How to choose the right type of countertop for your kitchen

Learn the pros and cons of eight different, popular types of countertops

Key tips to remember

  • There is a countertop for every budget
  • Learn the pros and cons of your options
  • Different countertops require different care
  • Some types are better suited for DIY approaches
  • The best choice for the environment is the countertop you already have
DIY

If you’re shopping for new kitchen countertops, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed by dozens of choices, but you don’t have to consider every possible option to make a good decision that should serve you well for many years and increase the value of your home. An essential component of any kitchen, countertops should be functional and durable, and they should have a look that you’ll enjoy using and admire daily for years to come. They should also be easy to clean, resist damages and complement the interior design of your home. Prices can vary quite a bit between materials. Consider trying a few samples and checking out warranties before making your final decision. We’ve profiled eight of the most popular options.

Quartz countertops

Extremely durable and relatively maintenance-free, quartz countertops offer a classy look in a variety of colors. Most contain subtle veining patterns throughout a tough slab that resists scratches, stains and dents. After all, quartz is one of the hardest minerals on the planet, even harder than granite. When finished, polished quartz countertops have a glossy, glasslike look similar to marble. Most quartz countertops are considered engineered stone, as opposed to natural stone, because they contain more than 90% quartz crystals, with less than 10% comprised of a nonporous, resin-based bonding agent that will not require resealing.

Granite countertops

Another top choice for homeowners in search of a beautiful, durable and unique stone look, granite countertops come in various colors, and no two cuts of this stone are identical. Naturally sourced, granite is porous, so it requires a new seal every 10 to 15 years. Among the most expensive countertop choices, granite is arguably the most popular one, and it is now widely available wherever countertops are sold. 

Typically seamless, granite slabs are cut to size and polished before being treated with a sealant for stain protection. Granite countertops come in glossy and matte (sometimes called honed) finishes, as well as a leathered finish, which is a more textured version. Granite’s durability, low maintenance, and range of colors and flecks, as well as its ability to hold a variety of edges and withstand great heat, add to its appeal.

Concrete countertops

Unlike the messy ’80s trend of cabinet pour-overs, today’s prefabricated concrete countertops have a sleek, modern, industrial appeal, perfect for homeowners seeking a custom build with a look similar to natural stone. Available in various colors, shapes, textures and finishes, concrete countertops are often only about an inch and a half thick, are usually much lighter than granite or quartz, and extend up to 10 feet in length. 

After the concrete cures, it must be sealed immediately before or just after installation. Due to the highly porous nature of concrete, you must reseal it annually, and though it is solid, it can be scratched and may break as a home settles over time. Pouring a concrete countertop yourself is possible if you have a month to wait for the cure.

Butcher-block countertops

Butcherblock countertops are considerably less expensive than stone countertops, and they offer a distinctively casual ambience in comparison. Typically made by gluing multicolored sections of wood together into a single block, an often-beautiful slab of butcher-block countertop could include a variety of wood types, from teak, walnut and hickory to cherry, oak and maple. 

When it comes to using a butcher-block countertop, there are two approaches to consider: sealed and unsealed. Leaving your butcher-block countertop unsealed instantly gives you access to the largest cutting board that’s ever been in your kitchen. You can cut and slice all you want, as long as you realize that you’ll need to oil an unsealed butcher-block countertop at least twice a year. Mineral oil works well here. Also, unsealed wood is porous, so any spills that you don’t quickly wipe away can cause stains. You can clean unsealed butcher blocks fairly easily with soap and water or a 50/50 vinegar-and-water solution. If you love the look of butcher block but don’t want to break yours in by treating it like a giant cutting board, you can always seal it and use regular cutting boards on top.

Wood countertops

Unlike butcher-block countertops, which are typically much thicker and comprised of many layers of different types of wood, wood countertops usually consist of a single layer of one type of wood, which you can select to match the look of kitchen cabinets or other furniture. Sealed, preserved and polished, wood countertops look beautiful when untouched, and they can be just as beautiful after scarred with knife marks and rough use. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 

As with butcher blocks, sealed wood countertops are more protected from the elements and will be better at resisting stains, but unsealed wood countertops offer the advantage of using them as a cutting board. When unsealed, however, they too require regular mineral oil treatments for preservation. Wood countertops come in all sorts of styles, colors and grain patterns, and studies have shown that wood cutting boards resist bacteria quite effectively, even better than plastic versions.

Stainless-steel countertops

Though some might call them sterile, stainless-steel countertops are a sleek, modern choice that comes in various finishes like satin, brushed, polished or mirror, and delivers a professional look that mimics commercial kitchens. It’s a highly durable and nonporous solution that won’t stain or damage under hot pots and pans. However, stainless-steel countertops can and will scratch, dent, and show fingerprints and water spots. When cared for regularly, cleaning stainless steel is as easy as buffing with a soft, dry cloth. Special cleaners are formulated to remove smudges, fingerprints and watermarks, but a little soap and water or a 50/50 vinegar-and-water solution can also work well.

Tile countertops

Since their peak of popularity in the ’70s and ’80s, tile countertops are not quite as in fashion as many lower-maintenance, seamless options on this list. Yet ceramic, porcelain, metal, stone or even glass tiles are still an intriguing option for more eclectic countertop tastes, with a seemingly infinite number of possible styles and configurations. Tiles are available in endless colors, shapes and sizes, and marble, quartz or granite tiles are far less expensive than their slab-size counterparts. 

Cleanup can be a headache because tile’s porous nature makes it more susceptible to stains. The grout in between tiles can also be tough to keep clean, so consider darker grout colors. Tiles can also crack, so be sure that yours are rated for use on countertops because wall-rated tiles aren’t strong enough. If you’d like to combine significant monetary savings with a DIY approach, make sure to use a sheet of ¾-inch plywood under a ½-inch cement backer board, and you’ll save a lot with tile while making sure your new DIY countertop will last.

Laminate countertops

Popular in the ’80s and ’90s, laminate countertops were often known as Formica, a common brand name for this synthetic, manufactured coating. Inexpensive, versatile and durable, it’s still a popular choice for countertops and available in hundreds of colors, patterns, styles and textures. 

Typically sold in sheets of either standardized sizes or special-ordered measurements, laminates resist stains, clean easily, and resist all sorts of damage. Nonporous, you can easily clean laminate with soap and water or basic cleaning solutions. A post-formed version consisting of a fully formed counter slab with a backsplash is also available. Laminate’s only weak point is heat, so you’ll need a trivet for a hot pan, and it’s not going to increase the resale value of your home, but it will last for many years and save you a lot of money. The latest laminates mimic wood and stone countertops effectively at far lower prices.

Other countertop choices

We’ve covered eight of the most popular countertops today, and any of them could be an excellent choice for you, depending on your budget, your aesthetic preferences, and your plans for your home. However, many other types of countertops are also available for your consideration, including other natural stones, acrylic sheets, manufactured composites, marble, solid-surface, glass, travertine, eco-friendly, lava, resin, porcelain, soapstone, slate, engineered stone and more. Finally, as you consider replacing your countertops, remember that the best choice for the environment is to make do with the countertops you already have.

Now that you’re thinking in-depth about your kitchen, check out our article on smart kitchen appliances or our survey on unsanitary kitchen habits. Meanwhile, if you’re thinking about hosting a little backyard get-together before long, you may be interested in these irresistible outdoor home decorating ideas. For more tips on home improvement and protection, sign up for our newsletter and check out our Facebook page


The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.
 

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