The heart of the home is the kitchen, and the heart of the kitchen is the countertop. It’s where you cook meals and make drinks, the kids do their homework, and your friends and family hang out.
If you’re lucky enough to be planning a new kitchen in preparation for this year’s family Thanksgiving dinner, there’s a wide variety of materials to choose from, with pros and cons to each. In fact, you may find that you don’t need to do a full renovation; all your kitchen may need is an update to the countertops. You would be amazed at what a dramatic difference replacing a worn or dated countertop can make.
Maybe you’ve just done a renovation, or simply have counters that you love. We’ve got some sage advice, tips, and tricks to keep them looking like new—or even restore them to new—for years to come.
Technically an “engineered stone,” quartz countertops are a combination of ground-up natural quartz mixed with resin and molded into slabs for a durable, easy maintenance choice. In recent years, the color selection has expanded significantly and now includes designs that mimic natural stone, such as marble.
Cleanup is as simple as wiping them down with a paper towel or soapy cloth. You can also use gentle cleaners such as 409 or Fantastik. But never use abrasives such as Comet or Ajax, which can ruin the finish. While quartz doesn’t stain easily, it’s good to know that if it does, most stains can be removed with a 2/3 water and 1/3 bleach mixture. For tough stains, use baking soda mixed with enough hydrogen peroxide to form a paste. Apply it to the stain, let it sit for 24 hours, and then gently scrub while rinsing away. Repeat if necessary.
Happily, quartz doesn’t need sealing like natural stone does. The real key to keeping it looking good is in preventive maintenance. While most brands, such as Silestone, are heat-resistant for a short period of time, you want to use hot pads or trivets to avoid burn marks, discoloration, or thermal cracks. You’ll also want to protect it from heat-generating appliances, such as an electric skillet. On the upside, heat damage can often be professionally repaired. Use cutting boards as well, because cutting on the surface could eventually lead to scratches.
Available in both slab and tile options, granite has a natural beauty and durability that make each countertop not only unique, but also highly resistant to heat, scratches, and stains. It’s also porous and must be sealed. A topical sealer is just what it sounds like and should be reapplied every 12 to 18 months, while a deep-penetrating granite sealer will last a few years. When you notice that water no longer beads on the surface, it’s time to reseal it. Both types of sealer protect from colored liquids such as grape juice, and from cooking grease, oil, fat, and more. If it can stain your cooking apron, it can stain unsealed granite.
For general cleaning, apply a few drops of mild dish soap to a cleaning rag or microfiber cloth and wipe down the counter, rinsing the cloth as needed so you’re not spreading grease or grime. Once you’re finished, dry the counter using a soft microfiber cloth to prevent water spots. A mixture of 50 percent water and 50 percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol works as well as most store-bought granite cleaners.
Never leave hot objects on the granite for long; while they probably won’t hurt the stone, they may harm the sealer, resulting in unattractive black marks.
Pastry chefs love marble counters because the material remains cool to the touch, making it the perfect surface for rolling out dough. Plus, it’s heat resistant.
Like granite, marble is available in both slab and tile form. It can etch when it comes into contact with acidic foods and be stained by fruits, wine, etc., and it scratches easily, but the pattern of the stone may make the marks less obvious. Ideally, have the countertop sealed before it’s installed, and reapply sealer when water stops beading on the surface.
Using the wrong cleaner can stain, scratch, or otherwise damage marble. To create your own gentle yet effective marble cleaner, fill a spray bottle with 2 tablespoons isopropyl rubbing alcohol, 1 teaspoon dish soap, and 1 1/2 cups of water, then shake well. Always rinse and dry the countertop after cleaning.
Tough stains? Use 12 percent hydrogen peroxide solution with a few drops of ammonia added. If the stain is really set, try an acetone nail polish remover.
Buff out light scratches with a dry fine-grade (No. 0000) steel wool; deeper scratches may require a professional. Fine-grade steel wool also works for those annoying water spots and rings.
Developed by DuPont in 1967, Corian countertops have graced fine homes for generations, and with good reason.
Made from 33 percent acrylic polymers and 66 percent alumina trihydrate, a mineral derived from bauxite ore, Corian was revamped in 2014, increasing the color choices to more than 100 and offering enhanced scratch resistance.
Corian is nonporous, so stains don’t penetrate. With proper cleaning using warm soapy water or an ammonia-based cleaner, it also resists mold, mildew, and bacteria. Never use window cleaner, which can create a waxy buildup that dulls the surface.
Remove fine scratches with a mild abrasive liquid cleaner, such as Soft Scrub, on a damp sponge or cloth. Rub in a circular motion, moving from front to the back, then side to side in an overlapping motion until the scratches are gone.