Kitchen countertops are one of the hardest working surfaces in any kitchen design. It must withstand sharp objects, extreme temperatures, spilled food and liquids, dirt, grease, and constant cleaning.  After this daily onslaught, we expect it to maintain its color, texture, and shine for years to come.

Does that sound impossible?  Thankfully, there are many different hard-wearing materials available for kitchen countertops that are up to this task.  Just how tough this superhero of kitchen design materials must be, depends in large part on your household and how you use your kitchen.  How often do you cook?  What is the age range of the household?  Do you entertain frequently? Are you an avid baker?  What is your budget for your kitchen remodel?

An experienced kitchen design professional will help you understand your requirements and the kitchen countertop option that best suits your home.

It helps to first understand the terminology and the benefits of different materials, so this guide will serve as a starting point on your journey to finding the perfect kitchen countertop material.

Granite Countertops

This natural stone has long been one of the most popular materials for kitchen countertops. It is ideal because it resists heat, scratches, and stains, and it protects against mold and mildew. Every piece of granite is unique, and typically you can select the actual piece for your countertop. It also requires very little maintenance, like resealing and polishing. Granite can be cut into various shapes and forms to accommodate all different kitchen or bath designs.

 Kitchen design with granite countertop        Kitchen design with dark granite countertop

Marble Surfaces

Marble is a classically beautiful choice, though perhaps not the most practical one for kitchen designs.  It is a softer material that can be sculpted for endless design optio

ns.  This softness also means it is more prone to chips, scratches, and stains from foods and other substances.  Marble countertops require more maintenance and must be regularly resealed. People who love to bake sometimes include marble in one section of their kitchen countertop, as this naturally cool material is ideal for kneading dough.

Plastic Laminates

Laminate countertops remain a very popular option for many kitchen renovations because they are affordable, with prices far below other options.  Laminates also come in the widest possible range of colors, patterns, designs, and even textured surfaces. Many options mimic the look of more expensive surfaces, like marble or granite.

Laminate contains a hard particle board core with layers of plastic laminate bonded over the top of it.   Newer options are of a higher quality than ever before, with a refined process to make them even more durable.  The surface is solid, without pores, and their seams can be hidden more easily than most countertop materials.  A soapy washcloth or sponge is usually all that is needed for cleanup.

On the other hand, laminate kitchen countertops scratch more easily than most surfaces and cannot withstand high heat.  Use a chopping board or put something under hot pans, as scratched, burned or chipped laminate is very difficult to repair.

 Showroom display with laminate countertop          Kitchen design with laminate kitchen countertops

Butcher Block Counters

Butcher block counters are excellent for baking or other types of food preparation.  They are sometimes used in conjunction with other surfaces such as quartz, granite, and laminate.  For example, you can have an island with a butcher block countertop, while the perimeter tops are another material.  Some people also opt for a wood “tabletop” as part of the island for dining.

Wood countertops are easy to clean and do not suffer from the cracking or chipping that affects other kitchen countertops. They hide cuts and scratches well, and in fact the scars they accumulate add to their character. After years of use, these countertops can be sanded and resealed, breathing new life into your kitchen design.

On the downside, butcher block countertops need to be sealed when produced or first installed.  They require periodic sealing to keep water from penetrating the butcher block and warping wood pieces, causing them to separate. Some manufacturers recommend oiling butcher block countertops every 1-3 months with linseed oil to keep out the harmful effects of water.

Kitchen island with wood tabletop

Tile for Countertops

Tile is one of the most versatile materials because it comes in a variety of styles, sizes, shapes and colors, using materials such as ceramic, glass, or porcelain. It complements any kitchen design style, from very traditional to retro to contemporary, and offers unlimited opportunities to create a look that is tailor-made for your home.  Tile is very durable and may last 50 years or more, plus it is generally easy to clean.

You will need to re-seal the grout every few years to keep that porous material from harboring bacteria and becoming stained.  The tile itself is one of the more cost-effective countertop materials, but the installation is labor-intensive and therefore can be expensive. This is especially true if you select an elaborate design.

Stainless Steel Surfaces

Stainless steel countertops combine elegant beauty with outstanding practical features. With so many large kitchen appliances now featuring stainless steel finishes, a matching kitchen countertop blends seamlessly with your refrigerator, range, dishwasher and more.  Stainless steel complements many materials such as wood kitchen cabinets and natural stone flooring. The material comes in different finishes, so you can select one that works well with any kitchen design, whether retro or modern.

Stainless is also very durable and should give you 15-25 years of dependable service at a minimum.  It is one of the most sanitary materials you can use since it is not porous, thus bacteria and viruses are easy to remove. Cleanliness and durability are among the top reasons stainless is used in so many professional kitchens.

There are downsides to stainless steel, namely the steep price. Secondly, some homeowners do not feel it is a warm enough surface to meet their kitchen design goals, as it can have a more clinical look next to the warmth of granite or laminate.

Solid Surface Countertops

Solid surface countertops are a more recent innovation in kitchen remodeling projects.  As the name implies, they are made from a solid synthetic material, which makes them a very hard-wearing, durable surface. These kitchen countertops are solid, tough, and non-porous, making them very easy to clean and maintain.

Available in over 100 colors, as well as many patterns, they are often designed to look like more expensive materials such as granite, stone, or quartz.  Because of the variety, these countertops can be used in virtually any style of kitchen design, ranging from traditional to contemporary homes.

These kitchen countertops can be scratched, but since both the material and color are solid, many scratches can be removed with careful sanding. In terms of cost, solid surface countertops are on the upper end of the price spectrum but are not as costly as quartz, concrete, granite or other stone countertops.

Engineered Quartz Countertops

Quartz is an engineered material that has quickly grown in popularity for countertops, rivaling granite as the most popular choice for kitchen and bath design.  There is plenty to like about this durable and attractive material.

It is extremely hard-wearing, so it is quite resistant to scratches.    It is non-porous and so is quite resistant to stains and bacteria, and even better, does not need to be sealed like natural stone. Quartz is easily cleaned with a damp cloth (and mild cleaner, if necessary). The resin used with quartz creates flexibility, so these kitchen countertops will not chip as easily as granite, marble, tile, or concrete.

Kitchen with quartz kitchen countertops

Quartz offers excellent options for color, pattern, texture, and finish, and has more depth to the finish than solid surface countertops. The combination of quartz dust or aggregate with a binder makes it easy to manufacture slabs of many shapes and sizes to fit your kitchen design.  Seams between slabs are less visible than between slabs of concrete or natural stone.

There are some disadvantages to quartz countertops. It is not as resistant to heat as concrete, tile, crushed glass or granite.  Direct sunlight may, over an extended period, cause fading, warping, or cracking.  It does not have the natural look of stone, since it is engineered, though this is not a “con” in the eyes of those who prefer a more contemporary look.  Quartz countertops are among the most expensive options, especially for the best quality and finish.

Quartz kitchen countertops

If you want to learn more about the options available for kitchen countertops, visit our products page to discover the wide range of countertops we supply, or check out our kitchen design gallery for examples of different countertop materials.  Contact McDaniels Kitchen and Bath today to talk to our experienced staff about your products and kitchen design requirements!