Guide to Countertop Materials – Natural Stone
If there’s one surface in your home that takes abuse tantamount to that of the Spanish Inquisition, it’s your countertops. Sure, your floors may see a lot of action but, chances are, they aren’t splashed with boiling oil, set upon by flaming skillets, nor do they sustain knife injuries. Do teenagers even KNOW what cutting boards and trivets are?
Make sure you select a countertop material ready to withstand your family’s worst assault. In this blog post, we give the pros and cons of various natural stone.
Natural stone countertops are generally very durable and come in an array of colors and patterns; they also appeal to home buyers, offering a good return on your investment should you opt to sell your home. While granite slab may be the most well-known natural stone countertop material available, there are a number of options that you may be interested in.
An igneous rock – which is a fancy way of saying “volcanic” – basalt is formed from lava flows and has a dark, fine-grained texture. Basalt is abundantly found on Earth (with most being located beneath our oceans) and, interestingly, is also commonly found on the moon (although I doubt NASA sells many countertops).
As a volcanic stone, basalt is very dense and resists heat, staining and acids. It’s a great choice if you want a virtually worry-free kitchen surface.
Because “volcanic stone” also means “lava rock,” it is possible to find tiny pinholes in basalt, so it must be sealed.
The best-known of the igneous rocks, granite is formed beneath the Earth’s surface when magma slowly crystallizes. Noted for a grain large enough to identify the various component rock that comprises it (quartz, feldspar, mica and other minerals), granite slab countertops are a popular feature in many American households.
Granite resists scratches, heat and acidic substances well.
Because of the variations in granite, some types are more absorbent than others (and the more absorbent, the more you have to worry about staining). Some variations may be treated with resin to protect the stone or enhance the stone’s color, so be sure you know exactly what you’re buying.
A sedimentary rock (formed from organic material accumulating over time in warm, shallow marine waters), limestone is primarily composed of calcium carbonate (yep, the stuff in Tums©). Anti-acids suddenly seem a whole less appealing, don’t they? I digress. While we typically think of limestone as being light-colored, it comes in a variety of neutral shades – from cream to grey to black.
Limestone comes in various levels of hardness; those that are harder can be durable.
Softer limestone can scratch, etch and stain easily so always check the absorption and abrasion resistance rating. For ease of use and better durability, you want a limestone with a lower absorption rating and a higher abrasion resistance rating. Sealing and maintaining limestone is important; acids (think tomato or lemon juice) are particularly hard on limestone (always wipe-up stains as quickly as possible).
If you take limestone veined with minerals and subject it to lots of heat and pressure, you get marble. This process is known as metamorphism which gives us the third category of rock type: metamorphic (as a reminder, the other two are igneous and sedimentary).
Beloved for its upscale, classic appearance, marble never goes out of style.
Sadly, and much to the surprise of unsuspecting homeowners, marble is a less-than-ideal countertop material. It can scratch, stain and etch and is particularly bad with acidic soaps and shampoos. Water spots magnify damage. As tempting as marble may be, it’s best used in applications other than bathrooms and kitchens.
If “black” is the first thing that comes to mind when you think “onyx,” think again. Believe it or not, true black onyx is quite rare; most black onyx is artificially treated to obtain its classic good looks. Natural onyx is translucent and features obvious banding (layering) that gives it a striking appearance.
The striking banded appearance of natural onyx countertops looks upscale.
Like marble, onyx is susceptible to scratching, etching and staining. Acids (from soaps and shampoos to tomato juice and lemons) wreak havoc on onyx. If you choose to use them for countertops, be aware of their fragility and attend to them accordingly.
Another metamorphic rock, soapstone is primarily comprised of talc (the mineral in baby powder) and varying amount s of other minerals that lend differing levels of hardness to the slab. It comes in a wide range of colors and finishes (think smoothly polished versus a rougher texture) that add elegance to your room.
Soapstone has a high resistance to heat and acidity so you can spill blazing hot Bolognese sauce on your soapstone countertop without wanting to faint (unless you’re really bummed about missing out on your Bolognese sauce). Citrus, wine, soaps and shampoos are not harmful to soapstone either.
A soft stone, soapstone does scratch easily so you’ll definitely want to train everyone to use a cutting board – religiously. On the plus side, although it scratches easily, those scratches can be gently removed with fine sandpaper.
In the meantime, if you are thinking of re-doing your kitchen or bathroom and need a professional to make it all happen, get in touch. We’d love to help you transform your space into EXACTLY what you’re after.