Your kitchen countertop has to be able to take a lot of abuse, including the heat from pots, cutting, and abrasive cleansers. The ideal countertop should be able to stand up to heat and the sharp edge of a knife, be impervious to bacteria and keep its finish.
Let us take a look at eight of the most popular kitchen countertop materials being used today:
A natural stone, granite is an extremely popular choice for it’s classic beauty and durability. Granite is an igneous rock; magma which has cooled over hundreds of thousands and even millions of years within the earth. Cooling over a long period of time allows the rock to form large crystals, which, when mined and fabricated into a kitchen countertop, create the shimmer and texture that is most desired. Finer textured ‘granite’ countertops are actually more likely Rhyolite – magma which cooled quickly and didn’t get the time to form large crystals. Many granite countertop manufacturers band granite, rhyolite and other closely specified rock materials together for marketing purposes.
Granite is one of the hardest and densest natural stones; it can create a kitchen countertop that is extremely scratch resistant and can keep its luster longer than most materials, but needs to be sealed regularly to keep it free from penetrating bacteria. granite slabs are one of the more expensive of all kitchen countertop surfaces, although it is still considered a very practical material for your kitchen. Available in slab or tile; tiles are more cost effective, but compromise on the functionality of the work surface.
Another natural stone, marble is considered to be the height of elegance. A metamorphic rock, marble is created from limestone (dead sea creatures), when it is heated by the earth and recrystallizes, creating patterns in the material, called marbling. It is very soft and permeable (in terms of stone), very expensive and requires a fair amount of care: acidic foods such as orange juice will soak in and etch the finished surface of a marble kitchen countertop; bacteria and micro-organisms could be a pain to keep on top of.
Slate is a fine grained, crystalline rock derived from sediments of clay and fine silt which were deposited on ancient sea bottoms. Superimposed materials gradually consolidated the sedimentary particles into bedded deposits of shale. Mountain building forces subsequently folded, crumpled, and compressed the shale. At the same time, intense heat and pressure changed the original clays into new minerals such as mica, chlorite, and quartz.
Commonly used on European rooftops, slate can also be used in interior applications such as kitchen countertops, bathroom sinks or fireplace surrounds. It can be used in either modern or traditional kitchens as well as in combination with marble. Slate is durable, strong, and can withstand considerable hard use. It is less expensive than marble, and more likely to come in tile form, given it’s natural characteristics.
Quartz (Silica/Silicon Dioxide, SiO2) is the most common mineral on the earth’s surface. It is present in nearly every geological environment and is a component of almost every rock type and exists in an impressive range of varieties and colours. Quartz ranks 7.0 on Moh’s Hardness Scale, which is used to measure the scratch-resistance of a material. Only the diamond (at 10), topaz and sapphire (at 9) are harder than quartz. (Granite is ranked 6 on the scale).
Quartz countertops are made from an ‘engineered’ stone. Quartz slabs are a mixture of 93% quartz and 7% resin (plastic) binders and pigments – free of fissures and cracks, and impervious to water, moisture, or bacteria. The manufacturing process is a controlled process and quality-control measures exist for quartz that are not possible for natural granite countertops. The nature of the production process ensures that any sample slab will be identical in color and texture to the delivered product.
A solid surface material that first became popular in the 1990′s, Corian is a manufactured mix of stone aggregate and resin (plastic). Amazingly, the main difference between a (stone) Quartz countertop and (plastic) Corian countertop is only about 6% resin material. It is highly regarded by kitchen and bath designers, for it’s malleability and flair. Corian is easily fabricated with common tools, and often machined in workshops to form extravagant vessels. As a solid surface, Corian can easily be repaired if scratched or burned, but can melt under high temperatures, and can stain quite easily.
This is one of the biggest trends in kitchen countertops today. It is considered a desirable look for clean, industrial and contemporary kitchen designs. Concrete is a construction material composed of cement (commonly Portland cement) and other cementitious materials such as fly ash and slag cement, aggregate (generally a coarse aggregate made of gravels or crushed rocks such as limestone, or granite, plus a fine aggregate such as sand), water, and chemical admixtures. Concrete kitchen countertops are available in pre formed sections, but more commonly poured on-site. Concrete could a good material for unusually shaped counters. Creatign the forms for an on-site pour of concrete makes concrete kitchen countertops expensive, and the porous nature of the material requires a sealant and must be treated with care. The countertop can crack if the concrete should contract. Concrete can be stained any color, and the top layer can be finished as desired, including enbedding objects into the surface!
Stainless steel countertops are a mix of iron ore and nickel, molten and fabricated into sheets, often formed around a wood substrate material. Advantages include providing a very hygienic, easy to clean surface, which has the ability to stand up to exteme wear and heat. Stainless steel can provide a great look for an ultra modern kitchen. Some disadvantages with stainless is that it can be noisy and that scratches can develop, which are difficult to repair.
Ceramic tiles are manufactured from natural clay minerals and feldspars, formed and fired to create tiles. The tiles are then fixed in place with cement and the gaps between the tiles filled with grout – another cementitious material. Tile surfaces can be tough, hard-wearing, are resistant to heat and stains. Besides ceramic, there are many other materials used for tile kitchen countertops, including porcelain, glass, and natural stone. Available in many colors, sizes, and textures, you could use a simple pattern and color, or go all out on an extravagant mosaic surface. Tiles offer great design flexibility, and are often used for trim and backsplashes. One downside of tile is that the grout lines can be easily stained, cause a difficult to clean surface, or the edges can be easily chipped or broken.