Complete Guide To Countertops

Everything About Countertops

There are many rooms in the home, but some are more important than others. One such room is the kitchen. Kitchens are part of everyone’s lives. Some kitchens are combined with dining rooms to make an easy meal or family experience. One thing that every kitchen has is a countertop. Some kitchens have multiple countertops and some of them are a lot more beautiful than others. However, a few things that people might not know are the different types of countertops, how to clean different counter tops, and much more.

A few other things that people should consider are when to seal countertops and how to keep them clean. Some of them retain water more than others, along with bits of food and other impurities that could end up causing more damage than not. There is a lot of information you may not have when it comes to these kitchen surfaces, so keep reading if you want to know everything about countertops and how to keep your countertops clean.

What is a countertop?

You might think that this is a pretty obvious answer, but a countertop is more than just the top of a counter! That’s mainly what it is, but there are so many different types that you might not know where to start. Countertops are flat surfaces that are used for food preparation or holding things in a bathroom or laboratory. They can also be installed in places like garages or workshop areas. The thing is, countertops don’t always need a counter beneath them.

Countertops can be made of many things, ranging from natural stone, metals, to wood and manufactured materials. Some of them are similar to each other when it comes to upkeep, but you should know everything about the specific countertop you have. If you aren’t sure what to get, then maybe this guide will help you with your decision.

Types of Countertop Materials

As said above, countertops can be made out of a lot of things. Each one is different and can make your kitchen look just as different. Each material can give your kitchen an aesthetic that matches your personality or home décor. Some are easy and cheap, but some are expensive and difficult to obtain. Either way, there are many to choose from.

  • Crafted Glass
  • Manufactured materials
  • Metal
  • Natural stones
  • Silicate mineral
  • Wood

Some of these materials have sub-types, which you can narrow down even further to a specific manufactured material, natural stone, metals, and more. You can't go wrong with a choice, considering all of these countertops can be made to look beautiful. If it fits your cabinets and the other areas of your kitchen, you'll be able to pull off some great aesthetics!

Crafted Glass

Even though glass may not be the most common countertop, it can be one of the most beautiful that you can put in your home. It is sturdy and doesn’t scratch easily, but it can be relatively expensive to put in the home. Usually, these countertops are composed of tempered glass, textured glass pieces, and gilded glass. The glass is non-porous, usually stain-proof, extremely hygienic, and extremely resistant to heat. These glass counters can cost from $40-80 per square foot before installation.

Manufactured Materials

This countertop section is all man-made, usually composed of solids like concrete and plastics. These countertops are usually a bit cheaper than other materials, considering they are easily crafted and installed. Manufactured material countertops usually include:

  • Cast-in-place materials like stone or glass in resin
  • Concrete
  • Compressed fiber or paper
  • Cultured marble
  • Epoxy
  • High-pressure laminates
  • Phenolic resin
  • Quartz surfacing
  • Recycled glass with concrete or polyester
  • Solid-surface acrylic plastic
  • Solid-surface polyester acrylic
  • Terrazzo
  • Tile

As you can see, this list is quite large. Most of these are non-porous after sealing them over and can resist high temperatures, but have been known to become scuffed or melted with extreme temperatures. They are very customizable, considering they are man-made and are easy to shape to joints and components like sinks. These also include things like laminate and particle board. Depending on the type of material, it can cost $40-100 per square foot before installation.

Metal

While not a normal household countertop, metal countertops have been in use in workplaces like restaurants for decades. However, that doesn’t mean that metal can’t look good in a house! Metal is very useful, considering it is usually stainless and are non-porous. Therefore, it won’t retain moisture or oils, so you don’t have to worry about bacteria and mold growing in the material.

There are a few different types of metal countertops, however. These are:

  • Bronze
  • Copper
  • Stainless Steel
  • Pewter
  • Zinc

Each of these metals will give your countertops a different type of personality. Stainless steel, of course, is one of the more popular ones because it can easily be cleaned. Also, true to its name, it doesn’t gather stains. These metals are non-porous, so the upkeep is simple. However, metals like copper and bronze may tarnish, but the tarnish can give it a new aesthetic as well. It all depends on how your kitchen or bathroom to look. Metal can be relatively expensive, coming to $60-90 per square foot.

Natural Stone

Likely the most common and usually one of the cheapest options, natural stone can make beautiful countertops for any kitchen, bathroom, or other workspace. There are many design options that you can find when it comes to natural stone and is usually installed by professionals, considering their heaviness and shapes. There may be multiple slabs used during these processes. These natural stones include:

  • Gabbro
  • Granite
  • Limestone
  • Marble
  • Slate
  • Soapstone

One of the main drawbacks of this type of countertop is that stone is very porous, so it needs to be sealed to prevent bacteria and moisture from getting into it. Not only that, but it may need to be resealed after a while if you want to keep your stone tops looking pristine and as beautiful as you want them to be. There has been a rise of oleophobic impregnators which repel moisture like water and oils. The price of these materials vary by what they are, but usually cost anywhere from $40-90 per square foot before installation.

Silicate Minerals

While these may seem similar to natural stone, you will see a majority of travertine and quartz in this section of countertops. However, these two minerals are very different from each other. They’re almost opposites, but both of them are silicate.

  • Travertine

This mineral is similar to granite and can make a lovely countertop or wall. It is usually grouped with marble and quartz as well, but it is very porous.  Porous countertops can contain liquids and bacteria for long periods of time, ending up stained or worse. Mold has a high possibility of growing when it comes to these countertops, so keeping them dry is an important factor. While it may be visually stunning and unique, it also cannot handle temperatures over 400 F. It is relatively cheap, however, coming to $30-50 per square foot before installation.

  • Quartz

Quartz is one of the hardest minerals when it comes to durability, next to diamond and granite. It is a beautiful mineral that can come in many different colors, including green and red. However, because quartz is so beautiful and useful, it is also relatively expensive. It is one of the more expensive countertops among all materials. Without installation fees, it can cost around $70-75 per square foot.

Wood

While stone, metal, and manufactured countertops are good choices, wooden countertops can also provide a beautiful touch to your home. There are many varying types of wood that you can use for countertops, including bamboo, hard maple, and more. However, wood is one of the easiest surfaces to damage. It has to be sealed, or it will retain a lot of moisture and cause stains.

Along with needing to be sealed, it is also difficult for wood to handle a large amount of heat. Wood is easy to mark or damage with heat, so it may need to be resealed on occasion. Either way, if you take care of it, it can be a beautiful addition to your kitchen and flooring. It is a very popular choice, but it can vary greatly in price. It can cost anywhere from $40-200 per square foot, depending on what type of wood that you choose.

Choosing a Sealant

If you have a natural stone countertop, there is a large possibility that you need to seal it if you have it installed. These are sometimes done by the installation services, but not always. This is an easy process to do. However, it is very important to research on types of sealants that you might need. Highly-rated sealants will get deep into the surface and will resist bacteria and moisture. As said above, oleophobic impregnators have been on the rise, so you may want to look into those.

There are a few things that you should keep in mind when looking for a proper sealant or impregnator. While these are important for natural stone, they are also important for a material like wood. Stone sealant may not work on wood, so you will want to look for a wood sealant for wooden countertops. Be sure to test the sealant before applying it completely.

  • Does not discolor the stone that it is being applied to
  • You can use it on any stone surface
  • Dries quickly (about 5-15 minutes)
  • Looks natural
  • Scratch resistant
  • Easy to repair
  • Harmful chemicals

The Water Test

It is possible that your countertop has already been sealed. If that is the case, then you don’t have to worry about getting sealant at all. However, this test is a way to tell if your countertop has been sealed or not. You can use water or lemon juice. It is relatively simple, but it can take a little bit of time to do. All you have to do is pour some water on the top in multiple places.

After you pour the water, you simply wait for about 30 minutes. If the countertop has darkened at all in the 30 minutes the water is applied, you will certainly have to seal it as soon as you can. This includes granite, concrete, and other stones that are porous. If the water does not darken the countertop, you don’t have to worry about applying sealant. This method can also be used to test sealant, which should be done at least every year.

How to Seal a Countertop

After you’ve found a proper sealant, there are a few things that you have to do. Be sure to read the instruction label when it comes to the sealant. It may need special attention. You may also need gloves and a medical mask or sawdust mask, considering the fumes can be harmful. When it comes to sealing natural stone or wood, these are the proper steps to take:

  1. Clean the countertop. This can be with warm water and a rag or brush. If you use a paper towel, it could result in tearing and getting residue in the stone’s pores. It is a good idea to wait 24 hours to make sure the stone is completely dry before continuing.
  2. Apply the sealant. This is the most crucial part, of course, so be sure to apply it evenly. You can also use a cloth or brush if it is clean and dampened with the sealant. Make sure the cloth is lint-free if you are using one.
  3. Wait about 10-20 minutes, depending on the sealant that you used. Make sure to read the instruction label, considering that all sealants are different and may need more time to dry.
  4. After the waiting period, you may need to apply a second coat. Again, all sealants are different, so be sure to read the label before you proceed with the first coat. Some of them need second coats.
  5. After another 10-20 minutes, or as long as the instruction label says, you can wipe off the excess sealant. If you leave excess sealant on the counter, it can cause discoloration or give it a cloudy appearance.
  6. Make sure to keep things off the counter for one to two days. It is a good idea not to wash or wipe the counter further and let it sit to cure.

Maintenance and Resealing

Through the years, there are many things we will use our countertops for. As such, you are bound to scuff, cut, or even burn your countertops during the course of time. This is completely normal and can be repaired in most cases. If the sealant gets cut or scuffed, you may need to go through a resealing process as well. Burnt countertops are a bit harder to take care of, considering you may have damaged the wood or stone themselves.

Reapplying sealant can be a tough job and you might need a few extra tools to do it. When it comes to resealing, you may have to take off the entirety of the sealant on the countertop. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Use masking tape or other adhesive that is easy to pull off without damaging the countertop. Make sure to get around the area that is cut or scuffed.
  • Use sandpaper and scratch off a small area of the countertop. You can simply use a piece of sandpaper or use a sanding machine to get it off the top. Be careful, though! You don’t want to harm the stone or wood beneath it.
  • Make sure you get the entire area in the tape. Otherwise, when you reapply the sealant, you might have an uneven surface.
  • Before applying the sealant, make sure you remove all the old sealant off. There should be quite a bit of white powder—make sure you don’t breathe it in.
  • Wipe down the area and make sure it is completely dry and clean of the remnants of the sealant.
  • Follow the instructions of applying sealant as normal. Apply evenly, let sit for 10-20 minutes, and apply a second coat if needed.

After it dries, pull the tape up and make sure that it is all even. If it isn’t, you could use a wax pen or a mixture of baking soda and water to buff out the remaining separations.

General Maintenance

Countertops can be a beautiful thing to have in your kitchen, but they must be cleaned often. These surfaces can become stained and marked up if you aren’t careful. As such, there are a few things to keep in mind whenever you want to upkeep your countertops.

  • When wiping down the countertops, make sure to use a clean, soft cloth or sponge.

Whenever you’re cleaning your countertops, scratching the surface is something you’ll want to avoid. Wiping down the countertops with something hard and firm could cause scratches from crumbs or pieces of plastic. You don’t want to push too hard, so simply wiping them down can do a lot of good for your countertops.

  • Wipe up spills immediately.

It is without doubt that the countertops will get moisture on them. Even with sealant on them, it is possible for liquid or oil to sometimes get under the sealant or in the joints of meeting surfaces. The faster you wipe up spills and moisture, the longer your countertops will last and look as pristine as ever.

  • Use cutting boards.

It might be a no-brainer to many, but cutting boards are a very important tool to use in the kitchen. These boards will keep cutting tools away from your countertops and keep them from damaging your countertops. Even if you have a covering beneath the food you’re cutting, knives can still cause scratches through paper towels or aluminum foil. Always use a cutting board whenever you are preparing food.

  • Use cushions and oven mitts beneath hot pots and pans.

It is a good idea to place cushions like a towel or oven mitt beneath pans and pots to avoid scuffing your countertops. Some countertops can’t stand up to intense heat, so make sure to put cushions or mitts to keep the heat from getting into the material. Stone is usually alright, but it can damage more sensitive ones like laminate, marble, and many types of sealant. Always use a pad beneath heated metal!

  • Wipe down daily.

Before you go to bed, it is a good idea to wipe your countertops down with warm water and a little bit of soap. Every night, be sure to wipe each exposed area of your countertops. It doesn’t have to be thorough, of course. Be sure to get what you can, though. It is a good idea to dry it as well, but it can be air dried if you have air flow through your kitchen. Don’t use harsh chemicals like ammonia or bleach.

  • Deep clean weekly.

This might seem like one of your nightly duties to keep your countertops clean, but you’ll also need to get into the deeper areas on occasion. Once a week, it is a good idea to remove everything from the counters and wipe where the items were. Many people store canisters and other things along the wall where the countertops connect, but you’ll need to remove appliances as well. Things can get pretty gross underneath them.

  • Clean and polish monthly.

Specific countertops need different types of care. As such, there are specific polishing and cleaning agents that are specific to the type of stone or material that the countertop is made out of. Make sure not to use any detergent or bathroom cleaners on your countertops. This includes gout cleaner, so make sure to read the labels and make sure that your polish or wax matches the countertop.

  • Do the water test yearly.

Once a year, you should do the water test with water or lemon juice on your countertop in different places. As said above, wait 30 minutes and you will be able to see if the countertop darkens beneath the spot. If not, your sealant is fine. You should only have to replace it every 3-5 years unless some damage comes to it.

  • Make use of coasters.

Whenever you’re preparing food, you will want to keep hydrated. As such, a nice, cool glass of water can leave quite a ring beneath it. This water can cause discoloring and rings on your countertops if you aren’t careful. As such, you should use coasters to place beneath the glasses or cans if you place them on your countertop.

Conclusion

Countertops are very important to many homes. They can be set up in the kitchen, bathroom, or work spaces. These countertops are usually made from many different things, including natural stone, glass, manufactured materials, and more. Some of these surfaces need to be sealed, since not all installation services provide sealant. The water test can tell you if the surface needs sealant or not. You can use lemon juice as well, which can provide quicker results.

Maintenance is relatively easy. It’s merely a matter of wiping down the surfaces with warm water and soap, for the most part. You may have to treat certain countertops differently, but each surface has its own polisher and cleaning agent if you look for it. Never use bathroom chemicals or harsh chemicals on your countertops. It can be troublesome if you damage the sealant that is already on the countertop, considering you have to use sandpaper and more to repair it. Treat your countertops with care and you will have a beautiful kitchen for as long as you do.