Kitchen benchtops buying guide

Showing the way through the choice of kitchen benchtop materials.
 
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  • Updated:1 Jul 2008
 

01 .Benchtops

Kitchen

The kitchen is often described as the heart of the family home. No longer just a place for cooking and washing-up, it’s become one of the key entertaining areas.

With all this activity, most people want their kitchen benchtops to look good, as well as being durable and easy to clean.

Our buying guide looks at the most popular materials:

  • Granite
  • Engineered stone
  • Marble
  • Laminate
  • Solid surfaces
  • Stainless steel
  • Timber

Please note: this information was current as of July 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market. 


Size

As a general rule, a benchtop along a wall should be around 600–650 mm in depth — any deeper and it becomes too far to reach. If one person usually prepares the food it should be a minimum of 600 mm long; 900 mm is better. If two people generally prepare food side-by-side the length should be 1200–1500 mm.

Edges

Benchtop edges come in a variety of styles and can give a cheaper counter some added flair, but some options can be expensive and may not be available in all materials.

Most materials have a standard thickness for edges (for example, 20 mm for granite). Thicker edges or edges that require more workmanship, such as the bullnose or bevel styles, will cost more. But you might want to consider rounded edges if you have small children as they hurt less when bumped into.

Splashbacks

Splashbacks protect the wall behind the countertop and can be made from:

  • a continuous run of one material, including the same material as the benchtop
  • tiles with grouted joins
  • glass.

A splashback should be waterproof and easy to clean. If you have a join between the splashback and the benchtop it should be properly sealed so dirt doesn’t collect there.

Some benchtop surfaces, such as laminate, solid surface and stainless steel may be ‘coved’ to continue up the wall so there’s no join at all.

Glass splashbacks are also a very popular choice at the moment. They’re available in many different colours and designs, and are very easy to clean as you don’t have to worry about dirt collecting in the grout, as you do with tiles. They’re usually made from 6 mm toughened glass for strength and durability.

 
 

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Granite:

Granite benchtops remain a favourite for those who want the elegant look of natural stone. It's one of the hardest materials available and, if cared for properly, can look good for many years. Granite

Pros: Can withstand hot pans; comes in beautiful colours; very durable; difficult to scratch.

Cons: Porous so needs to be resealed regularly; has joins; colours and patterns can differ from the showroom sample.

Cost: Relatively expensive. Usually around the same price as engineered stone, slightly cheaper than solid surface, but much more expensive than laminate.

Tips: Go to the fabricator’s workshop and choose the actual slab before its installed as it may look very different from the showroom sample.

Engineered stone:

Engineered stone is made of quartz or granite granules, marble dust or glass chips mixed with a resin or polyester baEngineered benchtopsse. It includes the brand names CaesarStone and SmartStone. It's a relatively new product but its appearance and durability have made it a popular choice.

Pros: Doesn’t have to be sealed; large variety of colours and patterns; difficult to scratch.

Cons: More expensive than some other materials; uniform look isn’t for everyone.

Cost: Generally around the same price as granite, depending on the style you choose.

Marble:

There’s a reason that marble counters are generally found in bathrooms rather than kitchens. While it may look classic and beautiful, marble lacks the durability of granite and has a tendency to stain and scratch. Marble

Pros: Good surface for rolling dough and making pastry; looks good.

Cons: Not scratch or stain-resistant; not as durable as granite; requires regular resealing; is sensitive to acidic foods and some cleaners.

Cost: Marble is usually more expensive than granite or engineered.

Tips: You may want to put a marble inset into a benchtop of another material for rolling pastry, but this will create joins where dirt can be trapped.

Laminate:

Laminate is still a very popular option, especially for those on a budget. Laminate

Pros: Inexpensive; huge choice of colours and designs; easy to maintain.

Cons: Difficult to repair chips; can’t rest hot pans on or cut directly onto the surface; can’t use abrasive cleaners on it; susceptible to burns, cuts and scratches; can't usually support an undermount sink.

Cost: One of the cheapest options.

Tips: It can be sold in long lengths so there are fewer joins in the benchtop. You can also buy laminate benchtops from DIY kitchen renovation stores and install them yourself.

Stainless steel:

Stainless steel is the benchtop of choice in busy restaurants for a number of reasons — it’s easy to clean, hygienic and hard-wearing. Stainless steel

Pros: Hygienic; easy to clean; can withstand hot pans; can be worked to create integral sinks and draining boards.

Cons: Shows scratches, dents and fingerprints; expensive; can be noisy; can’t use abrasive cleaners.

Cost: Generally one of the most expensive options. Price varies depending on the thickness of the steel.

Tips: The newer brushed and textured finishes can camouflage fingerprint marks to some extent. Where joins are necessary the two pieces of steel can be welded and polished to give an almost invisible seam.

Solid surfaces:

Solid-surface benchtops are made of a solid plastic block, so the colour and pattern are consistent throughout. One of the best known is Corian by Du Pont, which can be made to appear like marble or granite. Solid surfaces

Pros: Resistant to staining; no visible joins; hygienic; large variety of colours and patterns; custom-made to your specifications; can be used to create integral sinks and draining boards; dents, cuts and scratches can be easily repaired.

Cons: Not heat or scratch-resistant; uniform appearance not for everyone;

Cost: More expensive than most other materials — generally more than natural or engineered stone.

Tips: Generally the plainer colours will be cheaper than those with a speckled pattern. It can be ‘coved’ up the wall as a splashback so there’s no join at the back edge.

Timber:

Timber benchtops aren’t very fashionable at the moment but they’re still favoured for a rustic look. Timber top

Pros: Strong and long-lasting; won’t blunt your knives.

Cons: Not heat or scratch-resistant; requires regular resealing; relatively expensive.

Cost: Can be an expensive option depending on the type of timber you choose.

Tips: Mop up liquid spills quickly as they may damage the wood. Generally these benchtops should be oiled or resealed every year. Ready-to-install laminated timber benchtops can be bought from Ikea or other DIY kitchen renovation stores.

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