Whether it's an industrial, rustic, modern, or contemporary look that you're going for, there'll be a benchtop to suit. While we often consider what's going to look good, there are other important factors such as budget and ease-of-cleaning that shouldn't be overlooked.
We've put 16 benchtop materials to the test in our labs, assessing their ability to resist heat damage, staining, impact, cutting and abrasion.
Bamboo or butcher block can give your kitchen a great rustic feel. Bamboo is eco-friendly and also a less expensive option. They can be sealed with oil or with polyurethane.
If you choose to have an oiled finish, keep in mind that you'll need to regularly re-apply the oil to prevent drying out and cracking. Spills should be attended to straight away with a damp cloth (for oiled surface) and warm soapy water or spray and wipe type products for polyurethane surfaces. Harsher abrasive cleaners will damage and strip the surface of its gloss.
Bamboo benchtop with polyurethane finish
How they fared
Both types perform similarly in our tests; however, polyurethane was more resistant to staining. The oiled finishes were affected by the bleach, which left behind a white mark. On the other hand, the oiled finishes performed a little better in our impact test in comparison to the polyurethane finish. They're prone to scratching, and if you place hot saucepans on the surface you'll end up with some nice scorched rings that you'll need to deal with.
You can repair any damage made to the benchtop by sanding back the surface and refinishing with oil or polyurethane. The downside is that even if the damage is in one spot, for the finish to look consistent you'll probably need to sand back and reseal the whole benchtop.
Polished concrete benchtop
If you're going for an industrial look, you'll achieve it with a polished concrete benchtop, but this option can be pricey. Many factors, like cement, aggregate and sand, will influence the final colour of your concrete benchtop, ensuring you'll end up with a unique product. Raw concrete is porous so will need to be sealed/polished to avoid staining and damaging the surface.
How it fared
Take care not to drop or knock concrete – especially the corners and edges, which are prone to chipping. During our impact test the edge chipped off. Following our abrasion test, obvious scratch marks were left behind with the polish being removed, so take care and avoid using scourers to clean the surface. Our heat test left some bubbling of the surface coating.
Whenever the surface is damaged, a repolish is recommended. Leaving the surface damaged can potentially allow for spills to seep through, which can potentially damage the surface permanently.
Sealed granite benchtop
If you want your kitchen to have all the bells and whistles and your budget allows it, a natural stone like granite is a great option for your benchtop. It's extremely durable and will be a life-long feature in your home.
How it fared
Granite performed excellently in all tests except for the abrasion test where it scored very well. Scratch marks were only visible under light. It's a porous material so it'll need to be sealed to give it stain resistance and you'll need to continue to reseal it regularly.
If you're on a tight budget a laminate benchtop is worth considering. Laminate (layers of paper over a chipboard, ply or MDF board) has been around for a long time and has come a long way. Now you can get a laminate benchtop to suit any style you're after – woodgrains, marble and granite looks are all achievable with laminate. You can even create a waterfall finish with seamless joins. Laminex and Formica are the leading brands when it comes to laminate.
How it fared
In our abrasion test scratch marks were obvious on the laminate and our cutting resistance test left faint knife marks. Our impact test saw both Formica and Laminex dent with a slight crack in the surface. Heat damage can also be an issue with laminate products – the Formica left a burnt mark, but interestingly there was no obvious damage in the Laminex benchtop. Both tops removed all stains with a cleaner. Keep in mind that once the surface is damaged, continual exposure to liquid spills and water can cause the board underneath to swell.
Marble is a natural stone like granite, and suitable for a top-of-the-range kitchen if price is no concern. Keep in mind it's delicate and needs to be cared for correctly. Marble is more porous than granite, so sealing and ongoing maintenance is a must.
How it fared
Marble performed poorly in our drop test – it appeared that only the edge chipped off, however, on further investigation we discovered that there was a crack at the point of impact on the underside of the benchtop. The abrasion test stripped away the reflective coating on the surface, giving it a matt look and feel and faint knife marks were visible on the surface from our cutting test. Placing a hot pot on the surface initially left an obvious white mark, however, this faded away over time leaving only a very faint mark. The sample we received for testing wasn't sealed, which became evident in our stain test where light stains remained for most of the tested items.
Porcelain is a relatively new option to consider. It's priced per sheet and can cost anywhere from $750 to over $1000. It's lightweight, you won't need to seal it and it's available in large slab sizes. It's versatile too, you can use porcelain sheets for furniture, flooring and in outdoor areas.
How it fared
We found it to be stain and heat resistant, performing excellently in our tests. It also performed excellently for cutting resistance when we drew a weighted blade across the surface. In our abrasion test there were only faint scratch marks left that were only visible under light. It was let down in our drop test – the edge and corner chipped away.
Porcelain requires full support when it's installed, and our sample was supplied on granite. Other supporting materials might give different results when it comes to impact.
Quartz Caesarstone benchtop
If you're after practicality, quartz is your answer. It's probably one of the most popular choices at the moment – it comes in an array of colours and designs and isn't as expensive as natural stone. It's also non-porous so you won't need to seal it.
How it fared
We tested two popular brands on the market, Caesarstone and Quantum Quartz, and they both performed the same. There were some scratch marks following our abrasion test but they weren't very visible and barely any marks were left following our cutting resistance test. It resists heat damage and staining but is prone to chipping – in our impact test the edge chipped off. You may be able to repair chips and cracks but you'll need to contact the manufacturer.
Solid surfacing (Corian) benchtop
If you're looking for versatility and durability, a solid surfacing (Corian) benchtop is worth considering. Solid surfacing is an acrylic resin with a filler of alumina. These materials give strength and fire retardants properties. Solid surfacing gives you the possibility to mould your kitchen sink in the same seamless piece as your benchtop, and it's ideal if you have a large benchtop or island.
With no cracks or crevices to trap food and dirt, it's also a hygienic option. Corian is waterproof and UV resistant so it's also an option if you have an outdoor entertaining area. It's also translucent, so you can backlight Corian to create a stunning feature. Its starting price is around $400 per linear metre.
How it fared
Corian wasn't damaged by our impact test and stains were easily cleaned away using a cleaner, but the abrasion test left obvious scratch marks and when applying heat it left a faint matt mark in the surface.
Corian is repairable – you'll need to contact the manufacturer. Depending on the damage, the affected piece can be cut out, and filled in with a new piece, with the same seamless finish.
Stainless steel benchtop
If you like a restaurant vibe in your kitchen, consider a stainless steel benchtop. It's a hygienic option and is fairly durable, and definitely one for the cooking enthusiast.
How it fared
You can place a hot saucepan on the surface without damaging it, and it's fairly stain resistant. The surface, corner and edge were dented following our drop test, which is quite noticeable due to the reflective nature of the surface. It's not resistant to scratching – our abrasion test left noticeable scratch marks on the surface. Fingerprints will likely become a major annoyance of yours if you go for a stainless steel benchtop. You'll likely need to invest in specific stainless steel cleaners to clean the surface.
A tiled benchtop isn't one you'll come across often, but you can choose between lots of different styles, textures and patterns to give your benchtop a unique look. It can be quite inexpensive and if you're into doing things yourself, a tiled surface might be an interesting project for you to tackle.
How it fared
It performed excellently for cutting resistance and heat damage. It was also very good in our abrasion test – it only had very faint scratch marks, which were only visible under light. You may find tiled surfaces can be a chore to clean, especially the grout. It's important to have your grout sealed to avoid staining and fiddly cleaning situations. Using a darker grout (if possible) will also help to hide stains. The surface performed excellently in our stain test, only requiring a damp cloth to remove any marks.
The surface performed poorly in our drop test, with the corner and edge chipping away. The beauty of tiled surfaces is that if you hang onto a few spare tiles, you can repair or replace any chipped or damaged tiles.
Ultra compact (Dekton) benchtop
Thinking outside the square? An ultra compact surface is an alternative to consider. It's manufactured by putting the raw materials found in glass, porcelain and quartz under extreme heat and pressure. Its UV resistance makes it an option if you have an outdoor kitchen/entertaining area. It also comes in large slabs, limiting the amount of seams required; depending on the size of your kitchen, it may even eliminate the need for seams all together.
How it fared
We tested the Dekton brand, which was let down in our drop test – the benchtop completely shattered. This test simulates what could happen if a heavy object was to fall from an overhead cupboard and this was the only benchtop to be damaged in such a way. Apart from this, it performed exceptionally well in our other tests. It's stain resistant, only requiring a damp cloth to remove stains, and there was no damage to the surface following exposure to heat. Its resistance to cutting and abrasion is also impressive.
- Follow the care and maintenance instructions provided by the manufacturer.
- Ask about the warranty.
- Look at a large sample of the material, even a slab if possible – what looks good online or in a magazine doesn't always match expectations in reality.
- Consider what type of sink you want – a top-mounted sink can be used with any material, while an under-mounted sink doesn't work with all benchtops.
- Make sure the installer is accredited to fabricate and install the product.
- Don't place hot saucepans directly on the benchtop.
- Don't slice and dice foods directly on the surface – use a chopping board.
- Don't allow stains to settle overnight – wipe away any spills quickly.
- Consider the type of cleaning products you use and refer to the manufacturer's instructions. Not all cleaning products are suitable for all surfaces – some products can dull the surface or strip the colour.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.