Comparing Kitchen Countertops

There are lots of options on the market for kitchen countertops. This list gives you the pros and cons of the top 10 options to help you make an educated choice when you design or remodel your kitchen.

Kitchen Countertop Graphic
  1. Granite

Granite is the countertop material of choice for many homeowners. It defines elegance in a kitchen. The beauty of natural stone contributes to the beauty of even the most modest kitchen. Granite is also one of the healthiest choices as granite countertops are ranked #2 for the total microorganisms per square inch left behind after an average wipe down. (Stainless steel is ranked #1). It holds up well to heat, but heat damages most sealers which would require more frequent sealing.

Pros: holds up to heat; comes in a range of almost 3000 colors; looks permanent and substantial; will last a lifetime; new sealers are almost maintenance-free; 2nd highest hardness rating after diamonds; has a high value to home buyers.
Cons: fairly expensive; requires some maintenance; joints cannot be made invisible; some stones absorb stains if not sealed; knives can become dull if you cut on it; can crack if stressed or improperly installed; hard on breakables such as glass.
Cost: averages $90 – $110 sf

2. Engineered Stone (Quartz)

Engineered stone is composed of 93% quartz particles. It is available in a larger range of colors than granite and has a nonporous surface that resists scratches. It’s easy to maintain, without the annual sealing required by natural stone. Some brands on the market include DuPont Zodiaq®, LG Viatera®, Cambria Quartz, Silestone®, and CaesarStone®. Quartz manufactured material shares many similar characteristics of natural granite although it has a more consistant coloring and lacks the veining of natural granite. Quartz, also a mineral found in granite, is extremely hard with similarities to granite. The use of resins when manufacturing quartz slabs makes them completely non-porous. As a result, sealant is not necessary for these quartz products. Most quartz countertop materials share a common sheen. It is best described as “satin”. By no means is this material shiny like polished natural granite.

Pros: Resistant to stain and acid; easy care; non-porous.
Cons: It has a grainy look that never quite looks natural.
Cost: averages $80 – $100 sf

3. Solid Surface 

Because solid surface counters have consistant coloring throughout, scratches can usually be sanded out. Solid surface counters are fairly stain resistant but can be damaged by heat. The countertops are custom-made to your specifications and integrated sink bowls are available that are made of the same materials, though they are usually a different color than the countertops. These products are best known by names such as Avonite, Corian, LG HiMacs, and Swanstone. Easier on breakables such as glass.

Pros: comes in a rainbow of colors and patterns; seamless; stain resistant; scratches and cuts can be sanded out.
Cons: vulnerable to hot pans and stains which can damage the surface; can be moderately expensive; can be cut with sharp knives.
Cost: averages $70 – $80 sf

4. Ceramic Tile 

Ceramic tile is durable and easy to clean. Add to that inexpensive and you’ve got a really good choice for countertops for the average home. Because it’s installed a section at a time, it can be done by most resourceful homeowners. With so many decorative tiles to choose from, a tile countertop can be made into a custom showpiece.

Pros: takes hot pans; easy to clean; wide range of price, color, texture and design.
Cons: counter surface is uneven; tiles can easily chip or crack; needs regular maintenance to keep bacteria out of grout; grout lines become stained; grout can collect soil because of its irregular surface; custom-designed tiles are very expensive.
Cost: averages $30 – $40 sf

5. Laminates 

Perhaps the most common countertop is plastic laminate. Laminate counters are very practical, durable, and inexpensive. They bear trademarks such as Formica, Nevamar, and Wilsonart. They’re made of plastic-coated synthetics with a smooth surface that’s easy to clean and comes in hundreds of colors and textures.

Pros: you can buy laminates in lots of colors; easy to maintain; very durable; inexpensive.
Cons: scratches and chips are almost impossible to repair; seams show; can burn.
Cost: averages $30 – $40 sf

6. Wood or Butcher Block

Wood countertops offer a beautiful warm look and are available in a wide range of colors and finishes. Hardwoods such as maple and oak are most often used as countertop woods. Soft and porous, wood is ranked as the worst countertop surface for leaving behind microorganisms after normal cleaning. They quickly achieve ‘character’ – dents, cuts, and scratches that can be sanded down but never removed.

Pros: easy to clean; smooth; can be sanded and resealed as needed.
Cons: can be damaged by water and stains over time; scratches must be oiled or sealed according to manufacturer’s instructions; will burn.
Cost: averages $60 – $75 sf

7. Stainless Steel

For a really contemporary and industrial look for your kitchen, stainless steel is a good choice. They are heat resistant and durable. Because they’re constructed to your specifications, you can have a seamless countertop. Stainless steel is also the healthiest choices as stainless steel countertops are ranked #1 for the total microorganisms per square inch left behind after an average wipe down.

Pros: takes hot pans; easy to clean.
Cons: Stainless steel is expensive; fabrication is expensive; noisy; may dent; you can’t cut on it.
Cost: averages $140 – $150 sf

8. Soapstone

Soapstone is made up of mineral deposits – the main mineral components in soapstone include talc, chlorite, dolomite and magnetite, giving a warm, soft feeling to the touch. Soapstone is generally dark gray in color and has a smooth feel. Color choice is very limited, but sometimes contains light colored veining. It is inert, so acids and alkalis will not etch the surface. It is often seen in historic homes but is also used in modern homes as both a countertop and sink material.

Pros: rich, deep color; smooth feel; somewhat stain resistant; light scratches can be buffed out or disguised with mineral oil application.
Cons: requires regular maintenance with applications of mineral oil; scratches and chips easily, may even be scratched by sliding pans across it; may crack and darken over time.
Cost: averages $110 – $130 sf

9. Marble 

Because of its high price tag, marble is not often seen on the countertops of whole kitchens. Marble is not only a softer stone than granite or quartz; it is also a more porous stone. This causes it to be more susceptible to staining which should be considered when choosing marble for kitchen applications. To get the luxurious look, use it on an island or inset at a baking center. Marble requires constant maintenance, as it easily stains. Some new sealers retard staining.

Pros: waterproof; heatproof; beautiful.
Cons: expensive; porous; stains easily unless professionally sealed; scratches easily; needs resealing frequently.
Cost: averages $100 – $120 sf

10. Concrete

The biggest advantage of concrete is that it is completely customizable; you can sculpt, mold, color, and texturize it to your desire. If you have countertops in unusual shapes, concrete may be a good choice as they’re usually cast right in your kitchen. Concrete is extremely durable with an earthy, natural look and feel. The price tag is in the mid to high range.

Pros: heat and scratch resistant; can be color-tinted; looks exotic and unusual; new treatments reduce cracking; additives reduce porosity; new finishes are more decorative.
Cons: mid to high range on cost due to custom work; cracking is possible; can look somewhat industrial; porous but can be sealed.
Cost: averages $85 – $120 sf depending on complexity

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