Natural Stone Countertop Care Guide

Countertop Care

Care & Cleaning of Natural Stone Surfaces

The natural stone you have purchased is an investment that will give your home or office many years of beautiful service. Simple care and maintenance will help preserve your stone’s beauty for generations to come! 

Care and Precautions:

Use coasters under all glasses, particularly those containing alcohol or citrus juices. Many common foods and drinks contain acids that will etch or dull the surface of many stones. Do not place hot items directly on the stone surface. Use trivets or mats under hot dishes and placemats under china, ceramics, silver or other objects that can scratch the surface.

Cleaning Procedures and Recommendations:

Dust mop interior floors frequently using a clean non-treated dry dust mop. Sand, dirt and grit do the most damage to natural stone surfaces due to their abrasiveness. Mats or area rugs inside and outside an entrance will help to minimize the sand, dirt and grit that will scratch the stone floor. Be sure that the underside of the mat or rug is a non-slip surface. Normally, it will take a person about eight steps on a floor surface to remove sand or dirt from the bottom of their shoes.

Do not use vacuum cleaners that are worn. The metal or plastic attachments or the wheels may scratch the surface.

Clean stone surfaces with a few drops of neutral cleaner, stone soap or a mild liquid dishwashing detergent and warm water. Use a clean rag mop on floors and a soft cloth for other surfaces for best results. Too much cleaner or soap may leave a film and cause streaks. Do not use products that contain lemon, vinegar or other acids on marble or other calcareous stones. Rinse the surface thoroughly after washing with the soap solution and dry with a soft cloth. Change the rinse water frequently. Do not use scouring powders or creams; these products contain abrasives that may scratch the stone.

In the bath or other wet areas, soap scum can be minimized by using a squeegee after each use. To remove soap scum, use a non-acidic soap scum remover or a solution of ammonia and water (about 1/2 cup ammonia to a gallon of water). Frequent or over-use of an ammonia solution may eventually dull the surface of the stone.

Vanity tops may need to have a penetrating sealer applied. Check with your installer for recommendations. A good quality marble wax or non-yellowing automobile paste wax can be applied to minimize water spotting.

In food preparation areas, the stone may need to have a penetrating sealer applied. Check with your installer for recommendations. If a sealer is applied, be sure that it is non-toxic and safe for use on food preparation surfaces. If there is a question, check with the sealer manufacturer.

In outdoor pool, patio or hot tub areas; flush with clear water and use a mild bleach solution to remove algae or moss. 

Know Your Stone:

Natural stone can be classified into two general categories according to its composition: siliceous stone or calcareous stone. Knowing the difference is critical when selecting cleaning products. 

  1. Siliceous Stone is composed mainly of silica or quartz-like particles. It tends to be very durable and relatively easy to clean with mild acidic cleaning solutions. Types of siliceous stone include granite, slate, sandstone, quartzite, brownstone and bluestone.
  2. Calcareous Stone is composed mainly of calcium carbonate. It is sensitive to acidic cleaning products and frequently requires different cleaning procedures than siliceous stone. Types of calcareous stone include marble, travertine, limestone and onyx.

What may work to clean siliceous stone may not be suitable on calcareous surfaces.

How to Tell the Difference:

A simple acid sensitivity test can be performed to determine whether a stone is calcareous or siliceous. You will need about 4oz. of a 10% solution of *muriatic acid and an eyedropper. Or you can use household vinegar and an eyedropper. Because this test may permanently etch the stone, select an out of the way area (a corner or closet) and several inches away from the mortar joint. Apply a few drops of the acid solution to the stone surface on an area about the size of a quarter.

  • If the stone is calcareous, the acid drops will begin to bubble or fizz vigorously.
  • If little or no reaction occurs, the stone can be considered siliceous.

Rinse the area thoroughly with clean water and wipe dry. This test may not be effective if surface sealers or liquid polishes have been applied. If an old sealer is present, chip a small piece of stone away and apply the acid solution to the fractured surface.

*CAUTION: Muriatic acid is corrosive and is considered to be a hazardous substance. Proper head and body protection is necessary when acid is used.  

Stone Finishes:

A polished finish on the stone has a glossy surface that reflects light and emphasizes the color and marking of the material. This type of finish is used on walls, furniture tops and other items, as well as floor tiles.

A honed finish is a satin-smooth surface with relatively little light reflection. Generally, a honed finish is preferred for floors, stair treads, thresholds and other locations where heavy traffic will wear off the polished finish. A honed finish may also be used on furniture tops and other surfaces. 

A flamed finish is a rough-textured surface used frequently on granite floor tiles.

Stone Colors and Appearance:

Granites and marbles are quarried throughout the world in a variety of colors with varying mineral compositions. In most cases, marbles and granites can be identified by visible particles at the surface of the stone. Marble will normally show “veins” or high concentrations. The minerals in granite will typically appear as small flecks distributed uniformly in the stone. Each type of stone is unique and will vary in color, texture and marking.

Sandstones vary widely in color due to different minerals and clays found in the stone. Sandstone is light gray to yellow or red. A dark reddish-brown sandstone, also called brownstone, has commonly been used in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Bluestone is a dense, hard, fine-grained sandstone of greenish-gray or bluish-gray color and is quarried in the eastern United States.

Limestone is a widely used building stone with colors typically light gray, tan or buff. A distinguishing characteristic of many limestones is the presence of fossils that are frequently visible in the stone surface.

Slate is dark green, black, gray, dark red or multi-colored. It is most commonly used as a flooring material and for roof tiles and is often distinguished by its distinct cleft texture.

Spills and Stains: 

Blot the spill with a paper towel immediately. Don’t wipe the area, it will spread the spill. Flush the area with plain water and mild soap, rinse several times. Dry the area thoroughly with a soft cloth. Repeat as necessary. If the stain remains, refer to the Stain Removal instructions.

Stain Removal:

Identifying the type of stain on the stone surface is the key to removing it. If you don’t know what caused the stain, play detective. Where is the stain located? Is it near a plant, a food service area, an area where cosmetics are used? What color is it? What is the shape or pattern? What goes on in the area around the stain?

Surface stains can often be removed by cleaning with an appropriate cleaning product or household chemical. Deep-seated or stubborn stains may require using a poultice or calling in a professional. The following sections describe the types of stains that you may have to deal with and appropriate household chemicals to use and how to prepare and apply a poultice to remove the stain. 

Types of Stains and First Step Cleaning Actions:

  • OIL-BASED (grease, tar, cooking oil, milk, cosmetics): An oil-based stain will darken the stone and normally must be chemically dissolved so the source of the stain can be flushed or rinsed away. Clean gently with a soft liquid cleanser with bleach, a household detergent, ammonia, mineral spirits OR acetone.
  • ORGANIC (coffee, tea, fruit, tobacco, paper, food, urine, leaves, bark, bird dropping): May cause a pinkish-brown stain and may disappear after the source of the stain has been removed. Outdoors – with the sources removed, normal sun and rain action will generally bleach out the stains. Indoors – clean with 12% hydrogen peroxide (hair bleaching strength) and a few drops of ammonia.
  • METAL (iron, rust, copper, bronze): Iron or rust stains are orange to brown in color and follow the shape of the staining object such as nails, bolts, screws, cans, flowerpots, metal furniture. Copper and bronze stains appear as green or muddy-brown and result from the action of moisture on nearby or embedded bronze, copper or brass items. Metal stains must be removed with a poultice. Deep-seated, rusty stains are extremely difficult to remove and the stone may be permanently stained.
  • BIOLOGICAL (algae, mildew, lichens, moss, fungi): Clean with dilute (1/2 cup in a gallon of water) ammonia, bleach, OR hydrogen peroxide. DO NOT MIX BLEACH AND AMMONIA, THIS COMBINATION CREATES A TOXIC AND LETHAL GAS!
  • INK (magic marker, pen, ink): For light-colored stone – clean with bleach or hydrogen peroxide. For dark-colored stone – clean with lacquer thinner or acetone
  • PAINT: Small amounts can be removed with lacquer thinner or scraped off carefully with a razor blade. Heavy paint coverage should be removed only with a commercial “heavy liquid” paint stripper available from hardware stores and paint centers. These strippers normally contain caustic soda or lye. Do not use acids or flame tools to strip paint from stone. Paint strippers can etch the surface of the stone; repolishing may be necessary. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for use of these products, taking care to flush the area thoroughly with clean water. Protect yourself with rubber gloves and eye protection, and work in a well-ventilated area. Use only wood or plastic scrapers for removing the sludge and curdled paint. Normally, latex and acrylic paints will not cause staining. Oil-based paints, linseed oil, putty, caulks and sealants may cause oily stains.
  • WATER SPOTS and RINGS(surface accumulation of hard water): Buff with dry 0000 steel wool.
  • FIRE and SMOKE DAMAGE: Older stones and smoke or fire stained fireplaces may require a thorough cleaning to restore their original appearance. Commercially available “smoke removers” may save time and effort.
  • ETCH MARKS: Caused by acids left on the surface of the stone. Some materials will etch the finish but not leave a stain. Others will both etch and stain. Once the stain has been removed, wet the surface with clear water and sprinkle on marble polishing powder available from a hardware or lapidary store, or your local stone dealer. Rub the powder onto the stone with a damp cloth or by using a buffing pad with a low-speed power drill. Continue buffing until the etch mark disappears and the marble surface shines. Contact your stone dealer or call a professional stone restorer for refinishing or repolishing etched areas that you cannot remove.
  • EFFLORESCENCE: This white powder may appear on the surface of the stone. It is caused by water carrying mineral salts from below the surface of the stone rising through the stone and evaporating. When the water evaporates, it leaves the powdery substance. If the installation is new, dust mop or vacuums the powder. You may have to do this several times as the stone dries out. Do not use water to remove the powder; it will only temporarily disappear. If the problem persists, contact your installer to help identify and remove the cause of the moisture.
  • SCRATCHES and NICKS: Slight surface scratches may be buffed with dry 0000 steel wool. Deeper scratches and nicks in the surface of the stone should be repaired and repolished by a professional.

Making and Using a Poultice

A poultice is a liquid cleaner or chemical mixed with a white absorbent material to form a paste about the consistency of peanut butter. The poultice is spread over the stained area to a thickness of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch with a wood or plastic spatula, covered with plastic and left to work for 24 to 48 hours. The liquid cleaner or chemical will draw out the stain into the absorbent material. Poultice procedures may have to be repeated to thoroughly remove a stain but some stains may never be completely removed. 

Poultice Materials: 

Poultice materials include kaolin, fuller’s earth, whiting, diatomaceous earth, powdered chalk, white molding plaster or talc. Approximately one pound of prepared poultice material will cover one square foot. Do not use whiting or iron-type clays such as fuller’s earth with acid chemicals. The reaction will cancel the effect of the poultice. A poultice can also be prepared using white cotton balls, white paper towels or gauze pads. 

Cleaning Agents or Chemicals:

  • OIL-BASED stains: Poultice with baking soda and water OR one of the powdered poultice materials and mineral spirits.
  • ORGANIC stains: Poultice with one of the powdered poultice materials and 12% hydrogen peroxide solution (hair bleaching strength) OR use acetone instead of the hydrogen peroxide.
  • IRON stains: Poultice with diatomaceous earth and a commercially available rust remover. Rust stains are particularly difficult to remove. You may need to call a professional.
  • COPPER stains: Poultice with one of the powdered poultice materials and ammonia. These stains are difficult to remove. You may need to call a professional.
  • BIOLOGICAL stains: Poultice with dilute ammonia, bleach, OR hydrogen peroxide. *DO NOT MIX AMMONIA AND BLEACH, THIS COMBINATION CREATES A TOXIC AND LETHAL GAS!*

Applying the Poultice:

If using powder, mix the cleaning agent or chemical to a thick paste-like the consistency of peanut butter. 

If using paper, soak in the chemical and let drain. Don’t let the liquid drip.

  1. Wet the stained area with distilled water.
  2. Apply the poultice to the stained area about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick and extend the poultice beyond the stained area by about one inch. Use a wood or plastic scraper to spread the poultice evenly.
  3. Cover the poultice with plastic and tape the edges to seal it.
  4. Allow the poultice to dry thoroughly, usually about 24 to 48 hours. The drying process is what pulls the stain out of the stone and into the poultice material. After about 24 hours, remove the plastic and allow the poultice to dry.
  5. Remove the poultice from the stain, rinse with distilled water and buff dry with a soft cloth. Use the wood or plastic scraper if necessary.
  6. Repeat the poultice application if the stain is not removed. It may take up to five applications for difficult stains.
  7. If the surface is etched by the chemical, apply a polishing powder and buff with burlap or felt buffing pad to restore the surface.

Do’s and Don’ts

DO Dust mop floors frequently

DO Clean surfaces with mild detergent or stone soap

DO Thoroughly rinse and dry the surface after washing

DO Blot up spills immediately

DO Protect floor surfaces with non-slip mats or area rugs and countertops surfaces with coasters, trivets or placemats

DON’T Use vinegar, lemon juice or other cleaners containing acids on marble, limestone, travertine or onyx surfaces

DON’T Use cleaners that contain acids such as bathroom cleaners, grout cleaners or tub and tile cleaners

DON’T Use abrasive cleaners such as dry cleansers or soft cleansers

DON’T Mix bleach and ammonia; this combination creates a toxic and lethal gas

DON’T Ever mix chemicals together unless directions specifically instruct you to do so

Call your professional stone supplier, installer, or restoration specialist for problems that appear too difficult to treat.

5 Favorite Granites for Gorgeous Kitchen Countertops

Article By: Charmean Neithart 

Selecting a countertop material for your kitchen remodel or new build is a big decision. I often encounter clients with a mental block when it comes to making a decision on the numerous considerations, like color and edge detail. Additionally, once the countertop hurdle is over, then there is cabinet selection. 

I like granite and use it often for its durability and its earthy colors that add great texture to a kitchen. I have a few favorites that I have worked with over the years. These granite selections get my stamp of approval because of color, movement and their flexibility in complementing different cabinet styles. Take a look at these countertop selections and how they seamlessly blend with either painted or stain-grade cabinets to make winning combinations. 

1. Bianco Romano

Bianco Romano with painted cabinets. I suggest this granite when I have a homeowner who wants that classic white kitchen. This granite works great with pure white, warm white or beige cabinets. Additionally, nickel or oil-rubbed-bronze hardware works great with all the colors of the stone, which include white, cream, gray and a deep bordeaux.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Bianco Romano with stain-grade cabinets. Due to the warm white, beige and gray palette, this granite works equally as well with stain-grade cabinets. I have seen it work beautifully with walnut and medium oak. 

2. Seafoam Green

Seafoam green with painted cabinets. This granite is just beautiful. The shade of green is earthy, with gray and brown undertones. There are great markings in the stone that look almost geometric to me. This granite works with painted cabinets and satin nickel hardware. I prefer this stone when it is polished. 

Seafoam green with stain-grade cabinets. If you are looking for a rustic or earthy feel for your home, this is a great combination. Add oil-rubbed-bronze or copper fixtures for the perfect lodge experience. 

3. Costa Esmeralda 

Costa Esmeralda with painted cabinets. I first came across this granite when I had a homeowner ask me to create an ocean palette throughout the house. This granite is between green and blue, and of course will vary from batch to batch. The green-blue of the stone blends perfectly with sandy white cabinets and nickel hardware and fixtures. 

Costa Esmeralda with stain-grade cabinets. It’s equally stunning with stain-grade cabinets, for a masculine and warm look. This granite works particularly well in light-filled kitchens; the sunlight highlights the stone’s complex coloring. 

4. Absolute Black 

Absolute Black with painted cabinets. This is my idea of a classic kitchen. I love this traditional look of white cabinets and Absolute Black granite, which looks great polished or honed. Painted cabinets in many colors pair perfectly with this granite, and nickel, chrome or oil-rubbed-bronze fixtures and hardware look terrific.

 

Absolute Black with stain-grade cabinets. Another classic look that can feel rustic or modern. I love Absolute Black with medium oak or walnut. Rift-cut oak also has a great transitional look. 

5. Typhoon Bordeaux 

Typhoon Bordeaux with painted cabinets. One of my favorite granite selections, Typhoon Bordeaux comes in cream, gray, brown or brick red. It’s a perfect choice for a light kitchen that has red undertones in the flooring. This granite really can vary by batch, from subtle brick-red veining to strong waves of brick red. Try it with beige or cream cabinets for a warm, light-filled kitchen. 

Typhoon Bordeaux with stain-grade cabinets. I’m a sucker for warmth, so this combination really appeals to me. The brick red and browns in this granite pair beautifully with walnut, oak, mahogany and cherry cabinets. It works well in Spanish homes that feature Saltillo floors. The deep red and brown in the granite and the rustic charm of Spanish architecture are a match made in heaven.

Surface Value

Consumers play it safe and practical when choosing kitchen countertops

If you had to sum up current kitchen countertop trends in a few phrases, you might use the following: durability, generational preferences, clean and simple and ice cream sundaes. When taken together, they reflect prevailing consumer attitudes about kitchen remodels (and perhaps home improvement projects in general). Sure, they’re renovating for themselves but hey, let’s not get too crazy.

Practical Matters

This sentiment may explain why many of the trends may seem familiar and why performance remains a key concern in purchasing decisions, even as aesthetics have assumed more of a leadership role. “The recession had changed people’s attitudes about experimentation,” said Kelly Morisseau, a Walnut Creek, CA-based designer and author of popular industry blog Kitchen Sync. “I see quartz countertops going as strong as ever but less demand for materials like concrete and stainless steel.” In Ambler, PA – David Stimmel – of Stimmel Design Group, still uses concrete countertops in much of his work but agrees engineered stone is king, its popularity no doubt buoyed by its ease of maintenance and durability.

But all is not engineered stone. White marbles, such as Carrara and Calcutta Gold, continue to have their admirers, and thanks to a flood of lower-cost varieties from overseas, granite has not completely gone away, noted Chad Seiders, executive director of Artisan Group. A softer, warmer alternative, solid surfacing has also regained its footing, especially among those with a taste for the sleek, contemporary and even monolithic. “It’s a better-performing material in that you can do more with it,” said Thomas Perich, North American marketing manager for surfaces at DuPont, citing advantages such as a lack of seams and ability to create coved backsplashes, integral sinks and thick edges. “You just have a lot of flexibility.”

Safety in Colors

As to color, the selections are vast and many, yet consumer preferences still tend toward the conservative. “A lot of clients want to go for the bold colors, but in the end, they never really do,” Stimmel said. Most play it safe with earth tones, such as creams and caramels, or what Morisseau calls “ice cream sundae colors.” Summer Kath, senior director of business development and strategic partnership at Cambria USA, also sees interest in grays, browns, black and, of course, white. Not surprisingly, a recent best seller for Cosentino North America, noted Lorenzo Marquez, the company’s VP of marketing, resembles white marble. 

In fact, Martinez said, “We’re finding that homeowners and designers are seeking options that offer the aesthetic of, say, a marble or granite,” a trend borne out by the latest quartz offerings from Consentino and Cambria. Nature-inspired, the designs are rich in veining and dramatic in movement – a look favored by the older Boomer set whose kitchens are more traditional, said Morisseau. The younger, contemporary inclined are apt to choose calmer options with smaller particulate or, if they live in cosmopolitan areas, solids, which are emerging in Europe, said Perich. 

Mixing and Edging

Where self-expression lets loose is in the mixing of materials and colors – although that, too, can depend on geography – and the varying of countertop thickness, which can range from ½ inch to 1½ inch to 3 inches. Most industry experts agree simple edges and mitered corners are in, but some still field requests for ornate, classic treatments. Also being specified are chiseled edges on engineered and natural stone, as well as wood tops with “a naked or bark edge” that appears as if just sliced from a tree, Stimmel said. Perich has also noticed that in Europe and, to a lesser degree, on these shores, contemporary kitchens are moving toward ultra-thin countertops with virtually no edge.

Developments to watch for? Maybe. Much depends on factors beyond the realm of kitchens and baths – politics, economics, culture – and their impact on consumers’ mood. There will always be curiosity and demand for the next big thing, but if the present is any indication, form and function still go hand in hand. 

ConsumerReports.org Buying Guide: Countertops

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer Ed Sheats

Getting Started

Replacing a kitchen or bathroom countertop can be a relatively inexpensive part of a total remodeling job, costing as little as $550 for 55 square feet (about 18 linear feet) of laminate counter. Then again, you can spend 10 times that on costlier materials. Whichever once you choose, buy enough the first time out. Delivery is expensive, color and veining vary from sample to sample, and materials bought separately may not match.

Traditionally, the more exotic countertop materials have been used in the kitchen. But more and more materials such as concrete, granite, limestone, marble – and yes, even stainless steel – are migrating to the bathroom. Though bathroom counters typically see less wear and tear than kitchen counters, you might want to limit materials that need TLC to powder rooms or lightly used guest bathrooms. 

Each material offers distinct advantages and disadvantages. We tested more than a dozen popular types to see how well they resisted stains, heat damage, cuts, abrasion, and impact. 

Think Big

Tiny samples make it hard to visualize how the finished counter will look. Check manufacturers’ websites for brochures or smart phone and iPad apps that can help you match the counter to your cabinets. And look for online guides that let you try various materials and colors in virtual settings. Engineered stone, recycled glass, laminate, and solid surfacing are likely to match the samples you see in the store. If you’re set on stone, however, go to a stone yard. You’ll find significant variations not only from one slab to another, but even within the same slab. When you find a slab you like, put a deposit on it. 

Start with the Sink

A waterproof material such as concrete, solid surfacing, stainless steel, stone, or quartz is essential if the sink is under mounted – in other words, if it’s raised into place from below the counter, rather than lowered from above so that its edges overlap the countertop. And keep in mind, each of these materials except quartz and stone can be matched to the sink. 

Tricks of the Trade

Besides being on the lookout for sales, you can shave the cost by mixing materials. Complement a large, modestly priced run of laminate on a kitchen island with a small but exquisite piece of stone. Since bathroom counters are typically smaller, cut costs by using less expensive stone or quartz remnants – essentially left over pieces from other jobs. 

Let the Fabricator do the Measuring

All measurements and templates should be made by the fabricator or installer including cut-outs for the sink and faucet. Then any errors are the pro’s responsibility, not yours. 

Types of Countertops

We found significant strengths and weaknesses among materials, but few differences among brands. Here are the types of countertops to consider. 

Quartz

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring

Also known as engineered stone, quartz is a blend of stone chips, resins, and pigments. It’s an ideal material for high-traffic applications. It comes in many vibrant colors and styles that mimic granite and marble. 

PROS: It survived a gauntlet of spills, hot pots, knives, and more with top scores and it doesn’t have to be sealed for stain protection. Because it’s waterproof, it’s a sound choice to be paired with undermounted sinks. 

CONS: Quartz won’t resist impacts as well as granite, and its edges can chip. Some patterns can appear unnaturally uniform, although manufacturers are trying for a more random look closer to natural stone. 

Granite

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring

It’s still what you’ll see in magazines and real-estate ads, but fancy faux materials are giving granite serious competition. Granite is a good choice for areas that get a lot of use. It comes in many colors and variations and provides a natural stone look.

PROS: Like quartz, it survived our gauntlet of spills, hot pots, knives, and more with top scores.

CONS: Unlike quartz, it needs periodic sealing for stain protection. Color and grain may differ from store samples. 

Tile

Ceramic Tile comes in an almost limitless selection of colors and patterns. It mixes nicely with other materials, and it works well on a backsplash or island top.

PROS: Tile is inexpensive and relatively easy to install. It offers good heat resistance, so it’s a good choice around stoves. Buying a few extra tiles will allow you to repair localized damage easily, one tile at at time.

CONS: Poor impact resistance is a sore point. The grout is likely to stain even when it’s sealed. Darker grout can help. 

Laminates

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring

This material generally consists of layers of paper or fabric impregnated with resin over composition wood. Laminates are inexpensive and relatively easy to install. Use them in areas of heavy use but minimal abuse. This material is available in hundreds of fun patterns (try boomerang), interesting colors (hollyberry, anyone?), and detailed edges. Laminates typically show seams on the front edge and between the backsplash and counter. Post-forming is a process that melds adjoining sections, making them look continuous, but it offers fewer color choices. 

PROS: Laminates excelled at resisting stains, impact, and heat; they also withstood our abrasive pads nicely. They’re easy to clean and relatively easy to install. Though laminates are no longer trendy, they still appeal to remodelers on at tight budget.

CONS: Most versions have a colored top layer over a dark core, which shows at the edges. Water can seep through seams or between the countertop and backsplash, weakening the material beneath or causing lifting. Laminate is easily scratched and nicked and can’t be repaired. Textured finishes are better than flat finishes at hiding imperfections. 

Solid Surfacing

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring

Made of polyester or acrylic resins combined with mineral fillers, this material imitates concrete, marble, and other types of stone, as well as quartz (essentially an imitation of an imitation). Solid surfacing comes in various thicknesses and can be joined almost invisibly into one apparently seamless expanse. It can also be sculpted to integrate the sink and backsplash, and routed to accept contrasting inlays. 

PROS: Resistance to heat and impact are pluses, and scratches and small nicks can be buffed out and repaired. Because the surfacing is waterproof, it’s a sound choice for an undermounted sink. 

CONS: Solid surfacing scratches easily, and prolonged heat can cause discoloration. Cost can rival that of quartz and granite, which are much tougher and more authentic looking. 

Paper Composite

We tested a version from Richlite, which says that its paper-and-resin countertops are green, in part because the paper comes from renewable resources. 

PROS: The product did well at resisting stains and heat.

CONS: It was only fair when it came to cuts and abrasions. What’s more, it doesn’t use recycled paper, and its resin is petroleum-based and non-renewable. 

Concrete

Concrete countertops can provide a unique look. This exclusive material is typically custom-formed by local fabricators, so quality may vary.

PROS: Concrete can be tinted and textured and can include stone chips.

CONS: It chips and scratches easily and can develop hairline cracks. Topical sealers can protect against stains but not heat; penetrating sealers can handle heat, but not stains. 

Stainless Steel

It lets you integrate countertops with stainless appliances for a sleek, professional kitchen look. It can be welded, ground, and buffed away to get rid of seams.

PROS: Resistance to heat and stains is a plus. Because stainless steel is waterproof, it’s a sound choice for an undermounted sink.

CONS: Steel dents and scratches easily and shows fingerprints. (If fingerprints are an issue, consider faux stainless laminate instead.) Drain cleaners and hard-water-deposit removers can discolor steel. 

Limestone

Limestone provides a stone look without heavy veining. It’s attractive but impractical. Use it only in low-traffic areas.

PROS: Limestone resists heat well.

CONS: Scratches and dings from our dropped 5-pound weight marred the surface of this soft, porous stone. And even a high-quality sealer didn’t protect against stains. Twelve of the 19 substrates we applied left permanent marks after they were left on the surface for just 24 hours. 

Butcher Block

These hardwood countertops provide a country kitchen look. Maple is most common, but you’ll also find red oak and teak.

PROS: This material is useful for food preparation such as chopping and slicing. It’s relatively easy to install and repair.

CONS: Damage from heat, cuts, scrapes, and impacts make for high maintenance. Butcher block countertops must be treated regularly with mineral oil or beeswax. Varnished butcher block was extremely stain-resistant, but terrible at everything else. Butcher block with an oil finish was better at resisting heat, but stains spread and were impossible to remove. Fluctuations in humidity affect wood, making butcher block a poor choice for over a dishwasher or around a sink.

Marble

This material provides a traditional look. Consider it for areas with medium traffic.

PROS: Small nicks and scratches can be polished out.

CONS: Marble chips and scratches easily. And you’ll need to seal marble periodically to protect it from staining. Most stains that marred and unsealed marble wiped away with water on sealed samples. But hard-water-deposit removers left a permanent mark, even on sealed stone. 

Recycled Glass

Take shards of recycled glass, turm them into a countertop and the result is an infusion of color and style. 

PROS: Best for a contemporary look when it’s made with large shards, or it can resemble solid surfacing when it’s finely ground. Resistant to heat, cuts, and scratches.

CONS: But chips and stains can be a problem. Unlike other recycled-glass counters we tested. Cosentino’s Eco line developed a thin crack during our heat tests.

Soapstone

You’ll have to rub the soapstone with mineral oil to reveal and maintain its beauty.

PROS: Best for adding the beauty of stone to a low-traffic kitchen. It withstands heat very well, and small scratches can be repaired. Slabs vary, so go to a stone yard.

CONS: It’s easily sliced, scratched, and nicked. Stain resistance is so-so, and it needs to be periodically rubbed with mineral oil.

Bamboo

While bamboo may be eco-friendly, it isn’t user-friendly.

PROS: Best for show rather than daily use. It’s available in several styles, including a parquet pattern.

CONS: It’s easily stained, scorched, sliced, and nicked. The maker might warn against using it around a sink, because moisture can warp the material. It may darken over time.

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer Amber Albrecht

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

Get the Luxury Look for Less

Best and Worst Kitchen Appliances, Countertops, Flooring and More


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(Photo: Thinkstock)

Got a bottomless budget for your dream kitchen? You could pay for the sleekest pro-style appliances the most luxurious stone countertop, and the trendiest hardwood flooring and still end up paying again to fix things that break down, crack, or dent. Or you could use our advice to make every dollar count by sidestepping high-priced pitfalls in the first place. 

And if your budget is more in the $15,000-to-$30,000 range that most homeowners spend on renovations, relax: You can have a beautiful kitchen that’s functional and efficient, and only looks expensive, like the example here. It combines semi-custom cabinets, quartz countertops, and vinyl flooring to achieve an urban sophistication befitting its city setting.

Appliances


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KitchenAid KDRU763V $6,000 (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: A pro-style, 36-inch range with high-Btu burners; a built-in refrigerator with panels that match the surrounding cabinetry; and whisper-quiet dishwashers are expected in today’s luxury homes. “If buyers walk into a high-end home and see apartment-grade or even midrange appliances, they’re going to wonder what else is missing from their wish list,” says Jim Hamilton, regional Vice President of the National Association of Realtors.

Separate steam ovens, which can cost several thousand dollars and are pitched as a healthful way to prepare vegetables, fish, and even desserts, are a popular trend in high-end appliances. “Restaurants have been steaming food for years. Now the technology is finally coming to the residential market,” says Laurie Haefele, a designer-architect in Santa Monica, CA. Some models combine steam and convection cooking to lock in moisture while browning foods that require it.

But not all high-end appliances deliver. Though we recommend KitchenAid dual-fuel ranges, its electric and gas models have been repair-prone, as have Jenn-Air’s electric ranges, wall ovens, and cooktops. And some of Viking’s Professional-series built-in refrigerators are at the bottom of our ratings.


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Samsung FTQ307NWGX $1,700 (Photo: Consumer Reports)

For Less: Many mainstream brands have upped their styling with “faux pro” features, including beefy controls and a stainless-steel finish. And they equal or surpass their pricey counterparts when it comes to cooking and reliability. GE’s $1,500 Profile PGB910SEM has sleek styling, and it’s our top-performing gas range. Or consider an induction range or cooktop,which uses electromagnetism to deliver pinpoint heating and control. Among refrigerators, cabinet-depth models offer the streamlined look of built-ins for thousands less. 

Flooring

High End: Wood has warmth and elegance and can be used in adjacent rooms, creating a seamless flow between spaces. “Plus if you drop a teacup on a wood floor, the cup has a fighting chance,” says Kelly Stewart, a National Kitchen & Bath Association-certified kitchen designer in Stamford, CT.


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Mullican St. Andrews Solid Oak Strip 10930, $6.30 per sqft (Photo: Consumer Reports)Antique wood floors, milled from timbers reclaimed from centuries-old buildings, have character, but they’ve been particularly prone to wear and tear in our tests. Performance-wise, you’re better off with solid wood flooring with a factory finish, which costs more up front than unfinished flooring but lasts longer and eliminates the mess of on-site finishing. 

Even the most durable wood floors are no match for heavy traffic, especially if it includes sandy shoes and dog’s claws. Durable stones such as granite and quartzite offer more protection and a sense of permanence. “People subconsciously associate stone with stability underfoot, so its a natural choice for flooring,” says New York City architect Leonard Kady. 


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Quick-Step Perspectives Ansel Oak UF1259, $4 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)For Less: Engineered wood flooring, which has a veneer or real wood over substrate, can be floated over the subfloor, saving on installation costs. The downside is that most can be refinished only once, whereas solid flooring can be refinished multiple times.

Tile is an all-natural option that realistically mimics costly materials. “Antique limestone floors from a mansion in France are marvelous, but you can use ceramic tile to achieve a similar look for a fraction of the cost, and they’re a lot easier to maintain,” Kady says. Vinyl flooring is another less expensive option with some very convincing faux patterns, including wood and natural stone. 

Countertops


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White Carrera Marble, $150 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: Authenticity is the catchphrase in countertops. That means natural stone for top-tier designers, though many are moving away from speckled granites such as Uba Tuba in favor of wavy marble, especially in popular white kitchens. But given its susceptibility to staining and scratching, marble is not for everyone, cautions Jonas Carnemark, a design-builder in Washington, D.C. who is certified by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

“Designers talk about patina, but you have to remember that’s just a fancy term for scratches and stains,” he says. If, like many homeowners, you want things to stay looking new, consider quartz, a highly durable engineered stone that can resemble natural stone. All white-quartz countertops are also popular thanks to improvements in technology that give them the purest tone. 


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Formica IdealEdge Laminate, $16 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)For Less: For example, shop around for affordable stone slabs. If you can fall in love with a Danby marble from Vermont instead of one of the more expensive Italian imports, you’re going to save at least 20%. There are even bigger savings out there with granite, especially if you choose from remnants at the stone yard. Some granite has wavy marble-like veining.

Laminate, the most affordable countertop option by far, has come a long way. The latest printing technologies result in faux patterns that look like real stone, or you can choose a solid white that’s suited to contemporary kitchens. Formica has even eliminated the unsightly black line along the edge of the countertop that used to be laminate’s telltale sign. 

Cabinets


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Fieldstone Custom Cabinet, $475 (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: In the most expensive kitchens, cabinets are custom-built to the precise dimensions of the room. The result is a fully integrated look that’s in keeping with the current taste for clean, minimalist design. 

The good news is that this style is inherently less expensive – and easier to clean – than the once-fashionable country kitchen, which called for cabinetry with elaborate moldings and applied detail. The bad news is that custom cabinets of any description cost tens of thousands of dollars. “It’s half the cost of the kitchen,” says designer-architect Laurie Haefele, recalling projects for which the cabinet bill alone ran to six figures. 

For Less: If the layout of the existing cabinets works and the units are plumb, square, and sturdy, you could refinish them with a fresh coat of paint or reface them by replacing the cabinet doors and drawers and applying veneers to the face frames and ends. Retrofitting the cabinets with pull-out drawers, lazy Susans, and retractable trash cans can improve their function.


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If your cabinets are too far gone, you can save 30% or more by choosing semi-custom units. Stock units save even more, without necessarily sacrificing style. Ikea Stock Cabinet, $330 (Photo: Consumer Reports)

“There are a plethora of showrooms where you can get the full kitchen from Italy or Germany, but we’ve been able to integrate Ikea cabinets for budget-minded clients that offer a similar look,”says Chicago architect Pam Lamaster-Millet. “The trick is finding a skilled installer who knows the tricks for making the units look built-in.” That might include applying a toe kick to base cabinets or a valance to upper cabinets to conceal the undercabinet lighting.

Whether semi-custom or stock, the features that held up best in our cabinet tests include solid-wood or plywood doors; boxes made of ½- to ¾ -inch plywood;solid-wood drawer sides with dovetail joints, full-extension glides, and a plywood bottom; and adjustable, ¾-inch plywood or medium-density fiberboard shelving.

Spending Traps to Avoid

  • Poor Planning – changing the design after the project is under way is guaranteed to break the budget. Proper planning, including showroom visits and meeting with professionals, will take a couple of months.

  • Skimping on Labor – sooner or later the cracks will show with poor construction. Invest in quality, especially for cabinet installation and tile setting, where small mistakes can lead to big disappointment.

  • Paying More for Pointless Features – smart appliances are supposed to save money by powering down when electricity rates are highest. But you’ll only reap the rewards if your home has a “smart” meter and your utility company offers time-of-use rates. Otherwise, you’ll be paying more for a technology that may be years away.

  • Expecting a Fridge to Prevent Spoilage – Food preservation features are the latest thing for marketing. But the claims are hard to measure. What you can do is find a refrigerator that delivers top temperature performance in our tests.

  • Falling for High-Priced Fixtures – stainless steel sinks top our ratings, even in less expensive thickness. Popular pullout sprays are available on entry-level faucets. As for lighting, the illumination that matters most comes from inexpensive – and hidden – undercabinet fixtures.

(Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer: Clay Bernard)

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

Monte Carlo Simulation Proves Safety of Granite Countertops

Supreme Granite Kitchen Island – Project Manager: Randy Wilson. A comprehensive new scientific study sponsored by the Marble Institute of America definitively shows that granite countertops are an insignificant source of radon in the home and that 99.95% of countertops produce lower radon concentrations than are typically found outdoors in the U.S. The study also concluded that in normal applications there is no risk granite countertops will produce radon concentrations even close to levels the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says require remediation (4 picocuries/liter).

Radon is a natural radioactive gas found in soil and stone. Most radon seeps harmlessly into the atmosphere. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of radon can cause lung cancer.

“Our analysis shows that the likelihood of a granite countertop leading to a negative health impact due to radon is almost a statistical impossibility,”said Dr. Joseph Allen of Environmental Health & Engineering Inc., who led the study team. “The most typical granite countertop installation would produce radon concentrations in the home that are 10,000 times lower than the EPA action level, and are so low that they are not even measurable.” Dr. Allen also stated that their model predicated that there was only a one-in-a-million chance of a granite countertop producing radon concentrations in the home that approached the EPA action level of 4 pCI/l, and that specific simulated countertop purchase involved an unrealistic scenario where 13& of the home’s surface area was countertop. Dr. Allen reiterated the final conclusion in their paper, “this research supports evidence previously published in the scientific literature that the health risk of radon exposure from granite countertops is negligible.”

The independent study, sponsored by the Marble Institute of America, involved a Monte Carlo simulation, a computer analysis to determine risks associated with various purchase decisions. The study simulates the installation of 1 million countertops of different kinds of granite in homes of different sizes and with different air exchange rates. The goal was to determine the probability that any countertop would produce significant radon concentrations. 

Monte Carlo simulations analyze the results of radon emissions for the full spectrum of granite installations including extreme possibilities, such as installing unrealistically large countertops in small, tightly insulated homes. The original analysis method was developed by scientists working on the first atom bomb. It is commonly used to assess risks in finance, engineering, insurance and other industries that deal with the interaction of many variables.

“Science again proves the safety of granite,” said G.K. Naquin, MIA president. “Because the beauty and durability of natural stone is unparalleled, some manufacturers of competing materials have tried to scare the public into believing it may be dangerous. This study shows granite is safe.”

The analysis will be submitted for publication to a peer-reviewed, scientific journal. This is the third MIA sponsored granite study to be submitted for publication. The first two, published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, appeared in 2010.

The MIA has invested in several studies to determine the safety and durability of natural stone countertops, to provide clear, unambiguous information for consumers to make educated decisions and to also protect the industry from baseless attacks by manufacturers of competing materials. 


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What Others Are Saying About Natural Stone

Natural stone is a key part of two of the top 10 elements of design in the home that are resonating with today’s buyers: the desire for low-maintenance/no-maintenance materials and the use of natural materials inside and outside the home.

-Builder Magazine

National Association of Home Builders

Homeowners who remodel recover the following percentages of their remodeling costs at resale (note -upscale projects include stone):

  1. Bathroom remodel-upscale: 92.6%

  2. Bathroom addition-upscale: 84.3%

  3. Kitchen remodel-upscale: 79.6%

-Cost vs. Value Report

Remodeling Magazine

In a study of materials for kitchen countertops, granite had the highest number of “excellent” ratings of any surface.

-Consumer Reports

If, like us, you define value as ‘performance over time’, then natural stone should be your material of choice and engineered products will never be ‘just as good’ as natural stone until they pass the same test of time.”

-Ed Walsh, Sturgis Materials, Inc.


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Types of Natural Stone

Granite

An excellent choice for kitchen countertops, floors, and other heavily used surfaces

Granite, quarried from the mountains of Italy, the U.S., India, and dozens of other countries, is one of the most popular natural stones on the market. Available in a striking array of colors; granite’s durability and longevity make it ideal for kitchen countertops and other heavily used surfaces including table tops and floors. 

While some synthetic surfaces scartch easily and melt under hot cookware, granite resists heat. Granite is also one of the most bacteria-resistant kitchen surfaces and it is not affected by citric acid, coffee, tea, alcohol, or wine. It is also nearly impossible to scratch and with proper cleaning will not stain under normal use (ask your professional contractor; like American Cabinet & Flooring, about sealants available to further improve resistance to staining.)

A leading consumer magazine recently compared granite with engineered stone, ceramic tile, laminate, butcher block, and other manufactured surfaces. Granite received the hightest overall performance rating as a kitchen countertop material.

Because of its exceptional strength, granite is well suited for exterior applications such as cladding, paving, and curbing. 

Marble

Ideal for foyers, bathrooms, floors, and hearths

Marble is found in the mountainous regions of Canada, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the U.S., and other countries. Because of its beauty and elegance, marble is a popular choice for countertops, floors, foyers, fireplace facings and hearths, walls, and windowsills.

Marble adds a sophisticated element to your home, and its wonderful appearance, superior engineering characteristics, and ease of maintenance make it a natural choice for floors, wall coverings, table tops, and bathroom walls, floors, vanity tops, tub decks, and showers. 

Marble should be cared for as you would a fine wood finish. Using coasters on table tops and cleaning up spills immediately will preserve marble’s natural beauty.

Another option for marble-loving homeowners is using a serpentine for kitchen counters. Sometimes called the “green” marble, serpentine is not a true marble but offers a marble-like look. And because it is magnesium-silicate based, it is not sensitive to citric acid and other kitchen spills. 

Travertine, Limestone, Soapstone, Sandstone, and Slate

Beautiful enhancements for your home, inside and out

Travertine, limestone, soapstone, sandstone, and slate are other examples of natural stone frequently used in residential applications. 

Travertine is a type of limestone and one of the most popular natural stones for interior and exterior wall cladding, interior and exterior paving, statuary, and curbing.

Limestone is widely used as a building stone because it is readily available and easy to handle. Popular applications include countertops, flooring, interior and exterior wall cladding, and exterior paving. 

Soapstone is growing in popularity. Popular uses include kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, fireplace surrounds, stoves and stair treads. Care and maintenance is easy, but different than other stone types.

Sandstone is frequently used for fireplace facings, chimneys, garden walls, patio benches, and at poolside.

Slate is a popular flooring material and sandstone and slate are often used for exterior paving or pavers. Other slate applications include kitchen countertops, fireplace facings, table tops, and roofing. 


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How to Choose the Right Stone for Your Home

You have many options when it comes to beautiful, long-lasting natural stone for your home’s interior and exterior: Slate, granite, marble, quartz-based stone, soapstone, and limestone, just to name a few. Choosing a natural stone for your home is a very personal decision, much like selecting wallpaper or artwork. While there are scores of natural stones to consider, some are better suited than others to particular uses in and around the home. The team of experienced design specialists at American Cabinet & Flooring can help you explore your options and offer guidance on the right stone for your home project.

Factors to Consider in Selecting a Natural Stone

Color

Natural Stones are available in a beautiful spectrum of colors. Colors in granite and marble, for instance; can range from soft beiges and pinks and classic black-and-whites to rich corals, greens, and multi-colors. Marble traditionally features swirls and “veins” of colors, while granite has a flecked or pebbled appearance. Unlike the repetitive uniformity of materials produced by machine or assembly line, natural stone’s varied appearance has wonderful character and creates a one-of-a-kind effect everywhere it is used.

Finish

Natural stone can be polished, honed, or flamed for a distinctive appearance.

  • A polished finish has a glossy surface that reflects light and emphasizes the color and marking of the stone. This finish is typically used on walls, furniture tops, and floor tiles.

  • A honed finish is a satin-smooth surface with relatively little light reflection. It is generally preferred for floors, stair treads, thresholds, and other areas where heavy traffic will wear off a polished finish.

  • A flamed finish is a rough-textured surface used frequently on granite floor tiles.

Usage

The harder the stone, the more it resists abrasion. One measure of natural stone’s strength is the Measurement of Hardness (MOH) rating –> 1 the softest and 10 the hardest. On the MOH scale, most marbles rate “3” and quartz-based granites rate “7”. Using a softer stone simply requires the homeowner to use gentler cleansers and more frequent dusting to prevent scratching.


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The Benefits of Natural Stone

Classic Beauty

Durability

Easy Maintenance

Superior Quality

Affordability

Increased Home Value

Natural stone has been the premium building material of choice since the beginning of time. Quarried from rock beds formed over millions of years, natural stone used in residential and commercial settings comes from all parts of the world, including Italy, Spain, the U.S., Brazil, Canada, China, France, Israel, Greece, India, Mexico, Germany, Taiwan, and Turkey. 

Marble and granite, two of the most popular stones among homeowners, are quarried in the form of huge blocks; some weighing up to 35 tons. These blocks are cut into slabs generally 3/4″ or 1 1/2″ thick and the faces polished to the specified finish. The slabs are then carefully crated and shipped to fabricators worldwide who process them into the final product. 

Whether you’re building a new home or remodeling; natural stone offers you unparalleled beauty, performance, and uniqueness as well as it adds true value to your home. 

Because stone is a natural, not manufactured, product; no two pieces are exactly alike. This means each finished countertop, wall, floor, mantle, or sill is distinctive and matchless. 

Unlike synthetic imitations natural stone can be three-dimensional and used as columns, statuary, balustrades, doorjambs, and even furniture pieces. When used in exterior applications natural stone has also proven superior to manufactured or engineered stones in withstanding the effects of nature.


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