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Choose the right countertops and make them last

Some countertop materials withstand more punishment than others

Published: February 27, 2014 03:45 PM

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Of course you want a countertop that looks good on the day it’s installed—but it should look just as good five years later. Before you buy, visit friends and note how their countertops have held up. Then think about your tolerance for stains and other signs of wear and tear. In addition to the obvious differences in appearance, Consumer Reports countertop tests found huge variations in performance among granite, limestone, marble, quartz, and soapstone. Some can take lots of abuse, and others need lots of TLC.

In our countertop tests, there was little difference among competing brands of each type of material, with the exception of recycled glass. That’s why we rate materials, not brands. Quartz, which doesn’t need sealing, was the clear winner, followed by granite, which does. Marble counters, on the other hand, were not as stain-resistant, scratched easily, and need to be resealed periodically to help ward off stains. Here are a few simple steps to keep your counters looking better, longer.

Pick the right professional. To be sure your contractor’s countertops stand the test of time, check references from jobs completed at least a year or two ago. That is especially crucial for concrete counters because most are made from scratch. To guarantee installation according to warranty standards, select a manufacturer-certified installer. Otherwise, the manufacturer might not cover the work if you have a problem.

Seal the surface. Stone, concrete, butcher block, and the grout between tiles require sealing and periodic resealing to resist stains. Put a few drops of water on stone that’s near the sink or another high-use area and let it stand for 15 minutes. If the water doesn’t stay in a bead, it’s time to reseal it.

Act fast. Clean stains as they happen and before they have a chance to set—even on stain-resistant materials. Follow care instructions; not doing so could void the warranty. Cut only on cutting boards. Taking a little extra time can keep your counters looking good.

—Adapted from Consumer Reports’ Kitchen Planning & Buying Guide

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