Just as with kitchen flooring, there are many materials and hundreds of styles to choose from.
Many of the same criteria apply: durability, stain resistance, ease of cleaning, and so forth. In this case, the 'floor' is for your hands and dishes, but the selections are similar. Luckily, there are even more options for countertops than floors.
Stone has long been a great option for a countertop. But because of the weight and cost, and the sometimes hard-to-achieve stain resistance, composites are more popular here.
Corian, for example, is a man-made material that resembles marble, both in appearance and function. That's one of the reasons for its popularity. It provides an extremely durable surface that stands up well to knife cuts and bangs. It is highly stain resistant and ultra-easy to clean.
Granite is still a hotly desired countertop material, though. Stains become hard to clean when the material can soak into the surface where it can't be wiped away. Because granite is not very porous it stands up to stains very well. That makes cleaning a breeze. And there's nothing stronger or more durable.
One recent variation is something called Kirkstone. This English stone is midway between granite and slate. Its surface can be highly polished lending a beautiful sheen to the countertop. At the same time, it cleans up with a wipe and is lighter than the other two.
Stainless steel is often used in large sections of the kitchen. It's extremely easy to clean and contemporary alloys make rusting a thing of the past. But it does scratch fairly easily and it is highly conductive. Bright sunlight can make it hot to the touch.
Wood remains the choice of many, for some sections of the kitchen anyway. It is naturally beautiful and a few knife cuts don't necessarily detract from the look. It feels good to the touch. It can be prone to retaining bacteria, though, so it has to be kept very clean and disinfected from time to time. Still, it makes for a great option for kitchens that have hardwood floors.
Tile is still installed in millions of homes every year. The reasons aren't far to seek. It's highly heat resistant and it provides a durable surface that is absolutely stain proof and easy to clean. Unfortunately, grout is not. Grout has improved but it is still porous and can retain tea, dirt, and other common kitchen compounds. But tile comes in hundreds of beautiful styles that will last forever.
Laminates used to be the sure sign of a cheap, and cheap looking, kitchen countertop. But modern materials science has improved the look and durability immensely, while still providing a low-cost alternative. Any design imaginable can be stamped or printed into the surface. So, for those looking for the widest possible array of designs, this is an option.
Give some thought and time to selecting your desired countertop. You'll be living with it for a long time.
Laminates are one option in the array of kitchen countertop choices. Old-style laminates were just plastic or vinyl over a thin support. But with advances in materials science the word really means something very different today.
That older style still exists, but it is on the lower end of the scale, both in terms of price and functionality. They display visible seams between sheets, are easily cut, and don't always shed liquids as well as they should. But they're easy to install and replace. They stand up to impact well and are very stain resistant. And, they are the low-cost option, making them suitable for certain applications.
Newer laminates are made from binding layers of resin and paper together under high pressure. Then the top is glued onto medium-density fiberboard to make a a sturdy, quiet, and easy to clean surface.
One of the great advantages of laminates is not just the low cost, however. Because of the materials and the process used to make them, they can be embedded or printed with any style or design imaginable.
Laminates can emulate a wood surface to a high degree of accuracy today. The material won't feel like wood, but from a few feet away some will be hard to distinguish from the real thing. They incorporate the look of natural grain and the tones range over beech, oak, teak, and other natural woods.
Wood isn't the only material laminates can emulate, either. Just as with flooring, they can be made to look like stone - slate, marble, and many others. Just as with wood, it can be difficult to see the difference from a few feet away.
Of course, they don't have the durability and other features of the real thing. Burns are nearly impossible with natural stone. The temperature would have to be much higher than even a pan directly from the oven. But laminates will burn fairly easily, since the material is essentially a kind of plastic.
Still, they do provide the appearance at a much lower price than stone. Laminates are usually cheaper than other counter top options. Part of that comes from their being much easier to install. That task is part of the overall cost, naturally.
Some high-end laminates, such as Formica's ColorCore use a melamine compound in the countertop. That provides a uniform color and texture all the way through the sheet. As a result, any nicks, scratches, or holes from knife slices, fork pokes, and other common accidents are very well disguised.
Also, since the color and consistency are uniform throughout the sheet, there's no edge effect. The laminate looks the same on edge as it does on the surface. That eliminates one of the most obvious visual cues of past laminates.
Even if a laminate is not your preferred long-term option for a kitchen countertop, it might make a good intermediate solution. It provides a highly usable and attractive surface while you save for that dream material.