Quartz countertops have become extremely popular in kitchens and bathrooms over the last couple of decades. Their stylish appearance and resistance to stains, scratches, and heat make them an attractive option for many homeowners. But one question that often comes up is whether quartz countertops are natural stone or an engineered product. The answer is a bit complex, but understanding the makeup of quartz counters can help you decide if they are the right choice for your home.
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 in the Earth’s continental crust, after feldspar. Natural quartz is crystalline in structure and comes in a variety of colors including:
Quartz is extremely hard and resistant to both chemicals and heat. These characteristics make natural quartz an excellent choice for high-quality countertops.
The Manufacturing Process
While natural quartz is used to create engineered stone countertops, the final product contains over 90% ground quartz combined with polymer resins and pigments. The manufacturing process generally follows these steps:
- Quartz is mined and processed into a fine powder. Only the highest purity quartz is used.
- The quartz powder is combined with pigments to achieve the desired colors and patterns. Pigments are typically made up of iron oxide, titanium oxide, or carbon black.
- Polymer resins such as epoxy or polyester are added to act as a binding agent. These resins give the countertops hardness and improve workability during manufacturing.
- The mixture is compacted into slabs using a vacuum and vibration process that removes air pockets.
- The slabs are cured in ovens then polished into the final glass-like surface finish.
So in summary, while the main component of quartz countertops is a natural material, the final product is engineered and manufactured by combining ground quartz with polymers and pigments. This allows manufacturers to create consistent colors, patterns, and durability that would be impossible with a purely natural stone product.
Benefits of Engineered Quartz Countertops
The combination of natural quartz with polymers and resins creates an ideal stone surface with the following characteristics:
- Hardness and durability – Quartz rates 7 out of 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, harder than granite or marble. The resin binds the quartz into a damage-resistant surface.
- Resistance to stains and scratches – Quartz is non-porous so liquids don’t penetrate the surface. The polymers create a surface that resists scratches from knives or abrasions.
- Low maintenance – Unlike natural stone, quartz does not need ongoing sealing or polishing. Simple cleaning with soap and water is enough for routine care.
- Color and pattern consistency – The manufacturing process creates uniform coloring and reliable patterning. Natural stone can vary significantly even within the same slab.
- Heat resistance – Quartz handles heat well and usually only requires trivets for the hottest pans. Natural stone can be prone to cracking or discoloration from heat exposure.
- Non-toxic – Quartz does not emit radon gas like some natural stones. The pigments used are non-toxic.
So in terms of performance, engineered quartz combines the best attributes of natural stone with the consistency and durability of man-made materials. This makes quartz an ideal choice for busy kitchens and baths.
Is Quartz an Eco-Friendly Choice?
One concern often raised about engineered stone products is whether they are an environmentally responsible choice given their manufacturing process. Here are some considerations regarding the eco-friendliness of quartz:
- Contains abundant natural material – Using crushed quartz makes good use of an Earth-abundant natural resource that would otherwise go to waste.
- Production uses less water – Quartz manufacturing consumes less water than natural stone mining and fabrication.
- Does not deplete quarries – The abundance of quartz means production does not damage landscapes like quarrying natural granite or marble.
- Consistent sizing reduces waste – With reliable sizing, installers can cut quartz with minimal wasted material. Natural stone slab sizes vary considerably.
- Can be recycled – Pre-consumer quartz waste from manufacturing can be recycled into other products. Most quartz manufacturers participate in recycling programs.
- Long lifespan – With a life expectancy of 15-25 years, quartz counters don’t end up in landfills as quickly as some materials. Their durability is a sustainability benefit.
So while no stone surface can be 100% green, quartz counters are a reasonably eco-friendly option, especially when chosen over limited natural stone resources. Consumers should look for manufacturers that follow best practices like recycling waste.
Should You Choose Quartz Countertops?
Quartz is an ideal choice for homeowners who want worry-free countertops with modern aesthetics. Key advantages that make quartz worth considering include:
- Attractive consistent colors and patterns
- Extremely durable and scratch/stain resistant surface
- Easy maintenance that looks great long-term
- Resilience to heat, impact, and everyday use
- Non-porous so does not require sealing
- More affordable than natural stone
- Available in wide range of colors and patterns
Of course, quartz has some disadvantages to consider as well:
- Not as heat resistant as granite – hot pans can damage surface
- Can have visible seams between slabs
- Limited ability to be repaired if damaged
- Some people prefer the prestige of natural stone
Taking all factors into account, engineered quartz combines the durability and appearance of high-end countertops with excellent value. For those seeking stylish, low-maintenance, and eco-friendly counters, quartz is worth a close look. Carefully reviewing product samples and installation quality is the best way to ensure satisfaction with a quartz purchase. With a bit of research, you can enjoy beautiful quartz surfaces that gracefully stand up to years of cooking and entertaining.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is quartz entirely artificial?
No, quartz surfaces are over 90% ground natural quartz mined from the earth. The remaining components are pigments for color and resin for binding.
How does quartz compare to granite?
Quartz is harder, more stain resistant, and needs less sealing than granite. Granite can be more heat resistant but also more prone to damage. Both offer attractive natural stone aesthetics.
Can you repair quartz if it chips or cracks?
Unfortunately, quartz is difficult to repair if damaged. Minor chips or scratches can sometimes be sanded or buffed out. But cracks or significant damage usually require total replacement.
Does quartz need to be sealed?
No. Because quartz is non-porous, it does not require regular sealing like granite or marble. Proper cleaning is all that is needed to maintain its surface.
Is quartz expensive?
Quartz is one of the more affordable countertop options. It is generally pricier than materials like laminate but is typically less expensive than premium natural stone.Exact quartz prices vary by manufacturer and color.
With its fusion of abundant natural quartz and engineering for consistency, durability, and low maintenance, quartz offers the best qualities of both natural stone and man-made materials. For homeowners seeking worry-free, stylish countertops that can handle busy kitchens, quartz is an excellent choice worth considering. Carefully weighing the options of quartz versus other surfaces based on your priorities will lead you to the perfect countertop to enjoy for years to come.