Quartz Countertops: All You Need to Know
Relatively speaking, quartz is a fairly new member of the countertop material family. It gained popularity in the early 2000s, its durability and easy maintenance quickly solidifying it as a contender against stones like granite and marble. Fast forward to today, it’s become a household name for materials in all types of renovations. Let’s dive into what makes quartz unique, and whether it’s the right material for you.
What is quartz?
If you’ve been online the past few years, the word “quartz” may bring to mind crystal collections and healing stones. While these are geologically classified as quartz minerals, the word takes a different meaning when we’re discussing stone. What we work with is called “engineered quartz,” or engineered stone.
Engineered quartz is manufactured from a blend of raw minerals, stone, glass, pigments, epoxy and resin binders. Crystal clusters are mined and crushed into fine granules, blended into an aggregate with other dry materials, then compacted into slabs using intense pressure (around 100 tons!) and vibration through a process known as the Bretonstone Method. After they are pressed, quartz slabs are cured in a kiln at around 180 degrees Fahrenheit, then cooled and perfected for packaging and shipment.
Thassos PentalQuartz. Photo by Nat Rea.
What are the benefits?
It’s durable. Scoring around a 7 on Mohs hardness scale, quartz is highly resistant to chips, cracks and scratches. Keep in mind that any stone can be scratched by a material equally as hard or harder than itself, so we do advise taking care with any healing crystals or diamond rings around the surface of your counters.
It’s easy to maintain. Yup, no sealing! Quartz is one of, if not the easiest stone to maintain. Because it’s impervious to moisture, it’s inherently stain resistant. Note, we still didn’t say stain-proof. Wiping up spills as soon as possible is still your best bet, but if it happens, there’s no need for panic mode.
It’s antimicrobial. While many people talk about the easy maintenance of quartz, some people aren’t always aware of why, and what other hidden benefits that answer holds. As we mentioned in our last point, quartz is impervious to moisture, which is why it won’t absorb liquids or stain unless left on the surface for a long period of time. Its nonporosity also means that quartz is highly resistant to mold, mildew and bacteria. For those of us who have busy lives and lots of sticky fingers constantly on our home surfaces, it’s no secret that daily cleaning isn’t always the first on the to-do list. So having surfaces where germs don’t thrive? Always a big plus.
It’s abrasion resistant. Unlike natural stones, which are prone to etching, quartz will not be damaged by contact with harsh or acidic solutions. While we still recommend wiping them up as soon as possible to prevent stains and dulling, you can rest easy knowing quartz is capable of withstanding life’s everyday messes.
It’s got variety. One of the best things about quartz (or perhaps worst, depending on what kind of decision-maker you are) is the abundance of selections available and the possibilities for unique and creative designs that they hold. There are seemingly limitless options for colors, patterns, textures and finishes that one can use to create specific looks for any application. Many brands offer colors that mimic the look of popular marbles, soapstones, quartzites, ivory, terrazzo, or even concrete. In other cases, they have colors that are unique to the brand itself, often taking inspiration from nature to create distinct and potent designs.
It’s consistent. Because slabs are manufactured instead of quarried from the earth, product uniformity is much less of an issue with quartz than it is natural stone. With dramatic natural stones, two slabs quarried next to each other will probably bear some, if not many similarities, but they will never be identical. (Remember how in school, you learned each snowflake is completely unique? This is the same idea. Nature tends to be like that.) Quartz slabs are created in batches, and while slight color variation may occur between batches produced at different times, buying multiple slabs around the same time is a safe bet if your project requires more material. Many colors are also available in bookmatched slabs, which come in symmetrical “A” and “B” options that can be alternated to create seamless designs with flowing veins. Think wall cladding, shower walls, reception walls, kitchen backsplashes- you name it!
It’s full-bodied. Quartz is a full or through-bodied material, which means its design bleeds down through the entire thickness of the slab. While this is usually the case for most natural stones, we bring this point up for our friends out there who are weighing the option of quartz against porcelain or sintered stone. While several brands have been experimenting with through-bodied porcelain, most options available still only bear the design on the surface, leaving a white border around the edge that most people prefer to hide by mitering. For those who aren’t ready to invest in a mitered edge, and are set on having their counters look as natural as possible, this is one of the factors we encourage to consider in your decision-making process, and what we’d classify as a win for quartz.
Its price is nice. We used to say that quartz was comparatively cost-effective with natural stone. However, with the evolution of design and its surge in popularity, the demand for quartz has evolved alongside it. The great news? It’s now got more options than ever. Higher-end quartzes can rank up with mid and high-tier marbles and quartzites, and can sometimes be even more expensive for sought-after or trending colors. There are also options for those who are exploring a more cost-effective route who still are seeking the benefits that quartz has to offer, which can compare with basic granite prices and sometimes be even lower. If you’re considering quartz and you’re wondering how to begin your budget research, we encourage looking into different brands to get an impression of their styles and price ranges. From there, you can explore the option that best suits your needs and your project. (Or hey, if you’re in the area, you can stop by and we can do all that for you.)
Countertops- Who would have thought? Quartz has become a top choice for homeowners who aren’t into natural stone but still seek a smart and sophisticated countertop choice to complement their design.
Backsplashes- Many quartz colors are available in different thicknesses, typically ranging from 1.2 CM to 3CM. For both visual and weight purposes, the slabs used for wall cladding and backsplashes are typically 1.2 CM or 2CM. By having different thicknesses available for one color, it’s easy to create backsplashes and wall cladding with quartz, not to mention it eliminates labor costs that milling thicker slabs entails. A win-win in our book!
Showers- There’s truly nothing better than rolling up your sleeves and scrubbing your grout lines until your arm goes numb… except, of course, a lack of grout lines to scrub. With quartz shower walls, that’s exactly what you get: smooth surfaces and clean lines that require no scrubbing. It’s also our most popular selection for embellishments such as shower seats, niches, jambs, pony walls, tub decks, and the like.
Atlantic Salt Caesarstone quartz. Photo by Greg Premru.
Calacatta Gold Silestone - One of the hottest colors on the market right now, Calacatta Gold is a delicate and airy take on the elegant and timeless design of Calacatta marble. Subtle contrast between the light grey veining and crisp white background is highlighted gracefully by whispers of gold.
Sereno Bianco Vadara - For those who love that playful space between subtle and stated, Sereno Bianco is one to note. A fuzzy white background is layered with a misty veil of grey and darker, delicate grey veins that are “inspired by Socotra island’s dragon trees.”
Borghini Gold Emerstone - Barely-there delicate gold veining over a cool, misty white base.
Concrete and Natural Stone Looks
Rugged Concrete Caesarstone- For the perfectly imperfect, Rugged Concrete lends its patina-clad, gradient concrete appearance in a deeply textured finish to any industrial style or project.
Adamina Caesarstone- Taking notes from desert dunes, Adamina invokes sandstone as its muse, combining golds, creams and taupes into a swirling wind of warmth.
Citta Line, Alleanza - Inspired by the well-loved streets of Italy, Alleanza’s Citta line features three different shades of dimensional greys: Citta Grey, Citta Dark, and Citta Steel. With layers of embossed textures and weathered hues, they are sure to bring a simple yet timeless look to your design.
Charcoal Soapstone Silestone - A namesake of its inspiration, Charcoal Soapstone’s blue-gray base and pencil-thin light gray veining create a sultry combination.
Bold and Unique
Portrush Cambria - A creamy white background holds waves of elegant navy and charcoal that are highlighted by sparse flecks of gold.
Southport Cambria - The most dramatic of Cambria’s newest addition of colors. An easy white base is graced by cascades of warm gray veins floating across the slab, bubbling with fine specks and etched with dark taupe outlines.
Unique Calacatta Black Compac - While this technically could be categorized under “marble-look,” this stone’s cragged black-and-brown veining creates loud contrast that is impossible to overlook.
Rococo Viatera quartz. Photo by Jared Kuzia.
What are the drawbacks?
Its lower heat resistance. While a hot mug or warm pan won’t hurt, placing pans straight from the burner or oven onto your quartz countertop can yield pretty significant damage, whether it be scorch marks or sometimes even cracks. There are two different reasons for each of these issues:
Scorching - Unlike natural stone, which is formed by extreme heat within the earth, quartz is not formed by nature. Its resin binders are not equipped to handle extreme temperatures and can actually burn upon contact with very high heat or open flame, leaving behind marks that vary from yellow to charred.
Cracking - Bet you didn’t expect a science lesson today, but let’s touch quickly on thermal shock. When certain materials like quartz are subject to a sudden and drastic change in temperature, it creates tension and stress within the slab as different areas expand unevenly, often resulting in a crack or fissure. Countertop appliances like air fryers and pressure cookers that emit high levels of heat are the biggest culprits of causing thermal shock in quartz countertops. For this reason, we strongly advise investing in the right protective measures to create a barrier between such appliances and your counters.
It can be tough to repair. When significant chips or gauges happen but aren’t dire enough to call for replacement, they are usually filled with an epoxy that closely matches the color of the countertop. For some, this is just part of the regular lifespan of your countertops, and it may not be a big deal. But for those who know themselves enough to know they need pristine, this can pose an issue from a purely cosmetic standpoint. While professionals are skilled at making repairs look as seamless as possible, it will not be an invisible fix. While we don’t consider this a dealbreaker, it is something that we encourage clients to consider when weighing their options.
It’s not recommended for outdoor projects. Engineered quartz is not UV resistant. This, combined with higher sensitivity to heat compared with something like granite, could result in discoloration or yellowing of lighter stones or slab warping and bowing over time. If you’re still looking for the same benefits in your outdoor spaces, there are some brands that offer materials similar to quartz that are suitable for outdoor applications, such as Dekton from Cosentino or Caesarstone’s new Outdoor Collection.
Care & Maintenance
For quartz, we recommend cleaning your countertops once a week with warm water and a mild dish soap using a microfiber cloth. You may be wondering:
Why not household cleaners?
And you’re not alone: we get asked this question a lot. Cleaning products that are highly alkaline or acidic can damage or discolor quartz with prolonged use. Even for “safe” pH neutral cleaners, hidden additives are likely to remove your finish over time, leaving behind an increasingly dull surface. Our motto on this one? Better safe than sorry. We want your countertops to last as much as you do!
What if it’s not enough?
Hey, life happens. Sometimes the messes are messier than soap and water can handle alone. For especially tough stains or messes, our holy grail of countertop care is Bar Keeper’s Friend. We recommend using a sparing amount of the Soft Cleanser and rubbing in gentle circles with a paper towel or microfiber cloth until it’s good as new.
Quartz is our top recommendation for those who are looking to get the most out of their investment. It’s a less fussy alternative to the natural stones we love, making it the perfect surface for going with the flow of life. There are plenty of options for all tastes, styles and budgets, with many stones that mimic natural stone looks we all love so that you get the best of both worlds. That being said, our company mission is to execute your vision, and we’ll be ready to do so- regardless of what stone you choose.