In addition to granite and laminate, Consumer Report’s countertop ratings now include bamboo, recycled glass, and soapstone. Though bamboo may be eco-friendly, it isn’t user-friendly. In fact, it is the worst-performing countertop material the magazine has ever tested.
Granite and quartz, an engineered stone, were the only materials that aced most tests. Soapstone, which some of you might remember from your high school chemistry lab, wasn’t as durable as granite, but it did better than limestone and marble. You’ll have to rub the soapstone with mineral oil to reveal and maintain its beauty - something your science teacher probably didn’t do. Laminate is practical and pretty, and it resisted stains, heat, and impact almost as well as much more expensive materials. And better imaging technology has improved laminate’s look.
Here are details:
Bamboo finishes last. Bamboo is available in several styles. Consumer Reports tested one that had long, horizontal strips and another that used end grains to produce a parquet effect. They looked wonderful when they were new but were easily stained, sliced, scraped, and dented, despite the several coats of beeswax testers applied, as the manufacturer recommends. And our hot pot left an unsightly and permanent scorch mark.
A glass counter cracked. Take shards of recycled glass, turn them into a countertop, and the result is an infusion of color and style. If the glass is finely ground, the counters resemble solid surfacing. Most of the recycled-glass counters we tested resisted cuts, heat, and abrasion very well. One brand, Cosentino’s Eco line, also withstood cuts and scratches but cracked when we placed a hot pot on it. The crack ran from under the pot to the counter’s edge, where the split was the widest. As the surface cooled, the crack was barely visible but remained.
How to choose Get a glimpse of the future by visiting friends and noting how their countertops have held up. Then think about your tolerance for stains and other signs of wear and tear. Are you a perfectionist? If so, over time you probably won’t get past marble’s stains and nicks to notice the patina. Consider upkeep and these tips:
Think big. Those tiny samples don’t make it easy, so try online design tools from manufacturers such as DuPont and Formica. DuPont also has a free mySurface app for swatches of its quartz and solid-surface counters. Natural stone’s color and veining can vary considerably by slab and even within a slab, so a visit to the stone yard is a must.
Whatever you’re considering, pay attention to seams. They should be virtually invisible in solid surfacing and stainless-steel counters. For other materials, 1/16 inch or less is standard. Fat joints indicate sloppy work.
Factor in finishes. Quartz and granite are sold with polished or honed (matte) finishes. They performed about the same at fighting stains that were allowed to dry overnight. Granite with proprietary sealers, such as Stonemark, performed no better than regular granite.
Matte and grain finishes help conceal scratches in stainless, but expect fingerprints. Butcher block and concrete performed differently depending on the sealer used.
Pick an edge. It’s a small detail that can affect the overall look. Rounded edges fit many styles and are less likely to chip. Straight and bevel, or slanted, edges are contemporary; ogee is traditional. Some edging costs extra, so ask.
Be precise. Have the fabricator make final measurements so that he’s responsible for accuracy. Insist that the estimate state fees for cutouts, edges, undermounting a sink. Be home during the counter’s installation and carefully examine it - that is the time to find mistakes.
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