Care and Maintenance for your Counter-Tops:

 

 

7 Great Countertops: How to Choose the Best Material

Get beyond the brand names and your countertop options really just come down to a handful of materials. The choices can seem overwhelming, but the truth is that there's never been a better time to be in the market for a new counter. Once upon a time, you were lucky to have some faded laminate as a small prep area beside the sink. Today, you can choose from hundreds of colors, patterns and textures, in materials ranging from natural stone and acrylic sheets to quartz composites and stained concrete. Here's a detailed look at the six most popular countertop materials: natural stone, solid surfaces, plastic laminate, ceramic tile, wood and concrete.

NATURAL STONE
The most common natural stones used to make countertops include granite, soapstone and slate. Here's a brief look at each material.

Granite, once found only in expensive, high-end kitchens, is more commonplace today and is by far the most popular natural stone countertop material. Granite comes in a wide array of colors, ranging from vibrant blues and variegated browns, to midnight black, deep red and mottled white. It's cut into long, thick slabs that require few--if any--seams. Most fabricators routinely make one-piece granite counters up to 10 ft long. After cutting and polishing, the granite is treated with an impregnating sealer that makes the countertop stain resistant. This treatment usually lasts 10 to 15 years, but be sure to use a stone cleaner--not an abrasive cleanser--for everyday cleaning. The widespread popularity and availability of granite has stabilized prices somewhat, but it's not exactly cheap. Expect to pay between $75 to more than $250 per sq ft, depending on the granite color and complexity of the fabrication.

Soapstone and slate both come in far fewer colors than granite. Soapstone is usually dark greenish-black, although lighter green-gray slabs are also common. Slate is an extremely dense stone that comes in five subtle colors: green, red, gray, purple and black. Slightly less common are variegated purple and mottled purple slates, which have visible veins and shades of contrasting colors. Both soapstone and slate can be fabricated into sinks to match
the countertop. Soapstone is porous, and must be sealed with mineral oil to reduce staining. Slate, on the other hand, is nonporous and virtually maintenance free. Slate is relatively soft, but scratches can be buffed out with steel wool. Slate has a soft, matte sheen, but you can create a wet look by rubbing the slate with lemon oil. Slate countertops cost roughly $100 to $200 per sq ft, depending on the fabrication. Soapstone is priced comparably with midrange granite: $100 to $150 per sq ft.

SOLID SURFACES
Solid-surfacing materials--such as Corian, Wilsonart's Gibraltar and Avonite--are made of 100% acrylic, 100% polyester, or a combination of acrylic and poly. They're highly resistant to stains and scratches, and completely renewable and repairable. Scratches and burns can be sanded out; deep gouges can be filled. Seams are fused together to create undetectable joints. And the material comes in literally hundreds of colors and patterns, many of which resemble natural stone. Solid-surface sinks are also available.

Detractors dismiss solid-surfacing materials as being nothing more than imitation stone, which is a bit unfair. Solid-surface counters have been around for nearly 40 years and have performed admirably in thousands of kitchens. A unique characteristic of solid-surfacing material is that the design possibilities are virtually limitless. From intricate inlays and custom backsplashes, to elegant edge treatments and colorful pin-striping, if you can dream it there's a good chance the fabricator can create it. Consider quartz composite, a newer type of solid surfacing material. Also known as engineered stone, this unique material is composed of about 90% quartz and 10% acrylic or epoxy binder. DuPont's Zodiaq, Silestone, Cambria and CaesarStone are a few of the many quartz composites now available. The main differences between engineered stone and traditional solid surfacing materials are that engineered stone is much harder and has a depth, clarity and radiance not found in other solid surfaces. Quartz composites cost slightly more than traditional solid surfaces, but both materials are comparable to granite; expect to pay $150 to $200 per sq ft for a solid-surface counter.

PLASTIC LAMINATE
Plastic laminate--which is often referred to by the trades-name Formica--is a durable, hard-wearing material that can survive many years in the toughest kitchens. Considering that plastic laminate is made primarily of kraft paper impregnated with resins, it's a surprisingly resilient choice. Plastic laminate is available in hundreds of colors and dozens of patterns, and in various textures. However, only those with a matte or fine matte finish should be used for countertops. Be aware, too, that there are two basic types of laminates: 1/16-in.-thick general-purpose, and 1/32-in. vertical grade. Only general-purpose laminate is suitable for countertops; vertical grade is for backsplashes, cabinet doors and drawer faces.

Plastic laminate comes in sheets ranging from 2 x 4 ft to 4 x 8 ft longer wider sheets can be special ordered. Prices range from about $2 to more than $3 per sq ft, depending on the laminate's color and pattern. Lumberyards and home centers sell ready-to-install post-formed laminate counters, which feature seamless construction. Again, prices vary widely, but a solid-color, 8-ft-long, post-formed countertop will cost between $80 and $100. If you hire a cabinetmaker to custom-build a counter, prices will range from $15 to more than $25 per sq ft, depending upon the laminate chosen, complexity of the edge treatment and size of the backsplash.


CERAMIC TILE
Ceramic Tile - the trend in kitchen design over the last decade or so has shifted toward low-maintenance, seamless counters. As a result, there are fewer countertops covered with ceramic tile. However, that doesn't mean you should totally discount tile for your kitchen. Tile is an excellent choice for backsplashes or for secondary work surfaces, such as islands, eat-at counters, peninsulas, wet bars or butler's pantries. Just be sure to use tiles rated for use on floors or countertops.
 

Ceramic tile is often applied to a plywood substrate or directly over existing plastic laminate countertops. However, to ensure a rock-solid, long-lasting installation, use ¾” thick plywood topped with ½” thick cement backer-board. It's difficult to estimate the cost of a tile countertop since much depends on the tile chosen and complexity of the installation. Simple solid-color tiles cost as little as $1 per sq ft, but the average cost is more in the $3 to $5 per sq ft range. A pro installation will cost between $30 and $50 per sq ft, plus the cost of the tile.

WOOD
Wood is another traditional countertop material that has lost prominence over the years due both to the widespread popularity of granite and solid surfaces, and to the mistaken perception that wood can harbor germs and bacteria. In fact, according to a 1993 University of Wisconsin study in which microbiologists intentionally contaminated wooden cutting boards during testing, 99.9 percent of the bacteria introduced died within 3 minutes of exposure to the wood's surface. The study found that wood cutting boards are safer, bacteria-wise, than plastic ones. Wood maintenance can be another issue, though: While polyurethane seals can protect a counter for a few years, many owners prefer to draw out the natural beauty and warmth of wood with a less glossy mineral oil finish. Maintaining an oiled surface, which requires reapplication every four to six weeks, is more of a commitment than most busy homeowners are willing to make. But, as with ceramic tile, there are secondary surfaces where using wood makes sense, such as a baker's prep area, a dining counter or a food chopping block. In fact, wood is the only countertop material recommended for cutting, slicing and chopping.

Wood counters are typically made from rock maple--an extremely dense, blond hardwood--but teak, walnut, cherry and oak are also used. There are three ways that wood countertops are fabricated: edge grain, end grain and wide plank. Edge-grain counters are made of long, thick strips of wood that are glued together with the edge grain facing up. End-grain counters (butcher-blocks) are constructed of relatively short, square sticks of wood that are joined together with the tough end grain facing up. These counters are usually 4 in. to 12 in. thick. Wide-plank counters are made by edge-gluing wide boards together. This is the most beautiful and traditional style of wood counter, but it's also the type that's most susceptible to cracking and warping, if it's not meticulously maintained.

Wood counters are often finished with mineral oil or some sort of varnish or a long-lasting marine oil finish. Prefab slabs of edge-grain counters can be special-ordered at most lumberyards and are also sold through national wood dealers, such as Lumber Liquidators. The 1 1/2-in.-thick x 25-in.-wide counters are typically available in 8-ft and 12-ft lengths. Expect to pay about $200 for an 8-ft-long maple counter; the same size in cherry is nearly $250. End-grain and wide-plank counters must be custom made by a cabinetmaker that specializes in wood counters. Prices vary depending on the wood species used, but on average they're comparable with quality granite counters: $100 to $200 per sq ft.


CONCRETE
Concrete counters, which closely resemble slabs of natural stone, are becoming increasingly popular. Unlike the concrete counters of the late-1980s, which were poured messily atop the cabinets, today's fabricators offer precast counters that are made in a workshop and delivered--fully cured and finished--to the job site. There many advantages of precast counters, these molded slabs are extremely flat and very smooth, as compared to hand troweled finishes. And poured-in-place counters are notorious for curling up at the corners due to uneven curing. Poured concrete needs several weeks of curing time before it can be adequately sealed, which creates a huge inconvenience for homeowners.

Precast concrete counters are typically 1 1/2 in. thick and available in slabs up to 10 ft long. A variety of colors can be achieved by adding pigments to the concrete during mixing. Once cured, the slabs are honed and sealed to prevent staining. Cracking is always a concern with concrete, and fabricators often use wire mesh, metal rebar or fiberglass fibers to strengthen the counter. A high-quality precast concrete counter costs from $85 to $100 per sq ft, which isn't outrageously expensive when you consider that each counter is custom made from scratch.

Stainless Steel Countertops

 Stainless steel countertops are considered a high-end choice that provides a modern, elegant look with commercial kitchen overtones.

Stainless steel is a metal alloy that is manufactured from using about 10% Chromium. Once the metals are combined, they are melted down and cut into sheets, which are then cut again to form the countertops that people install in their homes.

 

Since stainless steel is made from various types of metals, it is usually cold and shiny. The smooth surface of these counter tops makes them perfect for kitchens, because they are so easy to clean, and the durability of this metal means that it will last for many years.

 

Stainless steel countertops have many advantages when it comes to installing them in a home. Some of the most notable pros of stainless steel countertops are that they are durable, easy to clean and give a home a more modern, contemporary feel. Another benefit to stainless steel countertops is the ease with which these countertops are cut and installed, making them perfect for just about any type of kitchen remodeling job. Stainless steel is often used in the kitchens of restaurants because it is long lasting, tough and resistance to water and stains. After use, stainless steel counters can simply be wiped down and cleaned without any difficulty.

An additional advantage to stainless steel is it is fire and burn resistant. This means that you can place hot pots and pans on the surface of the countertops damaging the surface. The benefits of these countertops do not end here. Since stainless steel countertops are water resistant, the pro here is that you do not have to worry about mold or bacteria growing within the cracks of these countertops, as you would with wooden countertops, and this means it is a healthier and cleaner option for your kitchen.

Although there are not many disadvantages associated with this material, there are a few drawbacks that you will need to take into account if you are planning on installing stainless steel countertops in your home. Firstly, when it comes to the cons, you will need to remember stainless steel is expensive, so you will need to be prepared to pay more to have stainless steel countertops installed in your kitchen. Another disadvantage is that you cannot cut food or other items on stainless steel countertops, since doing so will cause scratches and scrapes on the surface of the metal.

Cleaning and Caring of Stainless Steel Countertops

Nothing can be easier than caring for and maintaining your stainless steel countertops. When cleaning stainless steel, you can use an all-purpose cleaner to wipe down the surface of the countertops. You will need to make sure that you do not use an abrasive cleaning brush, however, or you might scratch the surface of the metal. Once in a while, you may need to repair some dents that might have occurred in the countertops, which is best handled by a professional.

 

 Cleaning and Caring for Granite Countertops

Probably the biggest fear people have of natural stone is its maintenance. Truthfully, natural stone requires about the same level of care and maintenance as any countertop or floor, and certainly no more than natural wood products like tables and chairs.

The best care you can give your natural stone is preventative care. Preventing stains or scratching before they happen is far easier than getting rid of them after the fact.

Granite countertops are surprisingly resilient to stains, and practically impossible to scratch. But, as a preventative measure, wipe up any spills on the countertops within a reasonable amount of time. Don't let liquid sit on countertops overnight. Granite is most prone to staining by oil and acid, so blot these spills up soon after they happen, and then clean the stone with mild soap and water.

Marble countertops and tabletops are easily stained by acidic foods like fruit, tomato sauce, coffee, and wine. Blot, do not wipe, any spills up immediately, and then clean with mild soap and hot water. Do not set hot pans directly onto marble. And place a mat or pad between marble and anything which might scratch it, like a pan or utensils. Use coasters between marble and any glasses, especially ones containing acidic compounds like fruit juices, wine, or coffee.

On floors, the best preventative measure is regular cleaning. The movement of dirt and grit as it is ground into marble or granite tiles can wear away the finish. So the regular use of a dust mop can help keep dirt off the floor and preserve the finish. Use mats at all entry points to further ensure the long life of your floor's beautiful finish. Wet mop regularly with very hot water, and change the rinse water frequently. If the floor is particularly dirty, the use of a neutral stone cleaner or a mild dish detergent (one that is not oil-based) is perfectly acceptable.

In bathrooms, marble and granite tend to attract soap scum, just like manmade tile. Keep a squeegee handy for shower walls, and rinse vanities and natural stone sinks with hot, clean water regularly. Then towel them dry.

The use of sealers is also a powerful preventative measure. For countertops, ask your dealer if a sealant was applied before installation. If not, get his recommendation for a high-quality, food-grade sealer and apply it according to the manufacturer's directions. You will need to reapply this sealer periodically. The frequency of applications will depend on the sealer, and on the type of stone you have. Penetrating sealers are also available for flooring and bath areas. Likewise, the application of additional coats of sealer will depend on the type of stone, the frequency of use, and the manufacturer's recommendations.

If stains and scratches do occur, there are many things you can do on your own to remove them. On granite countertops, remove oil-based stains with acetone, mineral spirits, or bleach or ammonia diluted in water. (NEVER mix ammonia and bleach!) Food stains like coffee, tea, or fruit juices can usually be removed with hydrogen peroxide, combined with a few drops of ammonia. On marble countertops, avoid harsh cleaners and acidic cleaners, including vinegar.

For stubborn soap scum in the bath, ammonia can be used sparingly. Ammonia will, over time, dull the finish on marble, so use it with caution, and only when the soap scum cannot be removed with a mild, neutral detergent and hot water.


Water spots and rings occur because of minerals in water, and can be removed by buffing the spots gently with steel wool. Likewise, small nicks and scratches can often be removed the same way. Larger scratches, nicks, and pesky stains may require professional help, which can be located by calling your local stone dealer.

Remember the following list of DOs and DON'Ts:

DO use preventative cleaning measures to keep your stone pristine

DO use sealers, applied and reapplied according to manufacturer's directions

DO blot up spills quickly, especially on marble, and then wash with mild soapy water

DON'T use any kind of acidic cleaner on marble, limestone, or travertine

DON'T use harsh bathroom cleaners or grout cleaners on any natural stone

DON'T be afraid to call your stone dealer for suggestions on maintenance, care, and cleaning

DON'T worry, if you get a significant stain or scratch, that your entire natural stone investment is ruined. Virtually anything can be fixed with professional help.

And above all, DON'T let the fear of maintenance for natural stone scare you into avoiding it. There is no substitute for natural stone when it comes to beauty, practicality, and value. Keeping your natural stone beautiful is something you will enjoy, and no one ever regretted having chosen natural stone over its alternatives.

 

CARE & MAINTENANCE FOR QUARTZ COUNTERTOPS

 

Since quartz in non-porous there is no on-going maintenance for your countertop other than basic cleaning.

 

STAINING

Since quartz is a non-porous surface, stains sit on the surface instead of soaking in. There is no sealing required!

 

CLEANING

Warm, soapy water and mild household cleaner are suitable for cleaning your quartz countertops. Avoid cleaning agents such as paint thinner, nail polish remover and oil soaps. Use a sponge or a soft cloth to clean your quartz countertop to prevent etching the surface polish.

 

SCRATCHES

Quartz is incredibly hard (rating a 7 on Moh’s Hardness Scale) and is therefore highly resistant to scratches. However, we do recommend the use of a cutting board.

 

HEAT

Although quartz material has great heat resistance, we still do NOT recommend placing heat sources directly on the countertops. Use trivets or hot pads under any heated cookware such as pots, pans or other sources of continuous heat (griddles, crock pots, etc…).

Subjecting quartz to continuous heat can damage the polish and crack the counters.

Care and Maintenance of Custom Wood Countertops, Butcher Block Countertops, and Kitchen Island Tops

 

Wood is a natural material that is subject to changes in moisture and temperature. In other words, it moves and changes ever so slightly when exposed to humidity, heat or cold. Properly sealed and maintained wood tops are durable, beautiful and easy to use, but it is important to carefully follow the installation and care and maintenance instructions for your specific type of finish.

If you follow these directions carefully your custom countertop will be easy to maintain, will look great, and will last for many years.

Note: If you have a top finished with a Waterlox® Finish, you do not have to maintain your top in any way other than to retreat exposed wood caused by damage or intentional cut outs for sinks or faucets etc.

Waterlox® Finish

Tung Oil/Citrus Finish


Tops with a Waterlox® Finish

These tops receive a minimum of four coats on the visible side of the top and three coats on sides that are not visible. Six coats are typical for tops with cut-outs for sinks or cook tops and for satin finish tops. Waterlox® is waterproof. It is also heat and stain-resistant for a tough, hard finish.

DO NOT use bleach based cleaning products on the Waterlox® Finish. Bleach and ammonia are the only chemicals we have found that will harm this finish. Be aware that some dishwasher detergents, such as Liquid Cascade, have bleach in them. If this type of detergent comes in contact with the Waterlox® Finish, it should be wiped up immediately. If allowed to sit, it can harm the finish. See Nicks, Scratches, etc. below for information on how to repair this type of problem

DO NOT cut, drill or change your top in any way without refinishing all exposed surfaces thoroughly. See our Installation Instructions for additional information.

DO NOT place these tops near excessive heat (such as stove or dishwasher) without proper insulation between heat source and the edge of the top. See our Installation Instructions for additional information.

DO NOT expose tops to excessive heat, cold or moisture! Never put in a microwave or dishwasher or use as a hot pad. Never place on stove burners. See our Installation Instructions for additional information.

DO NOT chop directly on this surface. This finish is safe for contact with food, but use a cutting board to protect your surface from knife marks.


Cleaning your top:

Wash your top with mild soap and water and then rinse. Disinfect with a weak solution of vinegar and water in a spray bottle, if desired. Be sure to dry the top thoroughly.


Problem Solving:

Nicks, Scratches, etc; Touch ups can be done at any time. Lightly sand the area and applying more Waterlox® to the top. Sanding down to bare wood is typically not required.

Color Variations: Dark streaks can occur in wood. These are caused by a natural discoloring of the wood due to mineral deposits in the tree. Other color variations are natural characteristics of the wood. This is not a flaw or problem. It is normal and adds to the individuality of your top.


Tops with a Tung Oil/Citrus Finish

These tops receive four coats of finish on all surfaces of the top to ensure a well-oiled finish. Since the Tung Oil/Citrus finish penetrates into the wood, the finish can last 3-6 months or more before it needs to be reapplied. This finish is water and stain-resistant as long as the surface is maintained properly.

DO NOT use any chemicals or harsh detergents on the Tung Oil/Citrus Finish. If chemicals or harsh detergents comes in contact with the finish, it should be wiped up immediately. If allowed to sit, it can harm the finish. See Nicks, Scratches, etc. below for information on how to repair this type of problem

DO NOT cut, drill or change your top in any way without refinishing all exposed surfaces thoroughly. See our Installation Instructions for additional information.

DO NOT place these tops near excessive heat (such as stove or dishwasher) without proper insulation between heat source and the edge of the top. See our Installation Instructions for additional information.

DO NOT expose tops to excessive heat, cold or moisture! Never put in a microwave or dishwasher or use as a hot pad. Never place on stove burners.

DO renew the Tung Oil/Citrus Finish on a regular basis. All exposed surfaces of the top should be oiled. Depending upon use and household conditions, a thin layer of Tung Oil/Citrus finish should be applied once every three to six months or more as needed on an ongoing basis.


Cleaning your top:

Scrape off any heavy food particles. Wash your top with mild soap and water, and then rinse. Disinfect with a weal solution of vinegar and water in a spray bottle, if desired. Be sure to dry the top thoroughly. Cutting boards should be stored resting on a side, not flat.


How to oil your top:

Since the Tung Oil/Citrus finish penetrates into the wood, the finish can last as long as 3-6 months or more. Simply dribbling a few drops of water onto the surface of the wood top will tell you whether it is time to reapply the finish. If the water beads up, the top is still protected; if the water soaks into the surface, it's time to renew your finish.

To renew your finish, repair any gouges or cuts by sanding lightly, then clean the surface thoroughly, and dry it.

After the top has dried completely, apply a thin layer of the Tung Oil/Citrus finish to all exposed surfaces with a sponge or brush.

Let the finish soak into the wood for 45 minutes, then take a disposable sanding pad and sand the wet surface thoroughly.

Take a clean rag and wipe off every bit of the remaining finish.

Take another clean rag, and using plenty of elbow grease, rub the surface until all of the finish is completely rubbed into the wood.

Let the wood top set overnight before using.


Problem Solving:

Nicks, Scratches, etc; Touch ups can be done at any time. Lightly sand the area and applying more Tung Oil/Citrus finish to the top. Sanding down to bare wood is typically not required.

Color Variations: Dark streaks can occur in wood. These are caused by a natural discoloring of the wood due to mineral deposits in the tree. Other color variations are natural characteristics of the wood. This is not a flaw or problem. It is normal and adds to the individuality of your top