The type of stone a homeowner wants for their kitchen countertop depends largely on the decor of their kitchen and what they can afford. Natural stone is not cheap! But few things surpass it in beauty, durability and strength. After all, whatever stone is used has already been around for millions of years. Here are some of the most popular types of stone:
Granite is an igneous rock, which means it was formed eons ago in the bowels of the earth. This makes it exceptionally hard and tough, but granite balances out its toughness and hardness with its beauty. This beauty is a function of the minerals that make up this rock, which include quartz, felspar, plagioclase and biotite mica. Some granite has such sparkling additions such as zircon, tourmaline and garnet. This allows the stone to have colors that range from the familiar salt and pepper to blue green, brown, tan, red and pink. Granite can even be variegated, or have veins most people associate with marble.
Granite may be a tough stone, but it is porous and needs to be sealed. Many granite counters come from the factory already sealed, but a homeowner can tell that the stone needs to be sealed again when a drop of water sinks into it instead of beading up. Granite is easy to clean but should never be cleaned with harsh cleansers, including powders. All it needs is some lukewarm water and pH neutral cleaner. To be on the safe side, the homeowner can simply by a cleaner meant for stone. Acids and very hot pots and pans should also be kept away from granite, for they could damage it. If the polish starts looking a bit dull, the stone can be polished, but it should not be polished very often.
A granite countertop costs between $50 and $250 a square foot, but the homeowner can save money by installing tiles instead of one large slab.
Marble is a rock that evolved, over countless generations, into another rock. It started out as limestone, but eons of pressure ad weathering turned it into marble. Many people find the beauty of marble simply matchless. It ranges in colors from dazzling, icy white to deepest black. In between are shades of gold, brown, red, violet, green and blue. It’s also known for its veins, patches, clouds and streaks of gray, green and gold. Marble is often named after the place from whence it was quarried. Carrara marble, for example, is the white marble that Michelangelo used for his statues. The quarry is still in use.
Homeowners love the way pale marble seems to pull light into itself. They also love its coolness, which is perfect for pastry making. Like granite, marble can be polished if it starts to look a bit careworn but should not be polished often. If marble is stained, a poultice can often draw the stain out. This might take a few days and several applications before the stain is completely gone.
One of the reasons sculptors love marble is that it is soft which can be a little problematic if it’s used as a countertop. Like granite, marble needs to be sealed and should be protected from even mild acids such as vinegar or wine. The softness of marble is, of course, relative. It can be hard on glassware even as it is vulnerable to being scratched, dinged or chipped. Most homeowners use marble sparingly. It is often an inset in another type of stone counter and is used exclusively to roll out dough.
Marble costs from $75 to $250 a square foot.
Technically quartz is not a stone but a mineral which means it is a solid crystalline substance and not a collection of other minerals as a rock is. When most homeowners think of quartz countertops, they think of engineered quartz. This is a countertop that’s made of quartz powder mixed with resin and pigment that’s poured into a form and left to harden like cement. This allows for more interesting shapes than could be had for stone. Engineered quartz does not need to be sealed, is antimicrobial, can tolerate heat and can be easily repaired if it is broken or chipped. The homeowner should only be careful not to spill bleach on it, since that can ruin the color.
But some homeowners want countertops made out of solid quartz which is one of the most abundant minerals on earth. Pure quartz is silicon dioxide and is transparent, but most examples of quartz have impurities that give it an endless array of colors and patterns. The most common variety of quartz is milky quartz, which can be found in slabs big enough to make kitchen counters. Some rock hunter once found a crystal that weighed over 14 tons.
Solid quartz is best cleaned the way granite and marble is cleaned, and sealing it is a good idea. Engineered quartz can be cleaned with a glass cleaner and microfiber cloth or sponges made for Teflon pots and pans. The homeowner should not prepare food directly on either quartz or engineered quartz. Both surfaces will be scratched, and in the case of engineered quartz, the knives will dull.
Quartz countertops will set a homeowner back from between $55 to $155 per square foot.
Limestone is mostly made of calcite and dolomite and is prized for its texture. It is soft like marble and must be sealed to protect it from etching, stains and other damage. It usually comes in beautiful pale colors, which means that it doesn’t hide stains as well as darker stone. Like granite and marble, a limestone counter may come from the factory pre-sealed and it’s the homeowner’s job to seal it from then on. Limestone should be sealed about once a year, and it’s best to use a water based sealer. The stone can also be cleaned with sprays that have sealant as a ingredient. These cleaning sprays should be specifically made to clean porous stones like limestone. Other than that, use the lukewarm water and the pH neutral cleaner with a soft, clean cloth.
As with other stone countertops, food should not be prepared directly on top of limestone. Use a cutting board. If the stone is scratched, the scratch can be buffed away with a pad of 00 grade steel wool. As with marble, stains can be drawn out of limestone with a poultice. Screaming hot pans should never be placed on limestone or any other natural stone.
Limestone costs between $55 and $125 per square foot.
Soapstone may have the edge on other stones used for counters because it doesn’t have to be sealed. Ironically, this is because soapstone is so soft. One component of soapstone is talc, which is the softest type of stone. Soapstone is the one natural stone that doesn’t mind having a hot pot placed on it nor does it mind having a few drops of a harsh chemical spilled on it. This is why soapstone is used for countertops in laboratories. Yet, soapstone has a uniquely delicious, smooth feel akin to a bar of soap.
It is true that soapstone’s softness subjects it to scratches, but its softness is also the reason why those scratches can be easily buffed out with sandpaper or some fine steel wool. Most types of soapstone are gray and darken attractively over time. Soapstone also gives good value, and a homeowner can get as much as an 80 percent return on a soapstone counter if they ever sell their house.
Soapstone runs $60 to $185 per square foot.