Solid Surface Countertop Basics to Know Before You Buy

Solid Surface Countertop
Solid surface countertops are popular in bathrooms, as well as in kitchens. Ivan Hunter/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Solid surface countertops have been around for over 50 years now and are a mainstay in kitchens and bathrooms. What might have once been considered trendy is now so established that few countertop materials, except for quartz, have managed to achieve the same status.

Solid surface is a perfect mid-range countertop material. Buyers not interested in laminate but still looking for an affordable countertop often gravitate to solid surface.

It is one of the few counter materials that a homeowner can resurface with just an orbital sander. While visually it lacks the depth of real stone or even quartz, it does resemble stone far more than laminate does. Solid surface is where a lot of countertop buyers naturally end up after carefully considering its high and low points compared to other materials.

What Solid Means in the World of Solid Surfaces

Solid surface materials began with DuPont's Corian. The idea behind its invention was to have a surface that looked reasonably like natural stone, but unlike stone, would be non-porous. When you slice granite open, you will see a wild, chaotic conglomeration of particles forming the slab. While this is beautiful, it offers multiple avenues for cracking and breaking.

The word solid in solid-surface reinforces the idea that this is a stable base, unlike bouncy laminates which are mounted on medium-density fiberboard.

But solid has another, more important, meaning. Dupont's true intent was to create a surface that was the same from top to bottom, a homogeneous product. A cross-section of solid surface shows that you can keep delving deeper into it and still get the same product, and this is essential in terms of damage repair.

 

Pros and Cons

Solid surface has many benefits:

  • Nearly Non-Porous: No surface is completely non-porous, but tile, quartz, and solid surface come as close to being non-porous as any countertop material. Solid surface's extremely low porosity keeps bacteria away, promoting a cleaner and more sanitary countertop.
  • Homogeneous: Unlike laminate or ceramic tile, solid surface's material goes all the way through, from top to bottom. As a result, it visually fares better after impact than a multi-layered product like laminate.
  • Easy to Repair: Yes, solid surface will scratch if you cut on it. But with an orbital sander and fine grain sandpaper, even the homeowner can sand down scratches.

Yet solid surface is not perfect. Some of its downsides include:

  • Weak (Impact, Scratches): Homeowners who have solid surface countertops should be extra careful to use cutting boards, as solid surface is relatively soft and can mar.
  • Heat Deformation: Solid surface can hold up against boiling water's temperature of 212 F. But some solid surfaces will begin to deform at temperatures not much higher than that (250 F). This means that hot, dry pans (such as a frying pan), which are typically hotter than hot, wet pans (such as a pot of pasta in boiling water) should not be placed on a solid surface counter.

    Solid Surface vs. Other Countertop Materials

    Cooks are restless, always searching for the perfect countertop material. The stainless steel counters of restaurant kitchens are highly valued by professionals but are not cost-effective or practical in residential kitchens. Solid surface is affordable by a majority of homeowners.

    Others such as wood and ceramic tile have limitations. Wood is porous, hard to clean, and can develop a slimy feel. Ceramic tile, on an individual basis, is hard and non-porous. But when installed in numbers, grouted seams make food preparation more difficult. Except for invisibly welded seams, solid surface is smooth all the way across.

    Expensive and prone to cracking, even the popular granite and marble options are far from perfect. Solid surface will never experience the same through-body cracks that sometimes affect natural stone.

    Laminate surfaces such as Formica are a sandwich of paper or fabric impregnated with resin, all of that glued onto particleboard. Laminate easily chips and its appearance lacks depth.

    Acrylic vs. Polyester Solid Surfaces

    Polyester-based solid surface counters are cheaper but are considered inferior to newer acrylic-based counters. Some brands, like Staron, are 100 percent acrylic. Others, like Formica Solid Surfacing material, might be either acrylic or polyester.

    Polyesters tend to impart more vibrant colors than acrylics. Acrylics are great if you need to do any fancy fabrication work, like thermoforming.

    Solid Surface Composition

    Solid surface countertops are about 33 percent binding resins and 66 percent minerals. Those minerals are a bauxite derivative, aluminium trihydrate (ATH). ATH is a kind of fine, white powder that helps solid surface maintain its smooth consistency.

    Contrast this with quartz counters, which are about 10 percent resins and the rest minerals. These minerals sometimes include marble and granite industrial waste and even ground-up mirrors and glass.

    Solid Surface Counter Tips

    • When the installers come, they will have to create a sink cut-out. Request that they turn that waste cut-out piece into a cutting board by sanding down the edges and top surface. Most installers will oblige. 
    • You can resurface solid surface counters yourself by beginning with fine grain sandpaper, such as #220, on an orbital sander. Work progressively higher to finer grains. Many fabricators like to finish by sanding with a Scotch-Brite pad.
    • Can you build your own solid surface counters? For a long time, one downside of solid surfaces was that it was not easy for the do it yourselfer to obtain source materials. You had to be an authorized retailer to purchase many brand name solid surface materials. Plus, nearly all kitchen countertop materials, with the exception of wood, are difficult to fabricate without special tools and expertise. However, this is changing. Some simple fabrication can be done by amateurs, such as cutting straight lines or creating sink cut-outs. Also, there is one online company, SolidSurface.com, that will supply discontinued and reject solid surface materials to non-authorized buyers.

      Solid Surface Brands

      When Dupont's patent expired, other companies rushed in to make Corian substitutes. Along with Corian, other popular brands of solid surface countertop materials include: