The options for countertop surfaces are more plentiful than ever today, with new products coming to market all the time. I’ve put together a rundown of countertop choices with a short description of each type. Hopefully this will help you educate yourself fully on the differences before making a selection.
In terms of durability and cleaning, this natural stone surface is the hardiest of all. The biggest issue is that you have to make sure you see the actual slabs that will be installed as each piece is unique. I had granite for years and loved it. The environmentalist may not favour granite as these gorgeous slabs come from the ground and require large quarries in natural settings to extract the stone. The variety is extensive from veiny to speckled in numerous shades from browns to greys and even pinks. I used a simple marble and stone cleaner on mine and they cleaned up beautifully. You can just use soap and water for daily cleaning.
Marble is another natural stone option. Both Calacatta and Carrara are very popular right now such that prices have gone up and the availability has become limited. There are many other types of marble, though, and colour and pattern options are plentiful. Marble is stunning but maintenance is required as marble is far more porous than granite and can stain. Some people are very happy with letting their marble become patinaed as it will tell the story of their life, while others want to keep its pristine look. Regular sealing will protect from staining. My feeling about that is that it somewhat defeats the purpose of choosing a natural product. Marble and stone cleaners do work well on this surface as do daily soap and water.
Quartzite is a natural stone that is often confused with quartz, a composite countertop material. Quartzite has very bold and busy patterns that don’t appeal to everyone, but in the right application they can look fabulous. Quartzite is much more tolerant to heat than quartz countertops, which is an important feature for many. It should be sealed as it can stain but it is a hardy surface.
Limestone is a softer surface that is extremely porous so if you are planning on placing these counters in a high traffic area you may want to think twice. They will stain more easily than marble. It is suggested that you use a neutral pH cleaner and a microfiber cloth to clean.
Soapstone is a very durable choice for a countertop as it is a softer stone that is flexible and therefore is less prone to chipping. Be aware that soapstone darkens over time so if you are looking for a light counter this would not be a good choice. A neutral pH cleaner and microfiber cloth are suggested along with soap and water for daily cleaning.
When this product first came out, I was very impressed with it. The surface is hard, non- porous and can tolerate a hot pot. It comes in a variety of styles including a marble look. The problem with a surface mimicking a natural stone is that there is a lot of repetition in the pattern in contrast to the natural stone where each piece is unique. My other complaint with porcelain is that it can chip quite easily, just like a coffee mug, and cannot be repaired. This is not a choice I would recommend.
A quartz is engineered with the same quartz crystals found in quartzite, but a man-made process binds the crystal with resin, pigments and other materials such as bits of glass. Within the past few decades there has been a huge trend toward these counter surfaces. They are sold as durable, low-maintenance and non-staining. There are a few things I need to point out, however. They are sold as a quartz composite, which is true, but what the consumer also needs to know is that different manufacturers have different levels of quartz in their products. Caesarstone is a very popular brand that dominates in the synthetic countertop market; however, they have a very low natural quartz content (roughly 3%) and are actually almost all synthetic. Silestone another Quartz brand is on the other end of the spectrum with 95% natural stone but has a more limited selection of colours. Quartz is a newer product so there are a lot of misconceptions about the durability. Caesarstone cannot have any acidic or abrasive cleaners used on it and it cannot tolerate any heat unlike a natural stone surface. Caesarstone touts that its surface is more heat-tolerant than natural stone, however they do caution not to put a hot pan (300°F) on the Caesarstone surface. My personal experience is a large crack on the counter near the coffee maker that only heats the coffee to 200°F. I spoke to a cabinetmaker that had attended a Caesarstone seminar and they were told these counters are not heat resistant. If you choose this surface understand you need to use a potholder for hot pots, cookie sheets, coffee carafes, etc., for if you do not protect this surface from heat it will crack. Unfortunately, contractors, designers and cabinetmakers were not all privy to this information and the product is sold as durable and heat safe. Hot water and Palmolive cleans stains very well, in addition to good old elbow grease. Abrasive or acidic cleaners should not be used.
One more important point about these synthetic counters I discovered while doing research for this blog article is that there is a huge health risk to factory workers manufacturing these surfaces. The silica content of these countertops gets airborne when the counters are being manufactured and workers are developing a lung disease known as “Silicosis” from breathing in this fine silica particulate. It is important to know where these countertops are manufactured and to stick to a reputable North American brand that takes the proper precautions for their workers. Frustrating news, as you’d think by choosing a man-made product you are saving the earth from further depletion of natural stone. There are pros and cons to everything.
One more thing to note is that, much like the porcelain, the patterns imitating natural stone have a repeat to them. With a small surface it isn’t a big deal but on a larger surface it becomes a little redundant.
Corian is the first generation of synthetic countertops and it is having a renaissance. Architects love this surface as you can make an entire island, inclusive of the sink, with this product. Corian is not heat resistant at all, so trivets to protect the surface are very important. Corian can scratch but scratches can also be buffed out quite easily, and it is low-maintenance in that you can actually scratch out stains that occur. For a bad stain on Corian the manufacturer does suggest bleach but not to keep in on the surface for an extended period of time. Bar Keepers Friend is a useful product that works quite well to remove coffee and tea stains.
This was the mid-century suburbia countertop of choice with Arborite being the industry leader. This surface is still used for those on a limited budget and for areas such as the laundry room. It is heat-sensitive but is quite resistant to staining. This surface is a thin veneer over plywood or MDF so extreme humidity can cause it to delaminate.
Other countertop options
For those looking for a rustic look this is a great and practical choice as you can chop and cut right on the surface. It is prone to staining, however, and too much water can cause warping and deterioration of the wood surface. You can’t put a hot pan on it as it could burn the surface. I would never suggest an entire counter in wood, but a section makes a great prep area. Mild soap and water for daily cleaning; oil it regularly to protect the surface.
Bamboo is becoming an eco-friendly countertop choice. It is durable; however, it is not heat-resistant and is prone to scratches and warping from water. Bamboo is technically a grass and therefore is very renewable, so it’s a good choice for the eco-conscious.
Many find the look of a stainless steel countertop a bit industrial, but it does have its place in certain homes. It is also very practical from a health perspective as it is very easy to keep clean. If you do install stainless steel counters, do know that they show everything and will scratch easily. You must really wipe well to get the streaks off them. Simple hot water and soap with a microfiber cloth will clean up well until the next fingerprint arrives. Stainless can tolerate the heat of a pot.
Glass counters are non-porous so they are not prone to staining, but they can scratch over time. I have seen some lovely glass countertops installed but you need to ensure you have a qualified company that is manufacturing the correct glass for a countertop application. There is a new product called White Glass that only comes in pure white. White Glass is heat tolerant, unlike the Simple White Caesarstone countertop that requires protection form extreme heat to prevent cracking.
Concrete countertops are becoming very popular. They are very durable and heat-resistant if the proper finish is done. They make concrete in many different colours that can work with any palette.
Over the years, my countertops have included: honed granite, stainless steel, wood, laminate, marble, Corian, porcelain and Caesarstone quartz. My experience in living day-to-day with these surfaces puts granite at the top of my list of favourites in terms of durability and ease of maintenance. The issue is that sourcing a nice granite is becoming more difficult as quarries become depleted. Marble is my next favourite as I am ok with a little patina, but again the stone is becoming depleted. If I do put a quartz product in my home again, I will ensure that all measures are taken to protect it from heat as well as make sure it was manufactured in a factory that is taking the necessary measures to properly protect their workers. As much as I want to support an eco-friendly product l don’t think I could deal with the maintenance of bamboo on a countertop. I am willing to explore concrete as I think it has become much more aesthetically pleasing now that there are colour options.
In my research I found a great website:
countertopspecialty.com that gives a full rundown on care for the variety of counter surfaces. For further details this is a great resource.
Helen Braithwaite, Real Estate Representative, Chestnut Park Real Estate Limited
Chairman’s Award 2017,2018 Director’s Award 2016
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