Quartz countertops have become an increasingly popular option for kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects in recent years. Made from engineered stone, quartz combines natural quartz crystals with resins and pigments to create a durable, low-maintenance, and stylish surface. But how exactly are these sleek countertops made? The manufacturing process for quartz countertops involves some highly technical steps to produce the finished slabs you see in homes and businesses.
The key ingredient in any quartz countertop is natural quartz crystals, which make up 90-94% of the overall product. Quartz is one of the hardest minerals found in nature, rating a 7 out of 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. This extreme hardness makes quartz an ideal stone for countertops that can withstand heavy use and resist scratches, chips, and cracks.
The remaining 6-10% of a quartz countertop consists of polyester resins and pigments. The resins act as a binding agent, holding the quartz crystals together in a uniform slab. Pigments are added to the resin to create the various color patterns and effects seen in quartz. Common pigments used include iron oxide for reddish tones, titanium oxide for grays and whites, chromium oxide for greens, and carbon black for dark hues.
Some quartz manufacturers also add recycled glass, mirrors, porcelain, natural stone, shells, and other materials to their slabs. These additives enhance the appearance and properties of the finished product. For example, recycled glass introduces sparkling accents, while shells impart a pearlized look.
Mixing the Ingredients
The process of making quartz slabs begins with precisely measuring and mixing the ingredients together. The quartz crystals, resins, and pigments must be combined in exact proportions to achieve the optimal chemical composition and aesthetic effects.
The mixing phase is highly automated, with advanced systems controlling the dispensing and blending of the raw materials. Conveyor belts, chutes, and pipes move the measured ingredients into large mixing vessels where they are homogenized into a uniform compound.
Powerful motors with rotating blades stir and agitate the mixture to fully incorporate the ingredients. Sensors and computerized monitors check the levels, ratios, viscosity, temperature, and other parameters throughout the mixing process to ensure consistency batch after batch.
Pressing the Slabs
Once thoroughly mixed, the quartz compound gets pressed into slab form. This is accomplished using a special vacuum vibro-compression molding press.
The mixed material gets distributed into a mold box, essentially a large steel frame between 60-120 inches long. A vacuum is pulled within the box to remove any trapped air pockets from the quartz mixture.
Hydraulic pressure plates then apply enormous force, up to 100 tons, to compress the material into a solid slab. The compression fuses the ingredients tightly together.
Simultaneously, the mold box vibrates at a rapid frequency. This vibration eliminates any remaining air bubbles and aligns the quartz grains for optimal strength and appearance.
The combination of vibration, vacuum, pressure, and heat from the plates causes the resins to solidify or “cure” into a hard plastic binder that holds the quartz in place.
Curing & Polishing
After pressing, the quartz slabs must cure and harden fully before polishing and fabrication. The pressed slabs get transferred to curing racks and placed in a curing oven or chamber.
Inside the curing ovens, temperatures reach up to 270°F. The heat causes the resins to cross-link and solidify completely, creating a dense, non-porous slab. Curing times vary by manufacturer but typically range from 25-45 minutes.
Once cured, the quartz slabs proceed through a sequence of polishing steps. Abrasive diamond pads and discs grind and buff the slabs, progressively refining the surface. As they move through the polishing line, the slabs transform from a rough matte texture to a smooth high-gloss finish.
Advanced optical sensors and quality control checks are performed throughout polishing. This ensures the slabs achieve the desired sheen, luster, and visual effects. The finished polished slabs are then packaged and shipped to fabricators or distributors.
Cutting & Fabricating
Fabricators, including countertop installation contractors, receive the quartz slabs and precision-cut them to exact client specifications. Computer-aided technology allows fabricators to optimize cuts and minimize waste.
The slabs get cut using diamond-tipped saws cooled with water. After cutting, the edges are smoothed and shaped as needed with routers, grinders, and polishers.
For undermount sinks, the appropriate sink cutouts are made using CNC machines or water jets. Any ornamental edges, contours, or decorative profiles are added at this stage too.
The precisely cut pieces then go through final polishing and inspection. Once approved, the quartz countertop pieces are packaged, bundled with other installation materials, and shipped to the client’s site for installation.
Installing a quartz countertop requires securing the pieces to the cabinet base. Most fabricators use clear silicone adhesive to attach the countertop.
After carefully positioning each section in place, the installers apply color-matched silicone caulk to the seams. The caulk fills any gaps and creates smooth, barely visible joints between the countertop pieces.
The installers remove any excess caulk and use a tool to ensure optimal seam consistency. Once the caulk cures and hardens, the countertop is securely united as one.
The final steps involve wiping down the counters, checking for levelness, integrating any appliances, backsplashing, and plumbing as needed. Once complete, the client can enjoy their stunning new quartz countertops.
What makes quartz different than natural stone?
Quartz differs from natural stone like granite or marble in a few key ways. Because it is engineered, quartz has a more consistent appearance without natural variations. It also lacks the pores and pits found in many stones, making it non-porous and stain-resistant. The resins mixed with the ground quartz make quartz less prone to cracks and chips as well.
What are the pros and cons of quartz?
- Extremely durable and scratch-resistant surface
- Easy to keep clean and maintain
- Resists stains, mildew, and bacteria growth
- Consistent color and patterning
- Moldable into a range of styles and textures
- Non-porous unlike granite and marble
- More expensive than laminates
- Limited number of colors/patterns
- Requires professional fabrication and installation
- Can chip if subjected to extreme impact
- Heat-sensitive (needs protection from hot pans)
How long do quartz countertops last?
With proper care and maintenance, quartz countertops can easily last 25 years or longer. The durable material resists scratches, stains, and burns that can deteriorate other surfaces over time. As long as quartz counters are not subjected to extreme impact, they will maintain their beauty and function for decades in the average home kitchen or bathroom.
Does quartz need to be sealed?
Unlike natural stone, quartz does not require regular sealing. Since it is non-porous, sealing agents cannot penetrate the surface. However, sealing is sometimes done for extra protection and stain resistance, especially in busy kitchens. Quartz can be sealed using topical treatments designed for engineered stone but does not need yearly reapplication like granite or marble.
Is quartz environmentally friendly?
Quartz contains high percentages of recycled content including glass, porcelain, mirror chips, and industrial waste. Producing quartz also results in less waste compared to natural stone fabrication. However, resins and polymers make quartz a non-biodegradable material. And transportation of slabs worldwide consumes fossil fuels. So while greener than other surfaces, quartz still has some environmental impacts. Many brands now offer eco-friendly lines with more recycled materials and natural pigments.
With its unparalleled durability, vibrant colors, and stylish look, it’s easy to see why quartz has become the hottest trend in countertops. By understanding how quartz countertops are carefully engineered and crafted, homeowners can appreciate the skill and technology required to manufacture these beautiful surfaces. Next time you visit a kitchen or bath showroom, look closer at the quartz counters and marvel at their meticulous fabrication process.