The options for creating an attractive, useful, and/or affordable countertop space can seem endless, but most countertop materials can be broken down into a few categories. The most popular material categories include solid wood, stone, laminates, and other synthetics. Solid wood countertop materials are usually hardwoods, which are resistant to various types of damage as well as rotting, though these can be quite expensive. Solid stone is also very expensive; the most common options are granite, marble, soapstone, limestone, and slate. Perhaps the most popular material for countertops, because of its price and ease of installation, is laminate.
Laminate is essentially a sheet of plastic that is glued to a substrate material, or base, which is usually wood or particle board. Laminate countertop materials are quite inexpensive, but they are not exceptionally durable; they can be damaged by heat from pots and pans, and the laminate can stain from certain acidic liquids or materials. Installing a laminate countertop is generally fairly easy, though if the laminate is not glued properly, it can bubble up or peel. In terms of aesthetic appeal, laminate is not nearly as attractive as other, higher-end materials, and the laminate can go out of style after a few years, but these countertop materials will need to be replaced every few years anyway because of damage to the laminate.
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Granite and marble are popular choices for countertop materials, and while both are exceptionally beautiful materials, they are also heavy, difficult to install, and sometimes difficult to maintain. Marble in particular can be difficult to maintain, as it is susceptible to staining and chipping. Marble isn't the best choice for active kitchens in which heavy objects might strike the countertop, or in which hot objects might be placed on the counter. Granite is more resistant to heat and staining, though it can be susceptible to chipping or cracking as well.
Various types of woods are well suited for use in the kitchen. Bamboo, for example, is naturally antibacterial, not to mention very attractive. It is possible to do cutting directly on the countertop surface, though gouging and scratching is likely to occur. It will then be necessary to sand or otherwise refinish the wood. Certain types of maple are also used in a similar capacity. Hardwoods like oak and mahogany can be exceptionally beautiful, but they are susceptible to scratching as well. They are best used for countertops where cooking preparation will not be done.