Here's How to Pick the Best Material for Your Kitchen Worktop and Splashbacks
View more related buyers guides
Published by TOP4 Team
The food preparation area of your kitchen represents the front line when it comes to domestic practicality. More than any other surface, your worktop has to be durable, hygienic, waterproof and resistant to heat, stains, and scratches. Whatever material you choose, make sure all the fitting is skilfully done so there are no gaps left to trap dirt and germs. Finally, don’t expect miracles from it: use a separate chopping board for cutting and slicing, and place red-hot pans in mat or trivet, never directly on your worktop.
The wall behind the worktop - the splashback - needs protection, but the demands made on it are much less heavy. For classic good looks, practicality, and value, white tiles will always win out; fix them in grid formation, or stepped like bricks.
Coloured or hand-painted tiles have a different look and represent a more serious financial outlay. To blend the splashbacks into the wall, fix tongue-and-groove cladding then paint it to match; or if you have a stainless steel work surface create an unbroken finish by using the same material for the splashback, but in a thinner sheet to reduce costs.
Other ideas include varnished plywood (with/without a coloured stain), toughened glass, corrugated plastic, rubber flooring, roofing zinc, and sheet aluminium or perspex.
From wide range of materials available, choose one that suits your style, your budget and the kind of wear you’re likely to inflict:
• Laminate is the most popular choice for domestic work surfaces. Available in a huge variety of solid colours, patterns, and wood or stone effects, it is solid in large sheets then cut to fit. Laminate comes in a wide range of qualities (and therefore prices): the cheapest warp, stain and scratch, though, so invest in a top-quality branded version.
• Stainless steel has gained a much wider market in the last few years, but it’s always been the surface choice in professional kitchens. Although this is a very fashionable material, the trend is unlikely to fade since stainless steel is almost indestructible, hygienic and totally waterproof. Stainless steel worktops are expensive, though, and require considerable upkeep, but the faint scratches they develop with age add to their charm.
• Solid hardwood such as iroko, teak, maple, and sycamore is warm, beautiful, and practical, and it mellows with age. It requires high maintenance, though, even after it’s sealed and seasoned, and is also expensive. Cheaper, quick-fix alternatives are laminated ply, sealed MDF, and timber veneers.
• Ceramic tiles offer a wide choice in terms of colour and design and they can be matched to floors and splashbacks. Not all tiles are suitable, though; they have to be specially fired to make them tough enough for worktops (which also makes them pricey). Quarry tiles have a more durable surface than highly glazed ones, but all tiles tend to trap dirt in their grouting.
• Marble is a smooth and luxurious surface, but it is very expensive and prone to staining. If you enjoy making pastry, invest in a cool, non-stick marble board - inset into your worktop or free-standing - for rolling it out.
• Granite is as smooth and cool as marble, but much more durable, less porous, and easier to clean. Granite work surfaces have a less formal look than those made from marble, but they are also very expensive.
• Slate costs less than other stone surfaces and has a rougher texture. It needs sealing and polishing, but ages well. Slate will scratch, but tiny marks can be sanded away.
• Solid, synthetic surfaces are acrylic or polyester-based and resemble natural or coloured stone. They are chip-proof, non-porous, heat-resistant and seam-free, and some of them can be moulded with integral sinks and drainers. This type of work surface is at the high end of the price spectrum.
• Poured concrete can scream industrial chic or country simplicity. Reinforced to make it durable and non-porous, it can be tinted or textured and is usually cast on site, which makes it seamless and adaptable for worktops of irregular size and shape. Concrete is very heavy and falls into the medium price range.
It always pays to know your facts when it comes to home construction and renovation. Make sure to hire a reliable tradesman should the need arise. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. For more home renovation tips, check out our Buyer’s Guide.