Even though it’s only October, we are heading straight into the winter season – some of you readers may already have an inch or two of snow on the ground!

One of the staples of the winter season (besides all of the festivities) is the prevalence of oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes. Citrus season spans from about October through March, though new hybrids can be harvested all year round.

There are so many ways to love citrus—maybe it’s a fresh glass of OJ in the morning or a slice of lemon cake dripping with lemon glaze. Delicious! Unfortunately, though you may love citrus, your kitchen countertops may not. Let’s take a closer look at the effect of citrus on different types of surfaces.

Is citrus a countertop enemy?

The answer: not necessarily, and it depends. Laminate, solid surface, quartzite, soapstone, and quartz don’t falter in the presence of citrus juice or any other common kitchen acids. Laminate, solid surface, and quartz are manmade countertop materials, so they are pretty resistant to etching, but they can stain or bleach in the presence of lemon. Soapstone is nearly impervious, though you should always wipe up acidic spills as soon as possible as a precaution.

Some of the other natural stone countertops, however, start quaking in their boots whenever citrus is around. Why is that? Let’s take a little look:

Marble: Remember in science class when you experimented with baking soda and vinegar? The concoction of baking soda and vinegar bubbled up and went everywhere as part of the chemical reaction. Lemon juice on marble countertops also triggers a chemical reaction (though it won’t bubble up the same way), and that reaction can etch into the surface of the marble within seconds.

What is etching? Etching is when the acid eats away at the stone, leaving it looking dull and possibly discolored. It’s not something that you can seal against or buff out. Once etched, the marble is etched forever. That’s not to say that your countertop is ruined, however. Most of the time, you can only see the etches if you’re standing with your right arm out and your left pinky finger touching your nose – that’s to say, lighting and your physical position relative to the etch determines how well you can see it. It is possible to get rid of etch marks by having a professional come in and sand down and repolish the stone, but it can get pricey. Some homeowners feel that the etching gives their countertops character, but if you can’t stand the thought of having permanent damage on your countertop with every wayward droplet, marble probably isn’t the right fit for you.

Granite: Granite is considered one of the most durable countertops out there, but it is still susceptible to lemon juice damage because it has the mineral calcite. Lemon juice corrodes the calcite in the granite, leaving a white, splotchy stain where the lemon juice was. These stains may or may not be reversible, but the good news is that lemon doesn’t damage granite as quickly as it does marble (though you should still clean it up right away). There are several DIY hacks and professional products for removing lemon stains from granite countertops, but your first step should be to call your manufacturer and ask for their advice.

What can I do about staining and etching?

It’s important to know that staining and etching aren’t the same thing and that sealing your granite or marble countertops will only get you so far. The best possible thing that you can do is to prepare and prevent.

  1. Be careful! When you’re cooking or using your countertops, the most important thing you can do is be careful. Sure, granite is durable, but you should still use coasters and cutting boards and wipe up spills immediately. It’s just good practice.
  2. Stay on top of your sealing schedule. For marble countertops, you should seal them every three to six months to keep them protected and looking beautiful. Granite countertops should be resealed every six months to a year, but depending on how much you use your kitchen, you can reseal high traffic areas as often as every month. Sealing won’t protect your countertops against lemon, but it will keep them protected against life in general.
  3. Consider a honed surface instead of glossy. A honed surface looks a little bit like it was put through a rock tumbler. Instead of being polished to a high gloss, a honed surface is a little rougher to the touch and has a rustic, matte finish that will hide a lot of etching or staining.
  4. Take a good look at your lifestyle. Before you invest in marble or granite, take a good, hard look at your preferences and standards. If you are a perfectionist who is bothered by the slightest discolorations, you should probably invest in another natural or synthetic countertop material. Soapstone, quartz, and solid surface can all hold their own against lemon juice and other common kitchen acids without suffering lasting damage. If you can accept staining and etching as the inevitable, however, marble and granite will add beauty to your home for years to come.
  5. Call the fabricator. For any damage to your countertop, call your fabricator and ask for a recommended product or process for removing stains before attempting any DIY corrections. They may offer a simple solution or product that will work without causing further damage to your countertop, or they might tell you that the damage is irreversible and give you options for your next step.

Granite and marble are some of the most beautiful countertop materials on the market, and even though lemon juice is their Achilles heel, with the right maintenance and mindset, your countertops can remain gorgeous for years to come.