Laminate Countertop Review: Pros and Cons


Laminate countertops have become an increasingly popular option for kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects in recent years. Often referred to as “plastic laminate” or “formica” countertops, laminate provides an affordable alternative to pricier natural stone or quartz countertops. But how do laminate countertops really stack up? What are the main pros and cons of choosing laminate over other countertop materials?

This comprehensive laminate countertop review covers everything you need to know about laminate countertops. Below you’ll find an overview of laminate countertop pros and cons, prices, styles, colors, edges, thickness, grades, care and maintenance, durability, and more. With all the facts, you’ll be able to decide if laminate is the right choice for your next countertop installation or replacement project.

What are Laminate Countertops?

Laminate countertops, also known as plastic laminate or formica countertops, consist of several layers fused together under heat and pressure. The main layers are:

  • Plastic Resin Layer – This top layer provides the color, pattern, and glossy finish. It’s usually made from melamine resin, a durable plastic that resists scratches, stains, heat, and moisture.
  • Kraft Paper Layers – These inner layers provide stability and reinforce the resin layer. The kraft paper is soaked in phenolic resin.
  • Substrate – This bottom layer is typically made of plywood, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), or particleboard. It provides structural support.

The layers are stacked, pressed, and bonded using heat and pressure to create a solid, seamless countertop surface. The resin layer is about 1/16″ thick, while the finished laminate sheet is around 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick. Standard widths are 12”, 24”, 30” and 36”. Custom fabrication is done to create countertops of any length and shape.

Laminate Countertop Pros

There are many benefits that make laminate a top choice among budget-conscious homeowners and renters.

Affordable Cost

The top advantage of laminate countertops is the low cost compared to most other countertop materials. Here’s a pricing comparison:

  • Laminate countertops cost $20-$35 per sq.ft. installed.
  • Granite countertops average $60-$100 per sq.ft. installed.
  • Quartz countertops range from $70-$120 per sq.ft. installed.
  • Solid surface acrylic or Corian countertops cost $40-$100 per sq.ft. installed.
  • Butcher block or wood countertops average $60-$100 per sq.ft. installed.
  • Tile countertops run $40-$100 per sq.ft. for materials and installation.

Laminate provides big savings, allowing you to get an updated kitchen or bath on a limited budget. The material cost for basic laminate runs just $5-$15 per sq.ft. The bulk of the expense is fabrication and installation.

You can save even more with DIY installation. Pre-fab laminate countertops with backsplash start around $10 per linear foot, making DIY updates very budget-friendly.

Easy Maintenance

Routine cleaning and care is easy for laminate countertops. The durable melamine resin surface resists stains, moisture, scratches, heat, and most household chemicals.

To clean laminate counters, simply wipe with a soft sponge or cloth and mild soap and water. For tougher stains, use a general household cleaner. Avoid abrasive scrub pads or cleaners that can dull the surface.

Minor scratches can be buffed out with fine steel wool. Re-sealing or re-surfacing is never required, unlike solid surface countertops. The low maintenance needs of laminate make it ideal for families, kids, rentals, and resale homes.

Wide Range of Colors & Patterns

Laminate offers one of the widest selections of colors, patterns, and realistics available. Formica now offers over 300 different options!

Popular laminate styles include:

  • Solids – Available in virtually any color including popular whites, grays, tans, blues, greens, reds, pinks, and blacks. Matte finishes help hide scratches and fingerprints.
  • Patterns – Many woodgrain patterns like oak, cherry, and maple provide the look of real wood at a fraction of the cost. Unique patterns like marble, granite, and stone are also available.
  • Realistics – These laminates mimic natural materials very closely. Formica now offers over 50 different realistic patterns including varieties of granite, quartz, marble, and stone.
  • Metallics – Glossy laminates with aluminum, stainless steel, copper, and other metal looks add style and contemporary appeal.

With laminate, it’s easy to find a color scheme that matches your decor, appliances, floors, and backsplash. Coordinating edging and backsplash laminates complete the integrated look.

Quick & Easy Installation

Laminate countertops are designed for fast and easy installation compared to other countertop materials that require extensive fabrication. Pre-cut lengths are joined together using metal brackets or battens.

The lightweight laminate sheets can be installed right over existing countertops in many cases, saving time and demolition costs. The total DIY installation time is about 2-3 days for the average kitchen.

Even professionally installed laminate countertops can typically be completed in just 1-2 days. This allows minimal disruption to your home and quick return to normal kitchen or bath use. Quick installation is especially advantageous for rental units or other projects facing time constraints.

Heat and Scratch Resistant

The melamine resin used in laminate countertops provides excellent resistance to most daily wear and tear. Laminate stands up well to scratches, dings, stains, heat, moisture, and typical household chemical cleaners.

The resin surface is about twice as hard and scratch-resistant as wood. Laminate won’t scorch from hot pans like solid surface can. The heat tolerance is 350°-400° Fahrenheit for short durations.

Minor scratches can be minimized by using a buffing block or ultra-fine steel wool. However, deep cuts will remain. The durable surface makes laminate a smart choice for family kitchens or laundry rooms.

Wide Array of Edge Styles

Finish the look of your laminate countertop with the edge detail of your choice. Edge options include:

  • Flat Edge – A flat, 90° edge with square corners.
  • Bullnose Edge – A gently rounded finished edge.
  • Beveled Edge – Angled from the top at about a 45° slope.
  • Ogee Edge – An elegant convex “S” shaped profile.

Edges can be finished smoothly or with decorative routings. Built-up edges may be used for a thicker appearance if desired. The front edge can be finished differently than the backsplash or any open ends.

Laminate Countertop Cons

While laminate counters offer many benefits, there are some potential drawbacks to consider as well.

Vulnerable to Impact Damage

The resin layer over wood-product core leaves laminate prone to chipping or delamination if subjected to heavy impact. Dropping a heavy object on a corner or edge can cause damage. Over time, excessive impact can lead to cracks or peeling.

Use cutting boards instead of slicing directly on the counter to prevent accidental knife cuts. Damage and delamination typically can’t be repaired – affected areas need replacement. Use placemats and trivets to help absorb impacts and prevent cracking along the edges.

Joints May Be Visible

The seams where laminate sheets are joined may be visible, creating obvious countertop joints in some installations. Seam placement and neatness in fabrication helps minimize the appearance of joints.

Opting for postformed laminate with molded edges can provide a more seamless look. Using dark edging or decorative trim where joints meet can also make seams less noticeable. In comparison, granite, quartz, concrete, and other countertops appear seamless.

Potential for Bacteria Growth

The porous kraft paper inner layer of laminate can allow moisture penetration along sinks, backsplashes, and edges. This moisture trapped underneath the laminate surface can potentially harbor bacteria and mold growth.

Good caulking and sealants during installation help reduce moisture access. Annual inspections and re-caulking along the backsplash, sinks, and edges where water may splash can limit problems. Using laminate edging with a cleanout option can also allow any inside moisture to escape.

Short Lifespan Compared to Other Materials

The average expected lifespan of laminate countertops is 10-15 years with proper care and maintenance. More expensive countertops like quartz (15-20 years), granite (40+ years), solid surface (25+ years), or natural stone (100+ years) generally last longer than laminate before needing replacement.

However, the lower upfront cost of laminate makes it economical to replace one or more times as trends change or you prepare to sell your home. Plus you can extend the lifespan by adding new edging or opting for laminate overlay installation.

Limited Heat Tolerance

While laminate stands up reasonably well to typical cooking heats, the resin surface can become damaged if extremely hot pans are left directly on the surface. The maximum heat resistance is about 350°-400° Fahrenheit.

Avoid putting very hot pots, baking sheets, etc. directly on laminate counters. Using trivets, hot pads, and burner covers helps prevent scorching or other heat damage. Minor heat blisters may be able to be sanded out. But extensive overheating can lead to cracks or peeling that require replacement.

Can Develop a Worn, Dated Look Over Time

After 10-15 years, heavier use laminate countertops often start to show their age. The glossy resin top layer may appear dull, scratched, or discolored. Dark or unrealistic stone patterns can start to look obviously outdated compared to new laminate choices.

Switching to an updated, modern laminate pattern after a decade or so can provide a fresh facelift. Simple DIY resurfacing with new laminate sheets over existing counters is also an option to avoid full replacement. Taking extra care and using scratch-resistant mats from day one helps maintain the best look.

Not Environmentally Friendly

Laminate is made from plastics and resins which are not considered environmentally sustainable materials. However, landfill impact is low since most laminate can be recycled.

Laminate manufacturers are working to provide greener options such as recycled resin layers and FSC-certified kraft paper from responsibly managed forests. These eco-options are still limited but growing.

Difficult Repairs & Modifications

Unlike solid surface, it’s not possible to sand out scratches or dings that go through the resin layer on laminate countertops. Cutting or altering laminate for sink openings or cooktop cutouts after installation is also difficult and often leads to cracks or chipping.

Careful measurements, template use, and proper installation techniques ensure a quality fit with laminate. Repair options are very limited, so take care to prevent damage and improper cutting during remodeling. Replacing damaged sections or entire countertop may be needed in extreme cases.

Prices: How Much Do Laminate Countertops Cost?

On average, expect to pay $20-$50 per sq.ft. for laminate countertops including professional materials, fabrication, delivery, and installation. Total costs depend on the quality, edge treatments, preparation needs, and other factors.

Here’s an overview of what’s included in typical laminate countertop costs:

  • Materials – Basic economy-grade laminates cost $5-$15 per sq.ft. Mid-range patterned laminates run $15-$25 per sq.ft. Top-tier designer laminates can reach $25-$40 per sq.ft. Any special order colors or sizes add cost.
  • Fabrication & Cutting – Professional cutting, joining, edging, and fabrication averages $15-$25 per sq.ft. More complex shapes or edge details add to costs.
  • Installation – Count on spending $5-$15 per sq.ft for pro installation. Basic countertop removal and disposal adds $2-$6 per sq.ft. New base cabinet installations average $70-$100 per linear ft.
  • Other Costs – Factor in local sales tax on materials plus any sink cutouts, plumbing modifications, and permits required. Expect to spend an extra 5%-15% for those additional services and fees. Transport fees may apply for delivery.

In addition to the per square foot price, there is usually a minimum job or trip charge. Small jobs under about 40 sq.ft. will carry a flat rate around $800-$1200.

For DIY installations using prefab laminate sheets, costs start around $10-$20 per linear foot including all materials. DIY costs are 50%-75% less than pro installation.

Factors That Impact Cost

Several factors influence the total price of laminate countertops:

  • Basic vs. Premium Laminate – Low-end economy laminate grades cost $5-$10 per sq.ft. while top-tier designers grades range from $25-$40 per sq.ft. Prices typically align with quality.
  • Simple vs. Complex Fabrication – Straight countertop lengths with standard depth are least expensive. Custom shapes, edges, built-up widths, and cutouts add to fabrication time and costs.
  • Kitchen vs. Bathroom – Kitchen countertops require more material due to larger surface area. However, bathrooms often need more detailed fabrication.
  • DIY vs. Professional Install – DIY prefab laminate countertops cost about 50% less than professional fabrication and installation.
  • Market Costs – Material and construction costs are generally highest in major metro areas like San Francisco and New York City.

Get free estimates from at least 3 pros before starting any laminate countertop project. Be sure all bids are based on the same specifications and materials.

Laminate Countertop Grades & Quality

Laminate countertops are available in a range of quality grades from economy to premium:

Economy Grade Laminate

  • Thinnest surface layer and core (1/16” resin layer over 1/2” particleboard or MDF)
  • Limited color and pattern options
  • Shorter warranties (1-5 years)
  • Prone to wear and tear
  • Cost per sq.ft: $5 – $10

Standard Grade Laminate

  • Standard 1/16”-1/8” resin layer over 3/4″ particleboard or MDF
  • Wide range of patterns including woodgrains and solids
  • Mid-range warranties (5-10 years)
  • Most popular choice for baths and kitchens
  • Cost per sq.ft: $10 – $25

Designer or Premium Grade Laminate

  • Thicker 1/8”-1/4″ resin layer provides depth and dimension
  • Largest pattern selection including realistics
  • Best durability and scratch resistance
  • Longest warranties (10+ years)
  • Cost per sq.ft: $25 – $50

Commercial Grade Laminate

  • Thickest resin layer (1/4″) with maximum durability
  • Made for heavy use in restaurants, labs, etc
  • High impact resistance
  • Cost per sq.ft: $30 – $75

When pricing laminate counters, look at sample chips to determine the quality grade. Check warranties and resin thickness. Paying a little more for commercial grade ensures the best durability and longevity in high-traffic kitchens.

Popular Laminate Countertop Colors

Laminate comes in every color imaginable. Here are some of the most popular laminate countertop color choices:

  • Whites – Clean, bright white laminate is a top choice for modern kitchens and pairs well with any color accents. Popular options include winter white, Antarctica, ivory, snowdrift, and cream.
  • Grays – On-trend gray laminates look especially sleek and contemporary. Favorites include carbon, steel, thundercloud, charcoal, and raincloud.
  • Beiges – Warm, natural beiges like fawn, tan, bisque, and sand complement traditional or farmhouse decors.
  • Blues – Cool blue laminates add soothing style. Look for new denim hues along with deeper navies and sky blues.
  • Greens – Earthy greens like sage bring the outdoors in. Emerald and lighter sea glass greens add brilliance.
  • Browns – Classic brown laminate options range from dark chocolate to light caramel. Pair with stone and wood looks.
  • Black – Striking black countertops make a sophisticated style statement in modern kitchens. Use glossy finish for maximum drama.

Along with solids, faux stone patterns like marble and granite remain go-to laminate styles. Woodgrain patterns also continue to be popular.

Thickness & Postforming

Two standard thicknesses of laminate sheets are used for countertops:

  • 1/16” Thick – Most economy or standard residential laminates are about 0.06” (1/16”). They offer an affordable option, but one that’s also more prone to damage compared to thicker versions.
  • 1/8” Thick – Premium or commercial grade laminates are typically 0.120” (1/8”). The additional thickness provides extra impact protection and longer wear. 1/8″ laminate costs $2-$5 more per sq.ft. than 1/16″ versions.

Postformed countertops provide thickness along the front edge using a curved laminate sheet. This gives the look of a built-up edge and helps hide seams or gaps. Postforming averages $3-$8 more per