What it is: Layers of paper topped with a thin coating of plastic, then glued to plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF).
Pros: Laminate resists stains and comes in a slew of colors and fun patterns, like zebrawood.
Cons: If you slice through the top layer, you’ll need to replace the entire countertop. Laminate can buckle under high heat, and seams are visible where pieces meet.
Cost: $10 to $30 a square foot.*
*Price ranges include installation.
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What it is: Molded resin.
Pros: Often referred to by the brand name Corian, it is stain-resistant and nonporous, and ranges in color from bright blue to earthy beige. “Some shades mimic the look of smooth concrete,” says Melissa Birdsong, vice president of trend, design, and brand for Lowe’s.
Cons: Scratches can be gently sanded out, but the material may be scorched by hot pots and marred by knives.
Cost: $35 to $80 a square foot.
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What it is: Crystallized limestone, typically with gray or beige veining.
Pros: It’s classic. “Like the Parthenon, marble gets better with age,” says Matt Aanensen. It is heat-resistant and features a cool-to-the-touch surface that’s ideal for rolling dough.
Cons: It’s prone to chipping, and acidic foods, like lemons and tomatoes, can cause stains and deep scratches. It should be sealed annually. You’ll have to apply a poultice to suck stains out.
Cost: $40 to $100 a square foot.
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What it is: Sheets of metal.
Pros: Stainless-steel surfaces are heat-resistant and nonporous, so they will stay bacteria-free. “There’s not much you can do to hurt it, and the look never goes out of style,” says Tracey Overbeck Stead, an interior designer in Austin, Texas.
Cons: It’s generally a fingerprint magnet. However, smudges are not as noticeable on a brushed or matte finish. Stainless steel can also scratch easily.
Cost: $70 to $120 a square foot.
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What it is: Cement, water, sand, stone, and pigment formed into a slab.
Pros: “The surface is incredibly smooth,” says Paula Flanagan, an interior designer in Chicago. And it’s customizable. Tint it to match a paint color, embed it with shells, and choose any thickness.
Cons: It may crack when exposed to extreme temperature changes. It also needs to be sealed annually and waxed every couple of months.
Cost: $80 to $120 a square foot.
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What it is: Ninety-three percent quartz particles mixed with various resins and pigments. Brands include CaesarStone and Zodiaq.
Pros: It’s as tough as nails. There’s minimal variation from slab to slab, and it comes in bright colors, like race-car red and aqua blue. It won’t scratch or scorch, and it never needs to be sealed.
Cons: Seams are visible, and the edges may chip.
Cost: $45 to $90 a square foot.
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What it is: Paper pulp bonded together with water-based resins. Richlite is one of the main brands.
Pros: It’s made from a renewable resource. It’s also heat- and scratch-resistant and exceedingly smooth to the touch (you won’t believe it's made out of paper).
Cons: Red wine, juice, and mustard may stain it (they can be tackled with warm water and a scrub pad).
Cost: $90 to $120 a square foot.
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What it is: A natural, porous stone, usually gray in color. You might remember it from high school chemistry class, as it was used to top those old lab tables.
Pros: It can handle hot pots and doesn’t stain.
Cons: You’ll have to smooth out scratches and help the stone oxidize (or darken) evenly by occasionally applying mineral oil. The stone is soft and thus susceptible to chipping.
Cost: $50 to $100 a square foot.
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What it is: Solid slabs of hardwood (usually maple, oak, cherry, walnut, or teak) or butcher block (pieces of hardwood glued together). Wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) comes from sustainably managed forests.
Pros: It takes on character as it ages.
Cons: It can warp, stain, burn, and scratch and must be sealed annually. Wood absorbs bacteria; disinfect it after exposure to raw meat or fish.
Cost: $40 to $65 a square foot.
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What it is: A sedimentary rock consisting mainly of calcite.
Pros: Limestone features minimal veining and varies from slab to slab. It can withstand high heat.
Cons: It stains easily and must be sealed at least once a year. You’ll need to use a poultice of baking soda and water to draw out tough stains (like the rust ring from your husband’s shaving can). It’s also prone to scratches, nicks, and chips.
Cost: $60 to $100 a square foot.
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What it is: One of the hardest natural stones on earth, ranging in color from basic black to pink.
Pros: Granite has become the upgrade of choice in kitchens and baths for good reason. It is nonporous and extremely durable and can hold its own against hot pots. The varieties are endless, and no two slabs are exactly alike. A few types come presealed.
Cons: Seams are visible. Most granite needs to be sealed annually.
Cost: $40 to $100 a square foot.
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What it is: Ground-up glass mixed with concrete.
Pros: This eco-friendly material can withstand heat, resists scratching, and comes in many colors and thicknesses.
Cons: Dropping a heavy pot or pan on a recycled-glass counter could cause the surface to crack or chip―and the damage can’t be repaired. Some kinds are slightly bumpy. You’ll need to seal it once a year, and it can show fingerprints.