The kitchen is the heart of your home, and the benchtop is the heart of your kitchen. Choosing a benchtop is a trade-off between cost, looks, functionality and maintenance. Your choice also affects decisions about the kitchen cabinetry, flooring, splashbacks, sink and appliances.

We assessed how well different benchtop materials resist heat damage, staining, impact, cutting and abrasion. There are no absolute winners or losers, but the results may make you think twice about which benchtop is right for you.

How we test

We subjected each material to five tests. Each test was rated separately, but no overall score was calculated.

Staining

We apply beetroot juice, red wine, cooking oil, coffee (ground and instant), tea, bleach, blackcurrant and apple juice and curry paste to each surface, and leave it for one hour before cleaning. First we wipe away the excess with a paper towel and damp cloth. If the stain isn’t removed, we use a multi-purpose spray and then a cream cleanser.

Abrasion

We use a scrubbing rig to apply a hard scrubbing pressure with a pan scourer. We put each benchtop through 1000 scrubbing cycles.

Impact

We drop a one-kilogram ball-end weight from 60cm on to the benchtop to simulate an object falling from an overhead cupboard. We repeat the test on the edge and corner of the benchtop.

Cutting

We draw a weighted blade across the surface to see if slicing and dicing actions leave marks in the surface.

Heat

We place a pot filled with oil heated to 200°C on the benchtop. We leave the pot for five seconds before checking for damage. We then reheat the oil to 200°C and place it on another area of the surface for five minutes, checking for damage every minute.

Guide to the results

Rating Score
××× Very poor
×× Poor
× Borderline
O OK
Good
✔✔ Very good
✔✔✔ Excellent

Price ($) depends on how the material is sold (per slab or per metre) and design choices such as colour, edge finish, thickness, joints and additional moulded features, so we’ve given an indication of relative prices only.

High-pressure laminate

Layers of paper are formed into a thin (two-dimensional) laminate, held together by polymer resin. The laminate is glued to medium-density fibreboard to create a benchtop. The well-known laminate brand Formica was founded in 1913 and its use in furniture took off in the 50s and 60s. It, with other brands such as Laminex, is still a popular benchtop choice.

Laminate benchtops can be made in continuous runs and come in a huge range of colours, patterns and textures, including stone and wood effects. It can look like a cheap and nasty imitation of wood or marble, or as elegant and crisp as a solid surface or engineered-stone benchtop.

It is possible to create a “coved” design that curves slightly up the wall so there’s no join at the back edge, and sections can join to create a “waterfall” counter. However, a laminate benchtop can’t usually support an undermount sink.

It’s difficult to repair dents and chips in the surface and abrasive cleaners can leave marks, so go easy on the scrubbing.

Formica

 [width=15%] Rating[width=15%] Result[width=70%]
Impact: O dented, slight crack
Abrasion: ×× obvious scratching, underlayer revealed
Stain: ✔✔ only red wine and tea needed cream cleaner
Cutting: ✔✔ faint marks
Heat: ×× obvious yellow ring
Price: $ cheap as chips

Laminex

 [width=15%] Rating[width=15%] Result[width=70%]
Impact: O dented, slight crack
Abrasion: ×× obvious scratching, parts of underlayer revealed
Stain: ✔✔ only tea needed cream cleaner
Cutting: ✔✔ faint marks
Heat: ✔✔✔ no damage
Price: $ cheap as chips

Solid surface

Solid-surface benchtops are made of plastic mixed with other materials, such as marble dust or alumina. One of the best known is Corian, created by DuPont in 1967, but other brands such as Infinity and Hi-Macs are available.

Corian
Corian

Each benchtop is custom-made, so you can have a long or unusually shaped benchtop without worrying about joins. It can even be moulded to include a sink and draining board, and “cover” up the wall as a splashback, so there’s no join at the back edge.

It comes in a range of colours or can be made to appear like stone. It has a uniform appearance that makes it a great understated choice for sleek modern kitchens, though it can feel characterless.

Solid-surface benchtops are easy to clean and have hygienic properties similar to stainless steel. It’s a non-porous material and while it can be scratched by knives, minor marks can be sanded out. As it’s not as hard as stone, your plates and glasses are less likely to smash if dropped on to it.

Corian

 [width=15%] Rating[width=15%] Result[width=70%]
Impact: ✔✔✔ no damage
Abrasion: × obvious scratching, surface feels rough
Stain: ✔✔ some stains needed cream cleaner
Cutting: ✔✔ faint marks
Heat: faint matt circle
Price: $$$ top end

Engineered stone

Engineered-stone benchtops, which include brand names Caesarstone, Silestone and Quantum Quartz, are more than 90% crushed quartz held together by polymer resin and cast into sheets.

Caesarstone
Caesarstone

This benchtop has an elegant and modern aesthetic with consistent finish and colour that looks “granular” close up, due to variations in the crushed minerals. The colour palette is limited to that of natural stone, but can range from light to dark hues. It comes in seamless sheets and works well with undermount sinks.

Silestone
Silestone

Engineered stone has several advantages over its natural counterpart. It’s non-porous, so it doesn't need to be sealed. Like granite, it’s durable and difficult to scratch, but it's worth using a chopping board to avoid blunting your knives. Engineered stone can be repaired but you’ll need to contact the manufacturer.

Caesarstone/Quantum Quartz

 [width=15%] Rating[width=15%] Result[width=70%]
Impact: × the edge chipped
Abrasion: some scratching, not very visible
Stain: ✔✔ some stains needed cream cleaner
Cutting: ✔✔✔ barely any marks
Heat: ✔✔ very faint circle visible from a certain angle
Price: $$ cheaper than stone

Granite

Granite benchtops are cut from solid slabs of stone. The colour, pattern and texture vary between slabs, so it’s important to choose the actual slab for your benchtop before it’s installed as it may look different from the showroom sample.

The size of a granite benchtop is limited by the size of the slab. Granite can’t be formed into shapes other than a flat benchtop, though it works with an undermount sink and draining board grooves can be cut into it.

Granite is one of the hardest materials available for benchtops and, if cared for properly, can look good for years. But it’s porous, so needs to be sealed to resist stains and you’ll need to reseal it once a year, which is a relatively simple DIY process.

It is difficult to scratch with a knife, though cutting directly on to a granite benchtop will quickly blunt your knives.

Sealed granite

 [width=15%] Rating[width=15%] Result[width=70%]
Impact: ✔✔✔ no damage
Abrasion: ✔✔ slight scratching only visible under light
Stain: ✔✔✔ all stains cleaned with a damp cloth
Cutting: ✔✔✔ barely any marks
Heat: ✔✔✔ no damage
Price: $$ - $$$ more than engineered stone, less than solid surfacing

Marble

There's a reason marble counters are generally found in bathrooms rather than kitchens. While it may look classically beautiful (or MTV Cribs tacky to some), marble lacks the durability of granite and has a tendency to stain and scratch. It's also sensitive to acidic foods and some cleaners. Marble requires much more maintenance and resealing than granite to keep it looking good.

Even so, the smooth, cool finish of marble makes it a favourite surface for rolling dough and making pastry, so you may want to use a marble pastry board and choose another material for your benchtop.

As with granite, marble benchtops come from solid slabs and you should choose the actual slab for your kitchen.

Marble (unsealed)

Marble (unsealed)[width=15%] Rating[width=15%] Result[width=70%]
Impact: ×× edge chipped and underside cracked
Abrasion: × surface becomes matt
Stain: ×× most stains leave a matt mark (we'd expect sealed marble to perform similarly to sealed granite for stain resistance)
Cutting: ✔✔ faint marks
Heat: ✔✔ initial white circle fades to a faint mark over two days
Price: $$$+ needs to be no object

Concrete

Concrete benchtops are a mix of cement, aggregates and water. The benchtop is cast in place, so can conform to various shapes. Concrete benchtops are heavy, so the floor and cabinets need to be able to carry the load.

The colour of the benchtop depends on the aggregates used, but you’ll get quite an “industrial” aesthetic. Coloured oxides, crushed shells and pebbles can also be added. The finished benchtop needs to be polished and sealed once cast in place as raw concrete is porous. It’ll need polishing or resealing regularly, about once a year depending on use.

Concrete benchtops can develop hairline cracks. The cracks aren’t structural and are caused by natural shrinkage.

Polished and sealed concrete

 [width=15%] Rating[width=15%] Result[width=70%]
Impact: × the edge chipped
Abrasion: ×× obvious scratch marks
Stain: ✔✔ some stains needed cream cleaner
Cutting: ✔✔ faint marks
Heat: × some bubbling of the surface coating
Price: $$ - $$$+ starts less than granite, but complex benchtops get top-end pricey

Ultra-compact

An ultra-compact surface is manufactured by putting the raw materials found in glass, porcelain and quartz under extreme heat and pressure. It’s a new type of benchtop material with the Dekton brand being most prominent.

Dekton
Dekton

Like engineered stone, colours are limited to those of the mineral materials used, but with a wider range from near-white to black. It comes in high-gloss or less-glossy finish and can be patterned to imitate marble, granite or even woodgrain.

Ultra-compact benchtops come in large slabs, limiting the number of seams. They work with undermount sinks. The material is also UV resistant and can cope with freeze-thaw conditions, making it suitable for outdoor areas.

Dekton

 [width=15%] Rating[width=15%] Result[width=70%]
Impact: ××× the benchtop shattered
Abrasion: ✔✔ slight scratching only visible under light
Stain: ✔✔✔ all stains cleaned with just a damp cloth
Cutting: ✔✔✔ barely any marks
Heat: ✔✔✔ no damage
Price: $$$+ how much have you got?

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is the benchtop of choice in restaurant kitchens for several reasons — it's easy to clean, hygienic and hard-wearing. Stainless steel is typically applied to a plywood base to form a benchtop (the base adds strength and deadens sound, but it can still be a noisy surface).

Stainless-steel benchtops are non-porous and can be formed to include a sink, draining boards and splashback, so there are few joins. Where joins are necessary, two pieces of steel can be welded and polished to give an almost invisible seam.

It comes in one colour but can be polished, brushed or have texture. The latter two are useful to camouflage fingerprints that can otherwise be a major annoyance. The overall aesthetic you achieve can be sleek commercial kitchen minimalism, 1960s kitchen of the future, or DOC hut functionality.

Stainless steel (polished)

 [width=15%] Rating[width=15%] Result[width=70%]
Impact: O dented
Abrasion: × scratch marks and surface becomes shinier
Stain: ✔✔ some stains leave a water mark after cleaning with a damp cloth, removed with cream cleaner
Cutting: ✔✔ faint marks
Heat: ✔✔ no damage, the area under the pan expands and “pops up”, but it returns to normal once cooled
Price: $$ - $$$ granite-equivalent

Timber

A benchtop made from timber or bamboo can look stunning. It’ll warm up and add charm to your kitchen. Many different timbers are available, so your benchtop doesn’t have to look “rustic”.

Oils and waxes keep hardwood waterproof and in good condition, but they need to be reapplied regularly to prevent drying out and cracking. These benchtops are high maintenance. The surface is useful for food preparation, but incorporating sinks can be a problem as moisture eventually penetrates.

Polyurethane resin finishes can be applied to a range of wood types and bamboo. This finish doesn’t need reapplying like oil or wax and is more tolerant to water, so it’s a better choice for use around a sink. Timber benchtops may have performance guarantees for heat, water, acid and durability. A disadvantage is they are not designed to be cut on, so chopping boards must be used.

You can repair damage to a timber benchtop by sanding back the surface and refinishing with oil or polyurethane. The downside is it’s tricky to repair damage to one spot and get a consistent finish without refinishing the whole benchtop.

Spills should be attended to straight away with a damp cloth (for an oiled surface) or spray-and-wipe type products (for polyurethane surfaces). Harsher abrasive cleaners aren't recommended as they strip the surface of its gloss.

Tasmanian oak (oiled) and bamboo (oiled)

 [width=15%] Rating[width=15%] Result[width=70%]
Impact: dented only
Abrasion: × scratch marks and rough feel
Stain: ✔✔ all stains cleaned with a damp cloth, bleach whitened the surface
Cutting: faint marks, more visible cutting across grain
Heat: ××× obvious brown ring
Price: $$ - $$$ depends on timber and finish, but can get pricey

Tasmanian oak (polyurethane) and bamboo (stained and varnished)

 [width=15%] Rating[width=15%] Result[width=70%]
Impact: O dents obvious under light with slight crack in the corner
Abrasion: × scratch marks and rough feel
Stain: ✔✔✔ all stains cleaned with a damp cloth
Cutting: faint marks, more visible cutting across grain
Heat: ××× obvious brown ring
Price: $$ - $$$ depends on timber and finish, but can get pricey