Can You Put Sternos on Quartz Countertop?

Quartz countertops are popular options for kitchen and bathroom surfaces due to their durability, aesthetics, and low maintenance. However, like any countertop material, they require some care to keep them looking their best. One question that often comes up is whether you can safely use sterno warmers, also called canned heat, on quartz countertops.

What are Quartz Countertops?

Quartz countertops, sometimes referred to as engineered stone, are made from ground natural quartz crystals combined with resins and pigments. The quartz content typically makes up 90-94% of the material. Unlike natural stone countertops like granite and marble, quartz is non-porous, so it does not need to be regularly sealed.

Some key advantages of quartz countertops:

  • Durable – Quartz is harder and more scratch resistant than natural stone. It holds up well to heavy usage in kitchens.
  • Low maintenance – Since it is non-porous, quartz does not need periodic sealing like granite. It is also stain resistant.
  • Hygienic – The non-porous surface inhibits bacteria growth.
  • Heat resistant – Quartz can withstand brief exposure to heat up to 212°F. However, prolonged high heat can cause damage.
  • Attractive styles – Quartz comes in a wide range of patterns and colors, from solid white to mimics of natural stone.

What are Sternos?

Sternos are small, disposable metal cans of gel fuel used for warming food. The cans have a lid with holes that allow the gel to ignite and warm the contents on top. Sternos are popular for keeping food warm for buffet serving.

Some key facts about sternos:

  • Fuel source – The gel inside is denatured and jellied alcohol. It provides a low, steady flame when lit.
  • Portable – Their small size makes sternos highly portable for warming food outdoors or away from a kitchen.
  • Affordable – Sternos only cost a dollar or two per can, making them a budget-friendly warming option.
  • Low open flame – The flame reaches around 175°F at its peak. The heat output is modest compared to other fuel types.
  • Short burn time – Each can of sterno will burn for around 1.5-2 hours. The heat diminishes as the fuel is used up.

Can You Use Sternos on Quartz Countertops?

The short answer is yes, sternos can be used safely on quartz countertops in most cases. However, there are some best practices to follow:

Use a Trivet

It is always advisable to place a trivet, hot pad, or pan under the sterno to protect the countertop surface. Quartz can withstand brief exposure to moderate heat, but direct contact with flames should be avoided. A trivet helps diffuse the heat.

Don’t Leave Unattended

Sternos should not be left alone burning for extended periods on quartz countertops. It is safer to directly monitor the flame while in use and promptly extinguish it when no longer needed. Leaving sternos burning unattended increases risk of overheating the quartz.

Avoid Sustained High Heat

While quartz is heat resistant, prolonged exposure to temperatures above 212°F can potentially cause damage. Sternos often burn around 175°F, but placing multiple cans together under a pan may increase the sustained heat. Avoid large arrays of cans for extended use.

Prevent Fuel Spills

Liquid fuel leaks from the sterno can also impose a hazard. The alcohol-based gel inside is flammable and can burn or stain the quartz surface. Make sure cans are stored upright and avoid knocking over lit cans. Clean any spills immediately.

Use Caution with Liquids

Do not place liquid-filled containers like soup pots directly on top of lit sternos. Hot bubbling liquid could boil over and seep onto the countertop, carrying heat with it. Use trivets and maintain space between the sterno flame and liquids.

Check the Manufacturers’ Guidelines

Quartz countertop brands may have specific guidelines concerning sternos. Consult your manufacturer’s care and maintenance instructions to see if they restrict use of canned heat. Most brands permit sternos with proper precautions.

Don’t Use Near Backsplashes

If you have a flammable backsplash material like wood installed behind a quartz countertop, take added care to position sternos away from the backsplash. The indirect heat could damage or discolor sensitive backsplash materials.

Avoid Longer-Burning Fuel Types

Some canned heat fuels like propane and butane offer longer burn times but also hotter flame temperatures. These present more risk to quartz counters. Sternos with traditional jellied alcohol fuel are safer options.

Tips for Using Sternos on Quartz

Here are some best practices when using sternos atop quartz countertops:

  • Place sternos on a trivet. Metal trivets like wire racks work well to dissipate heat. Make sure the trivet protects a large surface area underneath the cans.
  • Do not tightly cluster multiple cans together. Leave adequate space between cans for air circulation.
  • Set up sternos near the front edge of the countertop if possible. This will keep sustained heat away from the quartz surface and any backsplashes.
  • When lighting cans, keep the match flame directed into the can away from countertop edges.
  • Extinguish empty cans fully before discarding. Avoid leaving discarded cans on the countertop, which could leak leftover gel.
  • Monitor the sternos at all times when lit. Never leave burning cans alone on the countertop.
  • Let the countertop fully cool before wiping up any condensation or spills. Heat accelerates damage from liquids.

How to Clean Up After Using Sternos

With responsible use, it is unlikely that sternos will cause significant stains or damage to a quartz surface. However, proper cleaning when you are done can minimize any risks:

  • When cans are cooled, wipe down the countertop with a soft sponge or cloth using warm, soapy water or an all-purpose cleaner. This will remove any food debris, grease, or condensed steam.
  • For any gel fuel spills, immediately blot up the excess then clean with an alcohol-based cleaner to cut through the residue. Avoid abrasive scouring pads.
  • Heat may accelerate staining by spills like wine or tomato sauce. Clean any food spills right away before the heat makes stains set.
  • An alcohol-based cleaner like denatured alcohol can also help remove any discoloration from heat if applied shortly afterwards.
  • Avoid harsh cleaners like bleach, alkaline-based soaps, and acidic cleaners. These can damage or dull the quartz surface over time with repeated use.
  • For stuborn stains or surface damage, consult your countertop supplier for recommended repair kits and procedures. Improper repairs can void warranties.

Signs of Damage to Look For

In most cases, sternos will not cause noticeable damage to quartz with responsible use. However, here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Discoloration or dark spots on areas exposed to heat. The quartz surface may appear burnt.
  • Small cracks, pits, or bubbles on the surface. This indicates overheating of the resin.
  • Etch marks from spills becoming burnt into the surface.
  • A change in the glossy appearance, such as cracking or dulling around the heat source.
  • New difficulty wiping up spills on areas exposed to heat. Can indicate loss of stain resistance.
  • Warping if intense heat is applied. Quartz expanding unevenly from exposure to high temperatures.

When to Avoid Using Sternos on Quartz

While quartz can generally withstand the modest heat from sternos, there are some situations where it is smarter to avoid using them:

  • If your countertop edges overhang the cabinet bases substantially, the overhangs are more prone to heat damage since air cannot circulate underneath. Exercise more caution in these areas.
  • On countertop sections with integrated heating elements like griddles and cooktops. The combined heat may be excessive.
  • With certain sensitive materials like reclaimed wood or recycled glass backsplashes. These are more prone to warping or discoloration from heat exposure.
  • On quartz near other flammable items like curtains or towels. Be mindful of fire hazards.
  • Around incompatible materials like laminate countertops. The heat can damage laminate or cause delamination.

Alternatives to Sternos for Warming Food

If you decide sternos present too much risk for your quartz surfaces, here are some alternative methods of keeping food warm for serving:

  • Electric hot plates or induction burners
  • Insulated food warmers
  • Heated chafing dishes
  • Crockpots or slow cookers
  • Insulated food containers
  • Under-counter food warming drawers
  • Microwaves for re-heating portions
  • Fondue pots with gel fuel away from the countertop
  • Hot water baths for items like gravy boats or au jus

Key Takeaways

  • Sternos can generally be used on quartz counters if some safety precautions are followed. Proper setup and responsible monitoring are key.
  • Indirect heat transfer through trivets is recommended. Avoid direct flame exposure to prevent cracking or discoloration.
  • Brief warming uses are fine, but don’t leave sternos unattended for extended periods. Follow all manufacturer guidelines.
  • Clean up any spills, residue, or condensation promptly after use while the counter is still cool.
  • If damage begins developing, stop using sternos on that section of quartz immediately.
  • With responsible use, sternos offer a convenient warming method. But alternatives like electric hot plates avoid open flames if you prefer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you put a lit sterno directly on quartz?

It is not recommended to place a lit sterno can directly on quartz. Always use a trivet or hot pad underneath for indirect heat transfer. The direct open flame can potentially damage the solid quartz surface.

How long can you safely keep sternos lit on a quartz countertop?

Sternos should only be used on quartz for as long as you can directly monitor them, preferably no longer than 2-3 hours maximum. Leaving sternos burning overnight or unattended for an entire party is unsafe.

What temperature does a sterno can reach?

An individual sterno can burns around 175°F at its peak. This modest heat is generally safe for quartz in the short term. However, stacking many cans together under a pan or pot can focus much more sustained heat in one area, raising risks.

Can spills from sterno cans stain quartz counters?

Yes, spills of the flammable gel fuel inside can potentially stain if left to set. Blot up any spills immediately and clean the area with an alcohol-based cleaner to avoid discoloration or etching. Avoid abrasive scouring pads.

Is it safe to use sternos on quartz near a backsplash?

Use caution when positioning sternos near a flammable backsplash like wood or laminate. The indirect heating can discolor or warp these materials over time. Maintain plenty of clearance between sternos and any backsplash.

Can you repair heat damage on quartz counters?

Minor heat damage may be repairable on quartz by resurfacing the affected area. But deep cracks, bubbling, or discoloration often requires full replacement of the damaged section. Preventing heat damage is more economical than replacing quartz.


With responsible use, canned heat like sternos can be utilized for food warming on quartz countertops in most situations. To prevent any fire hazard or cosmetic damage, be sure to use trivets, refrain from overheating small areas, attend to the flame at all times, and promptly clean up after use. For applications where the open flame poses hassles, consider safer electric warming options. With some care and common sense, sternos can be a convenient way to keep appetizers and entrees ready to serve atop durable, low-maintenance quartz surfaces.