This head-to-head guide clarifies the often confusing comparison of cultured marble vs marble. Is it real marble? How can you tell?
All questions and details are answered in-depth below, so let’s dig in!
1. Cultured Marble vs Marble: Questions, Answers, Comparison
2. Is Cultured Marble Real Marble?
3. What's the difference between marble and cultured marble?
4. How can you tell marble from cultured marble?
5. Care & Cleaning Comparison
6. Cost: Natural Marble vs Cultured Marble
7. Cultured Marble vs Engineered Marble
8. What's the difference between cultured marble and engineered marble?
9. Cultured Marble vs Onyx
Every homeowner and designer on the planet seems to love the look of marble, and I’m sure you are familiar too. It’s gorgeous but can be a bit tricky to care for, so you’re considering alternatives.
You may have heard of cultured marble, but it’s not surprising if you don’t know much about it.
Even though it does have extensive use and appeal and could be precisely what you want for your kitchen or bathroom countertops, it simply gets lost among the myriad kitchen countertop options.
The first question most people ask…
No, cultured marble is not real marble, the natural stone. But it is related. Cultured marble is a man-made material blending pulverized natural marble with synthetic resins and dyes then coated with a clear, hard, protective gel.
So cultured marble contains real marble dust but is not itself natural marble. It is faux marble.
Cultured marble is more closely comparable to Corian and quartz countertops in this regard, although it is still a bit different than these countertop materials.
It’s a versatile material used to make countertops and vanity tops, along with sinks, backsplashes, showers, and bathtubs.
So we now know that cultured marble is not the same as real marble, but that’s not the end of the story.
Looking carefully below at specific pros and cons of cultured marble vs marble, we’ll see many similarities regarding the look, performance, cost, cleaning, maintenance, and repair characteristics. But, of course, differences too.
Here are the key differences, but don’t miss the detailed explanations in the sections below to give you a complete understanding.
Natural marble is quarried from the earth and considered a high-end, luxury material. Cultured marble is a man-made, budget-friendly surface made to look like marble. Additional differences are:
Colors & Patterns: Cultured Marble vs Marble
Some will argue that the look of cultured marble is nearly identical to marble as many cultured marble colors are designed to resemble marble countertops, and it has a glossy finish.
It may be true that cultured marble and real marble can look the same from a distance. Still, even a person without any knowledge of countertop materials will instantly recognize the difference up close.
Marble is the essence of luxury, especially white marble, such as Carrara and Calacatta. Designers and homeowners alike love the colors, unique veining, look, and feel of real marble.
Cultured marble is man-made and not considered a luxury countertop material. However, it can present a clean and classic if modest elegance depending on the color and pattern chosen.
Both do share a comparable color palette, though, with predominantly whites, tans, and earth tones, but also black, blue, green, red, and pink colors.
The most common signs that you have cultured marble and not real marble is that cultured marble countertops will have an integrated sink and backsplash of the same color and pattern, no seams or caulking, a thin edge, and dull gray underside. Additional clues are...
We've learned that cultured marble and real marble are completely different materials.
However, a close look at the cleaning issues of cultured marble vs marble reveals that both have similar weaknesses and share a similar level of required care and maintenance.
So, it's interesting... the time and effort needed to maintain each surface in good condition is the same, but note that specific issues and cleaners vary.
Repair & Refinishing Options
Repair is possible on both surfaces. However, marble repair procedures are entirely different from cultured marble and do not cross over.
Cultured marble countertops and vanities on average are cheaper than natural marble countertops but not exceptionally so in many cases.
So you can see there is some overlap when comparing cultured marble vs marble prices, but the average marble countertop installation will cost more. Often a lot more.
Marble tile, on the other hand, at $15 - $55/psf installed, can be cheaper than a cultured marble shower or countertop.
As if the distinction between cultured marble vs natural marble isn’t confusing enough, we now throw “engineered marble” into the mix. Which, in truth, requires an even finer distinction.
Starting with broad strokes… this comparison shares similarities to both cultured marble vs quartz countertops and cultured marble vs marble that you have just read above.
Meaning engineered marble has characteristics of both real marble and engineered quartz countertops.
Engineered marble is a manufactured composite type of countertop material made by blending real marble pieces and fragments of varying size (that have been discarded by marble quarries) within a polyester resin compound along with coloring dyes.
It’s essentially the same manufacturing process as for quartz countertops that use discarded pieces of natural quartz.
But isn’t “cultured marble” also made by blending natural marble and resins?
Yes, and some will say that cultured marble is just a dated term for “engineered marble” but that is false.
Both utilize similar ingredients, but the method used to prepare, mix, and form the individual components into the final countertop product is different.
This means that the look, feel, performance, care, and repair characteristics of cultured marble vs engineered marble are different.
If that still seems confusing, recall above that cultured marble is made with marble dust (not chunks) mixed with resins to form a core which is then encased in a hard gel coat.
Cultured marble also uses a much higher volume of resins vs marble dust. In contrast, engineered marble is mostly composed of crushed natural marble pieces with a much lower volume or ratio of resin.
So let’s break it down…
Both engineered marble and cultured marble are man-made countertop materials. However, the key difference of cultured marble vs engineered marble is how the product is made which effects how it looks and performs.
Cultured marble is 75% marble dust combined with synthetic materials into a core mold with a hard gel-coat on top. The material is made in layers and not consistent all the way through.
Engineered marble is formed into slabs (95% crushed marble within resin) that are consistent through the full thickness of the slab, just like quartz countertops. A protective gel-coat is not applied.
A few more ways cultured marble is different than engineered marble:
Colors & Design
Care & Cleaning
Durability & Repair
Cost of Cultured Marble vs Engineered Marble
Most will agree that engineered marble has a more modern and sophisticated look and feel vs cultured marble even though both are very similar in most other categories.
Onyx is a natural stone that has virtually the same performance characteristics as real marble.
Onyx looks a bit different than marble in that it is usually a bit translucent. However, care, cleaning, and repair are the same as for natural marble.
Thus, everything you read above about cultured marble vs marble is also true of cultured marble vs onyx.
Oh, and yes… they do also make “cultured onyx” in the same way that cultured marble is made with all the same characteristics except that cultured onyx has a translucent quality to look like real onyx.
From the cultured marble vs marble section, we learned that these surfaces are not the same as many believe.
Cultured marble is a man-made surface, while marble is natural from the earth.
Marble has a more luxurious look and feel and costs more.
Both have similar care and cleaning requirements, which are a bit more involved than other countertop materials.
Both can be repaired to like-new condition in many cases.
Likewise, cultured onyx and engineered marble are similar to cultured marble in their comparison to real marble.
When choosing between cultured marble vs marble, it will likely come down to the needs of your project, whether a kitchen or bathroom countertop or a shower.
If low cost is your goal, then cultured marble is the best choice.
If style, sophistication, luxury, and long-term value is what you want, then go with engineered marble or natural marble.
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