Stainless steel is the benchtop of choice in busy restaurants for a number of reasons - it's easy to clean, hygienic and hard-wearing. But while it can provide a contemporary, minimalist look, stainless steel benchtops may not be ideal for the average domestic kitchen.
To begin with, it isn't scratch resistant, so you'll either have to be extremely careful your knife doesn't slip off the chopping board, or get used to the marks. Fingerprints also show up on its shiny surface, although brushed and textured finishes can camouflage marks to some extent.
Stainless steel is typically applied to a plywood base to add strength and deaden its sound, but it can still be noisy.
Many people see it as a very hygienic option for their kitchen, and rightly so. It's non-porous, which limits the growth of bacteria, and the sheets of steel can be formed to include a sink, draining boards and splashback, so there are few joins.
Where joins are necessary, the two pieces of steel can be welded and polished to give an almost invisible seam, minimising the amount of food crumbs and grime that can collect in these areas. You can also put hot pans straight onto it without leaving a mark.
This varies depending on the thickness of the steel, but it's generally one of the most expensive options.
- Easy to clean
- Can withstand hot pans
- Can be worked to create integral sinks and draining boards
- Shows scratches, dents and fingerprints
- Can't use abrasive cleaners
Timber benchtops can look stunning in the right setting. Many different timbers are available giving different "looks". The timber is usually laminated to make it more stable, and so benches can be custom-built to suit any setting.
There are 2 main types of timber tops: oiled, and those with specialist finishes.
The surface is continually maintained with oils and waxes that keeps the timber waterproof and in good condition. There are many proprietary penetrating oils available for this job. Damage can be sanded out and repaired, but the finish is not heat proof, and incorporating sinks can be a problem - moisture eventually penetrates. Only hardwoods are suitable.
Proprietary resin finishes can be applied to a wide range of wood types. They may have performance guarantees for heat, water, acid and durability. A disadvantage is that they are not designed to be cut on, so chopping boards must be used.
The price varies depending on the type of timber you choose, and the finish, but it can be an expensive option.
- Strong and long-lasting
- Can be custom made to various shapes and sizes
- Can be refinished
- Not particularly heat or scratch-resistant, depending on the finish
- Relatively expensive
Concrete lends an industrial aesthetic to a kitchen. Concrete benchtops are made from a mix of cement, aggregates and water. Coloured oxides, crushed shells and pebbles can be added to achieve different looks.
If you’re tempted by concrete, there are a few things to consider. It’s heavy, so your floors and cabinetry need to be able to carry the load. It’s porous, so sealing the benchtop and maintaining the surface is important to prevent the benchtop from absorbing water and stains. Concrete benchtops can develop hairline cracks and are more prone to doing so when a cooktop or sink is incorporated. The cracks aren’t structural and are caused by natural shrinkage of the concrete.
This varies depending on the thickness of the concrete but it's generally less expensive than natural stone but more expensive than engineered stone.
- Looks stylish
- Can create unique finishes to suit your kitchen
- Some resistance to heat
- Porous so needs to be resealed regularly to avoid staining
- Chips easily
- Can develop small hairline cracks
- Can be expensive