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 material. It is one of the few counter materials that a homeowner can resurface with just an orbital sander.
While visually solid surface 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 comfortably end up after carefully considering its high and low points compared to other materials.
Homogeneous or solid through-out
Easy to buff out scratches
Deformed by high heat
Difficult for DIYers to fabricate
Solid Surface Material: Stable and Homogeneous
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 the term solid has another meaning. Dupont's true intent was to create a surface that was the same from top to bottom, a homogeneous product. This homogeneity is key in the high-abuse environment of a kitchen. With this, there are no layers of laminates that can de-laminate.
A cross-section of solid surface countertop shows that you can keep delving deeper into it and still get the same product. This is essential if you need to repair deep chips and scratches.
Solid Surface and Through-Body Tile
Solid surface's homogeneous nature is sometimes equated with through-body porcelain tile: a type of tile that is made of the same material throughout, from top to bottom. This type of tile is best for high-traffic areas since this quality helps to hide scratches.
- 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: 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.
- Soft: Homeowners who have solid surface countertops should be extra careful to use cutting boards, as solid surface is relatively soft and can be scratched by knives and sharp utensils.
- 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 is typically hotter than hot) and wet pans (such as a pot of pasta with boiling water) should not be placed on a solid surface counter.
- DIY-Difficult: While easier to work with than natural stone or quartz countertops, solid surface material still isn't easy for most do-it-yourselfers to work with.
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 Surface Counters
Polyester-based solid surface counters are less expensive than acrylic-based solid surface counters. Some brands, like Staron, are 100-percent acrylic. Others, like Formica Solid Surfacing material, come in both acrylic and polyester versions.
Polyester solid surface counters tend to impart more vibrant colors than acrylics. Acrylics are great if you need to do any special 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, aluminum 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
- Solid surface installers will have to create a sink cut-out to accommodate the sink. 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 fix and 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.
- Avoid high-speed buffing of solid surface as this can cause the surface to melt.
DIY Solid Surface Countertops
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. It doesn't help that most kitchen countertop materials are difficult to fabricate without special tools and expertise.
However, this is changing. A few online resellers of discontinued and rejected solid surface materials will sell to non-authorized buyers. Plus, some simple fabrication such as cutting straight lines or creating sink cut-outs can be done by do-it-yourselfers.
Even so, professional-grade solid surface is still best left in the hands of professionals. Do-it-yourselfers will find wood or pre-laminated laminate countertops easier to work with.
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:
- Formica Solid Surfacing