A quartz countertop is one of the most popular choices for new kitchens today and for good reason. It is super durable! Quartz is a hard white or colorless mineral consisting of silicon dioxide, found abundantly in metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary rocks. It is often colored by impurities such as in amethyst, citrine, and cairngorm, which creates visual depth and texture.
The answer is "both." While the chemical makeup of the mineral itself makes it scratch resistant, mined quartz slabs generally are not used for counter tops. Instead, the quartz is ground and combined with polymer resins at a 95% to 5% ratio, respectively. It is formed under heat and pressure to create and extremely hard and non-porous surface known as "engineered" stone. The gauge of the grind produces either a very uniform color (finely ground) or a more textured, crystalline look (larger grind) where more of each piece of the stone can be seen in the pattern.
Engineered quartz is almost twice as hard as granite, and granite is pretty tough! This is what makes a quartz counter top so appealing. Other than cleaning your counter tops as you normally would, there is essentially no maintenance required (see Finishes below). The resin is the sealant. Quartz is generally white in color, so pigments are added to create a wide variety of colors to enhance your overall kitchen design. Each manufacturer chooses their own color palette, so be sure to look at several showrooms before making your decision.
Sizes and Installation Considerations:
105" x 55 " up to 130" x 80"
114" x 66" (9' 6" x 5' 6") is the most common
2cm = 3/4 inch
3 cm = 1 1/4 inch
I personally don't recommend 2 cm slabs in kitchens. Kitchens take a lot of abuse and I prefer the added strength of a 3 cm slab. A 2 cm slab requires a plywood underlayment or backing to provide this extra strength, which may be fine in other applications, such as bathrooms, laundry rooms or an office. They also require a laminate, or trim piece, to cover the edges and hide the plywood. A 3 cm quartz countertop will cost more, but in the case of kitchens, it's well worth it. Also, it gives you more options for your edge profile, which can play an important design role in many kitchen design concepts. A laminated edge limits your edge profile options.
As with most other stones, the same finishes apply to a quartz countertop. The finishes are as follows:
Polished: The most popular of the finishes. This is achieved by using industrial sanding and polishing equipment and it produces a high gloss, mirror-like finish. It is the best for repelling stains, but also shows the most fingerprints and any scratching that may occur, which is very unlikely with quartz. Keep in mind that due to it's glossy finish, it will reflect light. If you have lots of metal or other shiny finishes or abundant natural light you may want to consider one of the less-polished finishes.
Honed: This is becoming a very popular choice for kitchens today. Because the resin process is what produced the high-gloss finish on quartz, a honed counter top is achieved by lightly sanding the surface producing a satiny smooth, non-reflective matte finish. After the honing process, the color will be lighter than it's polished version, but after sealing the stone will become a bit darker. And because you are sanding the top layer of resin, there will be raw stone revealed on the surface and sealing would be required. It would be important to see a sample of your quartz countertop choice in the honed form before making a final decision. This would be a great texture choice for a kitchen with other reflective finishes, such as appliances, light fixtures and maybe even glossy cabinets.
Rough: This term encompasses many different finish treatments and it's important to see samples from your fabricator to know that you are both speaking the same language. These treatments begin with a honed slab where different methods are applied to create a specific surface texture. A brushed finish is achieved by using a diamond brush on the surface. A flamed finished is smooth, but rough, achieved by literally using a very hot flame to heat the surface where the crystals to burst, creating the bumpy surface. Leathered is another textured surface similar to flamed, but with a more linear (as opposed to bumpy) texture, creating a very, well, leathery look.
All of the rough finishes offer a unique design element to your quartz countertop and are great at hiding fingerprints, crumbs and scratches. Keep in mind that the more aggressively textured finishes are often used in outdoor applications where keeping a glossy finish looking clean is next to impossible. Any texture used indoors may be more difficult to keep clean taking into consideration the ridges and bumps that can be hiding places for spills and crumbs.
Cleaning quartz countertops is really as simple as keeping them clean as you work in your kitchen. With proper sealant (for finishes other than polished) and consistent care, they really don't need much special attention.
Sealing quartz countertops is as easy as wiping them clean and will prevent staining down the road. Though not all quartz counter tops require sealing (polished), give your textured finished counter tops a once-over annually. To see if it's time to re-seal, simply drip water drops onto them in several areas. If any of them absorb into the counter, it's time to re-seal all of the surfaces.