A Crash Course in Choosing Kitchen Countertops
These are the 11 best options.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:00 AM
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Chopping and dicing, spills and crumbs—it’s the countertops that bear the brunt of our hard work in the kitchen. While it’s easy to be swayed by a bright white marble or sleek slab of granite, when it comes to selecting the perfect surface for your space, it’s important to look beyond your Pinterest board. “Be realistic about your cleaning and visual standards when it comes to wear and tear,” says Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of the renovation matchmaking service Sweeten.
Loving your countertops starts with knowing your countertops. Below, we run through the pros, cons, costs, and care of 11 of the most popular materials on the market to help you nail down the right option for your space.
From $55 to $200 per square foot
What is it? Thick strips of wood glued together to create sturdy slabs. While maple is probably the most popular type of wood to use in the kitchen, cherry, oak, birch, and tigerwood are also great options.
Pros: You can chop and cut directly on it. (As long as its an unsealed surface, it can take a beating.)
Cons: It’s not heat- or stain-resistant (no just-used pans on this surface!), and excessive wetness can cause the wood to rot.
Care: Oil the countertops every six months or so, depending on how much you use them, with a food-safe oil solution and a dishrag.
From $5 to $50 per square foot
What is it? Tiles made of clay, fired in an oven, and typically glazed. With an infinite range of colors and designs to pick from—including porcelain, which is made from a blend of fine-grain clay—your countertop can be as expensive or as cheap as you want.
Pros: Ceramic tiles are fairly simple to install, making them a great option for rookie DIYers. They can be easily cut and customized to fit around awkward cabinetry and in tight corners.
Cons: The grout seams between the tiles can create an uneven surface to work on and may also collect crumbs over time.
Care: Wipe the tiles down with a basic surface cleaner. To get deeper into the grout, scrub the seams with a specialized cleaner or mild bleach solution. A toothbrush will come in extra handy.
From $75 to $145 per square foot
What is it? A cement-and-sand mix, which can be either precast off-site or poured in place, depending on how much space you’re looking to cover. It’s a rock-solid choice if your style skews rustic or industrial.
Pros: Much like ceramic, concrete offers plenty of room for personalization. Because it can be cast into a myriad of shapes and even tinted or stained, it’s an ideal fit for a quirky kitchen layout.
Cons: Even if you have your countertops sealed, they may show spills and scratches over time.
Care: To keep your concrete looking healthy and strong, have it resealed every one to three years. Avoid harsh cleaners and lots of scrubbing, and consider waxing the surface from time to time to prevent stains.
From $40 to $200
What is it? A savvy solution for renters (or really anyone who isn’t ready to commit to financing a full makeover), this self-adhesive, measure-and-cut material is the ultimate temporary fix for ugly counters.
Pros: Contact paper doesn’t look as fake as you think it would. SoCal blogger and designer Anita Yokota used a faux marble design for her kitchen countertops and says guests almost never notice it’s not real stone.
Cons: It’s not heat conducive (so don’t set down any piping-hot pots), and water may wear down the glue over time, especially surrounding the sink.
Care: Wipe it down with your go-to household surface cleaner.
From $50 to $100 per square foot
What is it? A stone primarily composed of quartz and feldspar, sliced and sourced from a quarry. Later on, the slab is cured in an oven, polished, and buffed.
Pros: Granite is beloved for its high-end looks and incredible durability. Opting for granite tiles (instead of a slab) is a great way to save money.
Cons: They can crack under heavy weight and strain.
Care: Much like concrete, you’ll want to have your granite counters resealed every one to three years. For day-to-day cleaning, wipe them down with warm water or a mild surface cleaner.
From $15 to $45 per square foot.
What is it? Layers of paper and plastic resins that have been pressed together under extreme heat and pressure.
Pros: It stands up well to stains and scratches and can be designed to re-create the look of pricier materials like marble, soapstone, and slate.
Cons: It’s prone to chipping and is more sensitive to heat than natural stone countertops.
Care: Don’t let spills sit, as they can cause the surface to swell. Use mild household cleaner and warm water to wipe it down.
From $75 to $250 per square foot
What is it? What’s called “igneous rock,” essentially a material that is formed by the cooling and solidification of molten magma on the earth’s surface. Carrara marble (a grayer stone sourced in Italy) is one of the most affordable options on the market due to the fact that it’s readily available. Other varieties like Calacatta marble, which boasts a brighter white surface with rich, dark veins, are rarer and thus more expensive.
Pros: Marble of any design or color is incredibly eye-catching. Its gleaming surface will reflect and amplify the light in your space.
Cons: Because marble is softer, more porous, and full of calcium carbonate, it’s more likely to stain and scratch than, say, granite or laminate.
Care: If there’s one thing to remember about marble it’s this: Seal, seal, seal! Every six months, apply a quality nontoxic sealer like Akemi Nano Effect to keep the surface from absorbing liquids and getting marked up. If you clean up messes quickly, they’ll be virtually unaffected.
From $60 to $150 per square foot
What is it? A man-made surface material that was first engineered by Italian stone purveyor Breton by binding resins, pigments, and crushed quartz.
Pros: If you’re not into the veining and inconsistent patterning of a granite or marble countertop, you’ll love the uniform and symmetrical nature of quartz. It’s a low-maintenance, good-looking pick when you want the look of natural stone without all the upkeep.
Cons: Depending on the size and make of your slab, seams may be visible.
Care: Wipe down the counters with mild surface cleaner. It does not need to be polished or sealed.
From $75 to $150 per square foot
What is it? Like granite and other natural stones, this one is sourced from a quarry. It’s primarily made up of mineral talc, which gives the material its famous milky, matte texture, and typically comes in off-white or gray tones.
Pros: This hardy material is prized for its incredibly smooth surface, which is not likely to crack under extreme weight and does not scratch easily.
Cons: Soapstone is sensitive to heat, so set a cutting board down first before you move over hot cookware.
Care: Clean this nonporous stone with mild soap and a dishrag. Regularly oil and buff it to maintain its ultra-soft texture.
From $35 to $85 per square foot
What is it? Like quartz, this option is man-made (it’s comprised primarily of acrylic, polyester resins, and marble dust), nonporous, and designed to mimic the look and feel of natural stone. Swanstone and Corian are the two leading brands.
Pros: Stain-resistant, strong, and easy to repair, this sturdy material is a dream for young families. Compared to laminate, solid surface countertops more closely resemble the look of high-end materials like marble and granite.
Cons: Solid surface counters are not eco-friendly, as they’re made almost completely of nonrenewable resources. They’re also extremely heavy, so be sure to hire a qualified contractor to have them properly installed.
Care: Use a standard dishrag or microfiber cloth to wipe them down with mild soap and water.
From $80 to $225 per square foot
What is it? A longtime favorite among chefs and serious cooks, this metal is a reliable option for those who spend most of their time in the kitchen or want an ultra-contemporary look.
Pros: It’s a nonporous material, so you won’t have to worry about crumbs or liquids staining its surface. It can handle water and heat with ease.
Cons: Although it might seem virtually indestructible, it’s not immune to dents or scratches.
Care: Wash it down with water and a little dish soap. Buff dry to prevent any water spots or streaks from forming.
This story was originally published on July 2, 2018. It has been updated with new information.