Have you ever wondered, ‘How do I know what my countertop is made of?’ This article includes information as well as images of the many different types of countertops.
Have you ever wondered, ‘How do I know what my countertop is made of?’ Counters can be made of a wide variety of materials, from natural stone and wood to manmade laminates. The quickest way to figure out what your countertops are made of is to think back to when they were installed.
As a general rule, most countertops installed in the last 5-10 years are granite or engineered quartz. Studies suggest that quartz is more popular in suburban and urban areas, while granite remains king in rural places. Older counters, from city to countryside, are most likely granite.
However, this quick method isn’t the only way of telling what kitchen countertops are made of. The look of the counter, the way it reacts to kitchen wear and tear, and even the feel of it are all important clues. What are natural stone, engineered material, wood, and metal countertops? How can you tell the difference between them?
Table of Contents
- What are Natural Stone Counters?
- What are Engineered Material Counters?
- What are Wooden Countertops?
- What are Metal Counters?
- Final Thoughts
What are Natural Stone Counters?
Large, solid slabs of naturally occurring stone are used in this kind of countertop. These include granite and marble, along with less common materials like soapstone. Key signs of natural stone counters include:
no visible seams (l-bend counters may have one seam on the angle)
nicks or chips on the surface don’t reveal different colors or materials underneath
a smooth surface that is cool to the touch
material that isn’t damaged by hot pans
unique patterns of colors that don’t repeat further down the counter
Granite typically has an abstract, mottled pattern. It is available in a variety of earth tones, greys, blacks, and creams. There may be veins of color running through the stone, similar to marble. The difference here is that all granite will have flecks of color scattered across the stone.
Granite became incredibly popular as a high-end natural stone because it’s quite durable and easy to maintain. This porous material does need regular sealing. However, it’s also highly heat resistant and durable.
Marble countertops are synonymous with luxury. These are typically found in blacks, creams, and greys. Marble has very distinctive veins of color, creating one-of-a-kind surfaces. Unlike granite, this stone will have few individual flecks.
Marble is prized for the luxurious look of the stone. It’s also quite expensive. The material is easily stained or scratched, and it’s difficult to repair damage. If you have marble counters, you’ll want to be diligent about re-sealing this beautiful surface.
Soapstone is a softer natural stone rich in talc. That talc gives it a mottled grey appearance. The biggest giveaway is the velvety-soft feel, and possibly the extensive care instructions from your countertop supplier.
As you may have guessed, a soft stone can be easily scratched up during kitchen activities. On the plus side, this nonporous stone is stain- and heat-resistant. It’s typically oiled instead of sealed to achieve the soft-focus patina that soapstone is prized for.
What are Engineered Material Counters?
Natural stone counters look great, but they’re pricey. It may be impossible to find slabs to fit a large or oddly shaped space. Engineered materials solve these problems. These budget-friendly counters can be built or factory-formed to custom-fit any space. Some of them are also highly durable and easily cared for.
Is your counter an engineered material? In general, you’ll want to look for:
repeating patterns like rock veins and wood grains
layers or films over a core of something different
Because this is such a big category, let’s just jump into the details of identifying each of the main types:
Certain stones, like natural quartz, simply don’t form in large slabs. Engineered quartz can give the look of those stones or may mimic other materials like granite. This material has quartz and other stone particles bound together by resins.
It can look a bit artificial, but more expensive counters will have a completely random visible pattern. Although engineered quartz can resemble stone, the surface will feel closer to plastic than rock. It’s nonporous, scratch-resistant, and doesn’t need to be re-sealed.
Solid surface countertops are similar to engineered quartz, except they use acrylic particles instead of chips of stone bound together in resin. The acrylic particles can be in basically any color, but distinct patterns are rarely seen.
Because they aren’t made in layers, these counters can last for decades. Damage is simply sanded away. These counters are stain-resistant, but can warp if hot pans are put directly on them.
Concrete is a highly affordable choice for large or unusually shaped counters. It can be dyed any color, although these colors tend to be more muted. It may also be patterned to mimic other materials.
Concrete typically has a rough surface but, for kitchen use, is typically sealed smooth. Certain concrete counters lean in the other direction. These incorporate rounded pebbles in the mix, creating an attractive and bumpy surface.
Ceramic tiles are flat pieces of hardened and glazed clay that have been joined together with strips of grout. Tiles are usually square, but you can get other geometric shapes like triangles and hexagons. Ceramic is a cost-effective way to cover a large counter. These tiles are fairly durable and heat resistant, but they do crack when something’s dropped on them. Grout lines need to be cleaned with care.
This synthetic material uses a base or core of particleboard that is topped by a printed layer and then a clear sealing layer. It was first developed as Formica in the early 1900s and became very popular in the mid-century.
Modern laminate has come a long way. It’s an inexpensive, easily installed material. Laminate comes in every color and pattern that a printer can produce. These counters are simple to maintain; just wipe clean. However, they aren’t heat resistant. Any damage tends to be hard to fix.
What are Wooden Countertops?
Wooden countertops include the modern favorite of butcher block, along with solid wood planks and eco-friendly alternatives. They are typically hardwoods like oak and maple, but softwoods like pine and fir are also used. You can identify real wood by:
non-repeating patterns in the grain
warm earth tones
grain that runs in consistent lines down the length of the counter
surface damage like nicks just reveal more wood, not filler material
visible joins between individual pieces and possibly imperfections in the edges
The main styles of wooden countertops are butcher blocks, wooden slabs, and engineered wood alternatives.
Butcher block involves small squares of wood that are laminated together, cut ends up. This isn’t just an aesthetic choice. Arranging it with the cut end of the wood grain up makes for a resilient surface.
Butcher block, whether in a cutting board or as a whole counter, minimizes the look of nicks and cuts. Any damage can be easily sanded away. Butcher block also doesn’t dull knives as quickly as the long grain of the wood.
These are long planks of wood assembled to create a broad, flat countertop surface. They may have squared-off or rounded edges. Some trendy designs have an irregular live edge. The live edge pieces can be very attractive in a rustic setting. However, the visible bark and cracks at that edge make it tricky to seal and keep clean.
Bamboo is the most popular alternative to wood. It is technically a form of grass. However, when processed in the right way, it becomes durable and functional.
Bamboo counters are made from dozens to hundreds of pieces of bamboo that have been laminated together. Each strip may be a slightly different color of cream or light brown. This gives a distinct checkerboard or striped look to the wood. Another giveaway is horizontal lines along the individual strips. Those are the cut-down nodes (joints) of the bamboo plant.
What are Metal Counters?
These countertops are made of smooth, thin sheets of metal. They can be:
cool to the touch
noisy when you knock against them
comes in smooth, brushed, or lightly hammered finishes
The most popular choices are stainless steel and copper.
Stainless steel is the ultimate in industrial and modern décor. This silvery material is heat-resistant and durable. However, it can collect scratches and dents. Once damaged, it’s hard to repair
Copper is a bit softer than stainless steel. However, this warm red-brown metal gives an eye-catching soft, rustic look to the space. It’s hard to prevent scuffs and dings. The good news is that a lightly worn-in look can work well with casual decorating styles.
The four main kinds of kitchen counters are stone, composites, wood, and metal. Granite and marble are the most popular options, but there are many others. These materials have their own distinctive looks, price points, and durability. Hopefully, this article told you what to look out for as you figure out what your countertop is made of.