Quartz vs. Laminate Countertops

Cambria Quartz Countertops
Cambria Quartz Countertops - Whitehall. Copyright/Courtesy Cambria USA

Can you even begin to compare quartz and laminate countertops? If this seems like a stretch, you may be thinking of the laminate of years past, with its boring colors and limited finish options. However, the formerly huge gap between quartz and laminate is narrowing all the time. Premium laminates are racing to catch up to quartz's wide customer acceptance and market share. Homeowners who once might have flocked to quartz (if they could afford it) may find themselves also taking a second look at laminate. 

Laminate Construction

Laminate countertops are a sandwich of materials. The structural part is a thick slab of particleboard, which you never see because it is covered with a thin sheet of laminate. Laminate is often referred to as "plastic," but it is fact made primarily of layers of kraft paper and synthetic resins.

Quartz Construction

Quartz counters are a blend of several materials, most of them mineral. They are made with 90 percent or more of stone particles, such as marble, quartz, and other stone types. The minerals are mixed with resin, colorants, and fillers (totaling about 7 percent of the material's content) and heated and compressed into a very hard, durable slab. The material is the same through the entire thickness of the countertop.

Comparing Appearances

Both laminate and quartz are often chosen for their "stone look," and each material mimics natural stone with different strengths and weaknesses. Both materials are also available in a range of solid colors.

  • Depth: If the intent is duplicating the look of natural stone's depth, quartz wins hands down. It should be noted that high-end laminates that try to replicate the look of stone are becoming more realistic all the time. But no matter how expensive the laminate, it may never be able to duplicate quartz's visual depth because it is not physically deep. 
  • Veining: The distinctive veining and crystalline structure found in marble and travertine are better represented in laminate than in quartz. Premium laminates can "roll" the veins over the edge of the countertop as if showing a cross-section of natural stone.
  • Solid colors: Quartz comes in a limited range of solid colors and a wider range of flecked colors. Laminate can be found in a much broader range of solid colors, from pastels and soft whites to vibrant oranges and rich grays and blacks.

Cost of Laminate vs. Quartz

Laminate is the clear winner on price. Wilsonart, a major manufacturer of both quartz and laminate surfaces, estimaties that quartz counters can cost $95 to $105 per square foot, while laminate ranges from $8 to $20 per square foot.

Quartz and Laminate Durability

Both materials are generally durable and highly stain-resistant, and neither needs to be sealed, like natural stone does.  

Quartz is highly abrasion-resistant, under normal conditions, while laminate's top-most "wear layer" has long been its Achille's heel. This can be a problem since sharp objects such as knives feature prominently in kitchens.

Regarding heat-resistance, both materials can be damaged by relatively low temperatures, even as low as 150 degrees F, given prolonged exposure. A hot, dry pan set down onto either surface is likely to burn it. Heat damage on quartz is difficult to repair; burned laminate cannot be repaired.

DIY Installation

Nearly all quartz counters and a majority of laminate counters of quality are professionally installed. It is virtually impossible for homeowners to develop the skill set needed to fabricate and install quartz countertops. Any laminate that seeks to close the "quality gap" between quartz and laminate must be professionally installed, too. 

But for handy homeowners, laminate is an easy material to work with and can be cut and finished with standard woodworking tools. Fabricating your own laminate countertop can be very cost-efficient if you have the skills for the job.