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   Natural Stone Countertops
 
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The beauty and elegance of a natural stone countertop is hard to beat. The look is rich. The material is durable. The feel is luxury.

Whether it is made into a slab or produced as a tile, each piece of natural stone is unique and there are a lot of different options in the natural stone countertop market. Take the time to choose the one that will work best for your needs. Some require a significant amount of maintenance, such as regular staining or oiling, to look their best. Others are virtually maintenance-free.

Most natural stone materials come in a variety of finishes. Most common are the polished or high-gloss and honed or matte.

Here is how the various natural stone materials compare:

Granite
 
Granite is the most durable of the natural stone countertop materials, in fact, granite is second only to diamonds in terms of hardness. It can withstand heat and will not scratch, crack or chip. It may, however, break the plate that is put down too hard. Granite comes in deep, rich colors with a polished finish that won’t wear off. The stone is porous, so requires resealing about once a year.
 
Marble
 
Smooth, elegant and cool to the touch, marble has long been seen as a staple in the baker’s kitchen as it is the serious baker’s choice for rolling dough and making pastries. More porous than granite, it requires sealants to be applied more frequently to prevent stains. As it is not nearly as hard as other natural stone options, it is best used in small sections, rather than as the primary countertop.
 
Soapstone
 
Soapstone, which is composed primarily of the mineral talc, lends itself well to both contemporary and more traditional “country” kitchens. Soapstone’s inert nature means acids won't etch the material, and stains can be easily sanded out — although many homeowners view them as part of the character. It needs to be treated with a mineral oil to bring out its dark, rich color and make it shine.
 
Slate
 
Not just for roofs and floors, slate — available in tones of gray, green, purple and black — is becoming a popular choice in the kitchen. Its beauty and strength make it a durable and stylish option. As with soapstone, regular treatment with mineral oil will bring out the beauty of this material. Any scratches can usually be removed by rubbing with a damp sponge. Deeper scratches can be buffed out by using steel wool.
 
Limestone
 
Limestone consists mainly of calcite, a neutral-toned mineral. It varies in hardness but is a more porous stone that stains easily so requires regular resealing to prevent stains.
 
Quartz surfacing
 
Though often called “engineered” stone, this material is comprised of natural quartz mixed with epoxy resin binders to make an incredibly hard and durable surface. It is non-absorbent — making it more hygienic and stain-resistant. It is also almost maintenance-free — simply wipe it off with warm water. And because a pigment is mixed in during the making of quartz surfacing, there is a beautiful selection of colors.
 
Lava stone
 
A more unusual counter material, often sold under the French brand name Pyrolave, lava stone is quarried in France then enameled and fired so it has a high-gloss finish. Colors can be customized.