Kitchen Countertop Buying Guide [Ultimate Guide]

Date: November 27, 2019
Author: Jon Smith
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After the kitchen layout, choosing the countertops can be the next most daunting task. You have to factor in hygiene, budget, design aesthetic, and so much more. The wide number of available options certainly doesn’t make the process easier. To ensure that buying a kitchen countertop isn’t a challenge, we bring you the ultimate kitchen countertop buying guide.

Before you go on to countertop materials, you need first to ask yourself five questions. They will help you make the best decision by shortlisting and filtering through all the available options.

1. What is my budget

Every investor carries out a cost-benefit analysis before they decide on where to place their money. Obviously, people want the most bang for their buck. Buying a countertop requires the same amount of homework. To start, you should decide on the amount of money you’re willing to spend. Factor in the installation cost as well unless you are planning a DIY project.

Keep a realistic number, and with that, also set yourself a maximum limit that you’re allowed to spend. This will ensure that you don’t overspend on a countertop, no matter how much you like it. You have to make sure that you are not overtaxing your wallet.

2. What are my wants and needs

Listing down features that you need is a good starting point. For some people, hygiene is their top priority, and they will look for nonporous, waterproof materials. Others focus more on aesthetics and may opt for wood or stainless steel, depending on their style preference.

Having a list to refer to speeds up the choosing process. This will narrow down your options and help you stay on track. You can automatically eliminate materials that don’t meet your basic needs.

3. How will I use this countertop

If you have a very busy lifestyle, you may not use your kitchen as much. As such, durability may not be an important factor for you. Others who put their kitchen through much use and abuse may prioritize sustainability over aesthetics.

If you aren’t going to use it as much, you don’t need to fish out that extra money for a material that costs you more just because it is durable. You can go for a cheaper option. If you’re going to continually chop, cook and grate on that countertop, then don’t be stingy.

4. How much maintenance can I commit to

Butcher block requires continuous oiling and maintenance. Other surfaces like stainless steel, marble, or granite are better options for those looking for low maintenance countertop options. Porous materials like wood add a lot of character to your kitchen, but also require regular oiling and resealing to ensure that they remain hygienic. Not everybody can commit to that kind of upkeep.

5. What goes best with the internal décor theme of the house

Décor coherence is important. You don’t want your kitchen to end up looking like a patchwork job. A countertop can pull the entire look together or destroy it. Go for a modern, sleek material for your contemporary kitchen, or opt for warmer, cozier materials for your traditional kitchen. Don’t ruin the vibe of the place with the wrong countertop material.

Consider the cost of installation, the material type, your wants and needs, and use before you make a decision. The type of sink you opt for can also significantly affect the material you choose.

There are two basic sink types, over-mount/drop-in, and under-mount sinks.

Under-Mount Sinks

Undermount Kitchen Sink

Quartz countertop with an undermount kitchen sink.

 

In these sinks, the edge of the sink sits below the border of the countertop. An under-mount sink creates a continuous flow between the sink and the countertop, adding a distinctive design element

The most significant advantage of having an under-mount sink is that there are no crevices to capture dirt or any other material. The absence of a rime makes it easier to clean. You can brush off crumbs and wipe away spills directly into the sink.

Under-mounts provide a seamless and sophisticated look to the counter. It is hygienic and waterproofs the counter. Maintenance becomes easier as no regular resealing is required. These sinks perform best with waterproof countertop materials.

Under-mounts can significantly increase installation costs as they are harder to install. With these sinks, you need to choose a waterproof material, which will also add to the total price tag.

Best Countertop Options for Under-Mount Sinks

Materials like laminates or tiles with too many grout lines or weak points do not make the optimal choice for under-mount sinks. When thinking of under-mount sinks, the materials you should choose are:

  • Granite
  • Soapstone
  • Marble
  • Concrete

Over-Mount Sinks

Drop-in or Overmount Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink

Drop-in or overmount stainless steel double basin kitchen sink with a faucet.

 

Drop-in, self-rimming, or top-mounts are the most common sink types. In these sinks, the basin has a visible top lip that rests atop the counter. The fixture is held secure by metal clips under the counter, and beads of silicon are used to caulk the crevices.

Drop-ins are easier to install and are inexpensive, making them very popular. They are suited for all counter types, even laminate, so they fall into everyone’s budget.

Self-rimming sinks do not have much resale value, which can be disappointing for some. It is also harder to maintain as food build up in crevices has to be regularly cleaned. The silicon beading in the lining needs to be refreshed periodically, as well.

Best Countertop Materials for Over-mount Sinks

All materials work well with drop-in sinks. They work well with both porous and nonporous countertops, whereas under-mounts do not.

Once you have the answers to all these questions, you can start looking at the options available to you. We’ve provided you with a detailed review of some of the most popular countertop choices for your convenience.

1. Laminate Countertops

Laminate countertops were once all the rage when it came to kitchen countertops. They went out of fashion as more and more options became available in the market. As more designers entered the laminate industry, this material came back in popular demand.

Pros:

  • Budget-friendly
  • Versatile
  • Low maintenance
  • Non-porous
  • Durable
  • Available in all sorts of patterns and style

Cons:

  • Cannot be repaired
  • May need replacement

Laminate countertops are versatile and budget-friendly. If there were ever a ‘kitchen countertop style on a budget guide,’ laminate countertops would rule in it. If you don’t want something traditional and are looking for an abstract patterned, hip, and attractive design for your countertop, then laminate countertops are the ones for you.

Because of technological advancements, laminate countertops that very closely mimic natural stone and other expensive materials are now available at less than half the price. If you want a granite countertop but don’t want to drain your child’s college fund for it, then you can opt for a laminate countertop instead.

2. Quartz

White Quartz Countertops

Kitchen with white quartz countertops.

 

Engineered stone countertops are also known as Quartz countertops. They are created by binding together quartz crystals with resin binders. These countertops look strikingly similar to natural stone but are better in every way.

Pros:

  • Strong
  • Nonporous
  • Low maintenance
  • Heat, scratch, and stain resistant

Cons

  • Can lose its color when exposed to strong sunlight
  • Visible seams

Quartz countertops come in a multitude of color options. Their uniform coloration makes then an ideal choice for any kitchen.

You can choose from shades of grey, brown, white, and black. No matter what the existing color theme of your kitchen is, you can find a quartz countertop to go with it. Most of the colors added to quartz are taken from natural stone shades, but you can even have more shades added to it if you desire.

Once engineered, these countertops are incredibly durable. They are resistant to all food stains. No matter what you spill or chop, quartz does not absorb any liquid. The surface can be easily wiped with a wet cloth, and it will be as good as new. If you want a nonporous option that requires zero upkeep, then quartz is the choice for you.

Quartz countertops are pricier than Formica kitchen countertops. It falls in the same budget bracket as marble and granite, so quartz is not for you if you are looking for kitchen countertops on a budget.

3. Soapstone

Soapstone Countertop

Food mess on soapstone countertop.

 

Crafted from quarried stone, soapstone contains a combination off chloride, magnesite, and dolomite. Soapstone has a milky and powdery appearance that gives it a unique look. The material retains heat, making it a country kitchen favorite.

Pros:

  • Chemically neutral
  • Nonporous
  • Heat resistant
  • Low maintenance
  • Eco-friendly
  • Budget-friendly

Cons:

  • Prone to chipping and discoloration

When we say soapstone is budget-friendly, we say so in comparison to granite, quartz, and marble. The material may be on the higher end of your budget, but it is a one-time investment. It is a popular home design option that doesn’t require you to break your bank.

You can find the perfect color for your kitchen from soapstone’s neutral color palette. From pure whites to charcoal gray, you can find a decent amount of options. Some stones have more specks and patterns, while others are almost a dull gray color. You can choose the one that best meets your needs.

Soapstone stays warm even in the middle of winters. It can be the perfect stylish yet cozy addition to any kitchen. It is also a 100% natural and eco-friendly option, which further adds to its charm and appeal.

4. Recycled Glass

If you’re looking for something to add a bit of color to your kitchen, then reclaimed glass is the way to go. Countertops made from recycled glass provide endless décor and color palette opportunities. They are made by binding crushed glass with an acrylic or through cement. Both offer two very distinct looks, making this a unique option for your kitchen.

Pros:

  • Nonporous
  • Heat resistant
  • Versatile
  • Stain and scratch-resistant
  • Budget-friendly

Cons:

  • Not chemical resistant

Recycled glass countertops are also known as crushed glass countertops. These kitchen countertops are eco-friendly, with some consisting of 80% recycled glass.

The only drawback of this material is that it is not chemical resistant. Leaving acidic food items like tomatoes or lemons on the surface for too long can ruin the countertop. Using very harsh chemical cleaners can also damage the surface.

Other than that, the material is very durable and is heat, scratch, and stain-resistant. It is nonporous, so it doesn’t allow any liquid to seep through, making it a very hygienic option.

It is relatively expensive as compared to laminates. But, if compared to granite, marble, quartz, and even concrete, crushed glass is easier on your pocket.

5. Tile Countertop

Tile Countertops Aerial View

Aerial view of a tile countertop with tea.

 

When replacing kitchen countertops on a budget, think tile – it provides you never-ending options. With newer styles of tiles, you can create virtually any look you want in the kitchen. Your countertop can even look like a pavement if you want it to.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Versatile
  • Easy to install

Cons:

  • Not very durable
  • Porous
  • Prone to stains
  • High maintenance

Ceramic tiles need regular upkeep. The grouting needs to be sealed annually to maintain the hygiene levels of the countertop. The grout lines also require substantial cleaning to prevent bacteria from breeding on the counter.

If you’re willing to put in a little bit of work, then tiles can get you the budget countertop of your dreams. It provides versatility in colors as well as price and design. You can go for a plain, ceramic-tiled counter or a colorful, patterned one. You can even opt for a stone-like appearance for your kitchen countertop. Ceramic tiles, as a countertop material, provide endless design possibilities at affordable price points.

Tiles may not be the most durable, but because of the low price tag, they are easy to replace. Also, if you end up chipping one tile, you don’t have to replace the entire counter. You can even install a tile counter yourself, which further lowers its cost.

6. Zinc Countertop

Zinc countertops are an excellent alternative to stainless steel. If you don’t like the industrial look of stainless steel, then zinc provides the benefits of stainless steel, along with a cozier look. Zinc darkens over time and develops a beautiful pattern, which adds character to your kitchen.

Pros:

  • Nonporous
  • Anti-bacterial properties
  • Low maintenance

Cons:

  • Costly
  • Scratches easily
  • Cannot withstand temperatures of more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit

Zinc comes with a very high price tag. In comparison, granite and stainless steel are cheaper. However, you can save around 10 to 20 percent of the cost if you opt for a secondhand zinc countertop. Secondhand zinc also has a redeveloped patina, so those who cringe at the sight of a new scratch or stain might find this a better option.

The surface is anti-bacterial and nonporous, making it hygienic and safe for food preparation. It is a soft metal and does scratch quickly. However, the beauty of zinc countertops lies within its pattern, so scratching shouldn’t be a problem if you’re looking for a storytelling element.

7. Marble Countertops

Marble Kitchen Countertops

Beautiful Shadow Storm Marble countertop island with Steel Gray Granite perimeter.

 

Marble is the go-to option for many homeowners. People love the veining on the material and its luxurious feel. There’s an art to selecting the right marble, but if you have that mastered, your counter can turn into an art piece.

Pros:

  • Unique
  • Adds resale value
  • Various price points
  • Heat resistant

Cons:

  • Porous
  • Stains easily
  • Requires regular resealing

Builders have long favored marble as a countertop option. The naturally occurring material adds immense resale value to the house. It is also available at various price points. Carrara marble is very cheap, whereas Calcutta marble is one of the most expensive materials available. It depends upon how rare the stone you choose is.

With marble comes substantial maintenance costs. The material is nonporous and can stain easily if not cleaned continually and sealed regularly.

8. Eco-top Countertop

Harder than wood and lighter than stone, these countertops are the perfect balance between both choices. This hundred percent natural countertop material is relatively new to the market. It is also known as paperstone and is easy on the pocket.

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Nonporous
  • Heat resistant
  • Scratch proof
  • Stain-resistant

Cons:

  • Requires regular resealing

Eco countertops are crafted from a mixture of bamboo and paper composite. This green material has won over lots of people, and rightly so. It is extremely durable while being soft and warm to the touch.

It can take substantial amounts of abuse, and it is heat, scratch, and stain-resistant. Plus, the nonporous material makes it hygiene-friendly. The surface is designed to repel bacteria growth, making it safe for food prep.

The only drawback of this material is that most manufacturers of eco tops advise that you get it buffed and resealed once every three months or so. It depends upon how much wear and tear the counter has sustained, but there is substantial maintenance required to keep these countertops in tip-top shape.

9. Granite Countertops

Granite Countertop With Chiseled Edge

Beautiful light brown Santa Cecilia Granite kitchen countertop with a chiseled edge.

 

Granite countertops are a luxury not everyone can afford. These countertops are made up of mineral crystals, most commonly feldspar and quartz.  Granite is one of the priciest countertop materials, but it adds great value to your kitchen.

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Heat resistant
  • Stain-resistant
  • Variety of colors and patterns

Cons:

  • Costly
  • Prone to cracking
  • Visible seams
  • Requires regular resealing

Granite countertops can be porous if not sealed properly. They aren’t exactly low-maintenance but are very durable and can last for years. A major benefit of granite countertops is that they are not prone to cracking and chipping. A downside is that they require regular cleaning and polishing to maintain their luminous glow.

Granite countertops are believed to increase the resale value of the house. This natural stone can fetch you a significant amount of money, provided you have not chosen an odd color palette for your kitchen.

10. Concrete Countertops

Another solid contender for low maintenance countertops, concrete is an unconventional yet classy option. This material provides you with limitless possibilities. You can customize a concrete countertop in virtually any color your heart desires.

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Heat resistant
  • Variety of style options – customizable
  • Easy to clean
  • Improves real estate value

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Requires regular resealing
  • Costly to repair

Concrete countertops add a whole other level of charm to the kitchen. They are prone to scratches, which makes them an ideal choice for homeowners who love a little character. They make an excellent addition to both contemporary and traditional kitchens.

A major drawback of this material is that it can crack during installation. Once it cracks, it is hard to fix. So, if you are looking for perfection, this isn’t the material for you. However, it does add resale value to the house, so it makes for a good investment.

Conclusion

These were 10 countertop ideas for your kitchen. You can always opt for the traditional marble and granite as well if you have the desire and the budget to do so.

Not all the recommendations above are inexpensive. However, they are guaranteed to provide value to your kitchen. For added ease, we have listed down recommendations by budget and maintenance as well.

On a Budget Kitchen Countertops

You can expect to pay anywhere between $20 to $200 per square foot for the countertop materials listed below.

  • Ceramic Tile
  • Natural Stone/Granite Tile
  • Vinyl Laminate/Formica
  • Corian
  • Solid Surface
  • Recycled Paper
  • Recycled Glass
  • Recycled Aluminum
  • Engineered Stone/Marble
  • Silestone Quartz
  • Travertine

The best budget-friendly options: Tile Countertops and Laminate Countertops

Best DIY options: Tile Countertops, Wood Countertops and Concrete Countertops

Environmentally responsible choice: Recycled glass, aluminum or zinc, or any Eco-Top material.

Easy to Maintain Countertops

For all the busy bees out there that don’t have the time to continually scrub, polish, and oil their counters, these may be the perfect choices.

  • Engineered stone
  • Soapstone
  • Laminate
  • EcoTop
  • Lava Stone
  • Recycled glass

No matter what you choose, always do your research. You should know how much maintenance each material requires. In this case, ignorance is not bliss. If you don’t follow the proper maintenance requirements, what was meant to be an investment can turn into a hassle real quick.

In our kitchen countertop buying guide, we have tried to mention all the possible factors that could affect your decision. Do your research and go in with a plan. Otherwise, you may end up getting lost in the sea of possibilities.

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About Jon - Website Owner

Jon Smith

Hi, my name is Jonathan Smith. I have been in the granite business for many years and have worked my way up from an installer helper to an installer and then a countertop business owner. 

I started my countertop company with very little and grew extremely fast because of my knowledge and helpfulness. I started this countertop resource for 1 main reason. That reason is that there are no countertop websites with all the correct information and none of them are from an industry expert like myself. 

I am still in the trade every single day installing countertops, educating people on the type of material they are using for their homes, and making people's dream kitchens a reality.

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