Quartz countertops have become an increasingly popular option for kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects in recent years. But there is often some confusion around whether quartz countertops should be categorized as natural stone or engineered stone. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide a detailed overview of what quartz countertops are, how they are made, their key characteristics, and why they are considered a type of engineered stone.
What is Quartz?
Quartz is a mineral that is found abundantly in nature. It is composed of silicon and oxygen atoms and is the second most common mineral found in the Earth’s continental crust, after feldspar. Natural quartz is crystalline in structure and is very hard and durable. It rates 7 on the Mohs hardness scale, just below diamond.
Quartz can be found in a variety of colors including white, grey, yellow, pink, purple, orange, red, brown, and black. The most common variety is transparent or translucent, but quartz also occurs in opaque forms.
What Are Engineered Stone Countertops?
Engineered stone is a composite material made from crushed stone bound together with resin. The two most common types of engineered stone used for countertops are quartz and solid surface.
Engineered stone countertops provide an alternative to natural stone countertops like granite and marble. The fabrication process allows manufacturers to engineer the material’s properties, creating a product that is more consistent, durable, and resistant to damage than natural stone.
Key features of engineered stone countertops include:
- Highly consistent color and pattern—the speckled look is engineered into the material so it does not vary slab to slab.
- Resistant to stains, scratches, heat, and water damage. More durable than natural stone.
- Easy maintenance—does not require sealing or special cleaners.
- Mold, bacteria, and mildew resistant. Does not support microbial growth.
- Available in a diverse range of colors and patterns. Customizable aesthetic.
- Non-porous so liquids don’t penetrate the surface.
How Are Quartz Countertops Made?
Quartz countertops are a type of engineered stone made from crushed quartz bound together with resin. Here is an overview of the quartz countertop fabrication process:
1. Sourcing the Quartz
- Pure natural quartz is mined and then crushed into a fine powder.
- The crushed quartz particles provide strength, hardness, and sparkle.
- Other crushed stone like granite, marble, and onyx may also be added.
2. Adding the Resin
- The quartz powder is combined with a small amount of resin and pigment.
- Resins like polyester provide the binding property to hold the material together.
- Pigments add color and create the variegated look.
3. Vacuum and Vibration
- The mixture is poured into a mold and molded under high pressure.
- Vacuum and vibration remove air pockets, maximizing density.
- Extreme vibration compacts and compresses the materials.
4. Curing and Finishing
- Once in the mold, the engineered quartz material cures and hardens.
- The finished slabs are polished to a smooth, glossy finish.
- Finally, the material is inspected, tested, and prepared for shipping.
Why Quartz Countertops Are Considered Engineered Stone
Although made from a natural mineral, quartz countertops are considered a human-engineered material rather than a purely natural stone. Here are some of the key reasons quartz is categorized with other engineered stones:
- Manufacturing Process – Quartz slabs are engineered in a factory through a comprehensive fabrication process. The material’s properties like color, pattern, and consistency are carefully controlled.
- Small Amount of Natural Stone – Quartz countertops only contain about 90-95% ground quartz. The remainder is polyester resins and pigments.
- Consistent Appearance – Slab to slab, quartz countertops maintain the same flecked appearance and do not have natural veining like marble or granite. The color and pattern is engineered into the material.
- Enhanced Performance – The manufacturing process enhances key performance attributes like density, hardness, scratch resistance, and stain resistance compared to natural quartz stone.
- Not Found Naturally As Slabs – You would never find quartz naturally existing as a perfectly smooth countertop slab. Seamless slabs are only achievable through engineered fabrication.
- Quartz is Not Rare – Large quartz deposits make the mineral relatively common compared to rare and precious natural stones. Rarity adds value which quartz lacks.
So in summary, while made from a natural material, the fabrication process used to produce quartz slabs means they are considered engineered stone, not a pure natural stone. The engineered process allows characteristics like appearance, color, and durability to be carefully controlled.
What Are the Major Brands of Quartz Countertops?
There are several major brands that dominate the engineered quartz countertop market. Here are some of the biggest names to know:
As the first company to produce quartz surfaces for countertops in the U.S., Cambria is one of the leading brands. They offer a wide selection of popular designs like Brittanicca, Ella, and Summerhill.
One of the pioneers of engineered quartz, Caesarstone provides a diverse range of colors and patterns including classics like Frosty Carrina, Rugged Concrete, and Crisp Linen.
Known for constantly innovating with new color collections, Silestone is a popular choice for modern and minimalist kitchens. Their polished and matte finishes have visual depth.
With unique styles like stacked stone and autumn falls, MSI offers both traditional and contemporary aesthetic options. Their Q Premium Natural Quartz is high quality.
For bold, vivid colors and designs inspired by natural marble, limestone, and onyx, Vicostone delivers stylish options. They frequently introduce fresh new styles.
Corian® by Dupont was one of the first engineered solid surfaces. It remains a trusted brand among homeowners and designers.
With a palette of bright whites to dramatic dark hues, LG Viatera provides a polished or spaced concrete appearance. They focus on a luxury high-end market.
Based in New Zealand, Compac crafts their engineered quartz with advanced technology. They constantly pioneer fresh edges, textures, and styles.
HanStone Quartz prides itself on premium quality. With special techniques like hand-polishing, they create luxurious marble-like finishes.
How Does Quartz Compare to Other Countertop Materials?
Quartz delivers a unique set of performance attributes and aesthetics compared to other natural stone and engineered countertop options:
Quartz vs. Granite
- Quartz offers more consistent coloring whereas granite has natural variations.
- Quartz requires less maintenance. Granite needs periodic sealing.
- Quartz is engineered to be harder and denser. Granite is still very durable.
- Granite has natural pits and fissures. Quartz provides a smooth, consistent surface.
Quartz vs. Marble
- Quartz is much more scratch and stain resistant due to its non-porous nature.
- Marble stains easily and requires extensive sealing.
- Heat damage is a major risk with marble. Quartz is not vulnerable to burns or cracks.
- Quartz offers bolder, vivid colors whereas marble has a more elegant, subtle look.
Quartz vs. Solid Surface
- Quartz is harder and more rigid. Solid surface can scratch and dent more easily.
- Heat damage is a concern for solid surface. Quartz is not prone to burning or cracking.
- Quartz is more resistant to stains from spills and chemicals.
- Solid surface often costs slightly less. But quartz offers better value for the price.
Quartz vs. Laminate
- Quartz is far more durable, scratch-proof, and heat-resistant compared to laminate.
- Laminate lacks the high-end visual appeal of quartz’s natural patterns and depth.
- Quartz is practically maintenance free while laminate requires meticulous cleaning.
- Laminate countertops have a much shorter lifespan compared to quartz.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Quartz Countertops?
Below we summarize the key benefits quartz can provide along with a few potential downsides to consider:
- Extremely durable and scratch resistant surface.
- Stain, mold, mildew, and bacteria resistant.
- Easy maintenance. Requires no sealing or special cleaners.
- Resilient to burns, cracks, and heat damage.
- Consistent color and pattern slab to slab.
- Stylish modern aesthetic with vibrant colors.
- Matches a variety of cabinet styles.
- Long lifespan. Will look like new for 15-20 years.
- Higher cost than laminate or tile. But more affordable than granite or marble.
- Limited number of color and pattern options compared to natural stone.
- Visible seams are more apparent than with granite.
- Not impervious to chips from impact damage.
- Acidic substances like lemon juice can dull the polish over time.
What Are the Most Popular Quartz Countertop Colors?
When selecting a quartz variety, color is often the first consideration. Here are some of the most popular shades that homeowners gravitate towards:
Crisp, clean whites like Glacier White, Carrara White, and Venetian White are versatile contemporary options. They create a minimalist, modern aesthetic.
From pale, cool stones like Frosted Concrete to bold Storm Grey and dense Graphite, medium greys beautifully contrast with cabinets and backsplashes.
Vivid bright blues like Atlantic Salt can make a dramatic statement. Soft, pale blues like Cloudy Skies work well in beach cottages.
Inky, deep blacks like Onyx and Midnight provide a bold, sophisticated look.
Warm, welcoming beiges like Taj Mahal, Desert Storm, and Beachwood add an earthy, natural element that complements wood finishes.
Buttery creams like Creama, Latte and Almond Rocca resemble marble and pair well with dark cabinetry.
What Thickness Should I Choose for Quartz Countertops?
Quartz countertops are available in three standard thicknesses:
- 3/4″ (2 cm) – Best suited for vertical applications like bathroom backsplashes. Too thin for counters.
- 1 1/4″ (3 cm) – The most common thickness. Provides adequate durability for residential kitchen counters.
- 1 1/2″ (4 cm) – A thicker slab that provides enhanced strength. Recommended for heavy use kitchen islands.
The thickness doesn’t affect the color or finish. Thicker simply means it will be more rigid and support more weight. But thickness does affect cost—thicker quartz slabs are exponentially more expensive.
1 1/4″ is suitable for most home kitchens. Island counters or commercial projects may warrant a 1 1/2” thick slab. Only go for the thickest option if you specifically need the enhanced durability.
What Edge Profiles Work Best for Quartz?
Since quartz is an engineered material, the edges can be cut and finished with a wide selection of decorative edge profiles. The edge can really enhance the overall style and aesthetic. Here are some top options to consider:
Eased or Pencil Edge
A thin rounded edge. Subtle and contemporary. The most common quartz edge.
A curved, oval shape. Provides a softer, gentler profile compared to sharper edges.
A small, quarter-inch radius on top and bottom. Minimalist and streamlined.
A thin beveled edge. Adds definition without being ornate.
An elegant, continuous S-shaped curve. Has a classical style mimicking natural stone.
A 45-degree angled edge. The joint where two pieces meet is straight, not overlapping.
Does Quartz Need to Be Sealed?
One of the benefits of quartz is that unlike granite, marble, and travertine that are porous, quartz does not require sealing.
The resin binds the crushed quartz into a waterproof, non-porous material that resists staining and damage from spills. Liquids don’t penetrate the surface, making sealing unnecessary.
However, it is recommended to make sealing a habit after cleaning to help enhance the shine and luster of the quartz:
- Use a granite polish or sealant formulated for engineered stone.
- Apply a thin layer with a soft cloth. Avoid spray sealants.
- Buff off excess with a dry cloth.
- Reapply every 6 months or as needed.
Sealing is not mandatory for quartz but can help preserve its flawless, glossy sheen. Avoid harsh cleaners and abrasives.
Does Quartz Stain Easily?
One of the major advantages of quartz over natural stone is that it extremely resistant to stains. Here are some key reasons quartz does not stain easily:
- Non-porous Material – Liquids sit on the surface rather than absorbing in so stains have no penetration.
- Stain Protection – Most quartz is treated with special stain-resistant chemicals during fabrication.
- Resin Binders – The polymeric resins create waterproof, impermeable bonds.
- Easy Cleaning – Simple cleaning with soap and water is sufficient to remove most spills before staining occurs.
However, while quartz has excellent stain resistance, it is not completely stain-proof. Prolonged exposure, poor cleaning methods, or intense staining agents can still potentially cause permanent discoloration. Here are some guidelines:
- Clean up spills immediately before they have time to set in.
- Use a gentle cleaner specifically formulated for quartz.
- For stubborn stains, use a bleach-free cleaner to break up the stain.
- Avoid abrasive scrubbing. Use a soft sponge or cloth.
- Even dried or set-in stains can often be removed by a professional fabricator.
So in summary, quartz is very stain resistant due to its non-porous structure and resin treatments but it still requires proper cleaning to maintain its flawless appearance.
Is Quartz Heat Resistant?
Quartz countertops are engineered to withstand moderate heat exposure in the kitchen. However, they are not completely heatproof. Here is an overview of quartz’s heat resistance:
- Quartz can tolerate brief exposure to moderately hot pots and pans, up to about 150°F to 200°F. Prolonged direct contact may result in cracks or discoloration.
- Always use trivets and hot pads when setting hot cookware on quartz. Never place extremely hot items directly on the surface.
- Avoid exposing the countertop to open flames or setting very hot appliances like crock pots or griddles on the surface.
- Localized damage like cracks may occur if an extremely hot pan is left in one spot for an extended time.
- Thermal shocks from sudden and intense temperature changes can also create stress. Allow cookware to cool somewhat before placing on quartz.
- Overall, quartz has good heat tolerance for typical cooking tasks. But it does not have the heat immunity of stones like granite that can withstand over 500°F.
The resin binders begin to deteriorate when exposed to temperatures over 200°F. So quartz can handle routine usage but should be protected from extreme direct high heat.
Will Quartz Crack or Chip?
Thanks to its durability and strength, quartz is designed to resist cracking or chipping during normal everyday use when installed correctly. Here are some tips to prevent damage:
- Avoid direct high impacts that can cause chips and cracks. Don’t pound or hit quartz.
- Use cutting boards instead of slicing directly on the countertop to prevent nicks and scratches.
- Prevent thermal shocks by not exposing quartz to abrupt temperature extremes or direct high heat.
- Proper support underneath can help prevent stress cracks. Ensure cabinets provide adequate reinforcement.
- Seams are most vulnerable. Take care not to impact the glued joints between slabs.
- Cracks are unlikely but can form from an underlying foundation issue or severe impact.
- Chips are possible along edges and cutouts from intense force. Take care around sinks.
- Hairline cracks are repairable. Larger fractures may require a quartz repair specialist.
So while not immune to damage under excessive force, quartz resists cracking and chipping under normal use when cared for properly.
Is Quartz Flammable?
By itself, quartz is completely non-flammable and fireproof. However, since engineered quartz countertops contain resin binders, they can potentially burn but are highly fire resistant. Here’s an overview of how quartz reacts to flames:
- The quartz mineral and crushed stone composition is completely non-combustible.
- However, the polyester resin binders used in most quartz can char and burn at high heat.
- Quartz has a Class A fire rating. This means the flames self-extinguish once the heat source is removed.
- Burning produces thick smoke. Always evacuate and call emergency responders in the event of a fire.
- The surface may blacken and get damaged from high heat