Quartz vs. Laminate Countertops

Quartz and laminate kitchen countertop

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Is it possible to compare quartz and laminate countertops? At one time, this was a stretch: laminate appeared to be permanently stuck as a lower quality bargain countertop, while quartz was clearly a premium countertop product.

But the gap between quartz and laminate countertops 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 now may find themselves also taking a second look at laminate counters.

What Laminate Countertops Are

Laminate countertops are a sandwich of materials. The structural part is a thick slab of MDF particleboard, which you never see because it is covered with a thin sheet of laminate.

The laminate covering is made of an image layer that closely replicates wood or stone—or simply solid colors or patterns—with a clear wear layer to protect everything underneath.

Is Laminate Plastic?

The laminate covering is often referred to as plastic, but this is not so. Laminate is made primarily of layers of kraft paper and synthetic resins.

Laminate countertop

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

What Quartz Countertops Are

Quartz counters are a blend of several materials, mostly minerals. They are made with 90-percent or more 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.

Quartz countertop material is homogeneous; it is the same throughout the entire thickness of the countertop.

Quartz countertop

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Comparing Appearances

Both laminate and quartz countertops 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. Quartz counters can cost $95 or per square foot, though more economical quartz products are available for $50 to $75 per square foot.

Laminate countertops range 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 weak point. 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 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 or singed laminate cannot be repaired.

Do-It-Yourself Installation

Nearly all quartz counters and a majority of laminate counters of quality are professionally installed. It is difficult for homeowners to develop the skill set needed to fabricate and install quartz countertops. Once the learning curve has been established for quartz countertops, the installation is, by that point, finished.

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. While you'll have fewer options, it's also possible to purchase laminate that's pre-attached to the MDF, complete with rolled edges or edge banding.