This is another Home Flooring Pros How-To guide and follows directly on from our last guide on how to clean marble floors. This time out we’re going to take a look at marble floor polishing and how to restore the shine.
The gleaming appeal of freshly installed marble floors is unsurpassed. With time and foot traffic, the glory fades, and homeowners wonder if it can be restored. Yes, it can!
So let’s begin this step by step guide and show you how to polish marble floors yourself.
We’re going to show you how to polish marble floors using two different methods. First, we discuss dry polishing for small rooms with tight spaces like bathrooms and move to wet polishing for larger areas with few obstacles.
We conclude with professional marble floor polishing options and costs for those that want to ensure factory-fresh results.
How to Restore a Marble Floor (Dry Polishing)
Marble’s opulent sparkle is still there, hidden beneath a scuffed and murky surface but waiting to shine again.
Here’s how to make that happen using a dry polishing method.
DIY tip: Wet polishing (our second method below) using water and polishing powder, is an option too, but it takes practised technique to be successful plus makes additional mess that must be cleaned up to avoid staining the marble. The first-time marble polishing DIY homeowner will achieve better results with the dry polishing method, but it is labour intensive for large areas.
Step 1: Clear the Room
Perhaps this goes without saying, but working in an empty room, rather than moving furniture as you go, is easier. It will allow you to focus on the job, keep track of what’s been polished and prevent you from tracking polishing dust into adjoining rooms.
Step 2: Gather your Tools
Safety first! Dry polishing marble flooring creates dust you certainly don’t want to breath. Wear protective goggles and a respirator. This affordable combo kit contains both.
Wearing leather gloves, long pants and knee pads is essential to keeping fine marble and diamond dust from agitating your skin when you contact the floor.
An orbital sander: While a standard drill (worst) or angle grinder (better) can be used, an orbital sander is best designed for this type of work. If you’re not familiar with this tool, one look at it will demonstrate that it offers superior control and the ability to exert firm and steady downward pressure. You can see why an orbital sander is also called a palm sander.
DIY tip: A corded orbital sander is a better choice than a cordless unit. While keeping the cord out of the way is a slight nuisance, you will appreciate having continuous power for many hours of polishing. There won’t be interruptions switching batteries or waiting for a battery to charge. This Bosch model is both affordable and highly rated with many reviews.
A palm sander can be rented at Home Depot and elsewhere, but the charge for a single weekend is about half the cost of buying the unit. DIY enthusiasts will find many other uses for the sander, so owning rather than renting is our recommendation.
Diamond polishing pads for marble: You want a set of diamond marble polishing pads ranging from quite coarse (50 to 100 grit) to very fine (3000 grit). Most kits have a backer pad too, the piece that fits into the sander and grips the Velcro backing of the pads.
We like this Change Moore set because it includes all you need including the most common grits plus a buffing pad to really bring out the sparkle. Additional pads in all grits plus buff are available and easy to order.
DIY tip: Buy a second set of diamond polishing pads, especially if doing a marble floor larger than a bathroom. You won’t run out of pads in the middle of the job, and the extras can be used for touching up small scratches, saved for your next marble floor polishing project in a few years or used to refinish things like metal cabinets and more.
Shop vacuum with a soft-brush head: Make sure the filter is in place, because you’re about to make a lot of fine dust.
Tool and Technique Tips
Here’s the basic marble polishing technique, and then we’ll apply it.
1). Tool setup: Install the pad backer piece in the sander. Tighten it securely. The sander manual will show you how to do this. Fix a 50-grit pad to it.
2). Tool control: Coarse pads have a lot of grip, and if not held securely, the sander rather than the head will spin. Turn on the sander, and hold it firmly with both hands, one on top, and one around the neck of the tool.
DIY tip: Practice in a less-visible location beneath the refrigerator or where a bath rug usually lies. If you have a large tile of spare marble and can clamp it down to a work bench, that’s even better. Practice the technique we’re about to share before working highly visible spaces.
3). Sanding action: Press the sanding pad against the floor, and move it side to side in a sweeping motion. The gentle arc should be 24” to 48” depending on what is comfortable for you. The further away from you the sander is, the less control you have.
DIY tip: Let the tool do the work! Hold the pad firmly to the floor, but don’t push too hard. If your forearms and shoulders quickly get tired, you’re pressing too hard. In the unlikely event that little dust is being produced, your touch is too light, and you’ll need to add a bit of pressure.
4). Starting location: Once you feel comfortable with technique, begin polishing in a far corner, and work side to side and backward, so the bulk of your body is always on unpolished marble. This will prevent you from dragging sanding dust onto freshly polished marble and scratching it.
Polish from Coarse to Fine
You’re just a few steps away from a rejuvenated marble floor.
1). Start gritty: Go over your floor first with the coarsest (lowest number) pad in the set, usually 50, 64 or 100 grit. Keep the sander moving, never holding it in once spot to prevent gouging the marble. Cover the entire floor.
DIY tip: The edges of flooring usually haven’t been dulled by foot traffic. However, if your marble edges are looking dull, try a damp cloth on them first. Cleaning might be all they need. If they’re still dull, remove the baseboard trim, so you can run the sander all the way to the edges. Number the boards as you remove them, so you can put them back in the right spots.
2). Vacuum between grits: Always vacuum with a soft-brush head, never the hard-plastic head. This will avoid marring the elegant surface you’ve just created through plenty of effort. Don’t panic if you see swirl marks in the marble surface after using a 50 or 100 grit pad. They will disappear as the pad grits get finer.
3). Repeat step 1 with increasingly finer grit: Polish, vacuum and repeat with a finer pad. That’s the process from this point. The more grits you use, the easier the work and the more beautiful the finished flooring will be. For example, if you buy the pad set we recommend or one like it, a good progression of grits would be: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, and 3000. If the floor is in very poor condition, starting with the 50-grit pad might be necessary.
DIY tip: These pads are designed to shed dust. If your pad gets caked with dust, use a soft nylon brush to remove it as needed. When the pad stops making dust, its diamond grit is gone, and it must be replaced.
4). Vacuum and clean as usual: Vacuum the marble for a final time, and then clean it using your normal routine. If you don’t have one or want to see what the pros recommend, our How to Clean Marble Floors Guide has the answers.
5). Seal your marble floor: This is very important. Don’t leave your floor unprotected and susceptible to staining!
How to Wet Polish Marble Floors
Gather your Tools:
This is a different ballgame altogether. You’re about to make a mess…not fine dust, but sloppy slurry.
Here is what you’ll need:
Plastic and plastic tape: Use these materials to cover your cabinets to about 30” off the floor.
Floor polishing machine: These tools have a polishing surface that is 16 or 20 inches in diameter, so the work goes much faster than when working with a 3-inch orbital sander. Floor machines can be rented at The Home Depot and similar locations for about $50 per day
Polishing pads: Pros typically go over a floor with three or four pads. They are sold by grit, and the industry has adopted a universal color code to make it easy: Coarse/Red (400 grit), Medium/White (800 grit) and Fine/Yellow (1500 grit) and Ultra-fine/Green (3000 grit). These pads aren’t cheap at $50-$75 each, but each is good for 10,000 square feet of flooring (going over it 5 times per polish). That means if you have 200 square feet of marble, you’ll get five uses from each in the years ahead, so the lifetime cost of the pads is affordable.
Marble Polishing powder: After using just the pads, marble polish as a finishing touch really brings out the gleam.
Watering can: When using just the pads and then the polish, water is sprinkled onto the floor. A garden-style watering can works well.
Shop vacuum and squeegee: Water must be vacuumed up between each step in the process. A wet/dry vacuum is the right tool. Look for a rubberized squeegee head to prevent running the hard plastic head of the shop vac over your newly polished floors. It might leave marks or scratches. The other option is to use a squeegee to bring the water to the shop vac head.
Tool and Technique Tips
There are similarities between using a small palm sander and a pro-style floor polishing machine. It’s much harder though, and the risk of damaging the floor, walls and cabinetry is high for the inexperienced.
Polish from Coarse to Fine
Setup and practice: Set the red pad in the middle of the room. Lift the polishing machine up and onto it, centering the machine on the pad. A small perimeter of pad might stick out. We’ve recommended starting in the middle of the room for practice.
Grip the handles firmly, and flip the switch to On. The machine will want to pull in the direction of the rotation. You must control that to do the job safely and effectively. Once you feel you can do that, turn off the machine.
Sprinkle water over the floor: Use the watering can to lightly sprinkle water on up to 100 square feet of flooring.
Move to the far corner, and polish the marble from side to side. Here’s the basic technique:
Starting in a far corner, move laterally to the right until you meet the wall. Pull the machine about 8” toward you, and work back to the left. You’ll be overlapping the first run by about half. Complete the entire room.
Vacuum up the water: Most of the water should be removed between polishing passes.
Polish in the opposite direction: Now polish the marble floor, starting in an adjacent corner, back and forth perpendicularly to your first pass.
Repeat: Use the same pad to make a side to side pass and a back and forth pass. You will now have gone over the floor four times.
Continue through all four colors: Replace the red pad with a succession of the white, yellow and green pads, making four passes with each as described above.
DIY tip: Having a helper will greatly reduce the time it takes. When working in tandem, one person can polish almost non-stop while the other sprinkles and vacuums water (and powder in the next step).
Use Marble Polishing Powder
Use a finish pad for this step. They are often called super-polishing or ultra-polishing marble pads. They are more affordable at $6 to $8 per pad and often sold in packs of five like these from 3M.
There are several good polishing powder products available. We like Tenax Marble Polishing Powder. It’s a best-selling polishing powder that delivers fantastic results and is easy to use.
Sprinkle and wet: Follow directions on the marble polishing powder package. For most products, you want a slurry that is about the thickness of whole milk, maybe just a bit thicker. Sprinkle powder directly on the floor, and sprinkle water onto it.
DIY tip: Keep the lid on your polishing powder when not sprinkling it on the floor. This will keep moisture from getting into it and causing clumping.
Side to side / back and forth: A series of slow, deliberate passes in both directions will bring out the pop in your marble.
Professional Marble Polishing and Cost
If this sounds like more work than you want or a level of expertise is required beyond your current ability, you’re not alone. Most homeowners, even those with good skills, choose professional marble polishing. It’s the best way to get the results you want.
The average marble floor polishing cost is $3.25 to $4.50 per square foot. The condition of the floor is the major cost factor. Marble in poor condition and floors with scratches that need filling before polishing cost more.
Also, if the room is very small, a bathroom with a 4×6 floor, for example, there might be a minimum charge of $200-$300.