Kitchen Counter Intelligence

In kitchen counters, quartz, a man-made stone, offers an increasingly realistic look, mimicking materials such as marble, granite and concrete.

As chameleons go, quartz is impressive. The man-made stone offers an increasingly realistic look, mimicking materials such as marble, granite, concrete and more, notes Consumer Reports. But quartz offers easier maintenance than those materials. Combine those qualities with granite fatigue, and you can see why quartz is gaining in popularity. Quartz is also top-rated in our tests, narrowly edging out granite. 

To test durability, Consumer Reports stained, sliced, scratched, scorched and nicked 14 materials. Testers found big differences among materials but little variation among brands, except for recycled glass. In some instances, the finish can also affect a material's performance.

Consumer Reports offers this glossary of materials:

• Quartz. $40 to $100 per square foot installed. This mix of mineral, color and resin is meant to mimic stone but is more durable and requires less maintenance, making it a good choice for a kitchen that gets a lot of use. Hot pots, serrated knives, abrasive pads and most stains were no match for quartz.

• Laminate. $10 to $40 per square foot installed. Inexpensive and stylish options with decorative edges abound, including Formica's cool Jonathan Adler Collection. Stains and heat didn't damage the laminates that were tested, but cutting directly on it does, and abrasives can mar.

• Butcher block. $40 to $100 per square foot installed. Varnished butcher block was very stain-resistant but terrible at everything else. Oil-finished wood was better at resisting heat, but stains spread and were impossible to remove. Not a good choice for a sink area.

• Granite. $40 to $100 per square foot installed. The real deal. Each stone slab is unique. Heat, cuts and scratching didn't harm the granite Consumer Reports tested, but corners and edges can chip; let a pro repair them. Polished and matte finishes resisted most stains when properly sealed. Granite needs periodic resealing.

• Soapstone. $50 to $100 per square foot installed. It's not as common as granite -- and it's stunning at first. It resists heat damage, and small scratches can be sanded finely, then coated with mineral oil. But it nicks, cuts and scratches easily, and some tough stains won't wash away.

• Limestone. $50 to $100 per square foot installed. It's attractive but impractical in a busy kitchen. Limestone resists heat well, but it nicks, cuts and scratches easily, and even a high-quality sealer didn't fend off stains. So blot spills immediately and periodically reseal.

• Recycled glass. $60 to $120 per square foot installed. Large shards create a bold look; finely ground glass looks subtle. Resistant to heat, cuts, and scratches, but chips and stains can be a problem. And unlike other recycled glass counters that were tested, Cosentino's Eco line developed a thin crack during heat tests.

• Concrete. $60 to $120 per square foot installed. It's custom-formed, so quality may vary. Concrete chips and scratches easily, and can develop hairline cracks. Topical sealers can protect against stains but not heat. Penetrating sealers can handle heat but not stains.

• Marble. $50 to $150 per square foot installed. Marble takes on a patina, to some, but others see it as marred. Small nicks and scratches can be polished out, but marble chips easily and needs to be resealed periodically. On sealed marble, most stains wiped away with water.

• Bamboo. $40 to $100 per square foot installed. It is eco-friendly, it adds warmth and it looks great at first, but it's easily stained, scorched and nicked. Check if you can use near a sink, because moisture can warp it. Some may need mineral-oil beeswax reapplied.

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