A Buyer’s Guide to Kitchen Benchtops

Light Emporador benchtop

The sheer range of materials used in today’s kitchen benchtops is boundless.

Many of our customers approach us for advice on which kitchen benchtop to choose. We understand it’s not an easy decision, given there is so many different types available, it often leads people to put it into the too hard basket. So, we’ve decided to share over 30 years experience on this topic by creating this comprehensive kitchen benchtops guide.

It is hoped this guide will better inform you about the types of benchtop materials commonly used out there, as well as what to expect in terms of cleaning, maintaining and general pricing.

Engineered stone benchtop kitchen

An example of a kitchen with an engineered stone benchtops, drop-ends and full height splashback.  

Engineered Stone

What is it?

Engineered stone, otherwise known as engineered quartz or quartz stone, is a composite material. It is man-made material comprising of crushed quartz bonded with an adhesive polymer resin. Originally created to reproduce terrazzo (Caesartsone® were the first to market), engineered stone now has 20+ years of advancement behind it. You’ll find engineered stone in a variety of styles, including flat colours, natural-like stones and other more artistic finishes. Engineered stone is challenged only by laminate in popularity.

How big are the slabs?

The engineered stone market is a crowded place with loads of choice. Most brands stock their slabs at the standard thickness of 20mm and that is generally what most kitchen companies work with, although you can also get some slabs in 30mm and 12mm thicknesses.

The standard size of the slabs for most brands is set at a 3,040 x 1,440mm format, however demand has driven manufacturers to stock ever greater sizes such as Silestone’s Jumbo format (1,580 x 3,200mm). Any slab with a large pattern or veining is best viewed at the supplier’s showroom as smaller samples are often not indicative of the entire slab.

Marble looking benchtop with milled sink drainer

Marble looking engineered stone benchtop. Notice how the veining is still visible where the sink drainer has been milled.  

Where is it priced in the market?

Engineered stones are priced from middle to high depending on the brand and style of slab. Some of the natural stone reproductions even challenge the real thing in total price.

Is it easy to keep clean and maintain?

The standard polished surface engineered stone is very easy to maintain. Most spills require wiping up with a damp cloth. It can stain when staining liquids (think red wine, tea and coffee) are left on the surface for too long. In those cases, using the manufacturer’s approved stone cleaner is required. In extreme circumstances a call to your kitchen company or the manufacturer may be needed. Honed surfaces or matt finishes are generally harder to clean.

Pros

  • Non-porous
  • Resistant to scratches and stains
  • Do a good job at reproducing natural stone
  • Easy to clean
  • Requires no ongoing maintenance (i.e. sealing)
  • Chipping is fairly repairable for consistent coloured slabs
  • Edges can be mitred very successfully to give the effect of a thicker stone or waterfall end
  • Edges can have detailed profiles

Cons

  • Will have visible grout joins when joining pieces together
  • Chipping can occur along exposed edges
  • Long exposure to high heat will leave a mark
  • Honed or matt surfaces are harder to clean
  • Many of the marble looking slabs are exactly the same as each other

Detailed marble benchtop showing edge profile

Calacatta Oro marble benchtop with a detailed profile.

Marble

What is it?

A natural stone known for prestige, uniqueness and beauty, marble benchtops are the stone of choice for many luxury kitchens. Marble is a metamorphic limestone, quarried from hillsides [insert marble quarrying video] with much of the best slabs coming from Italy. As a natural stone, no two slabs are alike and often feature grey mottlings or veins. Due to this variability, marble is best selected in person at the stone yard. Being a porous material imbues marble with a natural translucence that other benchtop materials like engineered stone and porcelain simply can’t replicate. It does have its downsides (see the cons section), but despite this people are still driven to the allure of natural marble.

How big are the slabs?

Unlike man-made benchtop materials, marble slabs come in irregular shapes and sizes. Standard slab thicknesses are 20mm and 30mm. Slabs of marble range in size from about 2,400 x 1,200mm to 3,300 x 2,000mm. It depends on the type of marble, and how and where it was quarried.

Is it easy to keep clean and maintain?

No. Marble is one of the least practical materials you can have in the kitchen. It’s porosity and softness means spills of any kind (including water) must be wiped up immediately. It is best suited to people who are fanatics when it comes to cleaning. A sealer can be applied to help protect the surface but it is not perfect and will require resealing over time. If you are the type of person who likes to see materials age and patina over time and can look past the odd ring mark, then you might also consider marble.

Where is it priced in the market?

Marble is priced at the high end of the market. Different marbles might be priced higher or lower depending on scarcity, the grade of the stone, domestic demand and shipping costs. Some marble slabs come in book-matched pairs and usually sell at a higher price.

Pros

  • Elegant aesthetic
  • Unique
  • Prestigious material
  • Large variety of marbles
  • Long association with art and beauty
  • Translucent
  • Neutral toned
  • Edges can be mitred very successfully to give the effect of a thicker stone or waterfall end
  • Edges can have detailed profiles

Cons

  • Requires sealing and resealing for lasting durability
  • Soft, brittle material known for chipping and cracking
  • Porous material, making it extremely vulnerable to staining, etching and marking
  • Avoid anything acidic around it such as red wines and lemons. Spills must be cleaned up immediately
  • Can be difficult to get similar looking slabs when multiple slabs are needed

A kitchen with a Kashmir White benchtop

A kitchen with a “Kashmir White” granite benchtop.  

Granite

What is it?

Another naturally occurring stone, granite is a coarse type of igneous rock with large visible grains. It is composed mainly of quartz and feldspar with small amounts of mica, amphiboles and other minerals. Granite is slowly formed from magma deep below the Earth’s surface. Typically, granite is a very dense material making it incredibly strong in compression. There are many different types of granite (Kashmir white, super white and black galaxy just to name a few) all with great differences in grain patterning and colour. Some slabs will have a very uniform patterning, others will display unique flowing patterns and variations in hue. When polished and sealed, the colour and patterning can be very striking.

How big are the slabs?

Like marble, most granite slabs are irregularly shaped and share similar overall sizes to marble. Standard slab thicknesses are 20mm and 30mm. Some slabs also come as book-matched pairs.

Is it easy to keep clean and maintain?

Overall granite is easy to keep clean. It is scratch, stain, heat and chemically resistant.  Sealers can be applied to help protect the surface but will require resealing over time.

Where is it priced in the market?

Pricing varies widely for granite from low to high. There has been a trend away from granite making some slabs cheaper, not to mention the vast supply of slabs coming from India, China and Brazil. As with all natural stones, price is also dictated by the quality and beauty of the stone.

Pros

  • Unique appearance due to natural grain of the stone
  • Large variety of colours and patterning
  • Edges can be mitred very successfully to give the effect of a thicker stone or waterfall end
  • When sealed, it is extremely resistant to stains, impacts, abrasions and heat
  • Prestige material
  • Easy to clean and maintain
  • Edges can have detailed profiles

Cons

  • When not sealed, certain granites are susceptible to staining
  • The density of the granite can vary, depending on the type
  • Cold to touch
  • Can be difficult to get similar looking slabs when multiple slabs are needed

Long Corian benchtop

Solid surface benchtops can be made extra long without visible seams.  

Solid Surfaces (Corian)

What is it?

Solid Surfaces are acrylic-based materials used commonly in commercial fitouts, including medical facilities and washrooms. Their dense composition make solid surface materials ideal for settings where hygiene is important. Solid surfaces have made their way into the domestic market as kitchen benchtops, sinks and vanities. The most commonly used brand is Corian®, because of this most people refer to solid surfaces as Corian®. Solid surfaces have some unique advantages over other kitchen benchtop materials; it’s weldable, meaning slabs can be joined seamlessly with no visible line; it can be thermoformed, creating elaborate shapes; it’s warm to touch; and solid surfaces can be backlit due to its translucency. The range of colours and patterns for solid surfaces is large, perhaps not as large as the engineered stones, nor as natural looking, but comprehensive enough for most kitchen projects.

How big are the slabs?

Corian® is available in slabs at 1828 x 760 x 12mm and 3658 x 760 x 12mm, competitors offer similar sizes. Its weldability means the slabs do not need to be produced as wide. When designing a kitchen, caution needs to be taken involving colours with directional patterns.

Is it easy to keep clean and maintain?

Solid surfaces are no harder to clean than engineered stone and will resist staining and impacts. Being a plastic, it will scratch over time, but can be repolished making the benchtop look as new (contact your kitchen company or benchtop supplier to have this organised). For uniform colours and patterns, any chips or cracks can be repaired with little visible evidence, but for slabs with visible directional patterns, the end result may not be as perfect.

Where is it priced in the market?

Mid to high. On average, expect to pay around the same price as your more expensive engineered stones.

Pros

  • Can be constructed with no visible seams or joins
  • Easy to fabricate
  • Some colours are UV stable and can be used outdoors
  • Great for apartments with limited access as slabs can be cut down and welded onsite
  • Matching under mount sinks
  • Non-porous and extremely good for hygiene
  • No sealing
  • Stain resistant
  • Able to be repaired
  • Can be backlit
  • Able to be thermoformed for special design needs
  • Edges can be mitred very successfully to give the effect of a thicker stone or waterfall end
  • Edges can have detailed profiles

Cons

  • Can be damaged by heat and abrasions
  • Soft material that scratches easily
  • Not as natural looking as engineered stone

Stainless steel scullery benchtop with welded in sink

Stainless steel scullery benchtop with welded in sink.  

Stainless Steel

What is it?

Stainless steel benchtops are typically made of thin sheets of stainless steel, bent to shape, welded together and glued onto a timber substrate. After grinding of welds, the surface is usually finished with scotch-Brite giving the benchtop a uniform brushed effect. Stainless steel benchtops are popular in commercial cooking environments due to the ease of cleaning, stain and chemical resistance and overall durability. Many people also find these qualities ideal for use in domestic kitchens. When first installed, a stainless steel benchtop will look very pristine, however over time it will scratch, dent and may even warp due to prolonged and repeated heat exposure.

How big are the slabs?

Stainless steel comes in various sheet sizes and thicknesses. Typically, 304 grade 1.5mm sheet is used and glued to a pre-fabricated timber substrate for strength.

Is it easy to keep clean and maintain?

Extremely easy to keep clean, however stainless steel will dent and scratch quite readily, no matter how determined you are otherwise.

Where is it priced in the market?

Mid to high, depending on the skill of the fabricator and any extra welding in of sinks or cooktops.

Pros

  • Able to withstand hot objects being placed on it, but warping can occur
  • Easy to wipe clean
  • No seams
  • Can be fabricated into many shapes
  • Stain and chemical resistant
  • Well suited to the industrial look kitchen
  • Cooktops and sinks can be welded in for hygiene and a seamless look

Cons

  • Susceptible to dents and scratches with any damage being quite noticeable
  • Fingerprints and smudges can be very prominent
  • Hard to fabricate, with the end result mainly determined by the skill of the fabricator
  • You will likely need a specific stainless steel cleaner to maintain your benches

Porcelain island benchtop

A porcelain island benchtop.  

Porcelain/Compact Sintered Surfaces

What is it?

A newer option for kitchens, porcelain benchtops (also known as sintered compact surfaces) are a high-density, low-porosity ceramic. They are made of powdered clay and coloured pigments bonded together at extremely high temperature and pressure. Porcelain’s high density and low porosity greatly resist heat, UV fading, staining and scratching, making it an ideal material for use in the kitchen and outdoor environments. Patterns and designs can be sublimated into the surface, successfully recreating the look of timber, concrete, rusted steel and marble just to name a few. One major drawback with porcelain is its brittleness, great care has to be taken with it as chips and cracks can occur.

How big are the slabs?

The two major players in Australia, Dekton and Neolith, offer large slab sizes of 3,200 x 1,500 x 12mm (Neolith) and 3,200 x 1,440 x 12mm (Dekton). Other sizes and thicknesses are also available from both manufacturers.

One drawback of porcelain is that the surface pattern is only skin deep

The patterning of the porcelain is only skin deep. The patterning will not be visible at edges or at milled sections.  

Is it easy to keep clean and maintain?

By far the easiest to clean on the market. Requires no sealing and is highly heat, stain and scratch resistant. Its inherent brittleness makes it more susceptible to chips and cracks.

Where is it priced in the market?

It’s at the higher end, competing with the likes of granite and marble.

Pros

  • Available in large sheets, so you may avoid the need for visible joins
  • Highly resistant to staining, heat, UV fading and scratches
  • High density and low porosity make it great for food preparation zones
  • Can use thinner variations on other elements of your kitchen to match
  • Wide variety of colours, patterns and designs available

Cons

  • Very heavy and brittle, requiring full support along benchtops
  • Can be challenging to repair if damaged
  • Hard to fabricate, with only approved masons allowed to work with it
  • Too dense for backlighting (not translucent)
  • Patterns and designs are only skin deep and do not occur deeper within the material. This makes any mitred edges or joins more apparent

Concrete benchtop

A close up of a concrete benchtop.  

Concrete

What is it?

Concrete benchtops are fabricated either in situ or off site depending on the complexity of the design. Often oxides, additives and aggregates are added to the concrete to create desired effects. Concrete by nature is a heavy and brittle material, requiring special reinforcing and supports built into the design to prevent collapse. Consideration also has to be given to the floor structure underneath. The surface is usually finished with a sealer and polished.

Concrete benchtops are popular with people who are after an industrial look.

How big are the slabs?

They are made to any size and shape. The quality of the form work dictates how accurate the final shape will be.

Concrete benchtop being made showing structural and temporary supports

A cantilevered concrete benchtop being made. The timber supports are temporary, while at the back the bolted down steel pillars will provide the permanent structural support. 

Is it easy to keep clean and maintain?

It is not for people who want a pristine, durable and low maintenance benchtop. Concrete will chip at the edges and corners, but is repairable. The surface will also scratch easily, requiring resealing and polishing to remove any scratch marks. Staining is also a problem. Concrete is a porous material and in areas where the sealer has been removed staining will occur. Although concrete can handle heat, the sealers often can’t and hot pots will leave a visible mark.

Where is it priced in the market?

The raw material for concrete is quite cheap, unfortunately due to the labour of making the formwork, support structures and reinforcing the cost of concrete benchtops are usually at the higher end.

Pros

  • Unique appearance
  • Industrial look
  • Somewhat repairable

Cons

  • Edges and corners are prone to chipping
  • Porous material
  • Poor scratch resistance
  • The quality of the end product is largely dictated by the person making it
  • Damage can result in an increased tendency to stain
  • Resealing and repolishing is needed regularly

Laminate corner detail

Laminate benchtop corner detail.  

Laminate

What is it?

One of the more popular benchtop materials, laminate (melamine or Formica are other names) is a material comprising of decorative paper impregnated with melamine resin, coated in a clear layer of melamine, and bonded onto a wooden substrate. Any design can be placed onto the paper layer, giving it the ability to recreate natural stones, timbers, concrete or any other design you can think of. As it is only a printed layer, the success of the recreation can be somewhat hit and miss.

How big are the slabs?

Preformed laminate benchtop slabs are typically 3,650 x 600mm (single rolled edge) or 3,650 x 900mm (double rolled edge) in a variety of thicknesses and edge profiles. The ease of cutting means the benchtops can be cut to size on site.

Is it easy to keep clean and maintain?

The melamine surface will resist most stains. Scratching will occur if cutting directly onto the surface. Hot objects left on the surface will leave a mark. Once the melamine layer is broken, water can seep in underneath causing swelling. Overall it is moderately durable.

Where is it priced in the market?

Laminates are priced at the lower end of the market and are an extremely cost effective option for what they do.

Pros

  • Easy to clean
  • Lots of colours and styles available

Cons

  • Heat damage can be an issue
  • Impacts can dent the surface
  • Scratches can be quite obvious
  • Very hard to repair

Raised timber benchtop

Raised timber benchtop.  

Solid Timber

What is it?

Solid timber benchtops are made of large pieces of timber glued together, sanded back and coated with a clear polyurethane. Timber is a very warm and inviting material that works well aesthetically in the home. The wide variety of species available (Australian and overseas) means there is much to choose from.

How big are the slabs?

Timber benchtops are custom made to size. Some manufacturers supply more affordable pre-made benchtops using smaller pieces of timber glued together.

Is it easy to keep clean and maintain?

Spills on timber benchtops wipe clean easily. Scratching, denting, staining and burn marks from hot objects can occur. All species have different densities and will resist water differently. Where the polyurethane layer has worn away, water can seep into the timber and cause expansion. Timber can be sanded back and re-lacquered to make the surface new again, but it is quite labour intensive.

Where is it priced in the market?

Mid to high. Your pre-made benchtops are at the cheaper end, while benchtops custom made from exotic or rare timbers will be at the upper end.

Pros

  • Timber is often an environmentally friendly material to work with
  • Unique in appearance
  • Looks good in both modern and traditional kitchens
  • Fairly stain-resistant

Cons

  • Susceptible to heat, water and scratch damage
  • Denting can occur, particularly in the softer species of timber
  • Will need some regular maintenance to preserve appearance

We hope this guide has provided you some sound advice and knowledge. At Dan Kitchens, we do our best to educate our customers about the myriad of things to do with kitchens. If you found this article while researching for your new kitchen, why not consider us. You can simply call our design studio and speak directly to a designer or visit our two floor showroom and see what we do at your own leisure.

Concrete detail

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