Pros and Cons: 7 Kitchen and Bath Countertop Materials

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By Kate Reggev
We break down the benefits and costs of laminate, wood, concrete, stainless steel, engineered quartz, granite, and marble.

Choosing a kitchen or bathroom countertop can be nerve-wracking, and we understand why—they can be one of the most expensive aspects of a renovation, with the added responsibility of impacting the aesthetics of a space. Of course, picking the "right" countertop shouldn’t be a decision based exclusively on looks; factors like durability, price, ease of maintenance, and availability should be considered as well. Read on as we work our way through the pros and cons of seven of the most common countertop materials. 

Laminate 

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Pros: Laminate is at the low end of the price range for countertops, and has been used consistently for decades since its rise to popularity in the 1950s and '60s. Scratch- and stain-resistant, it's available in a tremendous range of colors, providing the most aesthetic freedom of any countertop material. It’s also easy to install, making it a viable DIY option for the handy crowd. 

Cons: Because laminate countertops are created by layering pieces of plywood and plastic, edges can chip off easily, and the surface can even melt if too much heat is applied directly. Additionally, because of its low cost, it’s seen as a basic element that adds little to no value to the home's resale. 

Wood

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Pros: Wood countertops can be half the price of a lot of stone or metal options. They are also soft to the touch and lend a warm, organic feel to a space, and can come in either solid wood form or pieced-together chunks of wood for butcher block counters. 

Cons: Wood requires maintenance, so you should be prepared for regular oiling and, if the wood gets scratched, sanding. Also, although there’s a variety of woods that are appropriate for countertop use, maple is the most common, and species like red oak and mahogany can be pricier. Wood tends to nick and stain easily, but some find this type of patina desirable. 

Concrete

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Pros: Concrete countertops are experiencing a growing popularity because of their tactile nature and the nearly endless range of colors that can be created. They are durable, resistant to heat, and can be less expensive than natural stone, especially when completed as a DIY project. Furthermore, they can be customized and personalized with specific embedded materials like pebbles and glass or customized molds. 

Cons: Concrete must be sealed before being used; otherwise, its porous nature means that it will stain very easily. The sealant should be reapplied every three years, and even with the sealant, the countertop will still age— which some find appealing. It requires 28 days after pouring for the final curing to be completed, so the countertops are particularly susceptible to staining and scratches during that period. 

Stainless Steel

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Pros: Stainless-steel countertops are used in restaurants and the food service industry because it is durable, easy to maintain, and scratch- and bacteria-resistant. It is also 100-percent recyclable, making it an environmentally friendly addition to a kitchen. 

Cons: Installing stainless steel countertops means being ready for louder cooking, with plates and pots making more noise than they would on other surfaces. And just because the surface is stain-resistant doesn’t mean that it’s impervious to denting and scratching—depending on the gauge, or thickness, of the steel, the countertop is more susceptible to denting and other damage. The gauge of the steel also affects the price of the countertop, with thicker gauges approaching the cost of some marble countertops. 

Engineered Quartz

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Pros: Also known as composite quartz, engineered quartz is made by several different manufacturers in a wide range of colors and textures with the general durability of real stone slabs, but with the ease of manufacturing and installation of a man-made product. As a result, engineered quartz isn’t as expensive as other natural stone countertops, and is usually produced locally. It’s also non-porous, so it doesn’t stain like natural stone can, and doesn’t chip or crack as easily. 

Cons: On the other hand, customers can expect to see these qualities reflected in the price of engineered quartz, which can be on the higher end. Quartz also doesn’t handle extreme heat as well as granite does, and could potentially crack if exposed to enough heat. 

Granite

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Pros: As one of the most common, higher-end countertop materials, granite is a very hard substance that is resistant to scratches—in fact, it’s so hard that it will dull most knife blades! It’s also resistant to heat and, when sealed, stains as well. A granite countertop in the bathroom will not suffer from heat marks from hair dryers or curlers, for example. It’s also available in a range of colors. 

Cons: Because granite naturally is porous, it does need to be resealed every 8 to 10 years to maintain its resistance to staining. Its higher price point puts it out of reach in some renovations, and because its a natural material, it’s not available in as wide a range of colors as other man-made countertop options. 

Marble

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Pros: Known for being one of the most desirable, elegant materials for countertops, marble won’t disappoint: it is heat-resistant, available in a range of colors, and, as a naturally occurring product, offers a one-of-a-kind option where each slab of marble is different. 

Cons: However, marble isn’t without its flaws. Its high price, especially for more unusual types like Calcatta marble (known for its purer white and bolder veining compared to more common marble like Carrara), means that it isn’t an option for everyone. It is also quite high maintenance, requiring regular resealing—sometimes as frequently as every 6 months, depending on how often you cook. Marble countertops are also particularly prone to scratches, soiling, chipping, and etching, where acidic juices like tha tof lemons remove the polish or finish from marble countertops.

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