We’re continuing our “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About…” series, with a topic that we always get a lot of questions about; kitchen countertops. Choosing a kitchen countertop is kind of like choosing a car, there are lots of different styles and colors, lots of finishes and details, and it’s all about finding the one that will fit your needs best. Kitchen countertops are expected to withstand A LOT, and look great while doing it. They need to be durable and stain resistant to hold up to food prep, beautiful, and (in the best cases) economical. While natural materials like marble and granite have been the standard in kitchens for many years, porcelain countertops like Dekton are becoming increasingly popular. Then there’s engineered quartz, such as CaesarStone, Cambria, and Silestone, made of ground quartz and resins. Maybe you’ll be drawn to butcher block countertops, which are warm and accommodating, though require more maintenance than some of the other options on this list. With so many options available today, it’s no wonder choosing a countertop is a daunting decision! But have no fear, we are here to help.
Natural vs Manmade Stone
The first thing to consider when looking at new countertops for your kitchen, is if you want natural or manmade stone. Natural stones are quarried from around the world from places like Italy, India, Colorado, Brazil, China, and more. These stones have undergone physical and chemical processes in the Earth sometimes over millions of years, to form hard surfaces that can be used for everything from countertops to sculptures to buildings! Man-made stones, like quartz, are engineered by combining rocks and minerals with other substances to create an extremely hard veneer. Despite the advancement in technologies, many people still believe that nothing holds up to natural stone. Natural stone is a quarried product, and no two pieces are the same. The color variations are rich and each slab has a unique and beautiful texture. These characteristics are what make this product unique and of an unrivalled appearance.
Quartz countertops are by far the most popular style right now in kitchen design. Made from one of the hardest minerals on earth, quartz countertops are arguably the most durable option for kitchens; they are also some of the most eye-catching. This man-made, engineered stone, is composed of crushed granite, marble, and other natural stones, as well as a polymeric or cement-based binder. Because of their engineered nature, quartz countertops never have to be sealed, unlike granite, marble, and other surfaces that require regular maintenance. Infact, quartz is one of the easiest countertop materials to maintain! They are as hard as granite ranking a 7 on Mohs Hardness Scale, and are non-porous like soapstone, making them stain and water resistant as well as antimicrobial and hygienic. These countertops are heat resistant up to about 400 degrees, though a rapid change in temperature or prolonged exposure to heat can cause cracking, so we recommend placing a trivet between your pans and the countertop.
In the past, the biggest knock against quartz was that it lacked the patterns and color variations you get with natural stone. But now, manufacturers are offering multihued slabs with enough flecks, swirls, and random patterning/veining to make them almost indistinguishable from the real thing. While quartz countertops were once available only with a polished finish; now you can get them with a honed, sandblasted, or embossed treatment. So if it’s the look of matte limestone, textured slate, or glossy granite that you want, there’s a quartz countertop for you.
Care: Caring for quartz countertops is incredibly easy! For routine care, simply wipe down the surface with some dish soap and a soft cloth. If you need to remove caked on food, we recommend using a putty knife to remove build-up, however be gentle so you don’t scratch the stone! For tough stains, you will need some adhesive remover, like Goo Gone. Pour the cleaner directly on the stain and let it stay there for about 5 to 10 minutes before you wipe it off. Once you have wiped the Goo Gone off the counter, wipe it down again using warm water.
Marble is absolutely the go to classic when it comes to kitchen countertops. In fact, most man-made countertops attempt to replicate the look and feel of marble. Though technology has improved, and man-made stone is beginning to look more like natural marble, many people still say that they can see the difference and prefer the natural marble! Marble is a 100% naturally occurring rock that is quarried from the mountains of North America, Europe, South America, and Asia. Because it is a naturally occurring metamorphic rock, no two slabs are the same!
While the most common colors of marble are white and gray, slabs can also be found in hues of white, black, gray, yellow, green, pink, and gold. Ironically, rich colors and veining are actually the result of impurities present during the recrystallization process when the marble is forming, like sand, silt, and clay. It is these imperfections that create the beautiful marbles we prize! There are different finishes that you can choose from as well. While traditionally when we think of marble countertops we think of highly polished, you can also get a honed finish. Honed marble is ground down so it has a softer, more matte texture. Be warned though, while honed marble is beautiful, it’s also less forgiving and can stain more easily.
Marble makes a great countertop for home cooks and professional chefs alike. It stays cool and is flat making it an ideal surface to roll out pastry dough on, and is heat resistant so it will not burn though we don’t recommend placing hot pots directly on a marble surface in order to maintain the finish and quality of the stone. Unfortunately, marble does have a tendency to stain easily because it is porous. These countertops will require quick cleaning and occasional resealing to make sure that it stays pristine! Marble is also a softer stone, meaning that it can easily chip or crack if something heavy or sharp is dropped on it, and we absolutely do not recommend cutting directly on this surface!
Care: The first, and possibly most important part of caring for marble countertops, is to ensure that you are using a good sealant up front! When you purchase a marble countertop, they are unsealed, but your installer for instance the Klein team can take care of sealing your countertop for you. Yearly reapplication of sealant is required to prevent staining and chipping of your marble countertop. For everyday cleaning, simply use warm water, mild dish soap, and a soft cloth- but ensure that you clean up spills and food right away to prevent staining and etching. If you do happen to get stains or etching on your countertop, you’ll have to take a more aggressive approach to save your marble. In these cases, step up to a cleanser such as Soft Scrub or even Ajax with bleach, applied with an abrasive sponge. That will remove the sealant and allow you to scrub down to the stain. After this process you may notice that this portion of your countertop is much brighter than the rest of it, unfortunately you’ll need to go clean the rest of the counter the same way. Once done, rinse it thoroughly and let it dry completely before using a pour penetrating sealant all over the surface.
Soapstone, also known as steatite, is another natural stone that you can choose for your countertops. Before it was used for countertops, it was a popular choice among sculptors because of its softness, which comes from the presence of talc. Because soapstone is a softer stone, like marble, not ideal for cutting on, however what it lacks in hardness it makes up for in density. Soapstone is non-porous which makes it denser, very hygienic, and easy to clean. The lack of pores also means that it is extremely stain and water resistant! Soapstone is also one of the most heat resistant stones on the market; often being used for fireplaces, it won’t crack when exposed to heat, so placing hot pots and pans on this surface won’t cause cracking, warping, or burning!
This natural stone usually comes in white, gray, dark gray, and black color. Some of its slabs have specks of other colors and meanings which adds natural beauty. It will naturally build up a beautiful patina overtime that, with regular oiling, will just be further enhanced. Despite all of its pros, there are some drawbacks from soapstone. Because of its soft nature, soapstone is prone to chipping and scratches, so a delicate hand is best. It also can wear unevenly even with regular oiling because certain parts of the countertop will be used more than others. Finally, soapstone is one of the shorter stones which will undoubtedly result in seams that you might avoid in marble, porcelain, quartz, or granite; while this may not be enough of a draw back for certain people, to others having seams in your countertop can definitely be a deal breaker.
Care: After your soapstone countertops have been installed, it’s recommended to simply wipe them down evenly with mineral oil and a clean cloth, and since soapstone is non-porous, once the entire surface is evenly coated, simply wipe off any excess with a paper towel. How often you oil your countertops depends on how often you use them. Someone who cooks regularly might oil their soapstone every month, whereas someone who orders take-out, or eats out often might only have to oil their countertops every 3 or four months. You’ll discover your pattern over time. Since soapstone is nonporous, it resists bacteria and doesn’t stain. Generally, all you need for daily cleaning is a sponge dipped in soapy water. To attack food residue, use an abrasive cleanser such as Ajax.
Our designers fully believe that porcelain countertops could be the next big thing! Oversized porcelain slabs have been seen in Europe for years now, but have been becoming more and more common recently in the United States. Porcelain countertops are heat resistant, extremely hard, and scratch resistant (though we don’t recommend using ceramic knives on this type of countertop as ceramic in particular has been known to scratch porcelain). Much like quartzite and quartz, Porcelain is resilient to UV rays, meaning prolonged exposure to sunlight won’t discolour it. Because porcelain is a manufactured product, it comes in numerous finishes, colors, and styles. Each slab is uniform, and if you are going for a marble look, you can easily continue veining or have bookmatched slabs for a beautiful contemporary look. On another note, if you’re thinking about going green in your kitchen, porcelain is a very green product! It can easily be recycled in the future because it is made from 100% natural products.
There are not many drawbacks to porcelain countertops actually, they are very versatile and strong. Unless you hit this countertop with a mallet, it won’t take much damage with normal wear and tear. Most porcelain does not need to be sealed because the glazing on porcelain already protects against liquid penetration. Price wise, porcelain is comparable to granite or quartz.
Care: Porcelain, like quartz, is incredibly easy to care for. Both are man-made products, and as such are non-porous, resistant to stains and scratches. For easy cleaning, simply use dish soap and a cloth or soft sponge to wipe down the surface, or if you want an extra deep clean you can even dilute bleach to clean porcelain countertops. There is a very short list of products that porcelain countertops cannot stand up to but there are a few. Avoid any abrasive scrubbing implements like steel wool or other rough cleaning tools. Similarly any cleaning products that contain hydrofluoric acid or its derivatives as these can also damage your porcelain worktops and should be avoided!
Our designer’s thoughts: “Porcelain countertops are virtually indestructible and you don’t have to do anything to keep them that way. You can put a hot pot down and nothing happens. You can cut on them, you can even charge your phone off of them! They are truly amazing.”
Granite is a natural stone that has a timeless beauty and appeal. It is an igneous rock, meaning that it originates from volcanic magma that emerges from the earth to cool and harden. Composition wise, granite is mainly composed of quartz and feldspar. The color of granite comes mainly from the minerals it is made up from, but with over 20 shades of to work with, you’ll find one that blends perfectly with your kitchen cabinets, flooring and walls! If you are looking for subtle veining, like you commonly see in marble or quartz, granite countertops may not be the way to go as upon closer inspection the crystals are quite visible.
Granite is a very hard substance, and while snot ideal to cut on directly, it is resistant to scratches and will stand up to wear and tear well. Resistant to stains when sealed, and heat resistant, granite countertops are a great choice for a kitchen. Taking a pan out of the oven and placing it on the counter should be no problem for a 100% natural granite countertop as it would be with engineered countertops such as quartz. The hardness of granite is fortunate because cracks, scratches, and chips can be near impossible to repair. Also, if sealed improperly or if sealant wears off, granite is much more susceptible to permanent stains because of its porous nature.
Care: To keep granite countertops clean, use a microfiber cloth to dust off the surface. Often a microfiber cleaning cloth, even a dry one, is all that is needed for basic cleaning. Once a week, wipe down your granite countertops with a wet cloth. Never use harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners on your countertops, even if you think the stain or mess needs it. These types of cleaners can scratch, pit, and etch the surface of the stone permanently. For oily stains that have soaked into the granite, try a poultice made of a cup of flour or baking soda and five tablespoons of dish soap. It’s important to remember to re-seal your countertops once a year to avoid staining, mildew build up, or scratches. If you do happen to find stains or scratches, we advise contacting a professional stone repair service ASAP!
Quartzite countertops are often confused with quartz countertops, but quartzite countertops are a separate, naturally occurring stone. Quartzite is actually a great deal like granite in many ways, it is a very hard stone that is scratch and stain resistant. Infact, quartzite is actually harder on the Mohs Hardness Scale than granite Despite its hardness, we don’t advise using sharp knives directly on quartzite countertops as sharp objects could mark the stone. Similarly while heat resistant, the stone will not stand up to extremely high temperatures, and we recommend using trivets when placing very hot objects on the counter.
One of the coolest features about quartzite though is its resistance to UV rays, making it an ideal choice for sunny kitchens or outdoor spaces because the exposure to the sun will not dull or bleach the color. Because it’s a natural stone, quartzite generally can be found in pinks, greys, whites, browns, and blacks- the color variation heavily depends on where the quartzite is quarried. Given the trend to lighter brighter countertops in recent years, the colors of quartzite combined with its durability makes it a great choice for kitchen countertops!
Care: Caring for quartzite is similar to caring for granite. Grandlienard recommends wiping up counters regularly with a gentle cleanser, water, and a soft cloth or paper towel. As with any countertop, it’s recommended to clean up spills and use cutting boards to avoid scratches. When deciding on when to seal quartz though, it really depends on the porousness. Depending on the amount of metamorphosis, each quartzite can be more or less porous. Generally speaking, the best indication that a countertop needs sealing is to watch the area around the kitchen sink. If you notice the stone darkening around the sink from water, it may mean that a sealer is needed. Quartzite should be sealed every one to two years as a general rule!
Our designer’s thoughts: “Quartzite is my favorite! Not just because it is the strongest natural material but because it is so GORGEOUS! Just check out a slab of Cristallo, Taj Mahal, or IceBerg Blue!!”
Quartz vs Quartzite:
While they share a similar name, quartz and quartzite are very different materials! The first and most obvious difference is that quartz is an engineered stone, while quartzite is a naturally occurring material. Appearance wise, it’s impossible to say which is better looking, and since you can find so many variations of quartz, you could probably get it to look pretty close to the naturally occurring streaks that are found in quartzite. While quartz can be found in more colors, since pigment is added, quartzite has a beautiful natural stone appeal!
When it comes to hardness, quartzite does have one advantage over quartz countertops. Because it is a naturally occurring stone, quartzite is very heat-resistant and also also harder, but more prone to chips from dropped pans than its engineered counterpart. Both are durable, but a cutting board should be used with both.
Finally, quartz is a bit easier to maintain than it’s naturally occurring cousin quartzite. Quartz can easily be wiped clean with a cloth (though avoiding abrasive cleaners is important). Quartzite requires more upkeep, and needs to be re-sealed once or twice a year. Without a proper seal, stains can penetrate into the stone.
The last countertop style we’ll discuss is the classic butcher block. Butcher block countertops are the only type of countertop that you can safely cut directly on and it will not damage your knives, however that being said, cutting on this surface can leave marks, dings, and scratches. Natural wood automatically makes a kitchen feel warm, rustic, and inviting, and while wood countertops lend themselves towards traditional kitchens, they can be an unexpected twist in modern kitchens as well!
There are two primary choices you have when purchasing butcher block countertops are end grain or edge grain. While end grain (where the ends of the wood fibers are exposed) is more expensive, it lasts longer and generally wears better. Edge grain (named because the surface of the counter is the side edges of the wood) shows marks more easily. You can choose from numerous different wood types including red oak, cherry, bamboo, and even exotic woods like zebrawood.
Butcher block countertops should not be sealed, but rather oiled and sanded to keep them looking fresh and clean. Unfortunately, because it is not sealed they absorb liquid, which depending on the liquid, could stain the wood or lead to mold. Wood countertops can potentially warp in high humidity or crack in extreme cold, so they may not be ideal in certain climates either. Hot pots and pans will burn the wood when placed directly on this particular surface and we recommend using trivets or pads when setting down hot objects.
Care: Butcher block countertops might be one of the most convenient types of countertops because you can cut right on them, unfortunately though this will inevitably lead to staining and knife marks. To keep your wooden countertops looking great, lightly scrape off any stuck-on residue with a spatula, and then use a damp cloth to wipe the surface clean with mild dish soap and water. Afterwards, combine equal parts water and equal parts white vinegar in a spray bottle; spray it over the surface and wipe it down with another damp cloth. Cleaning and sanitizing the surface should be done daily.
When scratches occur, the only real option for getting them out is to gently sand them down and apply mineral oil to the area. Butcher block countertops do require a bit more general maintenance than other materials, like stone. They need to be conditioned with oil every few months to ensure they maintain their shine and beauty. Don’t use a food oil, like olive or vegetable oil, which will oxidize on the surface and start to smell; rather use food-safe walnut oil or mineral oil, which can be purchased online or at any home improvement store. For the most noticeable transformation, try a product containing a combination of mineral oil and beeswax. The beeswax will help fill in voids or small crevices from age or use. Start with a clean countertop, and then pour on the mineral oil, spreading over the surface with a cloth. Let it sink it and dry for an hour. Then apply another coat.
Our designer’s thoughts: “Butcher block countertops make decent workstations. They do for the fact you can make your cuts on them as you would any cutting board but again there is maintenance to be done to keep the butcher block in its gracefully conditioned state.”
Stainless steel is the industry standard for commercial kitchens, so why not bring it into your home kitchen as well! Virtually indestructible, heat resistant, stain resistant, and easy to clean, stainless steel is a nonporous material that unlike butcher block, concrete, and many natural stones, will not absorb even the toughest of cooking ingredients. That being said it will show scratches from sharp knives (and potentially damage your knives), so using a cutting board is advisable. To camouflage these scratches, most stainless steel countertops are brushed, though you can get these countertops in a range of finishes from satin polish, mirror polish, and antique matte to name a few.
These countertops will not burn or rust, thanks to a combination of chromium and nickel, unlike other countertop materials such as wood and stone. Meaning you can easily put a hot pot down on the surface with no damage to your countertop- though you may want to put these pots and pans down gently to avoid the clanging of metal on metal!
Stainless steel is manufactured in a variety of gauges (14 to 20 are the typical gauges and represent the thickness of the sheet, 14 gauge is 1.4 millimeters thick, and subsequently its strength). The lower the gauge, the thicker the steel; the thicker the steel, the stronger your counter will be. The most commonly used thicknesses for residential countertops are 16 and 18 gauge.
Care: One of the easiest materials to clean on our list, stainless steel can be wiped clean quickly with just soap, water, and a cloth or sponge. While you can use special stainless steel cleaners and polishes to minimize fingerprints, over time there’s no avoiding some signs of use. For particularly difficult patches or messy food nights, simply sprinkle some baking soda on the surface of your countertop, wipe vinegar over top in the direction of the grain, rinse, and dry thoroughly to avoid water spots. Finally to get your stainless steel to really shine, buff some mineral oil across the surface! Avoid harsh abrasives and scrubbers that will do more harm than good by leaving behind scratches.
Questions to ask yourself when choosing a countertop
1. What look are you going for?
One of the first things to think about when designing your kitchen is what the overall feel is going to be. Do you want an urban modern kitchen? A traditional kitchen? Country chic? Transitional? Determining the overall style of your kitchen will help you decide not only what stone would fit best, but also what color, veining pattern (if any), edge style, etc. Wood countertops will automatically warm up a room, while marble gives an air of classic sophistication. Don’t be afraid to mix and match either! Consider making your island (if you have one) a different material or color than the rest of your countertops for some uniqueness.
If you’re wondering what’s trending, right now it’s all about the marble look. While marble is extremely porous and very hard to maintain, materials like Quartz and Porcelain have the look without all the extra work!
2. How much maintenance can you handle?
As we’ve discussed, each of these countertop materials has a different level of upkeep and maintenance involved. It’s important to not only consider how much time, energy, and money you’re willing to invest in keeping up the quality of your countertop, but also what your countertop will be used for. If you’re constantly cooking, or have children, having a countertop that is easily damaged or stained like marble, might not be as wise of a choice as something like quartz or granite. Be realistic about how much effort you’re willing to put into the care of your countertops.
3. Do you want square edges?
Most counters come in 2 depths (3CM & 2CM) 3cm= 1.25” & 2CM= .75”. However you can do what’s called a mitered edge and build up the counter to look anywhere from 3-5” high. While square edges are standard on most countertops, decorative edges like bullnose, bevel, egg and ogee, though a bit more expensive, are another way to customize a kitchen. It’s important to note that the availability of certain edges varies based on countertop materials. For instance, with porcelain countertops, you only have two edge options: square or mitered. Because the material is so thin, manufacturers will often create a mitered edge to give it a thicker look. Edge design is purely for aesthetics, and will have no bearing on the integrity of your countertops.
4. What color do you want?
Once you have decided on the right countertop material for your home, it’s time to choose the color. A good starting point is to base the color of the counter off of the color of the cabinets. Sometimes you want a contrast & sometimes you want a match. By choosing one element first, like the cabinets, you can also start to better understand the undertones of the colors and work off of those. For instance, if your flooring or cabinets have a yellow or orange undertone, cool gray or blue counters will intensify that undertone. A basic understanding of the color wheel can help you avoid a color clash with your new countertops. Veined or speckled countertop patterns can give you the pops of color you need, without creating a color catastrophe in your kitchen.
5. What materials are you drawn to?
We’ve discussed a handful of materials on this blog for your new countertops, and even with everything we’ve written there are more materials and more information out there. Understanding all aspects of the materials you’re working with is so important to creating not only a beautiful, but a functional kitchen. It would be a shame to select a countertop based on beauty alone, only to realize after it’s installed that it’s not the right match for you. You might be attracted to white marble countertops but don’t want the hassles of worrying about red wine stains. A good natural alternative would be quartzite or if you want to go man-made for even less hassle, porcelain. That being said, sometimes the inner designer of us all becomes set on one material and is willing to overlook some shortcomings and maintenance requirements for the stone of their dreams.
Have any other questions that we didn’t answer for you? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org!