1. Engineered Quartz
This composite of rock aggregate, resin, and pigments (such as the one above, by Martha Stewart Living) can withstand heat up to 400 degrees (though sustained direct heat can cause cracking). The color options are virtually endless.
Maintenance: Quartz is nonporous, so it resists scratching, staining, and corrosion.
Special Care: There’s generally no need for periodic resealing. Stains, chips, and scratches are rare but irreparable; dark colors tend to be less susceptible to them.
Varieties range from domestic to exotic. Even if you choose hard maple butcher block, use a cutting board on top for food preparation -- it keeps the countertop clean and helps it last longer.
Maintenance: Remove light stains with a damp cloth and mild dishwashing liquid. Rinse, then follow up with a cloth dampened with fresh lemon juice or white vinegar.
Special Care: A tung-oil finish requires no additional retouching. A mineral-oil finish should be reapplied about once a month.
This surface -- a mainstay in science laboratories -- is made of mineral talc, quartz, and other minerals. Softer yet less porous than granite, it’s extremely heat-resistant; you can place hot pans on it.
Maintenance: Apply mineral oil weekly to monthly until the surface stops darkening, which can take a year or more. Then reapply about every six months.
Remove small scratches with fine sandpaper, or try rubbing them out with mineral oil.
Granite, a hard volcanic rock, is heat-resistant and durable, though you should use trivets to avoid cracking from repeated heat exposure. It comes in a wide range of colors; no two pieces are exactly the same. Consistent granite has the same pattern throughout; variegated granite has veins.
Maintenance: Dust it as needed; periodically clean it with a damp cloth and a pH-neutral cleaner formulated for stone.
Special Care: When water droplets no longer bead on the surface, it needs resealing.
5. Stainless Steel
Rugged, easy-to-clean stainless steel is a must-have in professional kitchens, because there are no seams to trap grime and bacteria.
Maintenance: Spray cleaners designed specifically for stainless steel remove fingerprints and water marks. Always wipe with the grain.
Special Care: Camouflage minor scratches by rubbing them with a gentle nylon abrasive pad. Deep scratches or dents are likely there to stay, unfortunately.
Marble is beautiful and long-lasting, but because it’s a softer, more porous stone than granite, it is easier to chip, scratch, and stain. Many people confine it to an island or baking center; since it doesn’t conduct heat, it’s ideal for rolling out dough.
Maintenance: Wipe it with a damp cloth and a pH-neutral cleaner formulated for stone.
Special Care: Reseal it when drops of water no longer bead on the surface. Protect it from acidic foods (lemons, tomatoes, vinegar), which can etch it.
Whatever countertops you decide to go with, make sure you keep the space nice and clean by keeping everything in its own designated place. A well organized kitchen not only looks better, it also makes cooking easier. Watch for more tips.