Countertop Maintenance: A Comprehensive Guide

Unless you’re a fruit ninja, a countertop is where you do all your kitchen work. It’s where you dump your groceries before sorting them, where you cut and prepare food, where you trust to cool your freshly baked cookies. That’s why you should make sure to clean your countertop properly and regularly. Different countertop materials call for different maintenance to maximize their lifespan and appearance. Identify what your countertop is made of and find out how to care for them!

GRANITE / MARBLE

Granite is naturally anti-bacterial and highly durable. While marble is coveted for its elegant beauty, it is – like all things beautiful – notorious for being high-maintenance. Both are porous, hence susceptible to stains and etching.

To clean: Wipe with warm water and a few drops of mild dish soap, followed by a wrung-out cleaning cloth (preferably microfiber towel) to maintain their shine. You can prepare the solution by mixing a teaspoon of dish soap with four cups of water in a spray bottle. Spritz and wipe each time after use and let dry. 

To care: Avoid abrasive or acidic cleaners and wipe away any spills promptly with a damn sponge, particularly wine, fruit juices and vinegar. Acids can etch and dull the surfaces. Check if they are properly sealed by splashing some water on it. If the water is still beaded up 10 to 15 minutes later, it’s good to go. If the water gets absorbed, it’s time for a reseal. Nonetheless, resealing protects them from stains and should be performed yearly. Here’s a pretty detailed guide on how to do that.

To remove stains: Foods containing dyes, like Slurpee and beets, can easily stain the stones. Apply a baking soda and water paste on oil-based stains, or hydrogen peroxide on water-based stains. Tape down a plastic wrap over it, ideally for a few days. Wipe the paste away with a soft cloth and repeat the process if stain persists. Check the surface’s response with a spot test prior to be safe.

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QUARTZ / ENGINEERED STONES

When it comes to resisting stains, scratches and heat, quartz and other engineered stones are absolute winners. Do not confuse it with quartzite, though, which is naturally formed when quartz-rich sandstone is exposed to high heat and pressure over time. Quartz is instead made by mixing quartz crystals with resin and sometimes pigment. The latter is much more popular as it is as aesthetic as its natural counterpart, but requires only half the maintenance.

To clean: Soap and water is all you need to clean these countertops. Don’t use any harsh cleaning agents or sponges on them or you’ll rob them of their shine. Scrape off food particles with a plastic putty knife. Every now and then, deep-clean them by leaving a generous amount of non-abrasive cleaners on for 10 minutes before wiping with a soft sponge.

To care: Due to the resin in the composition, quartz countertops don’t need to be sealed. Despite its superb strength and resistance to heat, quartz isn’t invincible. Extreme heat above 149°C would melt the resin, or, with prolonged exposure, even crack it.

To remove stains: Being non-porous also means that it’s tough against stains. In the rare occasion that it does stain, use a glass cleaner and non-abrasive sponge. Alternatively, whip up a hydrogen peroxide and flour paste and leave on for 24 hours.

LAMINATE

Laminate pretty much defined kitchens back in the 1970s. But, worry not if you’re not the retro type, as there are now an array of modern and beautiful laminate countertop options. They’re also cheap and thus less costly to replace should you ever want a revamp. Its non-porous quality translates to easy cleaning and maintenance.

To clean: Wipe daily with mild liquid detergents and a soft cloth. Harsh cleaners are a no-no if you do not wish to etch or discolour the surfaces. Vinegar can help remove grease buildup, but always dilute first with equal part water. To deep-clean, use a soft toothbrush along seams and edging. Rinse with water and towel dry. Do not dump too much water near the seams, or it might penetrate and cause the laminate to swell and crack.

To care: There’s no need to seal laminate counters, but you can apply store-bought countertop coatings to further prevent staining. However, direct heat could melt the glue binding the veneer to the medium-density fiberboard (MDF). So, buffer hot objects with a trivet or hot pads.

To remove stains: Use a baking soda and water/mild detergent paste on stains for five minutes, then wipe with a soft cloth. Do not scrub as baking soda is mildly abrasive and could scratch the laminate, making it more porous and easier to stain. For stubborn stains, repeat the baking soda regimen a couple more times or gently rub with a cotton ball dipped in bleach. Otherwise, rub the spot with nail polish remover and a cotton ball or soft cloth. Be sure to use a white cloth, in case the nail polish remover bleaches the fabric dye and soil the laminate.

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SOLID SURFACES

Having a solid surface countertop is kind of like “adopting” zoo animals online: all of the pride and none of the work. Solid surfaces replicate the look of natural stones, but are largely non-porous to eliminate natural stones’ high maintenance demands. They’re also seamless, resulting in better visual appeal than that of incoherent materials like laminate and tiles.

To clean: Use any nonabrasive household cleaners and water for the daily upkeep, but avoid scouring pads and powder as they’re soft and vulnerable to scratches. 

To care: While they can withstand up to 100°C, solid surfaces tend to deform at temperatures not far beyond that. Binding resin accounts for about 33% of a solid surface’s composition and would soften under high heat. Therefore, refrain from placing hot frying pans or boiling pots of pasta directly onto these counters. If scratched, easily resurface them with a fine grain sandpaper, such as #220, on an orbital sander. Finish with a Scotch-Brite sponge and seal the area with mineral oil.

To remove stains: Solid surfaces are exceptional against stains, so a basic cleaner is adequate for most stains. But like with natural stones, you can occasionally rub them with mineral oils to protect them from stains. Doing so also speeds up oxidation and ages them into richer, darker colours. 

CERAMIC TILE

Ceramic tiles can add a rustic touch to your kitchen in its simplest form. But their biggest appeal lies in the fact that they can be combined to form a pattern that is truly one-of-a-kind. They’re budget-friendly, highly customizable and easy to install on your own. Unlike most countertops, ceramic tiles aren’t afraid of heat and can handle hot objects directly without taking damage.

To clean: Use a damp sponge or washcloth to wipe each time after use. An all-purpose cleaning spray is usually adequate to remove grease. The drawback of tile countertops is that you have to pay extra attention to clean the grout. Scrub grouts with a toothbrush and mildew-fighting solution. Avoid using acidic cleaners that may remove the sheen from the tiles.

To care: Seal grout lines once a year. It’s recommended to remove old grout lines before applying new ones so that they adhere better and more evenly. It’s not nearly as difficult as you think.

To remove stains: Ceramic tiles don’t stain often. If they do, just rub with diluted household bleach.

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STAINLESS STEEL

If you aspire to be a pastry chef, stainless steel could be the one for you. Its cool surface makes it ideal for working doughs. Stainless steel countertops are easy to care for so long as you steer clear of chlorine, which can stain and damage them.

To clean: Soapy cloth, rinsed cloth, dry cloth: that’s the sequence you need to remember when cleaning stainless steel countertops. If they don’t have an oleophobic finish, a spray bottle containing 4 cups of vinegar and 10 to 20 drops of essential oil can be your cleaning buddy. To tackle grease, rinse after scrubbing with a gentle nylon scrubber, hot water and mild dish soap. Stainless steel is prone to scratches, so avoid scrubbing pads or steel wool. It can also be damaged by chlorine. Lastly, only clean these countertops when they’re cool to the touch.

To care: Polish these countertops once in a while with stainless-steel polish or lemon juice on microfiber cloth, then dry with another cloth. Work in the direction of its grain. On top of that, always keeping your counter dry helps minimize unsightly water stains.

To remove stains: Despite its name, stainless steel does stain, but it’s easily taken care of by a baking soda and dish soap paste on a soft cloth. However, if your counter comes in contact with iron, there will be rust stains. Remove those with a baking soda and lemon juice paste.

CONCRETE

Concrete countertop is garnering attention as industrial style interiors surge in popularity. It is extremely durable once properly sealed, but you need guard it against its kryptonite: acid. Acidic liquids like lemon juice dissolves cement to leave behind carbonate deposits that resemble stains. You’d need a professional to help grind away the damage and reseal the surface.

To clean: Add a dash of dish detergent to four cups of water in a spray bottle for daily cleaning. Never use harsh abrasives or scrubbing pads. Avoid leaving damp objects directly on them – the stain they leave behind isn’t impossible to remove, but it does take a little elbow grease.

To care: Apply tung oil every few months to prevent staining, or go for wax if you want that gloss. 

To remove stains: When discolouration from food occurs, soak a cotton ball or white paper towel in bleach. Weigh it down on the spot for no more than ten minutes, or it starts corroding the sealant. Finally, rinse with water. Oil could sometimes penetrate the sealant and stain concrete. Mix baking soda and nail polish remover to form a thick paste of peanut-butter consistency. Tape down a plastic wrap over a 6mm-thick spread of it for 24 hours. After that, remove the plastic and let it dry completely before wiping away. You may need to repeat this process. End by resealing the area.

 

Kitchen counters are a costly and long-term fixture at home, and good maintenance ensures a good return on your investment. A little effort on a regular basis will improve their longevity significantly.

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