With all of the countertop options out there today is no wonder why there is so much confusion, it is enough to make the head spin. For example, I didn’t realize that paper counter tops were a true, viable option until I started this article! It’s amazing what technology and focus on the environment can do for a product that previously only had four major options: wood, metal, stone, or plastic. And even with those choices, what was available was minimal. The average home thirty years ago had plastic laminate with the occasional butcher-block top. Stainless steel was found mostly around sinks, and stone was rare. However, if you were to walk into the average kitchen built in the last 10 years it is likely that they have some sort of stone material; real or fake, everyone wanted stone. And why not, stone is sleek, clean, and solid. Currently, many home owners are expanding their interest into other materials that offer the same sleek, clean, and solid look of stone, without the maintenance of true stones.
More people today are looking for a surface they don’t have to be so conscious about. They don’t want to worry about trying to scrub away the cloudy spot forever etched on their counter from when their kid spilled the orange juice and left it for them to find later. Let’s face it; life happens all around us, so why wouldn’t we want one less thing to worry about? Enter the wide world of manmade counter tops.
The options seemed to be endless, so I pulled three popular types that require the least amount of maintenance.
There are solid surface materials which are mostly made from polyester and acrylics, and are offered from a variety of different manufacturers, the most well-known being DuPont’s Corian brand. Other common brands include Willison Art, Samsung Starion, Avonite, Meganite, and Sage Surfaces.
Solid surface is a non-porous product which makes it mostly maintenance free, as far as sealing and polishing go anyway. It is seamed together tightly and then sanded out, so you have the appearance of a seamless top. You can also have a sink integrated into the top as well. There are tons of colors and patterns offered with solid surface materials, but keep in mind this material is not meant to look like stone, so if that is what you are looking to achieve, this is not for you.
There is nothing natural looking about solid surface. It looks like plastic and there is no escaping that. It can scratch very easily, scratches will hold dirt which can make them even more apparent, so you will have to sand them out if that is not a look you are going for. It will scorch and burn if hot materials (such as a pot directly from the cook top) are left on the surface. Even a candle in a jar burning down to the bottom could scorch the surface. However, with a little elbow grease these problems can usually be sanded out.
Another option available is quartz or engineered stone, which is usually made from about 95% crushed stone and resin to create a surface that can be similar to stone. It is the closest of the non-stone options to true natural stone and it also will cost you about the same as natural stone too. Some widely known brands include, Caeserstone, Cambria, Sile Stone, and Zodiaq, all have very different colors and patterns available.
Quartz products are virtually maintenance free, no polishing or sealing needed. It is not easy to scratch, and tough to scorch. It is non porous so it will not absorb liquids like natural stones, and it will not stain or hold bacteria. It is available in a huge selection of colors and pattern range which can relate to a lot of styles and be appealing to more people. So you can choose to have it look like stone, or not. It can also be honed for a softer look, or polished for a glossy look.
It can be expensive, especially if you are trying to mimic stone.
Quartz is not an indestructible product. Some people purchase this thinking it will never chip, crack, or scratch. However as with mostly everything, if it is hit hard enough it will chip, especially at the edges. And although it can be a close second, it will never pass for real stone; it is just too perfect when produced. There are no veins or uniqueness as you might find with real stone. You also may be hard pressed to find it in your local stone yards for these reasons, there is nothing special to be found from slab to slab, and so there is usually no need to stock it; you will have to choose from a small piece.
The newest option for me and perhaps the most intriguing, is the Paper composite top. Yes that’s right, it’s a counter made of paper; paper fibers and resins actually and has been found to be quite durable. Who knew last night’s pizza box could someday be a kitchen counter? Some companies that manufacture paper counters are Paper Stone, Richlite, Shetkastone, and Eco-Top.
It looks and feels like solid surface or laminate, but the appearance is soft and warm, almost like slate or soapstone (when using black) or leather. There are color choices although they are limited. There are also options to sandwich different colors in-between layers for a fun edge detail.It is surprisingly durable, standing up to heat and water, and I am told it will not scratch easily from daily use. Another great attribute- it is much lighter than stone and most other solid and engineered products, so if you are looking to put it in a kitchen in a fifth floor walk up, paper composite could be a good choice.
As with many new products it can be expensive with installation and templating, and you are not likely to find it at your local big box hardware store. This product is not easy to see in person; it is only available in a handful of places in Pennsylvania.
Certain cleaning products with chemicals can scratch and possibly discolor paper composite, so care is needed when cleaning.
It will need the occasional rub down with a mineral oil, and at times may need a good sanding to bring it back to life.
I have had experience with many different kinds of countertops, and with any surface that is used and abused as a countertop can be, these materials all hold up fairly well when properly maintained. Although they are not all completely maintenance free, they are forgiving when they are damaged, and can be brought back with very little effort.