Countertops might be the most important element of kitchen design. Hear us out: Not only do you interact with them every day, but they’re one of the first things a person notices when they walk into the space, making them a key focal point. “The countertop is also one of the few continuous materials in the kitchen, so it goes a long way toward tying the room together,” says Carrie Schulz, head of design at Block Renovation, a service that streamlines the planning, designing and building process for homeowners.
At the Good Housekeeping Institute, we’ve been testing countertops for a long, long time. In fact, way back in 1908, based on experiences in the Experiment Station (a precursor to the Good Housekeeping Institute), our early experts persuaded a builder to install its kitchen counters at a comfortable height of 36 inches, establishing a standard still used today.
For this report, our experts pulled together a list of the six best countertops available now, based on our latest tests, as well as insights from designers, installers and other pros in the field. There are many other options to choose from — glass, concrete and stainless steel, to name a few — but the process is daunting enough without these niche materials causing more second guessing.
Besides being integral to kitchen design, countertops aren’t the kinds of things you swap out frequently. Choose wisely, and they’ll serve you well for as long as you live in in your home.
A favorite of our experts, this engineered stone is named after its principal ingredient, quartz, which is held together by polymer resins. The result is an exceptionally durable, low-maintenance material that’s available in a wide range of colors and patterns, including those that resemble natural stone. Invented in Italy in 1977, quartz has emerged as a top countertop choice only in the last decade or so. “We’ve had it installed in the Good Housekeeping Institute Labs for 15 years now, with no signs of wearing,” says Rachel Rothman, executive technical director at the GH Institute. New quartz countertops from Cosentino and Caesarstone won 2022 Good Housekeeping Home Renovation awards, the former for interior use and the latter for outdoor applications. One caveat: Although quartz is extremely hard-wearing, its edges and corners can chip, so be careful with heavy pots and pans; choosing a rounded edge can also help reduce the chance of chipping.
- Wide range of colors and patterns
- No sealing required
- Square edges are prone to chipping
- Highest-grade lines are pricey
- Cost: $60 to $230 per square foot, installed. (Note that the wide price range is due to the different available grades, from low to mid to high quality.)
- Use and care: One of the best things about quartz is that it doesn’t need to be sealed. But you still need to wipe spills promptly and do an occasional deep-clean with a nonabrasive cleaner; Carolyn Forté, executive director of the Home Care & Cleaning Lab, likes Soft Scrub Gel with Bleach Cleaner.
Though its prevalence has waned some since the granite heyday of the 1990s and 2010s, this natural stone remains popular, especially in traditional-style homes. It comes in an array of colors, from blue pearl to Vyara gold, and its pattern can be flecked, speckled or veined. As with any natural stone, uniqueness is a big part of the allure, since no two slabs are the same. “In our tests, granite has fended off knife cuts, scratches and heat, making for a highly durable work surface,” says Alec Scherma, test engineer at the Good Housekeeping Institute. Sealed granite is also stain-resistant. But as with quartz, edges and corners can chip, so it’s worth considering a rounded edge if your kitchen gets a lot of use.
- Extremely durable
- Natural beauty
- Comes in a rich array of colors
- Not as popular as in the past
- Needs sealing to be stain-resistant
- Cost: $50 to $130 per square foot, installed.
- Use and care: Wipe counters with a nonabrasive sponge or cloth dipped in warm water and mild dishwashing liquid. Once a year, apply a spray-on sealant, following the manufacturer’s instructions. After allowing the sealant ample time to dry, buff the counter with a dry cloth.
This classic building material is synonymous with luxury, and it remains in fashion today, thanks in part to the enduring popularity of all-white kitchens. You can also find marble slabs in other colors, including captivating greens, reds and blues. Marble’s biggest differentiator is its incredible veining, which can bring mesmerizing pattern play to the kitchen. On the other hand, marble is a soft, porous material, meaning it stains and scratches easily. Some people are OK with this and think of the blemishes as a patina. But if you want your pure-white marble countertops to stay that way, you’ll need to be extremely fastidious.
- Conveys enduring luxury
- Deep veining and pattern play
- Makes for an excellent baking station
- Prone to staining and scratching
- Very expensive
- Cost: $70 to $130 per square foot, installed.
- Use and care: Because marble stains easily, treating it at least once a year with a food-grade penetrating sealer will provide some measure of protection. (When a drop of water soaks in, it’s time to reseal.) Marble also chips and scratches easily, so be sure to use trivets under heavy pots and pans.
Developed by Formica, decorative laminate was first used as a tabletop surface in restaurants, cafes and nightclubs of the 1930s. Then, it took off in kitchens in the 1950s with the rise of graphic patterns. It’s still in vogue today, especially with homeowners who are going for a retro, mid-century modern look. The biggest upside to laminate is its low cost. Laminate is also excellent at resisting stains, impact and heat. Keep in mind it clearly looks like a synthetic material (most versions have a colored top layer over a dark base, which shows at the edges). It also has seams, which can be unsightly and are also a source of potential water penetration, especially if installation isn’t just right.
- Excellent value
- Retro appeal
- Resists stains, impact and heat
- Looks synthetic, even natural patterns
- Seams can lead to water penetration
- Cost: $40 to $80 per square foot, installed.
- Use and care: Though laminate will generally fend off stains, it scratches easily, so always use a cutting board while working in the kitchen. Self-cleaning waxes made for cars can heighten the shine on dull laminate countertops.
Another timeless material, wood has been used as a work surface in kitchens for centuries. It became a go-to countertop material in the 1970s with the emergence of butcher block, a chopping-friendly surface made of bonded-together strips of maple or another hardwood. Nowadays, you might also see wood countertops made of less-familiar species, like teak and mahogany.
- Natural warmth and beauty
- Excellent surface for chopping and meal prep
- Can last indefinitely if properly maintained
- Monthly treatments required
- Dings easily
- Cost: $30 to $170 per square foot, installed.
- Use and care: Treated butcher block can last for decades. To prevent cracking, apply a monthly coating of food-grade mineral oil, like GH Seal Star Furniture Clinic Wood Cutting Board Oil. Let it penetrate overnight, then buff with a cloth.
This material is a relative newcomer to the countertop category, but we’re including it in this roundup because it’s fast becoming a favorite of designers and homeowners alike. Made from fine, dense clay and fired at a high temperature, porcelain is nonporous and exceptionally hard, making it durable and easy to maintain. It comes in large-format tiles and panels, allowing for countertops with a clean, contemporary look and minimal seams or grout lines. Crossville porcelain tile panels by Laminam were named a winner in Good Housekeeping’s 2022 Home Renovation Awards on the strength of those attributes.
- Extremely hard-wearing
- Trendy “newcomer” appeal
- Prone to chipping and cracking
- On the pricey side
- Cost: $70 to $130 per square foot, installed.
- Use and care: The glaze on porcelain countertops means they don’t need to be sealed. For daily maintenance and cleaning, use hot water and a mild dish soap applied with a soft cloth. Despite its strength, some porcelain is prone to cracking and chipping, especially ultracompact panels, so be careful not to drop heavy items on it.
How we choose the best countertops
Our experts deploy a range of Lab tests to measure countertop performance. To assess stain resistance, they slather stubborn ingredients, such as wine, mustard and chocolate, onto countertop samples, let them dry and then remove them with paper towels and all-purpose cleaner.
Our experts use an abrasion machine to determine each material’s ability to fend off scratches; top products can withstand hundreds of passes with a fine-grit sandpaper wheel without any signs of distress. An impact machine is used to determine a countertop’s ability to withstand dents and dings, like those from a falling cast-iron pan. Over the decades, we’ve also installed various countertops in our labs and the homes of our experts, which enables us to assess performance, longevity and maintenance in real-world conditions.
In addition to comprehensive testing, our experts keep tabs on the countertop market by attending trade shows and industry events, including Surfaces and the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. We also check in regularly with the design community, as well as contractors, fabricators and installers, to stay ahead of design trends and issues related to the supply chain and labor market.
What to consider when choosing countertops for your home
It’s natural to focus on looks when choosing a new kitchen countertop, but there are other factors to consider too. Schulz talks about the three-legged stool of aesthetics, functionality and cost when zeroing in on the perfect countertop material. “You want to make sure the countertop will fit into your budget before you fall in love with it,” she says. “How the material wears and how hard you’ll have to work to keep it looking new are also key to the decision process.”
Here are more expert insights into those three key factors:
✔️ Aesthetics: Our experts say it’s best to ignore trends and choose the pattern and color that you love the most. But if you think you might be selling your home soon, it pays to stay close to current design trends. Light, neutral hues with minimal pattern play continue to curry favor, which has helped drive interest to quartz. “A lot of homeowners still want to keep it simple and clean,” Schulz says. For those looking to make more of a statement with their countertops, materials with dramatic veining, including marble and other natural stones, are a popular choice.
If you go the dramatic route, it’s important to work closely with your installer on the placement and positioning of adjoining slabs so that veining lines up. “If you end up with a pattern mismatch, it will drive you crazy every day,” Schulz says.
Don’t forget about the backsplash, since it’s another strong visual element in the kitchen. Whereas subway tile and other contrasting surfaces still have their place, many homeowners are now choosing to use the same material from the countertop up the backsplash, creating a sense of continuity and cohesion.
✔️ Care and maintenance: Think about the porosity of the countertop and the finish. A nonporous material with a polished finish is unlikely to absorb anything, making it stain-resistant. Honed finishes, in which the surface has been ground down to give the countertop a softer, matte feel, require a bit more care, but you might be willing to put up with that for the softer feel and reduction in glare. A porous material like marble with a honed finish will require near-obsessive upkeep (regular sealings throughout the year, lightning-fast cleanup of spills, treatment of etch marks with a special poultice, etc.) to keep the surface looking new. Bottom line: Do you want to fuss over your countertops or keep maintenance mainly to a daily wipe down?
✔️ Cost: Most homeowners spend about $3,000 on the installation of new countertops, according to Angi, the home services marketplace. But the price tag can go as high as $8,000 (and even higher for imported materials, like calacatta marble from Italy or a Van Gogh granite from Brazil) and as low as $400 for entry-level laminate. Of course, the actual cost depends on the size of the countertop, so it’s good to look at square-footage prices. You should expect to spend around $40 per square foot for affordable materials, like entry-level laminate and butcher block, and $150 or more per square foot for a rare natural stone or top-quality quartz. That doesn’t include edge treatments, which add another $5 per linear foot for a standard square edge, all the way up to $60 per linear foot for an S-shaped ogee, which adds decorative flair and also reduces the risk of chipping.
Where are the best places to shop for kitchen countertops?
If you’re working with an architect or a designer on a full kitchen remodel, they can help guide you through the shopping process. But if you’re managing the project on your own, you’ll need to do your own research. Keep in mind that the lead time on countertop deliveries can be several months, especially amid ongoing supply chain challenges.
Here are three places to get a jump on the process:
✔️ Home centers: Big-box retailers like The Home Depot and Lowe’s have become reliable one-stop shops for countertop installations, offering a range of materials, as well as free design consultation and paid installation services. The downside of this approach is you’ll have to choose from the handful of manufacturers the home center carries, and you can see only samples of the material, as opposed to whole slabs.
✔️ Kitchen and bath showrooms: Working with a showroom gets you a more experienced sales staff, many of whom are likely to be certified designers. Showrooms tend to carry a curated list of premium brands, so you’ll almost certainly be able to choose from top-grade materials. For example, showrooms will likely carry first-grade quartz, in addition to commercial-grade quartz and second-choice quartz, so you can have the richest hues and smoothest finish. But the countertop might cost $100 or more per square foot, versus the $30-to-$50-per-square-foot quartz you can find at home centers.
✔️ Stone yards: If you’re in the market for a natural stone countertop, buying directly from your local stone yard allows you to pick out the exact slab you want, rather than basing the decision on six-inch samples. It also eliminates the intermediary, leading to potentially better prices. You can save even more by choosing from so-called “remnants,” leftover pieces from larger slabs that might fill a small countertop area. For example, a marble remnant could be ideal for a baking station in the kitchen.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
Dan DiClerico has covered the countertop market for more than two decades. His reporting has taken him inside factories, kitchen and bath showrooms, and fabricator shops. Plus, he’s a regular at trade shows, where he meets with major manufacturers to understand the latest innovations and design trends. In his role as the director of the Home Improvement & Outdoor Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute, Dan oversees countertop testing, working closely with our team of engineers and product experts. He also manages any consumer surveys designed to capture homeowners’ experiences with the installation and maintenance of countertop materials.
Having written thousands of product reviews and how-to articles on all aspects of home ownership, from routine maintenance to major renovations, Dan (he/him) brings more than 20 years of industry experience to his role as the director of the Home Improvement & Outdoor Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. A one-time roofer and a serial remodeler, Dan can often be found keeping house at his restored Brooklyn brownstone, where he lives with his wife and kids.
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