Countertops are a dominant element in the kitchen—in terms of both function and aesthetics— and selecting the perfect option for your space is a serious decision. Among the variables to consider when choosing a countertop material is the sheen—the degree of shininess on the finish.
Typically, the sheen of a countertop material is described as either glossy—shiny to a degree that reflects light with clear highlights—or matte, in which the surface has a slight texture that diffuses the light in a soft manner that doesn't create highlight glares. Matte finishes that diffuse reflected light are sometimes known as honed or brushed when found on granite countertops, or concrete or leather finishes when found on engineered stone (quartz) countertops.
Here are some things to consider when choosing between glossy and matte countertop finishes.
Glossy Countertops vs. Matte Countertops: Major Differences
Many countertop materials are available in both sheens—glossy and matte—and each finish sheen has its pros and cons. Whether your choice is laminate, ceramic tile, natural stone, or quartz/engineered stone such as Silestone or Cambria, each material may be available in both glossy and matte finishes.
|Glossy Countertops||Matte Countertops|
|Light is reflected in bright highlights||Reflected light is diffused|
|Stains and smudges are easy to spot||Stains and smudges are less visible|
|Most common finish for granite, marble, engineered stone||Common finish for laminate countertops|
|Slightly more affordable for some materials||Slightly more expensive for some materials|
The most critical appearance difference between glossy and matte countertops is found in their reflective quality.
Glossy countertops are highly reflective, so you can expect a good deal of glare from kitchen lighting, which tends to be bright and plentiful in these task-oriented rooms. Carefully designed lighting schemes can take advantage of highly reflective glossy countertops to create a kitchen with powerful highlights, but some people find the glare on glossy countertops to be unpleasant.
Beautiful as they are when kept polished and in perfect shape, glossy countertops tend to reveal nicks and scratches in their reflective surfaces. They may not be the best choice for high-use family kitchens.
If you want a high-gloss finish, then top-end stainless steel, granite, marble, or engineered stone are the materials that give you the most choices.
Matte countertops are much less reflective than glossy surfaces. Many people prefer the softer reflection offered by matte countertop surfaces (sometimes known as honed surfaces). Further, matte-finish countertops tend to hide nicks and scratches better than glossy countertops.
If you prefer the more subtle light diffusion offered by a matte surface, your greatest choice will come from laminate, solid-surface, or tile. Granite, stainless steel, marble, and engineered stone may be available in matte finishes, but the selection might be narrower and the cost slightly higher.
Water and Heat Resistance
There is no difference between glossy and matte finishes when it comes to resistance to water and heat. These differences are dependent on the material itself, not the surface finish.
Care and Cleaning
The type of material used in the countertop dictates its cleaning and care profile, regardless of the surface finish—but there are some subtle differences between glossy and matte surfaces
Glossy countertops, with their high degree of reflection, will readily expose fingerprints, smudges, and bits of food, making it easy to spot and eradicate them. But this also means that unless you scrub and polish your glossy countertop thoroughly, any smudges you miss will be easily noticed by anyone with a sharp eye.
Matte countertops, which have less reflective glare, tend to mask food spills. This can be an advantage when it comes to the general appearance of your kitchen, but it can also make it hard to spot smudges and small food smears and scrub them clean.
Durability and Maintenance
Don't be afraid to test out the material with a showroom sample and the help of your salesperson. Bring along a bag of potato chips and a terry cloth towel. Get some grease residue on your fingertips and experiment with cleaning. This will help you gauge the ease of maintenance and whether matte or glossy will work best for you.
Glossy, highly reflective countertop surfaces will show nicks and scratches more visibly. This means that cleaning chores might be a bit more demanding and that your countertop might need to be replaced sooner than a scratch-hiding matte-finish countertop. With glossy solid-surface countertops such as Corian or Avonite, scratches and nicks can be sanded and polished out.
Matte finishes tend to hide nicks and scratches, which might mean that your countertop will have a longer life. Here, too, with solid surface materials, it is possible to sand out minor nicks, scratches, and burns.
Ultimately, resistance to stains in a countertop depends on the relative porosity of the material itself, not on the degree of sheen. Granite, for example, has more inherent porosity than engineered stone, and both glossy and matte granite surfaces will need to be sealed in order to make them fully stain resistance.
But there are some superficial differences between glossy and matte surfaces when it comes to everyday staining.
Glossy surfaces tend to resist stains a little better than matte surfaces, provided the material itself is either naturally resistant to water and stains, or has been sealed to maximize its water resistance.
Glossy finishes are perfectly smooth, and staining substances tend to lie on the surface of the countertop rather than being trapped in the rough textures of matte finishes. For example, a polished and sealed granite countertop usually is easier to wipe clean than a soapstone countertop that has a naturally rough, matte surface.
Depending on the degree of texture in the countertop surface, matte finishes can sometimes trap stains a little more stubbornly than shiny smooth gloss surfaces. This is generally not a dramatic deficit, however. More important is the relative stain resistance of the material itself, not its sheen.
There is no appreciable difference between glossy and matte countertops when it comes to installation—it is the type of countertop material, not its sheen, that governs installation techniques.
With some materials, however, a high-gloss surface requires some extra buffing and polishing as the last step of installation. For example, solid-surface countertops are often wet-sanded and extensively polished and buffed if a high-gloss surface is desired.
Cost differences between different types of countertop materials are far wider than the cost gaps between glossy and matte finishes for a particular countertop material. Still, regardless of countertop material, there may be some minor differences in cost between surface sheens.
In some material categories, glossy-finish countertops might be less expensive than matte-finish surfaces, based simply on supply issues. Granite, marble, and engineered stone (quartz) slabs are typically finished with a high-gloss finish, so countertops made from these materials tend to be cheaper than matte finishes that require additional honing to create a duller, less reflective surface.
Glossy surfaces do not cost more when it comes to plastic laminates or solid-surface countertops. With solid-surface materials (Corian, Avonite, etc.) the degree of finish depends simply on how the fabricator sands and polishes the surface during the final stage of installation. This extra polishing generally does not affect the cost of the countertops.
Matte-finish countertops can be slightly more expensive for premium materials such as granite, marble, or engineered stone/quartz, but there is little or no difference when it comes to solid surface, laminate, or tile.
Some granite fabricators can buff or sandblast the surface of granite to create a matte or "honed" finish, but not every color and type of granite responds well to this process; some stone treated this way look unfinished or even dirty. Some countertop materials simply are not available with a matte finish, although this used to be more common than it is today. Earlier versions of quartz countertops were sold only with glossy finishes, but now quartz is increasingly available with a matte sheen—though sometimes at a slightly higher cost.
The effective lifespan of a countertop is generally governed by the type of material, not its surface sheen. However, because glossy surfaces tend to make nicks and scratches more visible, homeowners who insist on pristine countertop surfaces may feel compelled to swap out glossy surfaces a little more frequently.
While there are small performance differences between glossy and matte finishes on countertops, the choice usually boils down to your aesthetic preference. Do you like the dramatic, shiny highlights offered by a kitchen with glossy, polished countertops? Or do you prefer the subtle softness of matte countertops that downplay reflections and highlights?