As an interior designer for home remodels, I often get questions about the pros and cons of different types of countertops. Of course, all types have their good and bad aspects, and the overall look you want to achieve with your remodeling project will also be an important factor, as well as durability and ease of maintenance. Here’s a rundown of the most common types of countertop materials and some of the pros and cons of each:
Granite: Granite is all the rage these days and for some good reasons.
advantages: It is naturally beautiful, each piece is unique, it is quite abundant, very durable, easy to clean with a damp cloth, difficult to break, heat resistant and comes in a wide variety of colors. It is also not very difficult to maintain. Sealing it every few years is usually all that is needed. Some granite suppliers now have a 15-year or lifetime sealer that can be applied, but this product is more expensive.
cons: It can be expensive, it can stain, especially lighter colors, and for some people, sealing every few years requires more maintenance than they want. When you buy it, you have to choose your exact tile because you can’t trust every tile to look the same as your sample.
Engineered Quartz: (also commonly known as Silestone, Caesarstone, Zodiac, Hanstone, Cambria, and many others)
advantages: Engineered stone is made up of 93% quartz particles and the remaining 7% is made up of resin and pigments. It is available in a wide range of colors and has a scratch resistant non-porous surface. It is easy to maintain, without the repeated sealing that natural stone requires. It also provides a consistent appearance as each tile is the same as the next. Since it is solid and free of natural cracks and crevices, it is good for food preparation and cleans up easily with mild soap and water.
cons: Expensive, not heat resistant.
Soapstone: Soapstone is a metamorphic rock also known as soapstone. It is made up of three different elements, talc, magnesium silicate and chlorite, so it will be harder or softer depending on the percentage of each of these parts in the soapstone piece. The more talc involved, the smoother the stone will be. It is inert and resistant to acids or alkalis, which is why it is often used for laboratory worktops. It has a soft touch like soap, hence its name. Its color varies from black to dark grey, to green and even to a bluish color. As it is a natural product, it may show variation in color and veining on the slab.
advantages: It is inert and will not be damaged by harsh chemicals, will not stain, gives a casual look to a room, is highly resistant to heat and is commonly used for fireplaces, hearths, pizza stones, etc.
Cons: It is prone to scratches and would need to be fixed by sanding with sandpaper to remove the scratches if they bother you. Most people apply mineral oil to soapstone to darken the finish, which means periodic maintenance. It is also a bit expensive, in the range of a medium to high grade granite.
Concrete: Concrete is used these days for many finished products, including designer sinks and countertops. Some homeowners may want to try a DIY concrete countertop, but you may want to rethink that unless you have the skills of a professional to form, reinforce, stain, and seal concrete. Professionally made concrete decks usually have resins and sometimes aggregates added.
advantages: Concrete can be finished in almost endless colors and edge details, designs can be embedded into the concrete to create a unique look or drain board, is highly heat resistant, will typically have no seams or grout lines, can be formed into any shape, and can be formed with an integral sink.
cons: It will need to be sealed periodically, while sealing will give it some resistance to stains; it can still stain, the concrete can crack or break. Reinforcement can minimize this, but it can still happen, and the labor required to fabricate the top can make it as expensive as granite.
solid surface: (Common brands include Corian, Hi-Macs, Avonite, Wilson Art, Formica, and many others.) Solid surface countertops are man-made and allow for color and pattern consistency not available with natural surfaces.
advantages: You are guaranteed a very consistent pattern and color: your countertop will look like the sample you chose, they are easy to clean, generally durable, integral sinks can be formed with the top, drain boards can be included in the fabrication, They are not as expensive as many stone products, are virtually maintenance free, seams are generally invisible, come in a wide variety of colors and aggregates.
cons: May be scratched, not heat resistant, may stain, may not be considered as luxurious as other products.
Stainless steel: A material long used for commercial kitchens, it is now becoming more popular for contemporary home kitchens.
advantages: As the name suggests, it is non-staining, easy to keep clean, durable, custom built with no seams, heat resistant and gives a very professional and contemporary look.
Cons: Can be scratched, dented, can’t be cut, expensive, some people may view it as cold or sterile.
advantages: Provides a warm, homey feel, comes in a variety of wood colors, is easy to clean, can be restored, and may be less expensive than other types of countertops.
Cons: Must be routinely sealed with mineral oil or beeswax, can be cut, scratched, burned or stained, can be damaged by water exposure over time.
Ceramic or porcelain tile:
advantages– Tiles are durable and easy to clean, relatively inexpensive and can be installed by professionals or some crafty homeowners, are heat resistant, come in a wide variety of colors and textures, and almost limitless design possibilities.
cons: Tiles can crack or chip, grout joints can become dirty or stained, grout joints create an uneven counter surface.
Laminate: Laminate was the countertop standard for a long period of time, probably because it’s relatively inexpensive, generally easy to clean, and durable with proper use. It has fallen out of favor with most homeowners who now want a more luxurious look. Popular brands include Wilson Art, Nevamar, and Formica. Laminate manufacturers have done an excellent job of creating laminate surfaces that look like solid surfaces or granite. So for the more limited budget, a good laminate can mimic a high-end look.
advantages: Inexpensive, easy to clean, durable, comes in a wide variety of colors, can mimic high-end products, essentially maintenance-free.
cons: May scratch or chip, may stain, with excessive exposure to moisture; it can detach from its substrate, does not tolerate heat like stone products, and seams are often visible.