Counters of the Past & Their Maintenance

By C. Zelikovsky and N. Schapira

The materials below are listed as those from the past, however these products are still commonly used today. We found it important to list these so-called ‘classic’ materials, as they set the bar for new innovative countertop finishes both in function and aesthetics. These products however usually involve aggressive levels of maintenance and are often derived from natural resources making them unsustainable.


Wood is a natural material used for countertop surfaces either as a finished/sealed surface for everyday use, or as a butcher block for cutting and chopping. Various species of wood can be used for countertops, maple and oak being most common amongst them. Wood requires regular maintenance as it suffers damage from water and stains over time. 3 Wood counters should be oiled monthly with mineral oil and need periodic sanding and resealing to remove stains and nicks.1 Butcher block care usually calls for deodorization with lemon juice since the wood is unfinished and may begin to pick up food smells.2

Marble & Granite

Marble and granite hold most of the same properties, as they are both natural stone products. They are usually selected for their elegant and unique appearance. This adds to the appeal of the product, but also makes it difficult to predict the final result to a client via sample. Natural stones are inherently heatproof but unfortunately susceptible to scratches and chips. The stones are also naturally porous, which means they stain easily unless properly sealed. Natural stones such as these call for mild detergent cleansing for everyday use. More stubborn stains can be lessened with a variety of treatments. 3

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is heat resistant, durable, and easy to clean, making it a likely choice for professional and commercial kitchens. Stainless steel is however easily scratched, dented, and can be noisy. Though easy to clean, grease stains and fingerprints are extremely apparent so the surface must be wiped down regularly. A micro-fiber cloth can be used for dry cleaning. For wet cleaning, mild detergent can be used for everyday use and more abrasive cleaners can be used for occasional tougher cleaning. Scratches can be repaired with a nylon scouring pad, while deeper scratches must be treated professionally. 4

Ceramic & Porcelain Tile

Ceramic & Porcelain tile are most commonly used for their beauty and inherent versatility in color and patterning. Ceramic surfaces are durable and heat resistant (porcelain is superior in this category). Tiles are however susceptible to being cracked and chipped. The surface created by tile is usually uneven making it difficult to clean. This occurs mostly where the grout lies between tiles. 5 Grout lines can be sealed professionally in advance to provide some protection from stains. Tiles surfaces call for mild detergent cleaning for everyday maintenance. 3

Counters of the Present & Their Maintenance

While the popular countertops of the past were beautiful they often called for quite a bit of maintenance. These surfaces tended to require sealing and repair of damages such as stains, scratches or chips. Frequently used stones including granite and marble have seams and pattern variation. These materials are not easily renewable or reusable and mining for natural stone negatively impacts the environment. Present day counters have moved towards maintenance-free surfaces since those using the space have less and less time to clean. As a result, more man-made options are available requiring less attention and taking environmental impact into consideration. Three such materials include:

Engineered Stone: Quartz

Quartz is a man-made material comprised of quartz stone chips, resins and pigments meant to imitate the look of granite or marble.6 Unlike the porous stones it mimics, this engineered stone resist impact damage, scratches, and stains (even acid) without needing to be sealed.6 Designed to be easy to maintain this eco-friendly product can be cleaned with warm water and a mild detergent with no need to wax or seal the surface.6

Solid Surfacing

Solid surfacing is another man-made material designed to solve some of the common problems of past countertops. These counters are seamless, they don’t stain easily, and they are resistant to the growth of molds, mildew, and bacteria.7 While they are vulnerable to hot pans and some staining regular maintenance of solid surface countertops only involves wiping the surface down with a soapy sponge and wiping it dry with a clean cloth.7 Scratches and cuts in solid surface countertops can easily be remedied by buffing them with a buffer and a polishing agent and burns on the surface can easily be removed by sanding off the burnt area.7


Icestone is an environmentally friendly product made from recycled glass mixed with Portland cement and pigment.8 It is sustainable and durable but somewhat porous so it must be sealed regularly to prevent staining and waxed regularly to prevent etching.8 The trade-off for this eco-conscious material is the added maintenance with cleaners free of chloride bleach, ammonia acids or citrus scents.8 Spills should be wiped up immediately, harsh cleaning products should not be used, and the counter should be polished once a week.8

Present-day counters are looking ahead to surfaces that are durable, eco-friendly, and easy to maintain. Durability is important so they are chip, scratch, stain and heat-resistant. Eco-friendly surfaces use recycled materials and are often man-made and seamless. Surfaces that are less porous are easier to maintain since they resist stains and don’t require sealing or harsh cleaners.

Counters of the Future & Their Maintenance



Alkemi is a recycled composite material composed of a minimum of 60 percent aluminum post-industrial scrap.9 A countertop surface made from Alkemi has no VOC content and is both recyclable and sustainable.10 This durable material is stain resistant and can be easily maintained. Mild soap and water is sufficient for everyday cleaning.9 If stubborn stains do occur Alkemi can be sanded and polished to restore the surface9



Durat is a countertop material that contains recycled post-industrial plastics and is itself 100% recyclable.9 This environmentally-friendly material is durable and resistant to wear, humidity, and various kinds of chemicals.9 It can be customized either for color or to create a seamless application. Durat products are easy to maintain and if necessary they can be renewed by slight sanding


Richlite Paper Countertops

Richlite paper countertops are made of recycled paper-composite material making them both eco-friendly and sustainable11. The countertops are also extremely durable and have been used in the past in a variety of applications including aerospace, boating, skateboarding and commercial food service projects9. This product is low maintenance resisting stains, scratches and even bacteria growth12. Wiping with soap and water and all that the surface requires12

If stubborn stains occur they can easily be treated with a light refinishing of the material12 

In the past, natural materials have been used as countertop surfaces. Stones, wood, and tile were beautiful but required quite a bit of maintenance. Presently, man-made countertops are being used that the mimic the look of these natural materials and need very little cleaning. Other popular counters are made from recycled materials but can have the drawback of additional maintenance. In the future, we anticipate more durable and eco-conscious surfacing. The products will use recycled materials to create sustainable and recyclable counters. They will also be resistant to stains, scratches and bacteria and will therefore require little to no cleaning or maintenance. These products will no longer attempt to imitate the look of natural materials but will instead be appreciated for their own beauty.






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Marble & Granite:



Stainless Steel:



Ceramic Porcelain Tile:






Solid Surfacing:



Ice Stone: