Know your countertop surfaces Types
We found significant strengths and weaknesses among materials, but few differences among brands. Here are the types of countertop materials to consider.
Also known as engineered stone, quartz is a blend of stone chips, resins, and pigments. It’s an ideal material for high-traffic applications. It comes in many vibrant colors and styles that mimic granite and marble.
It survived a gauntlet of spills, hot pots, knives, and more with top scores, and it doesn’t have to be sealed for stain protection. Because it’s waterproof it’s a sound choice to be paired with undermounted sinks.
Some patterns can appear unnaturally uniform, although manufacturers are trying for a more random look closer to natural stone. Edges and corners can chip and only a pro can repair them. Rounded edges help.
It’s still what you’ll see in magazines and real-estate ads, but quartz is giving granite competition. Granite is a good choice for areas that get a lot of use. It comes in many colors and variations, with each slab offering a unique look.
Like quartz, granite survived our gauntlet of spills, hot pots, knives, and more with top scores.
Edges and corners can chip and you’ll need a pro to repair them. Unlike quartz, granite needs periodic sealing for stain protection. Color and grain may differ from store samples.
Ceramic tile comes in wide selection of colors and patterns. It mixes nicely with other materials, and it works well on a backsplash or island top.
Tile is inexpensive and relatively easy to install. It offers good heat resistance, so it’s a good choice around stoves. Buying a few extra tiles will allow you to repair localized damage easily, one tile at a time.
The grout is likely to stain even when it’s sealed although darker grout can help. And edges and corners can chip.
This material generally consists of layers of paper or fabric impregnated with resin over composition wood. Laminates are inexpensive and relatively easy to install. Use in areas of heavy use but minimal abuse. This material is available in hundreds of fun patterns, interesting colors, and detailed edges. Laminates typically show seams on the front edge and between the backsplash and counter, but Formica and Wilsonart now offer decorative edges that replace the dark line along the edge of the counter. Another option is post-forming, a process that uses heat to form and bend laminate sheets, making them look continuous and without seams.
Laminates excelled at resisting stains, impact, and heat; they also withstood our abrasive pads nicely. They’re easy to clean, relatively easy to install, and still appeal to remodelers on a tight budget.
Most versions have a colored top layer over a dark core, which shows at the edges. Water can seep through seams or between the countertop and backsplash, weakening the material beneath or causing lifting. Laminate is easily scratched and nicked and can’t be repaired. Textured finishes are better than flat finishes at hiding imperfections.
5. Solid surfacing
Made of polyester or acrylic resins combined with mineral fillers, this material imitates concrete, marble, and other types of stone, as well as quartz (essentially an imitation of an imitation). Solid surfacing comes in various thicknesses and can be joined almost invisibly into one apparently seamless expanse. It can also be sculpted to integrate the sink and backsplash, and routed to accept contrasting inlays.
Resistance to heat and impact are pluses, and scratches and small nicks can be buffed out and repaired. Because the surfacing is waterproof, it’s a sound choice for an undermounted sink.
Solid surfacing scratches easily, and prolonged heat can cause discoloration. Cost can rival that of quartz and granite, which are much tougher and more authentic looking.
6. Paper composite
We tested a version from Richlite, which says that its paper-and-resin countertops are green, in part because the paper comes from renewable resources.
The product did well at resisting stains and heat.
It was only fair when it came to cuts and abrasions, and the resin used is petroleumbased and nonrenewable.
Concrete countertops can provide a unique look. This exclusive material is typically custom-formed by local fabricators, so quality may vary.
Concrete can be tinted and textured and can include stone chips.
It chips and scratches easily and can develop hairline cracks. Topical sealers can protect against stains but not heat; penetrating sealers can handle heat, but not stains.
8. Stainless steel
It lets you integrate countertops with stainless appliances for a sleek, professional kitchen look. It can be welded, ground, and buffed away to get rid of seams.
Resistance to heat and stains is a plus. Because stainless steel is waterproof, it’s a sound choice for an undermounted sink.
Steel dents and scratches easily and shows fingerprints. (If fingerprints are an issue, consider faux stainless laminate instead.) Drain cleaners and hard-water-deposit removers can discolor steel.
Limestone provides a stone look without heavy veining. It’s attractive but impractical. Use it only in low-traffic areas.
Limestone resists heat well.
Scratches and dings from our dropped 5-pound weight marred the surface of this soft, porous stone. And even a high-quality sealer didn’t protect against stains. Eleven of the 20 substances we applied left stains still visible after they were left on the surface for just 24 hours.
10. Butcher block
These hardwood countertops add warmth to any kitchen.. Maple is most common, but you’ll also find red oak and teak.
This material is useful for food preparation such as chopping and slicing. It’s relatively easy to install and repair.
Damage from heat, cuts, scrapes, and impacts make for high maintenance. Butcher block countertops must be treated regularly with mineral oil or beeswax. Varnished butcher block was extremely stain-resistant, but terrible at everything else. Butcher block with an oil finish was better at resisting heat, but stains spread and were impossible to remove. Fluctuations in humidity affect wood, making butcher block a poor choice for over a dishwasher or around a sink.
This material provides a traditional look. Consider it for areas with medium traffic.
Small nicks and scratches can be polished out.
Marble chips and scratches easily. And you’ll need to seal marble periodically to protect it from staining. Most stains that marred unsealed marble wiped away with water on sealed samples. But hard-water-deposit removers left a permanent mark, even on sealed stone.
12. Recycled glass
Take shards of recycled glass, turn them into a countertop and the result is an infusion of color and style.
Best for a contemporary look when it’s made with large shards, or it can resemble solid surfacing when it’s finely ground. Resistant to heat, cuts, and scratches.
But chips and stains can be a problem. Unlike other recycled-glass counters we tested, Cosentino’s Eco line developed a thin crack during our heat tests.
You’ll have to rub the soapstone with mineral oil to reveal and maintain its beauty.
Best for adding the beauty of stone to a low-traffic kitchen. It withstands heat very well, and small scratches can be repaired. Slabs vary, so go to a stone yard.
But it’s easily sliced, scratched, and nicked. Stain resistance is so-so, and it needs to be periodically rubbed with mineral oil.
While bamboo may be eco-friendly, it isn’t user-friendly.
Best for show rather than daily use. It’s available in several styles, including a pa pattern.
But it’s easily stained, scorched, sliced, and nicked. The maker might warn against using it around a sink, because moisture can warp the material. It may darken over time.