When the time comes to start remodeling your kitchen, one of the things that our clients get really excited about is countertops. It’s easy to understand why – they’re very noticeable and there’s a wide variety of beautiful options out there.

Aside from looking chic, a countertop has to be right for your budget and your lifestyle. They can be made of different materials, some of which require more intensive maintenance while others just require a wipe down to remove any debris from food preparation and spills.

Let’s take a tour through the different kinds of materials and look at the pros and cons of each.

Granite Countertops

Ah, granite – still the reigning queen of kitchen countertop materials. This is one of our most-requested materials for our new kitchen designs. Let’s face it: they’re gorgeous, and instantly add elegance to your kitchen with their deep, glossy shine. Made of natural granite stone, every piece is unique. They’re also durable and scratch resistant.

There are two main downsides to granite, however. You’re going to pay for that elegance, and it does need regular re-sealing to protect against stains. Even when sealed, it’s stain-resistant but not impregnable, so be sure to wipe up any spills fast.

Granite and other natural stones are also extremely heavy, so you need to make sure you have solid, well-built kitchen cabinets that can take the weight.

If you decide to go with granite, be sure to use a proper stone cleaner for everyday cleaning, instead of an abrasive cleaner.

Corian® Countertops (AKA Solid Surface)

Corian® is a 100% man-made material that is easy to care for. Because it is nonporous it’s also very durable and highly resistant to staining – without the need for sealing or other regular maintenance.

One of the main benefits of Corian® is that any damage can be repaired. Minor scratches and burns can be sanded out, and deep cuts can be filled in.

There are almost limitless options in the appearance, but this is not the best option if an unmistakably natural look is critical for you.

Quartz Composite Countertops

You may be familiar with quartz composites under brand names like Caesarstone, Silestone, or Cambria. Composite countertops look a lot like natural stone, but of course lack natural variation so won’t really fool anyone on close inspection. Constructed of 93% quartz mixed with resins, it gets you closer to a natural look while retaining easy care benefits. While beautiful, it combines toughness with maintenance-free care.

Wooden Countertops

Wooden countertops are rising in popularity, now that more people are becoming aware that wood is not the germ incubator we once thought it was.

Wood countertops are definitely only for people who don’t mind doing maintenance. If you opt for a polyurethane finish it will need to be applied every few years, but if you have your  heart set on a natural mineral oil finish that will need to be reapplied every few weeks.

As you’d imagine wooden countertops are more prone to staining and scratching, but for some homeowners nothing can compare with the Zen beauty of wood.

Concrete Countertops

With concrete you’re not just limited to grey – it can also be pigmented.

Concrete has come a long way. Today’s concrete countertops are pre-cast to your needs, cured (which can take a few weeks), and then brought to your home and installed. A few decades ago, they had to be poured in place and hand trowelled, which resulted in a surface that was less than smooth and more prone to cracking.

Some concrete countertops are reinforced with rebar or other materials, but cracking will always be a concern. It also needs regular sealing to protect against stains.

One benefit is that concrete is much less expensive than wood or granite – only laminate is cheaper.

Stainless Steel Countertops

We’re starting to see stainless steel more often in design magazines and on Pinterest boards, and it’s more common in Europe than in North America. It’s been growing in popularity in homes with avid chefs who want countertops that are extremely rugged and have a contemporary, restaurant-inspired look.

The cons? You guessed it: fingerprints! If you want it to be perfect, be prepared to wipe constantly. While extremely durable, as a metal stainless steel can be dented, and some chemicals can affect the surface colour and texture. Price-wise it’s fairly expensive.

Laminate Countertops

Poor laminate – it often gets left behind in the style stampede towards the granite countertops! The truth is that laminate (also known by the brand name Formica) is low maintenance and incredibly budget friendly. If your kitchen is in a starter home or in a property you plan to rent, this may be your best option. Modern laminate can be really stylish, and it can be made with any colour or pattern – it just doesn’t have the upscale appeal many people are after.

One thing you need to watch out for with laminate is that it is not as durable as some of the other options out there and can be damaged by heat easily, and can be scratched by a dropped knife. It can also potentially peel. Definitely not for use with undermount sinks.

As you can see, choosing the right countertop has a lot to do with how important a natural look is to you, how intense a cook you are, and how much maintenance work you’re prepared to do. To make sure you get the best fit for your home, talk it over with your kitchen designer when you start planning your new dream kitchen.

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If you have any thoughts on the best materials for kitchen countertops, go ahead and share them in the comments below.