Natural Stone Countertops – Types, Advice & Everything Explained
Natural stone countertops are nothing new in the kitchen and have been around for years. However, there seems to be a resurgence in their popularity recently. There’s a definite shift and desire to use more natural and sustainable materials in our homes and the kitchen countertop is no exception.
In this post, I’ll go over the most popular types of natural stone countertops, give some advice about each as well as answer some popular questions about the topic.
Let’s get into it!
What are natural stone countertops?
Natural stone countertops are worktops cut from a single piece of stone into a shape perfectly sized for your kitchen. The various stone options are quarried directly out of a mountain face and then sliced into slabs for shipping. Many times you can even select the exact slab you want for your project.
A stone countertop can last up to 50 years with proper care and can even be resurfaced if it is ever scratched. Should the edges get chipped or cracked, an experienced technician should be able to make a repair.
Since they are entirely natural, stone worktops complement nearly every type of decor and are a popular choice for upscale kitchen renovations. However, they are significantly more expensive than laminate or wood worktops.
A stone countertop will require a professional installer to visit your home and make a precise template of your kitchen cabinets. At the workshop, they use the template and a robot-controlled saw to cut the slab of stone into new worktops. The worktop will be transported to your home in however many pieces necessary and the professionals will permanently install the worktop.
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Pros of Natural Stone Countertops
- Unique: All natural stone is unique in their appearance. Unlike any engineered stone or man-made countertops that will often have repeating patterns or a uniform look. Each slab of natural stone is one of a kind.
- Adds Value: Having good quality solid stone surfaces such as natural stone as your kitchen counters can help to add value to your property.
- Durable: Although some natural stone countertops are more hardwearing than others, they all offer good durability. Especially if properly maintained and cared for.
- Fabrication Flexibility: As natural stone is a solid material you get more options when it comes to fabrication details for your countertops. You can opt for an under-mount sink, drainer grooves or a recessed drainer as well as various edge profiles.
But which stone is right for your home? I’ve gathered the most common types of natural stones used and created a quick FAQ at the end to help you decide.
Granite sits at the top of popular choices for natural stone countertops. The igneous rock starts out as magma and slowly cools under extreme pressures deep underground in the earth’s crust. The result is a fairly hard stone with a Mohs measurement-of-hardness rating between 5 and 7 as well as strong heat resistance.
It is known for consistent colouring that works well to hide stains, resists scratches, and is extremely durable.
Granite slabs are sourced from various regions around the world. Each location offers its own colour of granite ranging from speckled grey to rust to blue and green. Granite usually includes white flecks of quartz mingled in its depth, which brightens the surface and adds interest.
Pricing for granite ranges between £50 and £200 per square foot. The cost of fabrication is included in your price. However, installation fees are additional and this is not a project for the average DIY homeowner. Most people will spend around £2,000 to £5,000 for granite worktops.
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Marble enjoys a timeless reputation for elegance and beauty. It is a metamorphic rock that starts out as limestone and recrystallizes as a variety of carbonate minerals called marble. The light grey and white marble associated with masterpiece sculptures is Carrera marble that is quarried in the region of Italy with the same name.
Marble is a softer stone compared to granite with a Mohs rating of 3 to 4. You can scratch marble using a knife. In fact, it is difficult to prevent minor scrapes and scratches from appearing on a marble worktop. It is also more porous and will absorb oil from your skin and food over time, which can darken and dull the surface.
However, Old World kitchens found in Italy often featured a marble farm table. If it showed scratches and stains, your home was considered wealthy and happy. It was an indication of lots of hard work that fed the family. Sealing a marble worktop can help to slow the visibility of scratches and stains. For best results, the sealant should be applied every 3-6 months, depending on how much use the countertops get.
Marble offers a wider range of pricing vs. granite. A custom kitchen with an open concept design can pay as much as £10,000 for a bespoke marble countertop. Generally, most average marbles cost slightly less than granite.
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If you want to have a stone worktop but don’t want to spring for granite or marble, limestone may be a more affordable option. As a sedimentary rock made out of crystalline calcium carbonate, it offers a Mohs rating of 2 to 3, even softer than marble. However, will a little care and maintenance it can be a very attractive-looking countertop, at an attractive price point.
Limestone is known for its consistent appearance, lacking the dramatic veining often found in marble. Typically found in shades of white, beige, and light grey, it complements modern decor.
Now, while your limestone countertop will be sealed and polished, the stone will react with water. It can stain from water and juice spills. If the surface is not sealed, it can lose its smooth polish as the calcium carbonate reacts with the acids found in food.
Limestone is not only a nice option for a kitchen countertop but also for decorative shelving, hall tabletops, and other areas where it will not be subjected to knives, pots, acidic food, and constant traffic. At the same time, the White Cliffs of Dover have stood for aeons and are entirely limestone.
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The softest of natural stones used for worktops, soapstone is best known for its deep, dark colour and industrial appearance. Long used in barns, factories, and workrooms, if your grandmother had a stone sink on her farm, it was likely soapstone.
Soapstone countertops will scratch and stain and show their age, but that patina is a hallmark of a busy home. It is currently trending as a favourite finish in loft flats converted from old factory spaces.
Most soapstone is found in a range of black, grey, and rust with intriguing swirls of contrasting hues that lend it a sense of motion. Since it is a relatively soft stone, you can have matching bowls, serving platters, and shelves carved from the same stone used for your worktop. As with all natural stones, soapstone will require regular sealing to help protect its surface.
The price of soapstone is currently being driven by demand. As a luxury finish for city flats, it can cost as much or more compared to granite.
Quartzite is often confused with popular manmade quartz worktops. However, it is a natural metamorphic rock that starts out as quartz sandstone. Pressure and heat turn it into an incredibly durable surface. Quartzite is actually the hardest natural stone used for kitchen countertops, outperforming granite
Quartzite can be found in dramatic colours with large inclusions and bold features. It makes a stunning backdrop in today’s kitchen designs. It resists scratches and heat damage far better than any other natural stone surface.
You will pay a premium for a quartzite worktop, with the average cost of a kitchen worktop ranging between £3,000 and £5,000. However, it will not look like every other kitchen in your neighbourhood as each slab of quartzite is unique.
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Travertine is a natural stone related to limestone and marble. It is a sedimentary stone created by calcium carbonate deposits formed around mineral springs. Each layer is subtly different, creating the appearance of lines or stripes in a generally uniform appearance.
Colours range from light beige to darker hues of brown and rust, often giving it a rustic look. It shares a Mohs hardness rating with marble of 3 to 4.
Travertine will need sealing to reduce the appearance of scratches and prevent staining from food sources.
Travertine can be a more affordable option for your natural stone worktop with pricing starting at around £100 per square meter.
Which natural stone is best for countertops?
The one you love the most. All natural stone countertops will require a level of additional care and maintenance when compared to an engineered stone such as quartz (Silestone) or a porcelain composite (Dekton). So whatever you choose you will need to be prepared for this, or accept the fact that the surface will patina over time.
However, granite remains the most popular choice of natural stone for countertops, even though it is one of the most expensive options. Its range of colours and finishes as well as its strong heat resistance and good durability have made granite a popular choice for decades.
Which natural stone countertop is most durable?
Quartzite is the hardest and most durable natural stone available for kitchen countertops. It should not be confused with the manmade quartz options. Every slab of quartzite is entirely unique and offers a wider range of colours compared to granite.
Here is a general guide to countertop hardness using the Mohs scale.
- Soapstone – 1
- Limestone – 3-5
- Marble – 3-5
- Sandstone – 6-7
- Granite – 6-8
- Quartz – 7-8
What is the lowest maintenance natural stone countertop?
Every type of natural stone is porous and requires sealing to prevent stains and surface scratches. However, quartzite and granite are the hardest stones and will better resist damage.
If you use a daily cleaner with a stone sealant, you do not need to do the bi-annual sealing process for quartzite or granite. It is always suggested to perform annual sealing for marble and other softer stones.
How do you clean natural stone countertops?
In order to prevent water spots and staining, wipe up any spills on your natural stone countertops immediately. Use warm water, mild washing-up liquid and a soft cloth to clean them on a daily basis.
Avoid using scrubbers or wire wool as this can scratch the surface or wear away the protective sealant layer.
Do you have to seal natural stone countertops?
Yes, your stone countertops are naturally porous and can absorb water, oil, and stains. A stone sealant creates a solid barrier on the stone that allows moisture to bead and puddle instead of seeping into the surface. Typically, a sealant should be applied twice a year.
How do I seal natural stone countertops?
When using a traditional stone sealant, first empty the countertops. Wipe them down using mild washing-up soap and let them fully dry. Use a soft cloth to evenly spread the sealant across the entire surface of the worktop.
Let the sealant dry according to the directions–typically 12 to 48 hours. This allows the sealant to cure into a hard, non-porous surface that will protect your stone. Repeat the process every six to twelve months depending on how much you use your countertops and the material they are made from.
What is the difference between natural stone and manufactured stone?
Manufactured stone is created by combining stone dust and aggregate with resins and formed into slabs in factories. Manufactured stone can mimic the look of natural stone, but multiple slabs will have a nearly identical appearance. The main benefits of manufactured stone countertops are that they are typically more durable and non-porous, so do not need sealing.
Natural stone is formed deep within the earth over thousands or even millions of years. The stone is cut from the mountainside and sliced into slabs for use as worktops. Every slab of natural stone will be unique, making them great statement pieces for any kitchen design.
Is quartz better than natural stone for kitchen countertops?
Quartz is generally harder than most natural stones, including granite. It has a more consistent appearance over several slabs due to being manmade and formed in moulds. Quartz is sold in a huge range of colours and patterns that can look like marble, granite, or soapstone.
For the average consumer and household, quartz countertops are likely going to be the better choice. Currently, Quartz is the most popular type of kitchen countertop material on the market.
Which is more expensive, natural stone or quartz?
In many instances, you will pay a comparable price for a granite, marble or quartz countertop. The same techniques are used to measure, fabricate and install both stone and quartz worktops, so there is no saving on the installation.
Natural stone can be exorbitantly expensive for rare and unique pieces, which gives it the reputation of being more pricey. However, when comparing the most popular granite and quartz products, they are very close in cost.
If you want a more cost-effective natural stone countertop, limestone can often be considerably cheaper than most granite, marble or quartz countertops.
Are quartz countertops natural stone?
Quartz is not a natural stone. It is a manmade product created using stone dust and aggregate leftover from granite and quartzite quarries. The aggregate is ground up. Resin is added. The mix is formed into sheets and then colourant is added to create non-repeating patterns that look like real stone.
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There you have it! Everything you need to know about natural stone countertops.
Unique and beautiful, natural stone countertops are becoming increasingly popular as a more natural and sustainable option for kitchen countertops. While some are slightly more hard-wearing than others, they all need a level of care and maintenance to keep them at their best. And even with that care, they will likely stretch, stain and patina a little over time. It’s all part of their charm.
However, if you don’t like the idea of some added care and maintenance and want your countertops to stay looking as shiny and new as the day you got them, opting for a natural stone may not be the best choice for you.
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Michael is a kitchen designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new kitchen installations for around 10 years. Before that, he was an electrician and part of a team that fitted kitchens. He created Kitchinsider in early 2019 to help give people advice when it comes to getting a new kitchen.