All About Granite Countertops

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How did they become the kitchen standard?

In the mid-1980s, granite was a relative newcomer to home kitchens.

In slab form, granite was exotic and wildly expensive. Chunked up and unpolished, it was more commonly found in outdoor gardens or construction yards than laid out and polished as elegant kitchen work surfaces.

In the last 30, years, however, granite has gone from extravagant to ubiquitous. Depending on which industry magazine you ask, granite at its height accounted for between $1.2–$6 billion in annual sales before easing off slightly in the last half-decade.

Today, it’s found in homes of all sizes and prices and is used as a kind of real estate shorthand for “good kitchen.” Interestingly enough, for the surge in demand, prices are lower than ever.

The Care and Keeping of Granite Countertops

Granite is tough and durable, but it is not impervious to damage. With proper care and maintenance, your granite countertops will perform well and look like new for many years to come.

Sealing

Like any stone, granite is porous and can be affected by water stains, scuffs and scratches. Even when polished, the surface contains pits and crevices that can turn into a breeding ground for bacteria in the kitchen.

Your granite should be sealed periodically to resist water, stains and bacteria. To seal your countertop, apply a liquid or spray sealer to the counter that has been dry for at least 6 hours. Let sit for 30 minutes, then wipe away any excess sealer with a clean, soft cloth. If you wish, you may apply a second coat 24 hours later.

How often should you reseal your granite countertop? The experts say, “It depends.” Darker granites are generally denser and require less frequent sealing. Lighter granites may need resealing more often.

Cleaning

Never use acidic or abrasive cleaners on your granite! Instead, use only non-abrasive, neutral cleaners. You can purchase a stone soap (but mild dish soaps work fine). Rinse and dry your counters well to avoid streaks and water spots. Polish every so often with a granite polishing compound and soft, dry cloth to keep your granite’s shine and luster bright.

Use

Even though your granite is sealed, it’s still wise to keep it as dry as possible. Wipe up spills immediately, and limit its contact with acids and substances that stain (like red wine). Do not place hot items from oven or stove directly on the counter, and be wary of impact, as a heavy pan dropped on the countertop can cause the rock to crack.

The Psychology of Stone

Granite is lovely, to be sure. But what accounts for our obsession with this natural stone?

That’s just it isn’t it? It’s a natural stone. It’s not prefab. It’s not wallpaper. You can’t pick it out of a book or get the same countertop as Kate Hudson. Granite is totally unique. There will never be another slab, another cut of stone that looks exactly like the one you have. Each slab truly is one of a kind, handcrafted by Mother Earth just for you and your kitchen.

Countertop material choices also reflect how we use the kitchen. In the past, the kitchen was not for show. It was a private space where you checked the roast or refilled the dip away from the party in the living room. Now the kitchen is the living room, as shown by the demand for open floor plans. Appliances, cabinets, and yes, countertops now have cause to be thought of as furniture, just as in other rooms your home.

Buying a Better Granite

There are those that insist that granite is on its way out, or is becoming passé — but there’s no clear winner to replace it. People love granite, but it could be argued that people are in love with the idea of the stone’s appearance, rather than the stone itself.

If we take a cold, hard look at granite as a material that comes into regular contact with food, water, light, cookware, heat, impact and other kitchen stresses, we have to admit it is not perfect. Granite can crack if exposed to excessive heat or impact. If not sealed properly, it can become stained, scuffed and water-spotted. Indeed, if everyone chose material based on price, care and durability alone, they’d probably choose solid surface or quartz, which is much easier to care for.

But because granite is such an emotional purchase, it’s hard to tear ourselves away from the 30-year old ideal. Well-meaning homeowners on HGTV regularly walk away from perfectly good homes simply because they do not have granite countertops. What a shame!

Fortunately, there are many suitors vying to be the next countertop king that emulate the look of granite,often from recycled materials that are actually better suited for kitchen use. Eco-friendly options like recycled glass, concrete or paperstone are beautiful granite-esque choices, but like granite’s early days, they can be a bit on the pricey side.

Composite stone is a great solution to bridge the cost vs. conscious gap. Made from ground stone and resins, composite “solid surface” countertops mimic the look of natural stone and can be manufactured to any color, pattern or shape you desire. They are stronger than granite and do not stain, nick, scuff or require sealing. This is one of many granite-esque materials that captures the best of both worlds.