toothbrush skimmed through the suds rather than dribbling water over your hands. 

Wipe the whole surround off with a touch dry, micro-fibre cloth rinsed out in several changes of clean water, finishing with a dry chamois. Don’t allow the stone to just air-dry.

Again, finish with a dedicated marble polish, following the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. Consider investing in a stone sealer if your marble is completely bald and vulnerable, especially if you use the fireplace regularly.

For stubborn stains from soot to rust, there are naturally based DIY ‘poultices’ promoted online using baking soda, bleach, white spirit or even milk. 

Bound to the surface of the marble on torn up kitchen towel secured with plastic tape they are intended to sit for up to two hours to draw the dirt out of the stone, often demanding repeated applications. 

If you want to have a go, dilute hydrogen peroxide or acetone (removed and cleaned again with a damp cloth) is one of the gentler mixtures to magic out rings from dribbled mugs. Still, treat any recipe with extreme caution.

Chemically dissolving any stain, can cause it to just spread deeper and further. If you put any cleaner on marble, wipe it off with pure (preferably distilled) water as any gunge left on the fireplace will catch more dust and dirt. 

For paint spatters, a common disfigurement for a fireplace in a room for a couple of centuries, try your finger-nail before taking to a small flat blade — the danger of scoring the fireplace is very high. 

For a valuable fireplace or one with any architectural merit, call in a specialist who can not only clean the surfacing but has tools to wet sand and buff the fireplace back to a gorgeous shine.

Never dump cups of tea or glasses of wine on any white marble mantle, and if you’re using the mantle as a shelf for flowers or plants over the summer, ensure you place it on a waterproof dining mat or some sort of protective coaster. Coloured candle wax on pale marble can be disastrous, leaving a penetrating stain if not removed immediately. 

Vintage marble is soft, very soft, and if you start scrubbing away at it, the polished surface will dull and scratch. Wipe up stains the instant they happen. 

If you’re looking at a white fire surround from a salvage yard, fight shy of very yellowed-out pieces which may have drunk down decades of beeswax polishes, smoke stains and improper sealants which are virtually impossible to remove.


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