Concrete Countertops Pros and Cons

Are concrete counters right for you?

Concrete countertop with stacked books and cooking utensils on top

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Few kitchen countertop materials are more misunderstood than high-end concrete. Rock-solid and hard as granite or slate, concrete can be a better fit in contemporary kitchen designs than engineered or natural stones since it exudes a modern industrial aesthetic.

Adding to the mystique is the fact that concrete can be etched, acid-stained, stamped, and sealed to create a countertop surface that is unlike almost any other available material. Modern concrete kitchen countertops are no longer cold impersonal slabs of gray concrete. More often, they are warm and gleaming surfaces that are functional and also remarkably stylish.

Yet concrete does have some significant downsides that make this a product you'll want to consider carefully before you make the purchase.

As part of the installation, the crew may build or install support frames for sinks, since it is important that the countertop itself not carry the weight of the sink. If the sink is an under-mount style, it is set in place first, then the countertop is installed over it. The countertop is usually adhered to the cabinets with construction adhesives after being carefully leveled and shimmed.

Pros and Cons of Concrete Countertops

Pros
  • Can be custom-sized and shaped

  • Difficult to scratch and impervious to heat

  • Small items can be embedded

  • Durable and long-lasting

  • Can improve resale value since it is considered to be a premium surface

Cons
  • Expensive, costing as much as $135 or more per square foot

  • Regular sealing is required to avoid staining

  • Its excessive weight can tax cabinet frames and floors

  • Repairs are difficult for the do-it-yourselfer

Pros

A concrete countertop has many virtues, especially its ability to be shaped and formed to exactly match your kitchen dimensions and finished precisely to your liking. With other countertop materials, you are often limited to whatever colors and styles are available, but concrete offers you a wider range of options. Only ceramic tile comes close to offering a comparable range of choices.

  • While concrete is not scratch-proof, it does resist scratches remarkably well, especially when compared to softer counter materials such as solid surface or laminate.
  • Concrete, too, can be customized by the addition of small items pressed into the top surface. Glass fragments, stones, shells, and even fiber-optic lights can be embedded.
  • In the right house, concrete countertops can improve the house's resale value since it is considered to be a premium material, on par with quartz or natural stone counters.

Cons

If you are conditioned to think of concrete as a utilitarian building material used for slabs and foundations, you might imagine that concrete countertops are cheap and easy to install. Nothing could be further from the truth. Concrete is a high-end material when used in kitchen countertops, and fabricating them requires the skill and experience of trained technicians.

  • If you are averse to regular maintenance, then concrete may not be for you. Concrete does require annual resealing, at a minimum.
  • Because concrete is so heavy, cabinets and flooring often need to be strengthened to bear the increased weight.

Concrete Countertops Cost

Concrete counters are expensive. Once again, the idea that concrete is used for sidewalks and patios, thus it must be inexpensive, is false. Expect to pay $135/sq ft or more for full-service concrete countertop fabrication and installation.

Because concrete countertops are very heavy and can weigh upwards of 19 to 25 pounds per square foot, installers sometimes need to reinforce cabinetry and even the floors in order to bear the substantial weight. If this is required for your installation, it can significantly increase the cost even further.

Maintenance and Repair

Assuming the countertop has been sealed initially with a high-quality sealer, ongoing maintenance requires only the application of a good water-based wax sealer every 9 to 12 months. Annual sealing will ensure the surface resists staining, which is important because concrete is a porous material that stains easily on its own. Still, it's always a good idea to clean up spills right away, especially spills of acidic or highly staining foods such as red wine, citrus juice, tomato sauce, or curry, as these can cause stains if they happen to land on a spot where the sealer is scratched or otherwise compromised.

Choose a sealer formulated to withstand heat if you expect to set hot pans directly onto your concrete counters. Although concrete itself has no problem withstanding considerable heat, sealers that are not formulated for this purpose can discolor if exposed to a very hot pan or pot. If you are uncertain as to the type of sealer applied to your counters, it's best to play it safe and avoid setting a hot pan on them until you are certain they have been sealed with a heat-resistant product.

Use a cutting board when chopping or cutting foods on your concrete counters. While the concrete itself is unlikely to be damaged, the sealer can be scratched or chipped, which exposes the underlying concrete and makes it likelier to stain.

When it comes to regular cleaning, you can use a mild soap and water to wipe down your counters daily, or as often as desired. Stay away from highly abrasive cleaning products, which can damage the sealer.

Be aware that it is common for concrete countertops to develop a few hairline cracks over time, due to concrete's tendency to shrink slightly as it dries. For many people, these cracks are a desirable aspect of the counters, as they give character and a worn, timeless look to the concrete. However, large cracks are usually caused by improper installation, such as placing the counter on top of cabinets that are uneven. Large cracks can be filled and repaired, but if the underlying issue is not addressed, are likely to reoccur.

Design

While sleek gray concrete countertops are perfect for the modern kitchen, that isn't your only option. In fact, concrete counters are very versatile and can be customized to suit any space's style. Since concrete is poured and molded for installation, rather than mined and cut like stone, it's easy to create curves, edges, and unusual shapes with concrete. You can even have small objects embedded into the wet concrete, such as stones, colored bits of glass, shells, or metal chips. However, it's best not to get carried away with such additions, as they can decrease the functionality of kitchen counters.

When it comes to color, anything goes. You can stick with light gray, of course, but it's easy to mix in various color options to the wet concrete to create just about any hue you'd like. Go darker with deep gray, navy, or black. You can have bright concrete counters, or stick with a neutral earth tone of brown, beige, or terracotta. You can even have white concrete counters, but remember that the lighter the counter, the more often you'll want to clean it, as every drip or spill will stand out dramatically.

Concrete can also be acid-etched for a distressed, timeworn appearance, or given "veins" to duplicate the look of marble. The finish can be matte, glossy, or somewhere in between.

When choosing the style, color, and finish of your concrete counters, it's important to consider the overall style of your home, other colors used within the space, the look of the flooring and cabinets already installed in the kitchen, and the impact you want the counters to bring into the room.

Concrete Countertops Installation

Concrete countertops may look like massive slabs, but in reality, they are generally only 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick. The illusion that they are much thicker slabs is usually the result of a drop-front edging on the countertop.

While concrete countertops are sometimes formed and poured on-site, more often they are fabricated in shops after a technician takes precise measurements of your kitchen space and discusses all finish options with you.

In the shop, forms are built and the countertop is poured, complete with whatever sink cutouts, coloration, or additives are requested. During fabrication, the countertop slabs are usually reinforced with fiber or metal mesh of some type to give them strength and rigidity.

After fabrication, the countertop is allowed to cure fully, and the surface may be ground and polished to whatever finish the client has requested. Sealer is applied, often a very hard epoxy. Once curing and finishing are complete, an installation crew carefully delivers the countertop to the worksite and installs it.

Concrete countertop with striped towel next to coffee mug and spoon

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Are Concrete Countertops Right For You?

If you are looking to replace your kitchen counters, concrete is definitely worth considering. Not only is it a very durable material that will last for many decades if cared for properly, but your design options are nearly endless. You can customize the color, sheen, and even the shape of the counters. Depending on the look you choose, you can match any decorating style from casual farmhouse to sleekly modern with concrete. And it isn't too hard to care for concrete countertops.

However, like any material, it does have its downsides. Concrete counters can be expensive to install, and may require further bolstering of your existing cabinets and floors. It takes concrete several days to cure, so you won't be able to use the counters right after installation. And major repairs generally require an expert.

Article Sources
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  1. Concrete Countertops Pros, Cons and DIY Basics. The Concrete Network.