Ranking Countertop Materials

Appearance, Price, Stain Resistance, Heat Resistance, and Resale Value

  • 01 of 11

    Evaluating Countertop Materials

    Blanco Performa Stainless Steel Sink
    Blanco America

    Choosing the right countertop material involves a great deal of simple subjective preference—deciding what type of "look" appeals to you. But there are also objective criterial you can use to determine which countertop material is likely to work best for your needs. Even here, some criteria will be more important than others, based on your lifestyle and needs. For example, in a home where the kitchen serves mostly as a social area where people gather, appearance may be of utmost importance, while in a kitchen for a passionate cook, stain- and heat-resistance of the countertop material may be much more important. 

    The most important criteria for evaluation countertop materials are:

    • Appearance: What are the aesthetic qualities of the countertop material?
    • Value: How does the countertop rank in terms of the cost of materials plus installation? What are you getting for the money?
    • Stain-resistance and clean-up: How well does the material resist food and drink stains?
    • Heat resistance: Will hot pots discolor or burn the countertop surface?
    • Resale value: Does the countertop add real estate value to your home in the eyes of prospective buyers?

    Ratings Summary

    Our rating system attempts to give equal value to each of the five criteria above—each of which was estimated from a broad sampling of user reviews and responses toward each countertop material. But be cautious about using these ratings as a definitive ranking, since some criteria may be more important to you. 

    With each of the five criteria equally weighed on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being best), our rankings for 10 popular countertop materials are: 

    • Reclaimed Wood: 2.7
    • Concrete: 2.7
    • Zinc: 2.8
    • Ceramic Tile: 2.8
    • Laminate: 2.8
    • Refinished: 2.9
    • Solid Surface: 3.2
    • Stainless Steel: 3.3
    • Slab Granite: 3.4
    • Quartz: 4.6

     

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  • 02 of 11

    Reclaimed Wood: Most Eco-Friendly Choice

    Modern kitchen
    Jacek Kadaj / Getty Images

    Reclaimed wood countertops are slabs made from hardwoods recycled from other uses, such as commercial bowling alleys, barns, or residential flooring. For homeowners concerned about the environment, reclaimed wood offers obvious appeal. 

    Appearance

    Reclaimed wood can take many appearances, depending on the source of the wood and its species. These are usually quite attractive countertops made of good-quality maple, oak, ash, or other hardwoods. These countertops can get nicked, scratched, and scuffed quickly, but for some homeowners, this antique appeal is a plus. 

    Rating: 3.5. 

    Value

    Though ostensibly "wood that no one wants," reclaimed wood isn't cheap. The companies that find it, re-mill it, and sell it do need to make a profit for their specialized work. These are not mass-produced products—each countertop is unique. Installation is normally done by specialists from the fabrication company; this is not a DIY-friendly material. Typical costs are $115 to $300 per square foot, installed. 

    Rating: 3.0.

    Stain Resistance

    You need to keep wood counters sealed. This is not difficult to do, but it must be done with religious frequency. Forget to do it, and you may find that red beets stain your counters a rich purple color.

    Rating: 2.0

    Heat Resistance

    Reclaimed wood has excellent heat resistance. Hot pots and skillets rarely discolor or scorch reclaimed wood.

    Rating: 4.0.

    Resale Value

    While some home buyers may very much like the classic look and "green" appeal of using reclaimed wood, most home buyers see reclaimed wood as a second-class countertop material. These countertops will do nothing to improve the real estate value of your home. 

    Rating: 1.0.

    Bottom Line

    Reclaimed wood falls toward the lower end of the countertop ratings, at 2.7 out of a possible 5.0 rating. Choose reclaimed wood if you put a high priority on green building materials, not to improve real estate value. 

     

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  • 03 of 11

    Concrete: Urban and Contemporary

    Detail of modern kitchen
    Jacek Kadaj / Getty Images

    If you've got a stylish, modern house, you can do no better than to install a concrete countertop in the kitchen. While these monolithic beauties would look odd in a period house, they fit perfectly well into any home that heavily employs steel, glass, concrete (for floors or columns), or reclaimed wood. Yet, surprisingly enough, concrete can be finicky when used for countertops.

    Appearance

    Concrete can become whatever you want it to be. With tinting, it can take on a number of muted, earthen colors, as well as some darker reds, blues, and greens. But its chief value—and the one thing that distinguishes concrete from other counter materials—is that you can have a single, unified, seamless counter. In a single pour, concrete can form L shapes, U shape, and all sorts of permutations that no other material can duplicate.

    Rating: 4.0

    Value

    Considering that concrete itself is pretty inexpensive, homeowners are often surprised to learn how expensive concrete countertops are. Concrete countertops are difficult to fabricate and require special concrete mixes. They must be installed by skilled pros—usually from the same team who fabricates the countertop. Concrete countertops are not a DIY project. Typical costs range from $70 to $140 per square foot, installed. 

    Rating: 2.0.

    Stain Resistance

    Concrete can stain quite easily unless it is regularly sealed. Acidic foods and liquids, as well as cleaning chemicals, need to be wiped off immediately or they will stain the surface. 

    Rating: 2.0

    Heat Resistance

    With concrete, you'll still need to use trivets or pads before setting down hot pans. Concrete surfaces can show scorch marks fairly easily. 

    Rating: 3.0.

    Resale Value

    Hopefully, the entire contemporary style of your house is congruent with those concrete counters. And hopefully, buyers' minds are congruent with your house's contemporary style. If so, there is a possibility they may love the counters. If not, they will hate them.

    Rating: 2.5.

    Bottom Line

    Concrete countertops can be a good choice in very particular situations but may be too unusual for many people. They earn a rating of 2.7 out of 5.00.

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  • 04 of 11

    Zinc

    Brooks Custom Zinc Countertops
    Brooks Custom, Mt. Kisco, NY

    Zinc is the most common metal on earth but is fairly uncommon as a countertop material. For the right homeowner, it has a hip trendy appeal, reminiscent of the zin countertops found in Paris bistros. For other homeowners, it may seem a bit too unique. 

    Appearance

    Zinc has a dark gray matte finish that is much different than the bright silver shininess of stainless steel. Homeowners seeking something unique may very much like this look; others may actively dislike it. Zinc is a relatively soft metal, and it may scratch. Some homeowners like the aged patina that zinc develops over time. 

    Rating: 3.0.

    Value

    Being a specialty countertop, zinc is expensive. You buy zinc because you like it, not because you want to save money. Zinc costs $150 to $200 per square foot, installed. 

    Rating: 2.0

    Stain Resistance

    Zinc will eventually develop a dark patina, and should vinegar come in contact with it, dark spots will develop.

    Rating: 2.0.

    Heat Resistance

    As a metal, zinc is unsurpassed at resisting scorch marks and discoloration from hot pans and skillets. 

    Rating: 5.0.

    Resale Value

    A few potential buyers will be charmed by zinc countertops, but those unaware of its history will find it unappealing or even shabby. Real estate agents sometimes cringe when representing a house with zinc countertops. 

    Rating: 2.0

    Bottom Line

    Zinc earns an overall rating of 2.8 out of 5.0, placing in the lower half of countertop materials. Still, in kitchens with a certain period decor, zinc can be a conversation starter. 

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  • 05 of 11

    Ceramic or Porcelain Tile: the Best DIY Choice

    Wide angle image of kitchen
    Fotosearch / Getty Images

    While excellent for backsplashes, ceramic or porcelain tiles have a major drawback for countertops: The grout lines between tiles are very hard to keep clean. The major selling point for tile countertops is that they are relatively easy for DIYers to install themselves. 

    Appearance

    Tile surfaces themselves can be very attractive, but the presence of the many seams in a tile countertop is a big turn-off to anyone who cooks. Not only is the uneven texture of a tile surface problematic to a cook, but the grout lines can make cleanup a nightmare. 

    Rating: 1.0

    Value

    Prices can vary quite a lot, but standard white tile countertops can be built for just pennies per square foot. And because tile countertops are a very easy DIY project, this material earns a top rating for cost. The typical costs for tile countertops range from $18 to $35 per square foot, installed. 

    Rating: 5.0.

    Stain Resistance

    Ceramic tile itself holds up well to stains, but once the grout is stained, it can be nearly impossible to clean.

    Rating: 1.0.

    Heat Resistance

    Since it is fired at high temperatures, ceramic or porcelain tile resists heat very well. Tile is virtually impervious to scorching or burning.

    Rating: 5.0.

    Resale Value

    Prospective home buyers are often put off by kitchens with tile countertops, though they may love tile backsplashes, walls, and floors. Tile countertops offer poor resale value.

    Rating: 2.0

    Bottom Line

    Tile countertops earn a lower-tier overall rating of 2.8 out of 5 due to the many seams and difficult maintenance.

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  • 06 of 11

    Laminate: the Most Economical Material

    Wrapped edge laminate countertop
    Wilsonart

    Laminate countertops are the perennial standby when it comes to kitchen and bathroom countertop choices. But can we rank them in the best countertops group? The answer is "yes"—price and appearance are laminate's strongest factors.

    Appearance

    Once regarded as fake-looking, modern laminates made by manufacturers such Wilsonart and Formica are now pushing the boundaries with high-pressure laminates that are steadily improving in appearance. Laminate is no longer regarded as the poor cousin among the countertop materials.

    Rating: 3.0.

    Value

    With the better looks come higher prices, but it is still possible to buy rock-bottom cheap laminate countertops. This is one of the most economical of all countertop materials, especially considering its now-impressive appearance. Laminate countertops range in price from $15 to $40 per square foot, installed. 

    Rating: 5.0

    Stain Resistance

    Laminate countertops are easy to clean with a swipe of a wet cloth or sponge, but when stains get embedded, they are very hard to remove.

    Rating: 2.0

    Heat Resistance

    Considering that laminates are essentially plastic, you might think they would melt under extreme heat. This doesn't happen, although very hot pans can scorch and discolor the surface.  

    Rating: 2.0.

    Resale Value

    Although the perception is beginning to change, laminate countertops still have trouble gaining acceptance with realtors and prospective home buyers. Laminates are often regarded as bargain-basement countertops, except when the context is within carefully decorated mid-century modern kitchens. 

    Rating: 2.0.

    Bottom Line

    Laminate countertops earn a lower-end rating of 2.8 out of 5.0. However, they offer great value, and the negative perception of laminates is gradually fading. 

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  • 07 of 11

    Refinishing: Best Value?

    Countertop
    Rustoleum

    If the idea of refinishing an old countertop makes you laugh, consider the fact that owners of resurfaced countertops are laughing themselves all the way to the bank as they deposit $3,000 worth of savings they earned by not installing new countertops. 

    For just a few hundred bucks, it's possible to turn a laminate or tile countertop into something apparently new. With refinishing, the base material stays the same but a special, thick coating goes on top to radically change the countertop's appearance.

    Appearance

    Judging appearance is all relative and admittedly subjective. Refinished countertops can look spectacular compared to an old countertop. Yet no matter how much the refinishing kit claims your resurfaced counter will look like real marble, it just won't.

    Rating: 2.5.

    Value

    Refinished countertops blow all other countertops' pricing out of the water. Nothing is cheaper. Even purchasing the cheapest laminate counter off the racks at Lowe's or The Home Depot is more expensive. For as low as $200 to $250, you can purchase a do-it-yourself counter refinishing kit.

    Rating: 5.0.

    Stain Resistance

    Refinished counters resist stains well—as well as an unfinished laminate counter.

    Rating: 4.0.

    Heat Resistance

    This is the Achilles' heel of refinished countertops: they scratch easily and are not very durable. 

    Rating: 1.0

    Resale Value

    Appearance-wise, a counter that is refinished closely resembles a normal, unfinished laminate counter. LIke laminates, a refinished countertop normally doesn't improve real estate value. 

    Rating: 2.0

    Bottom Line

    Refinishing earns a rating of 2.9 out of 5.0, thanks mostly to the low cost. 

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  • 08 of 11

    Solid-Surface Material: a Good Blend of Appearance and Affordability

    Formica 180fx
    Formica

    Solid surface countertops are made from synthetic acrylic, epoxy, and polyester materials bonded together in formulations aimed at mimicking the look of natural stone. When solid-surface material was introduced in the late 1960s by Dupont, it was regarded as a high-end countertop material. Its role as a premium material has largely been taken over by quartz and solid granite, but solid-surface is still a very good material that offers a unique blend of performance, appearance, and economy. 

    Appearance

    Solid-surface countertops can be manufactured to look like practically anything. While they cannot match the appearance of real or even engineered stone, solid-surface countertops still look better than laminate. They can be fabricated to be entirely seamless and can even incorporate seamless sink basins within the countertop. 

    Rating: 4.0

    Value

    Though considerably more expensive than tile or laminate, the excellent performance and appearance of solid-surface material make it one of the best values. Costs fo solid-surface ​countertops range from $35 to $85 per square foot, installed. 

    Rating: 4.0.

    Stain Resistance

    Yes, solid surface counters do stain, and those stains can be pervasive. However, the nature of solid-surface material makes it possible to sand out stains rather easily. 

    Rating: 3.0. 

    Heat Resistance

    Solid-surface material can be scorched fairly easily. Countertop manufacturers have been developing solid surface materials that hold up better against heat, but the product still has a long way to go. Burn marks can be removed fairly easily with sanding. 

    Rating: 2.0.

    Resale Value

    Solid-surface materials offer moderately good resale value. While no longer considered a luxury material, solid-surface countertops are considered much more favorably than laminates or tile.

    Rating: 3.0.

    Bottom Line

    Solid-surface countertops are in the upper tier of countertop materials, earning a rating of 3.2 out of 5.0.

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  • 09 of 11

    Stainless Steel: the Trendy Option

    Modern kitchen with stainless steel counters
    Robert Daly / Getty Images

    Second only to concrete as the most trendy countertop material, stainless steel's popularity has waxed and waned over the years. Originally a material found only in commercial kitchens, stainless steel has recently become common in high-end residential kitchens. But there is no denying that, in terms of pure coolness, this material comes out ahead of most others.

    Appearance

    Stainless steel is highly attractive. It is luminous without being glaringly bright and has a lovely patina. The only downside is that it has only one face: Stainless steel always looks the same way. Unlike other materials, it cannot be tinted, aged, painted, or resurfaced. You can buy hundreds of different kinds of countertop marbles and granites, but you can buy only one stainless steel.

    Rating 4.0.

    Value

    Stainless steel is very pricey. This is due partially to the expense of the materials, but also because of the limited number of competent fabricators. The scarcity of qualified labor drives prices higher. Costs of stainless steel countertops range from $80 to $250 per square foot, installed. 

    Stain Resistance

    Though it is called "stainless," steel can be stained with food materials, but it will not rust. Stains can usually be removed, however. 

    Rating: 3.0.

    Heat Resistance

    As a metal, stainless steel is almost impervious to burns and scorch marks in a normal kitchen setting.

    Rating: 5.0. 

    Resale Value

    Discerning buyers will value stainless steel, so your investment will indeed pay off. Non-discerning buyers may look down on this material, mentally subtracting the cost of pulling out the steel counters and replacing with another material when they make an offer. 

    Rating: 5.0

    Bottom Line

    Stainless steel countertops earn an overall rating of 3.3 out of 5.0. It can be a great countertop in the right kitchen decor but may turn off prospective buyers who don't have a trend-conscious attitude. 

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  • 10 of 11

    Slab Granite: Best Real Estate Appeal

    Modular Granite Slab
    CC-Licsned; Flickr User Shayyuval

    For some time now, solid granite slabs have been regarded as the premium countertop material, and although you might think the trend will eventually end, the virtues of granite continue to make it a perennial top performer. 

    Appearance

    Granite counters have a deep, rich, complex appearance that cannot be duplicated in any type of man-made material. Because each granite slab is unique, this means that no two countertops have exactly the same appearance. While other types of natural stone, including soapstone, slate, and marble, are also used in countertops, granite is by far the preferred stone for appearance. 

    Rating: 5.0

    Value

    Granite is always—always—a pricey countertop material. This is the most expensive of countertop materials in our list. Prices can range from $45 to $200 per square foot, installed.

    Rating: 1.0

    Stain Resistance

    Since granite is a porous stone, it does suck up stains. But annual sealing will help avoid this problem.

    Rating: 2.0

    Heat Resistance

    Granite, forged in the heat of the earth, will hold up well against your hot pans. Granite is virtually impossible to burn by normal means. 

    Rating: 5.0

    Resale Value

    Even though the fervor for granite may be slightly past its peak, granite still lends considerable resale value to a home. Realtors and prospective buyers almost always perk up when they see granite countertops. 

    Rating: 4.0

    Bottom Line

    Granite earns a top-tier rating of 3.4 out of 5.0, thanks to its great appearance and durability. 

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  • 11 of 11

    Quartz: Best Overall Choice

    Quartz Slabs
    RoyalFive / Getty Images

    Although there are those who disagree, quartz countertops—a form of engineered stone—may well be the best of all countertop materials when all factors are considered. Quartz countertops are made from natural stone byproducts (leftover rubble from the quarrying of quartz and other natural stone) which are pulverized and blended with resins to form slabs. It can be considered a "green" building material since it is made from leftover stone and doesn't require quarrying. And engineered quartz has nearly all the virtues of granite and other natural stone while costing less. 

    Appearance

    [Quartz countertops look fantastic. Because they partially use natural materials (as opposed to solid surface, which is all man-made), quartz counters have unparalleled depth and richness. Dozens of different looks are available, ranging from granite and marble look-alikes to very unique, modern colors and patterns. And unlike granite and other natural stone, quartz never has flaws or cracks that can mar the countertop. 

    Rating: 5.0.

    Value

    Quartz countertops are expensive, but when factoring in the advantages, quartz countertops are relatively good value. Typical costs range from $55 to $155 per square foot, installed. 

    Rating: 4.0.

    Stain Resistance

    Quartz counters hold up well against stains and need no sealing. However, extremely caustic substances such as lye or other strong chemicals may damage your quartz counters.

    Rating: 5.0. 

    Heat Resistance

    Quartz countertops are among the best at resisting burns and scorching.

    Rating: 4.0.

    Resale Value

    Home buyers place a high premium on quartz countertops, sometimes regarding them as even more valuable than granite. 

    Rating: 5.0

    Bottom Line

    Quartz countertops earn a top rating in our ranking, 4.6 out of 5.00.