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Choosing Countertops for Your Kitchen
by Pamela Cole Harris

Description: Tips for choosing countertops for your kitchen.

Are those funky pop-art brown circles that decorate the top of your kitchen counter just 10 years of coffee stains? Is that unusual stripes a result of years of cutting vegetables? If so, it's time to replace that old countertop and give you and your kitchen a lift!

There are many new options in countertops today (from affordable to "that costs more than my entire house!" expensive). Here it is an easy guide to help you find the right options for your kitchen (and your pocketbook!):

1. Ceramic tile - Ceramic tile is made of clay that that is dried and fired in a kiln. It comes in a variety of wonderful earth tones or colorful glazes.

The best thing about it: If ceramic tile is installed correctly (emphasize correctly!), it's heatproof, scratch resistant, water resistant, and long-lasting.

The worst thing about it: Some glazes react to foods or household chemicals. Grout hard to ensure these substances will not seep between tiles. Ceramic's hard surface can easily chip glassware (So try not to throw the good crystal!).

2. Plastic Laminate - Plastic laminate is resin-impregnated paper bonded to a particleboard core. As you might imagine, plastic laminate is relatively inexpensive. It comes in a wide range of colors and textures and bought in ready-made sections called post-formed, making it easy for do-it-yourselfers.

The best thing about it: Plastic laminate is durable, easy to clean, stain-resistant, moisture-resistant, and inexpensive.

The worst thing about it: Laminate can be easily scratched, scorched and chipped. High-gloss laminate shows dirt and water spots (ugh!). And the laminate backing can be seen at the seams.

3. Stainless steel - For more durable countertops, choose stainless steel that's at least 18 gauge and contains at least 8 to 10% nickel. Keep in mind that matte stainless steel is easier to keep clean.

The best thing about it: Stainless steel is waterproof and heat resistant, easy to clean and durable.

The worst thing about it: Stainless steel can easily be scratched and dented. Stainless steel countertops can't be used for cutting (because it's so easily scratched!) If you have a complicated countertop with holes and cut outs, it will raise the cost considerably. Using flat stainless steel sheeting and adding a natural wood edge will reduce costs.

4. Wood - Butcher block countertops are made from strips of edgegrain or endgrain maple or oak that is glued together to make a solid surface.

The best thing about it: Wood is beautiful, natural, relatively easy to install, easy on glassware and china, reasonably priced, and ideal for cutting surface.

The worst thing about it: Wood can easily burn, scratch and dent. Wood countertops shouldn't be used near water (Using them near the sink will cause them to warp). Polyurethane or permanent sealer can be used on eating areas, but don't use it on cutting surfaces (use an oil finish for cutting surfaces.).

5. Stone - Stone is very good if you're working with dough (or HAVE a lot of dough!). But it can be very (make that very) expensive.

The best thing about it: Stone is strong and durable, heatproof, water resistant, and easy to clean.

The worst thing about it: Stone can be very heavy, so you must have a strong base. Stone needs to be custom installed (Choose an installer with a strong back!). Oil, alcohol, and any acid (lemons or wine) will stain marble or damage its finish. Granite, however, will stand up to all of these.

6. Solid surface - Solid surface countertops are made of polyurethane or acrylic with mineral fillers. The countertops come in sheets approximately one half inch thick.

The best thing about it: Solid surface countertops are durable, water resistant, nonporous, easy to clean, bacteria resistant, and mold resistant. Small blemishes or scratches can be sanded out.

The worst thing about it: Solid surface countertops are easily scratched and discolored by heat. They are also expensive (But not quite as expensive as stone). Like stone, they need firm base of support.

Whichever countertop surface you choose, be sure to take into account your needs, your pocketbook, and the tendency of your family to spill, drop, burn, scratch, stain or dent the surface you choose. Now go out there and decorate!

Pamela Cole Harris is an editor, writer and eco-decorator with 35 years experience. Visit her website, for remodeling, eco-decorating and design advice the financially challenged and creatively deficient. Or for original, fresh content unique to your website, visit

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