Natural Stone Benchtops For The Kitchen

As both a cook and a designer I often get asked about which materials are best for kitchen benchtops. My answer is always honed marble (my personal favourite varieties are statuary or Carrara) or soapstone. I really enjoy their mellow appearance set against the polished fixtures of my kitchen and its semigloss-painted cabinets.

But I always add on the reminder that these materials tend to both chip and stain more easily than other stone benchtops.

My own benchtop, for example, have plenty of nicks from run ins with heavy pots, along with their fair share of stains (especially underneath of the coffee machine). For me, however, these nicks and spots add character and give the kitchen history: reminders of much time well spent, and much food enjoyed.

For many years, kitchen designers and architects had dissuaded their clients from using natural stone benchtops like soapstone, marble, and limestone because of their porousness and fragility, but nowadays people’s attitudes have loosened up about having to keep a flawless kitchen.

Co-author of The Kitchen Bible Jennifer Gilmer has designed over a thousand kitchens throughout her three decade long career, and though she advises that it is “safer” (with respect to scratching and staining) to use man-made stone like Corian or Caeserstone, she also recommends her clients to focus more on the look they want and what fits best with the building project as opposed to whether the material stains or not. According to Gilmer: ”

“The most popular stone these days is quartzite, which is a natural stone. It has more of a marble pattern to it, plus the durability of granite.”

Regarding the finish of natural stone, Gilmer prefers honed like I do. The honed look is not only more interesting than the ultra sleek look of polished stone, but it is also easier to maintain.

For example according to Gilmer: “if the client is going with marble, it has to be honed; otherwise it will show every scratch and etching.” This does not mean, however, that honed stones are immune to all blemishes: sometimes fingerprints will show up on your honed stone, and darker polished stones will reveal crumbs and spills along with fingerprints. Gilmer recommends her clients to take home a sample of the stone they are considering and using it for a little while to see how it performs.

In order to reduce stains on your natural stone benchtops, they are generally sealed using a clear liquid silicone.

The manufacturer will generally do this for you before installing your benchtops, but Gilmer also advises her clients to reseal their benchtops every one or two years depending on how much use your kitchen sees.

Soapstone or slate benchtops, in order to resist staining should also be oiled several times a year using mineral oil. You will be able to tell when your benchtops are sealed or oiled properly because water will bead on the surface.

The simplest way to prevent your natural stone benchtops from staining, however, is the most obvious one: clean up any spills right away.

The longer your salad dressing, red wine, or coffee sits on your benchtop, the more likely it will be to set into it permanently. In the event that you do neglect a stain and it sets in, this does not automatically mean that the stain is permanent.

For example, a small amount of hydrogen peroxide in water, along with a few drops of ammonia, will apparently remove coffee stains.

And even if there is no home remedy available for your particular stain, it is still possible that professionals will be able to remove it somehow if you contact them.

At the very least, according to Gilmer, you should be able to at least make your stain less noticeable even if you can’t remove them completely.