Countertops - How the Leading Types Compare in Toughness and Cost
Consumer Reports - August 2002

Here's a rundown of the leading types of countertops, in order of their overall toughness, based on performance in our tests.

Engineered stone
These new materials are made primarily of quartz combined with resins and pigments. Engineered stone can look much like granite but has a more uniform appearance. It's resistant to stains, heat, and abrasion and never needs sealing. But it doesn't withstand impace (especially on the edges) as well as real granite.

Real stone
Granite and marble are still among the most expensive countertop materials, although the price has come down. Granite or marble tiles are less expensive—and lighter weight—than slabs. Granite is the toughest and least porous; when properly sealed, it shouldn't stain or etch if you mop up spills quickly. Marble is softer and more prone to staining and etching from acids in foods and cleaners. Cleanup can be easy to tricky, depending on the stain. Limestone, slate, soapstone, and sandstone are softer still. New penetrating sealers have increased stain resistance.

Ceramic tile
Tile is functional and easy to maintain and repair. But the grout can stain or pick up mildew. You can seal grout to minimize staining or opt for darker colors and newer, stain-resistant formulas.

Laminate
It's inexpensive, easy to install, and available in hundreds of colors and patterns. The laminate, glued to plywood or particleboard, consists of layers of paper and plastic fused under high heat and pressure. Mitered edges or wood moldings can hide laminate's telltale dark core. Laminate resists stains, heat, and impact, but you can't cut on it or use abrasive cleaners.

Solid surface
This material is made of resins and mineral filler and comes in dozens of colors and patterns that resemble marble or granite. Solid-surface material has virtually invisible seams and can have integral sinks and backsplashes. Small nicks can be snaded away. Solid-surface veneer, a thin layer attached to wood, gives the same look for less money.

Butcher block
While relatively inexpensive and easy to install and repair, butcher block is vulnerable to water, cuts, burns, and scratches. It also requires thorough cleaning when exposed to foods such as raw meat or fish. It needs regular treating with mineral oil or beeswax, or sealing with a coating suitable for food preparation.

Other options
Just about any hard, flat material can be used, from plate glass to sheets of zinc. Cast concrete and stainless steel are two that have a following.

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