How to Choose a Countertop

Choosing a new countertop for your kitchen or bathroom remodel involves careful consideration of factors like functionality, durability, appearance, and cost. With many different countertop materials available, from natural stone and engineered quartz to laminate and tile, selecting the right surface can be overwhelming. Follow this comprehensive guide to learn how to choose a countertop that suits your home and lifestyle.

Determine How You Use Your Countertops

Before selecting a new countertop, think about how your family uses the kitchen or bathroom space. Consider aspects like:

Cooking and Food Prep

If you frequently chop, slice, and cook on your countertops, prioritize a durable surface that can withstand scrapes from utensils, hot pots and pans, and accidental spills. Materials like granite, quartz, and stainless steel offer excellent scratch, heat, and stain resistance.

Avoid porous options like unsealed granite, marble, and wood that require extra care and maintenance to prevent staining and damage. Laminate can also wear and stain over time with heavy usage.

Serving and Eating

Do you often serve meals or eat at a kitchen island or countertop dining area? Choose a countertop material that will hold up to regular use without showing excessive knife marks, scratches, or dents.

Quartz, granite, ceramic, and stainless steel counter surfaces are ideal for dining areas that see a lot of action.

Bathroom Vanities

For bathroom vanity tops that hold sinks and toiletry items, moisture resistance is key. Look for waterproof materials like quartz and solid surface that won’t warp or degrade when exposed to splashes and spills.

Steer clear of wood, laminate, or tile grout, which can be damaged by excess water and humidity over time.

Kids and Pets

Rambunctious kids and active pets can be rough on countertops. Opt for highly durable materials that can withstand impacts, scratches, stains, and heat.

Granite, quartz, and stainless steel provide the best resistance for busy households. Avoid delicate surfaces like marble and soapstone that dent and stain easily.

Consider Maintenance Requirements

Think about how much maintenance you are willing to perform to keep your countertops looking pristine. Some materials are virtually maintenance-free, while others require frequent sealing, polishing, or cleaning.

Low Maintenance

For minimal upkeep, quartz, ceramic, stainless steel, and non-porous granite need only occasional cleaning with soap and water. Pre-sealed granite and hardwood also have low maintenance needs.

Moderate Maintenance

Materials like unsealed granite, marble, soapstone, laminate, and butcher block require re-sealing every 1-2 years to prevent staining and bacteria buildup. Tile grout lines need scrubbing and re-sealing as well.

Be sure to clean spills quickly on moderate maintenance surfaces to avoid permanent damage.

High Maintenance

Surfaces like concrete, wood, and natural stone usually need to be sealed prior to installation. Then, frequent sealing is required 3-4 times per year to keep them protected and looking new. This involves re-applying a sealant regularly.

High-maintenance counters also need daily cleaning and disinfecting to prevent stains, etching, mold growth, and bacteria.

Factor in Durability

Consider how well each material withstands everyday wear and tear:

Most Durable

Quartz and granite resist scratches, impacts, heat, and stains. Stainless steel is easy to clean, sanitize, and won’t dent. Tile is durable with proper installation and sealant.

Medium Durability

Laminate stands up fairly well but can bubble, peel, or become damaged over time. Natural stone other than granite can etch and stain. Concrete needs frequent sealing.

Least Durable

Materials like marble, limestone, travertine, and soapstone will readily stain, scratch, and dent with regular use. Wood also dents and requires frequent oiling.

The more durable the material, the better it will hold up long-term. This helps you avoid costly repairs or replacements.

Consider Appearance and Style

Selecting a countertop is also an aesthetic choice that impacts your kitchen or bath decor. Consider the style you want to achieve and how well each material suits it:

Modern Look

Sleek surfaces like quartz, solid surface, concrete, laminate, and stainless steel create a contemporary vibe. Glass, metal, and mosaic tile can also look modern.

Rustic Charm

Butcher block, reclaimed wood, concrete, and travertine offer rustic warmth. Slate tile and textured surfaces like limestone also achieve this style.

Traditional Elegance

Marble, granite, ceramic tile, and hardwood suit traditional kitchens. Soapstone and slate evoke an old-world feel.

Eclectic Mix

For an eclectic look, mix countertop materials, colors, and textures. Combine wood, tile, and granite, or stainless steel with quartz.

Be sure to view large samples in different lighting to get an accurate impression of each material’s look.

Determine Ease of Repair

Certain countertops materials are easier to repair, refinish, or replace sections than others:

Easiest to Repair

Tile and wood surfaces allow you to readily replace damaged sections. Stainless steel can be refinished by specialists.

Moderate Repairability

Solid surface, laminate, and concrete need pros for seamless repairs. Granite and quartz often cannot be spot repaired.

Hardest to Repair

Seamless repairs are impossible for most natural stone surfaces. Marble, soapstone, limestone, and travertine surfaces usually need full replacement if damaged extensively.

If you know your family is prone to accidents, opt for an easier to repair material.

Consider Countertop Edges and Finish Options

The edge style impacts the countertop’s durability, ease of cleaning, and overall aesthetic:

Straight Edge

A minimalist square edge works well for floating, modern looks in tile, laminate, stainless steel, and quartz. It offers a sleek, streamlined appearance.

Beveled Edge

Angling the countertop edge is a simple detail that adds dimension. It works for island counters and helps prevent chipping.

Bullnose Edge

A rounded bullnose profile has a vintage appeal suitable for ceramic and porcelain tiles. It creates a smooth, safe edge.

Ogee Edge

This elegant, S-shaped curved profile is often seen on granite and marble tops. It has a classical look perfect for ornate styles.

Eased or Pencil Edge

Softening the sharp corner with a slight curve gives a transitional edge style. It prevents snagging and works on most materials.

There are also many finish options like polished, honed, flamed, and leathered. Research choices to complement your design scheme.

Compare Costs of Countertop Materials

Countertop prices vary widely based on material, custom sizing, edge profiles, and more:


Laminate, ceramic and porcelain tile, and prefab stainless steel offer affordable options under $50 per square foot installed.


Materials like granite, quartz, concrete, wood, and some stone cost $50-$150 installed. Look for remnant pieces to save.


For luxury options like marble, semi-precious stone, and exotic wood expect to pay $150-$250 per square foot installed.

Measure your existing space and get quotes to determine total project costs. Factor in labor, demolition, installation, and accessories too.

Choose an Experienced Countertop Installer

Proper installation is crucial to getting a long-lasting, flawless countertop surface. Ask potential fabricators:

  • How many years of experience do you have with my material?
  • Are you certified in installation standards for my material?
  • Can you provide references from recent jobs using my material?
  • Do you offer warranty on the fabrication and installation?

Verify licenses, insurance, and training. Read reviews and evaluate referrals carefully before hiring. A quality installer helps ensure your satisfaction.

Follow Proper Care and Cleaning Methods

To keep countertops in good condition:

  • Always use cutting boards, trivets, and hot pads instead of cutting or placing hot items directly on the counter.
  • Clean up spills immediately to avoid permanent staining or etching.
  • For stone and wood, seal regularly per manufacturer guidelines with a penetrating stone sealer.
  • Avoid abrasive cleaners or scouring pads which can scratch surfaces.
  • Clean with mild soap and water. Disinfect stone and wood using diluted vinegar or stone cleaner.
  • For materials like quartz and laminate, follow manufacturer care instructions.

With proper installation and routine care, your countertops can stay beautiful for decades.

Frequently Asked Questions About Choosing Countertops

Choosing new countertops can be confusing. Here are answers to the most common questions:

Is quartz or granite better for kitchen countertops?

Quartz resist stains and scratches better than granite. But granite offers unique natural patterns. Both provide excellent durability for busy kitchens. Choose based on maintenance needs, cost, and visual preference.

What is the most durable material for kitchen countertops?

Quartz is the most durable overall. It withstands stains, scratches, impacts, and heat better than granite, solid surface, laminate, wood, or tile. Granite is another highly durable option.

Which countertop material is best for resale value?

Natural stone like granite and quartz have the best resale value. They maintain appeal over trends. Tile, stainless, and solid surface are also good choices. Avoid niche or overly customized materials.

Can you repair cracks in quartz countertops?

It’s difficult. Small chips or surface damage may be buffed out by a pro. But cracks or deep scratches usually mean replacing the damaged section. Avoid excessive weight and impacts.

What is the least expensive countertop material?

Post-form laminate and ceramic tile provide the most budget-friendly options. Expect to pay $20-$50 per sq. ft. installed. Careful installation is key to getting long life from low-cost materials.

How thick should kitchen countertops be?

Granite and quartz countertops should be 1 1⁄4” to 2” thick for residential kitchens. Laminate is typically 1⁄2” thick. Tile tops range from 3⁄4” to 11⁄4” thick. Thicker surfaces are more durable and lie flatter.

How much do new granite countertops cost?

Expect to pay $60-$150 per square foot for granite countertop installation. The final cost depends on slab quality, edge profile, custom cutting, and local labor rates. Granite requires professional installation for lasting durability.


The ideal kitchen or bathroom countertop material meets your needs for appearance, performance, and cost. Consider how you use the space, maintenance requirements, durability, style, ease of repair, edges and finishes, and total project budget. Consult a countertop pro to view material samples in your home lighting and get an accurate installed price estimate before deciding. With an informed choice that suits your lifestyle, you can enjoy beautiful, functional countertops that last for many years.