Quartz countertops have become immensely popular in recent years for use in kitchens and bathrooms. But what exactly is quartz? Is it a natural stone like granite or marble? Or is it an engineered composite material? The answer is a bit more complex than a simple yes or no. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore what quartz countertops are made of, how they are produced, their key characteristics and benefits compared to other countertop materials, maintenance and care recommendations, frequent questions surrounding quartz, and more. Read on to gain an in-depth understanding of this versatile and trendy countertop option.
What is Quartz?
Quartz is a naturally occurring mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms. In nature, it is found as colorless and transparent or colored hexagonal prismatic crystals. Quartz is one of the most abundant minerals on Earth and is a major component of granite, sandstone, and many other rocks.
For countertops, quartz refers to engineered stone made from crushed quartz particles combined with resin binders and pigments. So quartz countertops are not purely natural stone but rather a human-made composite material. The key ingredients are:
- Quartz Aggregates – Making up over 90% of the material. Crushed quartz provides strength, hardness, and a crystalline sparkle.
- Polyester Resins – Account for around 10% or less of the material. Resins bind the quartz particles together into a durable, solid slab.
- Pigments – Added for color. Titanium dioxide creates a white base. Other mineral pigments produce the array of quartz colors and patterns.
This combination of ingredients forms a non-porous, highly durable surface resistant to scratches, stains, and heat. With quartz, manufacturers can engineer the material’s color, pattern, and texture in a controlled factory environment. This allows much more design flexibility compared to natural stone.
How are Quartz Countertops Made?
Quartz countertops are made through a multi-step manufacturing process under precise computer-controlled conditions. This high degree of engineering provides quartz with performance advantages over natural stone. Here is an overview of the key steps:
1. Raw Material Preparation
Pure quartz crystals are mined and then crushed into a fine particle powder. This provides the main raw ingredient – quartz aggregates. Polyester resins and mineral pigments are also prepared. Everything is precisely measured by weight.
The quartz powder, resins, and pigments are blended together in a large mixing machine. Additional chemicals may be added to assist with processing. The goal is to achieve a homogeneous material composition.
Next, the mixture is compacted into a rigid slab under intense vibration and vacuum pressure. This compaction process removes air pockets and maximizes density.
The pressed slabs move into a curing oven and are baked at high temperatures. Curing causes the resins to solidify and permanently harden the slabs.
The cured slabs are sanded, polished, and calibrated to a precise thickness. Computer-controlled technology ensures consistency. Finished slabs have a smooth, glossy surface ready for installation.
Slabs are cut to specific countertop dimensions using advanced waterjet or CNC machining. Edge profiles can also be cut at this stage. The fabricated countertop pieces are then installed and ready for use.
Key Characteristics of Quartz Countertops
Now that we understand how quartz countertops are made, let’s examine some of their most notable qualities:
- Colors – Available in a broad palette from white to dark colors and everything in between. Manufacturers offer hundreds of color options.
- Patterns – Many quartz slabs incorporate veining, particulates, aggregates, or other patterns. This adds visual interest.
- Consistent aesthetics – The engineered manufacturing yields reliable, consistent color and patterning across installed countertops with minimal variation.
- Hardness and durability – With a Mohs hardness of 7, quartz is harder than granite (Mohs 6) and won’t easily scratch or chip. The compressed composition makes quartz very resilient.
- Stain resistance – Non-porous quartz repels liquids, grease, food, and other kitchen stains. It never needs sealing.
- Heat resistance – Quartz endures heat up to 212°F. Hot pots and pans won’t damage the surface. However, prolonged high heat could cause slight discoloration.
- Low maintenance – Quartz requires very little maintenance compared to natural stone. Simple cleaning with soap and water keeps it looking like new.
Fabrication & Installation
- Consistent sizing – Computer numeric control technology ensures precision cutting and consistent slab sizing. This results in easier installations.
- Seamless appearance – Tight joints between countertop pieces make seams practically invisible. This enhances the smooth, continuous look.
- Integrated sinks & backsplashes – Quartz can be prefabricated with coordinated sinks or backsplashes for a streamlined installation.
- Minimal maintenance required – Unlike natural stone, quartz rarely needs resealing or conditioning after installation.
Quartz Countertops vs. Other Materials
How does quartz compare against popular countertop materials like granite, marble, and solid surfaces? Here is a brief overview:
Quartz vs. Granite
- More consistent in color and pattern than natural granite.
- Slightly harder and more scratch resistant than granite.
- Requires less maintenance and sealing than porous granite.
- Seams between slabs are less noticeable than with granite.
- Higher cost than granite on average.
- More limited in featuring dramatic natural stone patterns.
Quartz vs. Marble
- Much more durable, scratch and stain resistant than softer marble.
- Keeps clean appearance better than marble over time.
- No risk of etching or discoloring from acids as seen with marble.
- Provides an easier-to-maintain alternative to marble aesthetics.
Quartz vs. Solid Surfaces
- Higher durability, heat, scratch, and stain resistance.
- Visually shows less wear over time than solid surfaces.
- Can emulate looks of natural stone that solid surfaces can’t achieve.
- Seams are more discrete compared to solid surface countertops.
- Higher cost for installed quartz countertops.
Quartz vs. Laminate
- Much greater durability, heat resistance, and lifespan.
- Visually indistinguishable seams compared to laminate.
- Unique natural-looking aesthetics that laminates can’t match.
- Won’t bubble or peel like laminates might over time.
- Significantly higher installed price point than laminate.
So while not perfect, quartz provides an overall balance of appealing aesthetics, durability, and easy maintenance. That combination positions quartz as a premium countertop choice for many kitchens and baths.
Popular Brands of Quartz
Several leading manufacturers produce quartz slabs globally. Some of the top brands available in the U.S. include:
- Caesarstone – This pioneer has been producing quartz since 1987. Their high-quality surfaces come in a diverse range of styles.
- Cambria – Features elegant designs crafted in the U.S. Focuses on creating natural looking stone finishes.
- Silestone – Known for constantly innovating with unique colors and bold patterns beyond traditional looks.
- LG Viatera – Focuses on high-end aesthetics emulating natural stone. Offers digital printing technology.
- Wilsonart – Brings quality and affordability with many color and finish options. Global industry leader.
- QuartzMaster – Leading brand in Asia that has expanded distribution into the U.S. Known for unique bold veining patterns.
- Hanstone – Offers premium quartz ideal for large island counters and surfaces seeing heavy usage.
- Vicostone – Vietnam-based company crafting high-quality quartz slabs. Global brand available in the U.S.
This list just highlights some of the top options – there are many more available. Be sure to review different brand design styles as you select your perfect quartz look.
Cost of Quartz Countertops
Quartz delivers premium aesthetics, performance, and ease of maintenance. Not surprisingly, it comes at a higher installed cost than laminate or tile. Here are some typical price ranges:
- Basic white or light-colored quartz starts around $40 – $60 per square foot installed.
- Darker colors and more complex patterns run $70 – $100 per square foot installed.
- High-end designer quartz slabs with intricate detailing can cost over $100 per square foot.
- The overall cost depends on the quartz color, design complexity, thickness, and more.
- Many homeowners spend $2,500 – $3,500 for installed quartz on a typical kitchen with 30 – 40 square feet of countertop space.
Quartz durability and longevity offsets the higher initial price over time. When properly maintained, quartz countertops will retain their beauty for decades in kitchens and bathrooms seeing daily use.
Pros & Cons of Quartz Countertops
No material is perfect. Here is a balanced look at the advantages and disadvantages of quartz:
- Extremely durable and scratch resistant surface.
- Stains easily wipe off the non-porous surface.
- Resists heat, scorching, and burning better than granite.
- Stylish colors and patterns resembling natural stone.
- Consistent coloring and minimal variation across slabs.
- Fewer repairs needed over time compared to most surfaces.
- Little maintenance needed beyond occasional cleaning.
- Higher installed cost than laminate or tile counters.
- Can’t match the unique beauty of exotic natural stone.
- Not fully heat proof – prolonged hot pans can damage surface.
- Shows oil, dust, and watermarks if not cleaned regularly.
- Needs periodic re-polishing and buffing to restore sheen over time.
- Seams inevitable for larger countertops – not seamless like solid surface.
- Subject to damage from heavy impacts despite durability.
For most homeowners, the positives of quartz’s appearance, resilience, and easy care outweigh the drawbacks of cost and limitations. Quartz delivers the overall package that busy kitchens and bathrooms need.
Maintenance & Care for Quartz Countertops
Quartz’s durable and non-porous composition means little maintenance is required. Here are some tips for cleaning and caring for quartz surfaces:
- For regular cleaning, use a soft sponge or cloth with warm water and mild soap. Avoid abrasive cleaners.
- For dried spills or stuck-on messes, use a non-abrasive scrub pad and a little mild cleaner or hydrogen peroxide.
- Thoroughly rinse off any cleaning agent residues which could eventually dull the surface.
- Resealing is not needed – quartz resists stains without a surface sealer.
- Avoid excessive pressure and friction which can slowly damage the finish over time.
- Don’t cut directly on the counter – always use a cutting board. This prevents dulling and scratches.
- Wipe up spills promptly to keep liquids from penetrating seams which may stain adhesives.
- Avoid exposing quartz to strong chemicals like paint removers, oven cleaners, etc.
- Use trivets or hot pads under hot pots or appliances. Prolonged heat exposure will damage quartz.
With routine care, quartz counters will stay looking like new for many years. Professional refinishing can restore the glossy finish if the surface eventually becomes dulled.
FAQs About Quartz Countertops
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about quartz:
Is quartz healthier than granite?
- Yes, quartz has a non-porous so it doesn’t harbor bacteria growth like porous natural stones. Quartz won’t absorb stains or odors either.
How thick should a quartz countertop be?
- Standard thickness is 1.25 inches. Thicker 3cm slabs are recommended for counters over 25 square feet. Go with 2cm thickness for vertical surfaces like backsplashes.
Can you cut on quartz countertops?
- It’s best to avoid cutting directly on quartz. Use a cutting board to prevent dulling, scratching, and damage to kitchen knives.
Can you etch quartz?
- No, quartz resists etching from acids found in foods like lemon, tomato, and vinegar that can mar softer stones like marble.
Does quartz need to be sealed?
- No, quartz does not require sealing thanks to its non-porous surface that resists moisture absorption and stains.
Can you scratch quartz?
- While resistant, quartz can be scratched by metal knives or other hard objects under extreme pressure. Use cutting boards and avoid abrasion.
Can quartz crack?
- Yes, quartz can crack. Typically cracks originate at seams or joints. Thermal shock from hot pans in one localized spot can also cause cracks due to expansion.
Can you repair quartz countertops?
- Minor damage like scratches and scorches can be sanded and polished out. Cracks and chips are difficult to repair seamlessly. Replacing the whole top may be needed.
How long do quartz countertops last?
- With proper care and maintenance, quartz counters will last 10 to 15 years before needing replacement. Some last over 20 years.
We’ve explored what quartz countertops are, how they are made, key features, comparisons to other surfaces, care tips, costs, pros and cons, and frequently asked questions. The bottom line – quartz provides a winning combination of fashionable aesthetics, outstanding durability, and easy maintenance. While not inexpensive, quartz offers homeowners beauty and performance for decades to come. With a wide spectrum of colors and designs to match any decor, it’s no surprise quartz has become the trendy darling of kitchen and bathroom remodeling.
So is quartz a stone? Not exactly in the traditional natural sense – it’s an engineered composite material. But it offers homeowners many of the same visual qualities as natural stone. Yet quartz improves upon stone with even more consistent patterning, durability, and trouble-free maintenance. For most homeowners, that makes quartz the ideal practical and beautiful countertop.