This article is the archived version of a report that appeared in August 2009 Consumer Reports magazine.
Best for busy kitchens and baths. It's stain- and heat-resistant and low-maintenance. It doesn't need sealing and is available in vibrant colors and in styles that mimic natural stone.
But edges and corners can chip. Rounded edges help. Stone finishes can appear more uniform than natural.
Price $50 to $100 per sq. ft.
Best for a natural stone look. It can withstand heavy use in a kitchen or bath. It resists stains when it's properly sealed and it also resists heat and scratches.
But it needs resealing to protect it from stains. Color and grain can differ from samples, so it's best to choose at the stone yard.
Price $45 to $200 per sq. ft.
Best for use near stoves because it's heat-resistant. It comes in many colors, patterns, and prices.
But it chips. Grout between tiles stains and is prone to mildew, even when sealed. Poor installation can increase those problems. Thinner grout lines and darker grout might help.
Price $10 to $30 per sq. ft.
Best for a wide variety of colors and patterns at a budget-friendly price. It's excellent at resisting stains and heat damage and is simple to install.
But it's easily scratched by kitchen knives and isn't repairable. Most have visible seams, though post-formed (seamless) options are available.
Price $10 to $30 per sq. ft.
Best for seamless installations, especially in baths. Many colors and styles are available, including those that mimic concrete, stone, and quartz. It's stain-resistant, and small nicks and scratches can be repaired.
But it's easily scratched. Stone finishes can look more uniform than natural.
Price $35 to $100 per sq. ft.
Best for a modern kitchen. It repels stains and heat and doesn't rust or discolor. The countertop can be made with an integral sink for a seamless look.
But it can look cold in a bath. It shows fingerprints and dents and scratches easily. Matte or grain finishes hide damage better.
Price $100 to $150 per sq. ft.
Best for customizing. It can be dyed or textured.
But it can develop cracks. Its durability depends on the fabricator's skill and the sealers used. Topical sealers, which resist stains but not heat, are best for bathrooms. Penetrating sealers resist heat but stain and must be reapplied.
Price $80 to $120 per sq. ft.
Best for a natural stone look without heavy veining or graining in a guest bath, powder room, or low-traffic kitchen. It withstands heat very well.
But it's a very soft stone that is easily sliced, nicked, and scratched. It's also porous, so it stains easily even when properly sealed.
Price $60 to $100 per sq. ft.
Best for a country kitchen and for cutting produce. It's easy to install and repair.
But it might need periodic sealing or refinishing to remove cuts, dings, and scratches. Its finish affects performance. Varnish improves stain resistance and penetrating oils decrease it.
Price $30 to $65 per sq. ft.
Best for a classic stone look in low-traffic areas, like a baking zone or guest bath. It's available in a wide range of natural colors.
But it's more porous than granite, so it's not as stain-resistant. It also scratches easily, isn't very heat-resistant, and needs periodic sealing.
Price $50 to $140 per sq. ft.