Quartz countertops have become an increasingly popular option for kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects in recent years. But despite their prevalence, some homeowners may still be wondering – are quartz countertops man-made? The short answer is yes, quartz countertops are an engineered stone made from natural materials.
What is Quartz?
Quartz is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in abundance around the world. It is made up of silicon and oxygen atoms and is the second most common mineral in the Earth’s continental crust, behind feldspar. Quartz can be found in its pure form as rock crystals or aggregated into massive formations like quartzite.
In nature, quartz is very hard and durable. These properties make it useful for commercial applications. By itself, natural quartz cannot be fabricated into slabs suitable for countertops. This is where the “engineered” part of engineered stone comes in.
The Manufacturing Process of Quartz Countertops
While quartz countertops contain a high percentage of natural quartz crystals, the slabs are created through a manufacturing process. Here are the basic steps:
- Quartz crystals are mined and processed – Pure quartz is extracted from the earth and put through a crushing process that reduces the crystals into a fine gravel-like material. Impurities are removed.
- Pigments added for color – The crushed quartz is combined with pigments to achieve the desired colors and patterns. Common pigments include iron oxide for red hues and titanium dioxide for whites.
- Mixed with resins and polymers – The quartz material is then mixed with polyester resins, polymers, and other compounds that act as binders. When heated, these resins form a solid surface.
- Pressed into slabs – The quartz mixture is pressed into molds under intense pressure and vibration. This compacts the material into a solid slab.
- Cured in a kiln – The pressed slabs are put into a high temperature kiln which causes the resins to cure, or harden.
- Polished into finish – Once cured, the slabs are polished to the desired finish – either a glossy shine or matte/textured surface.
So while the main component of engineered quartz is natural quartz crystals, the slabs are absolutely man-made through an industrial process of mixing in other materials and molding into countertops. The fabrication process is similar to how other engineered stones like granite (which contains natural granite aggregates) are made.
Benefits of Quartz Being Manufactured
The fact that quartz countertops are man-made provides certain advantages that natural stone does not have:
- Consistent patterning – Since the crushed quartz is mixed together with pigments, manufacturers can carefully control the veining patterns and colors within each slab. This results in a more uniform look.
- Durability – The resins bind the quartz particles into an extremely hard material. Quartz rates 7-8 on the Mohs hardness scale, compared to natural granite which rates between 6-7.
- No sealing required – Because it is non-porous, quartz does not need to be regularly sealed like natural stone. The resins fill in the pores.
- Color and finish options – Manmade production allows quartz counters to come in a nearly unlimited array of colors. Different polish finishes can also be pre-fabricated.
- Minimal maintenance – With high durability and non-porosity, quartz requires very little maintenance compared to natural stone. Simple cleaning is all that is needed in most cases.
So the manufacturing process enables quartz counters to achieve certain visual and performance characteristics that natural stone cannot easily match. This explains their increase in popularity for high-end kitchen and bath remodels.
How Quartz Countertops Are Made
Now that we’ve covered the basics of how quartz goes from raw natural material to an engineered slab, let’s take a closer look at the manufacturing process. Understanding the steps involved can help you appreciate the work that goes into making these beautiful countertops.
1. Mining and Processing the Quartz
Natural quartz is mined from the earth, usually from large deposits located around the world. The main countries that produce quartz include Brazil, Italy, the United States, and China. The quartz is extracted from open-pit mines or quarries, mostly from massive formations of quartzite, an aggregated form of quartz.
Once mined, the raw quartz is put through a crushing machine to break down the quarried quartz into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces of crushed quartz crystals and aggregates are then milled into a fine powdery consistency.
The quartz powder then goes through a spiral classifier, which removes any unwanted fine particles or impurities. Only correctly sized quartz grains are allowed to pass through and be collected. This ensures a higher purity of the quartz aggregate that will make up the slabs.
2. Adding Color and Achieving Desired Aesthetic
The manufacturing process of quartz allows makers to achieve a range of colors and patterns. After crushing and cleaning the quartz, pigments are added to the quartz mixture.
Titanium dioxide and iron oxide are common pigments used to produce white and red/brown hues. Other metal oxides can be used to generate blues, greens, yellows, and other colors. The pigments are combined with the quartz material in percentages that create the desired color outcomes.
These pigments give quartz counters their signature veining, speckling, and swirls. However, unlike natural stone, the patterns in quartz have a more uniform and consistent appearance since the aggregation of the material is carefully controlled.
Manufacturers can create numerous distinct styles within their quartz product lines with different color blends and patterns. For example, varieties like white quartz with gray veining or dark quartz with bold color flecks. Names like “Taj Mahal”, “Crystal Storm”, or “Santorini” typically denote the unique aesthetic for each design.
3. Mixing in Resins and Polymers
After crushing the quartz and blending in pigments, the manufacturer adds polyester or epoxy resins and polymers to the mixture. When combined, these compounds bind the quartz particles together to form the solid slabs.
The exact ratio can vary between specific brands, but high-quality quartz counters typically contain over 90% crushed quartz by volume. Only around 7-10% consists of polyester resins, polymers, and coloring pigments.
Adding resins is what makes quartz an engineered stone instead of merely crushed quartz aggregates. The polymers act like glue, while also increasing water and scratch resistance. Together these materials join with the quartz pieces under heat and pressure.
4. Pressing into Slabs
At this stage, the quartz material is compacted into thick slabs using intense hydraulic pressure and vibration. The dry mixture is loaded into a mold or press machine. Pressure between 2,000-4,000 PSI is exerted across the top, with additional vertical vibration adding to the compression force.
Gradual application of this heat and pressure over several minutes squeezes out the air pockets, consolidating the quartz resin mixture into a solid slab form. The standard thickness for quartz slabs is 1.2 inches, however thicker options like 2cm or 3cm are also made.
Varying the pressure controls the density and hardness. More pressure makes a denser, stronger slab. The vibration also helps achieve an even distribution of the colored quartz and resins for a consistent appearance.
5. Curing in a Kiln
After the slabs are pressed, they move to the curing stage. Curing occurs inside a high temperature kiln or oven that heats the slabs to over 300°F. The heat causes the polymer resins to solidify and set permanently into a hard surface.
This heating process can take several hours for the resins to fully cure. Longer times may be required for thicker slabs. Once cured, the slabs are removed from the kiln and allowed to cool before final finishing.
6. Finishing and Polishing
In their cured slab form, the quartz material has a slightly textured appearance and the edges are unfinished. The slabs therefore move to a finishing department for their final polish and edge treatment.
Multi-head polishing machines are used to grind and buff the slabs up to a smooth, glossy shine. This is done in progressive steps using polishing pads and abrasives, usually starting with 60-grit and increasing into the thousands.
The slab edges can also be profiled and polished in this stage. Different edge styles are possible, like bullnose, ogee, or square. Special cuts for sinks and cooktops may also be created. When complete, the finished quartz slabs are packaged and shipped out to distributors.
How Quartz Countertop Slabs Are Installed
Once the engineered quartz slabs are manufactured, they are ready to be installed into kitchens, baths, and other environments as countertops. Here is a quick overview of the installation process:
- Measure space – The counterspace is carefully measured to ensure the slabs will fit properly when cut.
- Make cutouts – Using the measurements, the fabricator will cut openings for sinks, cooktops, and faucets using advanced cutting tools.
- Adhere slabs – The slabs are set in place and adhered to the cabinets using thinset or adhesive. Seams between slabs are also glued.
- Shape edges – Edges can be finished with final polishing and shaping as needed.
- Seal seams – The seams between slabs are sealed to create a continuous surface.
- Clean surfaces – Finally, the installer cleans the counters and ensures everything is ready for use.
Proper installation is important for seamless quartz countertops that will last a lifetime. Hiring an experienced professional is advised over DIY. With good installation, you can enjoy durable and beautiful engineered quartz counters.
Differences Between Quartzite and Manufactured Quartz
The terms quartzite and quartz sound similar, but they refer to very different natural and manmade materials. It’s easy to get them confused. Let’s clarify the distinctions between quartzite stone and engineered quartz:
- Quartzite – A naturally metamorphic rock made of compressed quartz grains. It forms from sandstone that crystallizes over time. Quartzite is entirely natural and mined from quarries.
- Engineered Quartz – A manmade material produced from crushed quartz, resins, and pigments. It’s fabricated into slabs through a manufacturing process of vibro-compression.
- Appearance – Quartzite has natural earth tones, fractures, pits, and variances. Quartz has uniform speckles, swirls, and veining in consistent colors.
- Maintenance – Quartzite needs periodic sealing. Quartz is non-porous and stain resistant without sealing.
- Durability – Quartz rates harder on Mohs scale and is less prone to chipping. Quartzite can etch and scratch easier.
- Cost – Natural quartzite is generally more expensive than engineered quartz options.
So in summary, quartzite is a premium natural stone, while quartz is an engineered material combining crushed quartz and binding agents. Both make excellent countertops but with different properties.
Quartz Countertops – Frequently Asked Questions
As we’ve seen, quartz countertops are man-made from crushing natural quartz and combining it with resins and pigments. Here are answers to some other common questions people have about quartz:
Are quartz countertops really indestructible?
While extremely durable, quartz counters are not truly indestructible. However, they are one of the most damage-resistant materials available. The crushed quartz and polymers create a hardness and resilience that withstands scratches, stains, chips, cracks, and heat up to 300°F. But some forceful impacts may cause damage.
How long will quartz counters last?
With proper care, quartz counters can easily last 25 years or longer. Many manufacturers back their products with 15-year or lifetime warranties. Quartz won’t degrade from normal wear and tear.
Can you repair quartz counters?
Minor damage like superficial scratches can be buffed out. But severe damage is difficult to repair on-site. Fractured slabs usually need replacement. Fortunately, the resilient material rarely needs repairs.
Is quartz porous?
Unlike natural stone, quartz does not absorb liquids because of the resins that fill any pores. This makes it non-porous, sanitary, and low maintenance.
Does quartz need to be sealed?
No, quartz counters do not require any sealing, conditioning or treatment to maintain their stain resistance. This is a major advantage over surfaces like granite.
Can quartz counters have seams?
Yes, seams are generally needed between adjoining quartz slabs. But with proper installation, the seams can be made inconspicuous. Good lighting usually does not reveal the seams.
Is quartz eco-friendly?
Quartz contains high percentages of natural quartz, so it can be considered reasonably eco-friendly. New bio-based resins are also being developed to improve its green factor. With good durability and longevity, quartz counters avoid replacement waste.
Does quartz stain easily?
Quartz has excellent stain resistance properties and does not absorb liquids. However, prolonged exposure to strong pigments or dyes can potentially cause some staining. Spills should still be cleaned promptly.
Can you cut on quartz counters?
It’s best to use a cutting board instead of cutting directly on quartz. While resistant to deep scratches, cutting can still dull the surface over time. The nonporous surface inhibits bacteria growth from minor knicks.
Pros and Cons of Quartz Countertops
Let’s do a quick rundown of the major advantages and disadvantages of choosing engineered quartz counters:
- Extremely durable and scratch resistant surface
- Stain proof – requires very little maintenance
- Available in a limitless array of colors and patterns
- Nonporous – inhibits bacteria growth
- Heat and scorch resistant
- Consistent coloring throughout the slabs
- Does not need periodic sealing
- More expensive than laminates
- Can have visible seaming between slabs
- Darker colors may show smudges, fingerprints
- Cannot match natural stone exactly
- Limited ability to repair damage spots
- Some brands or patterns discontinued over time
Overall, the pros of quartz’s durability, appearance, and low maintenance outweigh the minor downsides for most homeowners and designers. With quality fabrication and installation, a quartz counter surface can serve beautifully for decades.
Is Quartz the Right Choice for Your Countertops?
So when considering options for upgrading your kitchen or bath countertops, should you choose engineered quartz? Here are some key factors to help decide if quartz is the right material for your space and needs:
- Budget – Due to the manufacturing costs, quartz sits at the higher end of countertop pricing. It offers great value, but if cost is the limiting factor then lower-priced options may work better.
- Aesthetic – If you favor the consistent patterns and diverse colors of quartz over the unique natural look of stone, then quartz offers exciting design possibilities perfect for your style.
- Durability – For homeowners who want extreme durability with minimal maintenance, quartz is hard to beat. Its resilience, non-porous nature, and stain resistance puts quartz at the top of choices for busy kitchens.
- Green Friendly – Made from abundant natural quartz and recyclable materials, quartz suits homeowners looking for an eco-friendly countertop. New bio-based resins are increasing its green factor.
- Longevity – Since quartz will provide decades of service with proper installation, it works for homeowners planning to be long-term residents.
Analyze your countertop needs, lifestyle, and priorities to decide if engineered quartz counters are a fitting choice for your next remodeling or new construction project. They provide excellent value and performance for most homes. With innovative styles and colors that suit any design aesthetic, be sure to look at quartz options.
While manufactured from raw natural quartz crystals and aggregates, quartz countertops utilize an engineered process to create beautiful, durable, and user-friendly slabs. The vibro-compression production process combines crushed quartz with color pigments and polymer resins that are molded into counters under heat and pressure. This manufacturing allows quartz counters to achieve strengths and visual qualities that natural stone lacks. With appealing trends in bold patterns and colors along with low maintenance needs, it’s clear why quartz countertops have surged in popularity over the past decade. Their superiority over laminates and competitiveness with natural stone makes quartz a top choice for nearly any home décor and kitchen.