Worktops - How To Choose

In deciding what kind of worktop I should get for my kitchen, I used the following criteria, in no particular order of importance:

- Resists heat, stains, scratches

- Easy to maintain

- Durable

- Beautiful

- Affordable

A note about "affordable". I am using that term in the subjective sense here -- "affordable" does not equate to "cheap" or "expensive" per se.

Our acrylic worktop is affordable, durable, pretty, easy to maintain


To me, a worktop that costs $4,000 but lasts a lifetime is cheaper than another that costs $1,000 but lasts only 10 years, all other things being equal.

If the worktop is easy to maintain, looks good, and lasts a long time -- that worktop is affordable to me. I am pretty laid-back and hate to expend time, effort and money to replace a functional worktop when it is serving its purpose well day-in, day-out. So in that sense the $4,000 worktop is affordable to me, the $1,000 worktop is not. Not because of price, but because of my value system.

Thus someone who values the latest trend or latest innovation in worktops will find the $1,000 worktop "more" affordable because he will probably replace his worktop within 5 years. Sure, he too can afford to buy the $4,000 worktop -- but price is not the issue here. The term "value for money" encapsulates the idea.

Granite, Silestone, Slate & Other Stones

Initially I was drawn to granite: it is beautiful, hard-wearing, and long-lasting. Or so I thought.

Not so, said users who have had used granite worktops. Reason? Granite is not a homogeneous stone, there are fissures and areas of high stress in the rock. Some users reported their granite tops developed cracks after about 5-8 years of usage. Therefore hot pots and pans should not be placed directly onto the granite worktop, but on trivets or other protection placed atop the granite surface.

Also, contrary to what I thought -- granite is porous! Simple test: pour water on a granite floor, wait a few minutes and then wipe off the excess water. You will see the granite tile become much darker than another adjoining tile that is dry. That is because water was absorbed by the granite tile when you poured water onto it.

Owing to its porosity, the granite dealer advised me not to use any chemical to clean the granite floor, just plain clean water will do.

Likewise, granite worktops may absorb stains depending on how porous that particular area is. Depending on luck, you may get a top which is impervious and that is fine. In any event, granite used in worktops should be sealed and maintained regularly, with re-sealing once every 5-6 months to maintain the worktop in pristine condition.

Silestone offers the least maintenance, but not everybody like the colors or patterns available, although the premium range looks real beautiful to me. Locally the range is limited, however. Silestone is very pricey, more expensive than granite for the premium range. Those who don't like it said it looks similar to terrazoo stone while others reported the joints split after some years.

I shall not go into slate, sandstone or other natural stones that are also used for worktops.

Acrylics

Corian, like other acrylic-based worktops, has its share of maintenance issues too. They stain badly. If you don't believe, rub tumeric powder or yellow ginger onto the surface, then try to clean off the stain after 5-10 minutes. Also, some users experienced rings on the top after placing hot pots and pans directly on the surface.

Hence, acrylics' maintenance is no more arduous than natural stones', probably less as no regular re-sealing is required. As for heat and stains, the care needed to maintain the worktop in pristine condition is the same as natural stones. Acrylics however is softer than natural stones and scratches more easily. That same hardness attribute makes it easier to remove scratches too.

When we first installed our Corian worktop 20 years ago we didn't know better, and believed everything the product literature said. Such as "heat-resistant" which we took to mean we could carelessly place hot objects on the worktop. Or "stain-resistant", which meant we didn't have to wipe off curry-paste spills immediately.

One other point: acrylic worktop like Corian may "yellow" with time, particularly if your worktop is a lighter color such as cream or white. My old worktop was a light sand color: it showed its age after 9-10 years. Darker patches also developed with time near the microwave oven, probably as a result of placing hot containers there after taking them out of the microwave.

Acrylic worktop made-to-order and custom-fitted to cabinet base


Sinks moulded from one piece Corian or acrylic top? That used to be the rage a decade ago. Few now go for that, as the sink encounters stains and is difficult to maintain its original clean look, especially after one has poured hot coffee followed by ice cubes into the sink. That comment came from users who have had sinks moulded in Corian or other acrylic polymers in a one-piece worktop.

Others

Solid glass worktop seems to be a recent innovation, similar to Silestone. However, worktop glass needs to be custom-ordered and the kitchen skilfully designed to bring out glass' appeal (read: lighting techniques). Locally, I believe glass worktops are not available yet because special installation skills are required.

Some use cement worktops successfully, some use tiles, Formica, even stainless steel. Others use solid wood worktops such as those from Ikea which are beautiful but seem to have been surpassed in popularity by acrylics and natural stone.



Summing Up

Now, after looking at several different materials for the kitchen workshop and their attributes -- such as solid glass, solid wood, granite, marble, acrylics, silestone, cement, tiles, etc -- I finally decided on a simple acrylic worktop for my new kitchen.

Acrylic worktop is easily lifted up without damage to underlying cabinet base


Why so? Well, let me share my findings, which are by no means exhaustive. They may also not be applicable in your case, because of differing values, as mentioned earlier. So no offense intended!

Resistance to stain, heat, scratches -- No single worktop material meets all three requirements satisfactorily e.g. acrylics are affected to some degree by heat, stain, and scratches -- despite what the promotional blurbs say.

Even Silestone, which requires least maintenance, needs careful placement of hot pots and pans to avoid thermal stress. The following was extracted from a leading US producer of Silestone under its Care and Maintenance section:

QUOTE:

CAUTION

The following will harm Silestone Quartz: Drano®, Liquid Plumr®, oven cleaners and floor strippers. Do NOT use these or any other harsh chemicals on your Silestone surface.

CAUTION

Do NOT use crock pots or electric skillets while in direct contact with your Silestone surfaces. Always place them on a trivet or cutting board to protect your countertop. (Review your electric appliance manual as a reference.) Silestone is a stone product. As with any natural stone, certain exposure to heat may cause cracks due to thermal shock.

UNQUOTE

Durability, beauty, easy to maintain -- All worktops, no matter what material they are made of, are beautiful and durable, provided care is taken in maintaining them.

That means:

- don't place hot pots and pans directly on the worktop surface

- wipe up stains and liquids on the worktop surface immediately

- clean, dry, and polish the worktop surface at the end of the day

- if sealing is mandated, apply sealer regularly as recommended by the dealer

Given the above, my conclusion is an acrylic-based worktop. It requires no more (in fact, less) maintenance and care than worktops of natural stones or other materials, yet is as beautiful and durable as the others.

And since I cannot find any unique benefit in using Corian over other acrylic worktops, I simply went for a custom-made acrylic worktop produced by Asuka, a local factory.

Judge for yourself whether the worktop looks more or less beautiful than Corian


To us the acrylic worktop looks the same as any other acrylic-based worktop such as Corian. Value for money indeed !

ADDENDUM
13-May-08 : After reaching home from shopping at Sheng Siong, we placed the plastic grocery bags onto the acrylic worktop, prior to putting away the groceries for storage. After storing the groceries, we cleared the plastic bags and found to our surprise that the worktop was stained with the blue dye from one of the printed grocery bags that had lain directly on the worktop.

We tried using soap, and when that failed to remove the stain, we used Lemon Pledge that was recommended by the worktop guys previously. The blue stain came off a bit but did not disappear entirely. Finally we tried thinner, and viola! the stain was removed.

So keep a bottle of thinner that may be purchased from any hardware shop in the kitchen.



Interesting Read

Source: www.chowhound.com

Below are just two samples of comments posted by industry experts on the materials of worktops:

2. MakingSense May 16, 2007 10:12PM

Interesting thread about choices of countertops. We sell all three types, granite, quartz and solid surface (corian type).

Granite always wins the beauty contest, till one of the polyester colors gets noticed. About half of the visitors at a home and garden show will think it is granite. Good granite can be a good countertop, if you do your homework on the types available and are careful who you get to fabricate it. Heat however will occasionally crack a granite top, the local big box stores have placards warning of this, and it has been our experience as well, so we warn customers not to put hot pots on their top. Usually the crack occurs as the top cools. Some have posted on the heat sink abilities of stone, which causes it to expand locally while the rest of the top isn't moving. This sets up stresses that will cause a crack on occasion, especially in highly fissured materials.

Some mentioned the resined products, which have acrylic resins, the same as in solid surface, spread on one or both sides. Usually this is done to bring an unsuitable stone to market, because of cheapness or beauty of that particular vein. One thing to watch out for is an unscrupulous fabricator staining the edge of the resined tops in an attempt to get it to match the rest of the stone. It does wear off with time.

Make sure your granite is rodded both front and back of all cutouts. This isn't to prevent cracking, it won't, it is to hold the pieces together so the installer can patch it.

One in five tops gets broken prior to installation, one of the reasons why no one will warranty granite tops.

Make sure they use sink clips, not just epoxy for the sink mounting. The cross members are even better, but the clips are still installed by the best shops.

Staining, so many stones, so many degrees of tolerance by customers and so many standards of neatness by homeowners and cooks. We recommend that customers save the beautiful granite top for when the kids leave home. Too many pizza boxes get left out with kids in the house, peanut butter, anything with an oil base will mark the tops if it is not quickly wiped up. Most reputable stone sites will tell you this on their care and maintenance pages.

Two of the most notorious warnings about granite are radon and bacteria. Some say the radon is over rated, and it is just about what you would get from watching tv for eight hours, or sitting at a computer screen for the same, but the Chinese govt has classified granite into three grades, A, B, and C. The A grade have a small enough amount to put inside homes, the B's have more radioactivity and can be used in public buildings in moderation. The C grades are bad enough that they must be used only on exteriors of buildings. The Chines govt bans the export of A grade, if I remember correctly, so check the source of your granite carefully. There is a study online on Springer link if anyone is interested.

The bacteria, well that depends on who you ask. The stone industry latched onto a study done a couple of years ago by a stainless steel group that had stone ranked second in cleanability. Once you read the fine print, it actually a study of kill rates of bacteria on surfaces. Stainless and stone had higher kill rates, or worded another way, they had higher numbers of bacteria on them after being inoculated with bacteria, and when sanitized they rinsed off more dead bacteria than other surfaces.

The MIA, a stone group, redid the study in such a way that granite "won" the test, and have been publishing this everywhere. The first study, however left out not only solid surface (corian) but quartz surfaces, the market leaders in tops, and chose other materials that have less than eight percent market share combined. The second study also left out the market leaders of countertops. One should ask why they were left out. Also, do the math after you read the study, it would take 176 gallons of water to rinse off your countertops if you used their method, also they recommend you NOT use their sanitizing method on stone countertops.

Quartz is also not intended for hot pots, our warranty and template sheets all state this clearly, as does the manufacture manuals and warranty sheets. It will also scratch, which are near impossible to remove with out spending a half a day of extremely high priced labor . That said it performs better with kids in the home than granite. It can be damaged by UV, which is not considered a warranty defect, it is expected to change color somewhat as it ages, but watch for putting things like toasters or cannister sets long term, it will leave light or dark spots depending on color. Also listed on the manufacturer sheets is oil, inks, permant markers and high pH cleaners or things like scotchbite or Comet. It is composed of about 35% solid surface with stone chips embeded.

Solid surface is what I put in my kitchen. we work six days a week in the high end kitchen business with little free time for maintenance. Sinks five or six years ago could crack if exposed to ice and boiling water at the same time, but they fixed that about four years ago and now warranty it not to occur. They can be repaired in place or replaced easily. Same with scratches. In six years of selling tops, we have polished out six scratches in solid surface tops, all but one were prior to the homeowner moving into the home. Granite and quartz, well we do not offer scratch removal as it is impractical at best, solid surface scratch removal is free since it takes so little time.

One of the best things about solid surface is it's ability to stay sanitary. It and quartz are approved by the National Sanitation Foundation for food prep, one reason why you won't see too many granite tops in a fast food store. All materials in solid surface are FDA approved, don't believe that quartz or engineered stone can claim that since quartz chips are not FDA approved.

I belong to a group of countertop fabricators that fab and sell all types of materials. We are in the middle of a study on bacteria and materials that focuses on what is left after cleaning, since in our minds that is the important thing. True bacteria and stainless will allow more bacteria to grow, but that is a negative not a positive. So far, the tests have shown that granite ranks poorly if the sealer is worn, but even with new sealer it retains and allows far more growth of bacteria than solid surface. Even after sanitizing, the results show that solid surface was NSF approved for a reason.

Here is a link that supports this, done by microbiology experts. Note the difference between granite and polypropylene when measured with different strains of bacteria, but the important one was raw chicken juice which the granite soaked up three times more than any other surface. The MUSC variety was cultured from chicken breast meat, and is far less dangerous than the EMB cultured from juice.

https://repositorium.sdum.uminho.pt/b...

Good luck on your choice of tops, if cared for and maintained, you will enjoy any of them. Be sure and seal granite often and sanitize even more often.

Carpentershop May 08

====

jean larosa May 08, 2007 06:31PM

1. re: jean larosa

Jean, sorry for the late reply, but get your sealer from the place that you bought your granite from. You don't want to mix the water based sealers and the solvent based sealers. If in doubt, use acetone to strip the old sealer before you reseal.

The big box stores are all about margin on what they sell, not what is best. Your stone fabricator will have a vested interest in selling you a good sealer.

That said, there is one that has been a favorite with many shops. It is called Miracle 511 sealer / enhancer. Another called STT SB is showing quite a following, but it is new. I like the 511 personally, but the new one might do just as well.

Do your research on your type of granite, go to a good stone site first and ask if they recommend sealer on it. Thing you have to watch for is the double talk that many are good at. Some stone guys think that telling people that granite needs sealing is bad for business, others are more interested in making sure they get no callbacks on stains, so they will recommend the sealant.

You can also overseal which is the cause of many customer complaints on granite, people will write that every time they use their stone tops, they leave a new mark. What the real problem turns out is that they have put a coating on a harder surface, the softer of the two will get marked up easily.

Darned if you do and darned if you don't, which is why we recomend solid surface for many families. As long as you understand that granite will stain and look at it as a character mark, distressing so to speak (the rest of the world looks at it this way), can live with less than perfection on the surface, you will enjoy your granite top.

One interesting thing happened on our latest round of testing. The sealed products bred bacteria by a huge factor over unsealed granite. So much so that we are repeating the test to look for errors. Another result that was not going to be appreciated was a microban infused quartz product that performed poorly, very poorly although it grew mostly general coliform bacteria, it grew a lot of them. It will be re tested as well. So much can go wrong when you are dealing with microbiology testing, it pays to retest and be conservative.

2 comments:

Tony said...

Very impressive article! Thanks for sharing this useful information. I own a granite worktops website that might be useful for your visitors. Have a look!

jaz said...

hi there can you share the contact for asuka who made your worktop? my email is jazry.c@gmail.com...thanks!

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