We assessed how well different benchtop materials resist heat damage, staining, impact, cutting and abrasion.
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 will also affect decisions about the kitchen cabinetry, flooring, splashbacks, sink and appliances.
How we test surfaces
We apply beetroot juice, red wine, cooking oil, coffee, tea, bleach, blackcurrant juice and curry paste to each surface, and leave it for an hour. We then tackle the stains with a paper towel, damp cloth, multi-purpose spray and a cream cleanser.
Our scrubbing rig, fitted with a pan scourer, puts each benchtop through 1000 hard scrubbing cycles.
We drop a 1kg ball-end weight from 60cm. We repeat the test on the main surface of the benchtop, an edge and a corner.
We draw a weighted blade across the surface to see if slicing and dicing actions leave marks in the surface.
We use a pot filled with oil heated to 200°C. We leave it on the benchtop for five seconds before checking for damage. We then reheat it and place it on another area for five minutes.
Layers of paper and polymer resin create a thin laminate, which is glued to medium-density fibreboard to create a benchtop. Formica and Laminex are the well-known brands.
Laminate benchtops 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.
Solid-surface benchtops are made of plastic mixed with other materials, such as marble dust or alumina. One of the best-known is Corian.
Each benchtop is custom-made, so you can have a long or unusually shaped benchtop without worrying about joins.
Engineered-stone benchtops, which include Caesarstone, Silestone and Quantum Quartz, are more than 90 percent crushed quartz held together by polymer resin.
The colour palette is limited to that of natural stone, but can range from light to dark hues. Engineered stone is non-porous, so it doesn't need to be sealed.
Granite benchtops are cut from solid slabs of stone. The size of your benchtop is limited by the size of the slab.
The colour, pattern and texture varies between slabs, so it’s important to choose the actual slab for your benchtop as it may look different from the showroom sample.
Concrete benchtops are a mix of cement, aggregates and water. The benchtop is cast in place, so can conform to various shapes.
Concrete benchtops have an “industrial” aesthetic, although coloured oxides, crushed shells and pebbles can be added to lighten the mood.
An ultra-compact surface, such as Dekton, is manufactured by putting the raw materials found in glass, porcelain and quartz under extreme heat and pressure.
Colours are limited by the mineral materials used, but range from near-white to black and can be patterned to imitate marble, granite or even woodgrain.
Stainless steel is typically applied to a plywood base to form a benchtop (the base adds strength and deadens sound).
Stainless steel is the benchtop of choice in restaurant kitchens because it's easy to clean, hygienic and hard-wearing. It comes in one colour.
A timber or bamboo benchtop is made from planks or strips glued together. It needs to be oiled or waxed regularly or have a polyurethane resin finish applied.
Many different timbers are available, so your benchtop doesn’t have to look “rustic”.
Marble benchtops are cut from solid slabs. The size of your benchtop is limited by the size of the slab.
Marble looks either classically beautiful or MTV Cribs tacky. It has a tendency to stain and scratch and is sensitive to acidic foods and some cleaners.