By: Karin Beuerlein
Image on Pexels, CC0 License.
It can be tough to choose the right countertop with so many materials available on the market. Here's a guide to seven popular materials to help you decide what's best for your kitchen.
Granite may have more competition than ever before, but its popularity is still unquestioned. The beautiful, strong surface of granite has a natural grain, which gives each installation a unique look. The downside is the fact that it's porous, which means a yearly sealing is required. Stains should also be wiped up promptly.
Wood's calling card is its beauty and warmth, and it's surprisingly durable, since scratches can generally be buffed out. According to manufacturer Craft Art, the enemy of the wood countertop is a Crock-Pot without a trivet — you must protect the surface from direct heat. During installation, it’s important to give wood room to breathe; don’t jam it in where it can’t move (say, with walls on three sides), or install it directly on top of a substrate, as it will warp.
Pricing reflects the range between a thinner unfinished wood countertop you can install yourself and a thick finished custom wood countertop, which is more difficult to source. The countertop shown is distressed black walnut with a tung oil finish.
Stainless steel fits a number of looks, from modern industrial to country farmhouse. Plus, it can take the heat: 800 degrees of it, in fact (although we don't recommend you actually test its limitations). It technically can rust, according to manufacturer Craft Art, but that happens at such a slow pace that it will still outlast you by a long shot.
Care for stainless steel countertops is actually similar to that for wood: You can’t bleach it or use other caustic chemicals, but you can completely disinfect it with vinegar and water. The countertop shown, made by Eskay Metal Fabricating, has a built-in backsplash and drain board as well as an apron front with a marine (raised) edge to catch liquids. It comes standard with a wooden core; you can install it yourself just as you would a laminate countertop.
Engineered stone typically uses about 90 percent quartz in a manufacturing process that yields a tough, durable product. It’s marketed under the brand names Caesarstone, Cambria and Silestone, among others.
“It’s my number-one choice,” says contractor Jeff Streich of Prime Renovations in New York. “I used to favor natural stone, but in Manhattan, where resale value is most important, engineered stone has almost no drawbacks. It’s strong, it’s beautiful and you don’t have to seal it.” He suggests, for example, that in a kitchen where you envisioned white marble, Caesarstone Blizzard offers a crisp-looking alternative that will stand up far better to heavy use.
Soft, handsome soapstone is a countertop favorite because despite its pliable texture, it’s heat-resistant and doesn’t readily absorb stains (although you should wipe up spills promptly to be safe). Soapstone can be scratched rather easily, but imperfections fade gradually or can be sanded out. Note that light-gray soapstone weathers over time and develops a darker — and occasionally uneven — patina, which may or may not suit your color scheme. Applying mineral oil occasionally will also darken the surface if that’s the look you prefer, but it isn’t necessary to protect the stone.
According to Green Mountain Soapstone Corporation, soapstone is soft enough to cut with everyday woodworking tools, but having your countertop professionally fabricated and installed is recommended.
Glass countertops are some of the most visually stunning surfaces you’ll see. You can create almost any effect or color you want, although custom looks can be pricey. Typically, the thicker the glass, the more expensive the countertop. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, glass countertops are extremely strong and heat resistant. However, they do show fingerprints and can be susceptible to scratches and cracking.
Although you can’t make a glass countertop yourself, glass manufacturer Jockimo says that you can install a prefabricated one with the proper instruction.
Concrete countertops can stand heat well and they won’t scratch, but they must be sealed regularly to prevent stains and water damage. Fabricating and installing them properly also requires considerable time and attention to detail, so although the materials themselves are inexpensive, you should be prepared to do it yourself or pay handsomely for labor.
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