Chances are, you already have porcelain in your house somewhere — but what about porcelain countertops? They may not be the go-to material for most kitchens currently but their popularity is on the rise.
Planning a kitchen remodel or bathroom update? Then porcelain is worth a look. Below, we’ll detail the pros & cons, design options, cost, care and durability of this sleek and stylish surface.
Europeans have been installing porcelain countertops for quite some time now, however, this type of countertop has only recently gained notice in the United States.
The trend will likely continue as there are numerous benefits to this countertop material but a few drawbacks to consider. All discussed in detail below, but first...
What is porcelain made of?
Essentially, porcelain is made from clay — but not just any type of clay. The clay used to create porcelain is often called China clay, and it contains a high percentage of a mineral known as kaolinite along with silica, feldspar and other mineral oxides which together are responsible for the strength and durability of porcelain.
This combo is put into a kiln and fired at extremely high temperatures. The result is a super dense material that is nearly completely impervious to stains, heat, UV rays, scratching, chips, and cracks.
Pigmented glazes are added during manufacturing to create different colors and patterns on the porcelain slab.
Your porcelain can either be glazed or unglazed. A matte or high-gloss glaze (with or without a pattern) is applied, then it is fired a second time so that the glaze adheres completely.
The glaze decreases porosity (and risk of staining), increases durability, and creates the shiny finish.
However, the pattern or color of glazed porcelain is only on the surface and does not go through the full body of the slab or tile. The interior color may be different and will show if the surface is chipped.
The color of unglazed porcelain extends through the full-body thickness.
These two countertop materials are frequently confused. Before diving into the specifics of porcelain countertops, let’s first go over the differences between the two.
But, the key difference here is that Dekton and Neolith also include the raw materials used to create quartz and glass which makes these "ultra-compact surfaces" even more durable than porcelain.
Porcelain really has a lot going for it as a bathroom or kitchen countertop but a couple drawbacks to note as well.
No surface is 100% stain-proof but porcelain comes close. It is non-porous so liquids do not absorb and the rare stain is usually on the surface and easily cleaned off.
Additionally, porcelain is resistant to most chemicals and will not etch or get dull spots from acidic foods and drinks like marble.
Porcelain countertops are manufactured at extremely high temperatures so it can take the heat. Hot pots set on the surface won’t scorch or damage, but it is always advised to use recommended trivets for hot cookware.
Porcelain will resist scratching with the best of them. Like granite and quartz, it is very difficult to scratch. However, the one thing to be careful of is ceramic knives which can sometimes scratch porcelain.
Acidic foods, drinks, and/or chemicals will not dull or etch the surface finish of porcelain like marble or travertine. Also, chemicals will not discolor or bleach out porcelain countertops as can sometimes happen with quartz countertops.
Hard & Durable
Porcelain kitchen countertops are extremely hard, durable and stand up to most impacts. In fact, their durability is second to stone alone and, generally, are unaffected by wear and tear. Still, chips and cracks are possible.
Ultraviolet Light Resistant
Porcelain is also resistant to ultraviolet light which means it won’t fade from sunlight so it’s a great choice for outdoor kitchen countertops.
Numerous Colors and Patterns
Porcelain can be made in virtually any color and patterns are plenty and with many that look like marble and other natural stone.
Sealing is Not Necessary (usually)
Generally speaking, porcelain doesn’t need any sealing because the fire glazing blocks against staining and moisture. But sealing can be needed in certain cases (more below).
Environmentally-Friendly and Recyclable
Porcelain is made of 100% natural, raw, and clay-based materials. Therefore, after years of use, you can easily recycle your old porcelain counters.
Skin Deep Beauty
Unlike stone and other countertop materials, porcelain does not come with its designs built in. Patterns are basically printed onto the top.
This isn’t so much a severe disadvantage as it is a slight drawback. That is, your printed design would not be visible where edges are rounded, for instance.
Also, in the event of a chip, the interior of the slab will be the same color but the pattern does not exist all the way through.
Ceramic Knives May Scratch
Porcelain countertops are essentially scratch-proof, however, ceramic knives are the one thing that may scratch porcelain. So, the obvious advice here is don't use ceramic knives, but also it's always best to use a cutting board on any type of countertop.
More on this in Cleaning, Maintenance, and Repair section below.
Limited Supply & Availability
One of the only other drawbacks is finding a supplier and then a fabricator who knows the material well. As of now, it’s not an extremely common material for countertops, so the market is limited.
In addition, if you shop around to find someone who makes porcelain countertops, you’ll want to check prices, which can vary wildly.
Overall, however, it should be achievable to find a manufacturer with competitive pricing.
Sapien Stone is a leading porcelain slab manufacturer and a good place to start the process and their colors and patterns do go through the entire thickness of the slab.
Like most other types of countertops, many options are available to suit your style and kitchen design along with a couple unique points to consider.
Depending on the manufacturer you choose, there are numerous color shades available — all of which are derived from natural pigments.
A wide variety of attractive patterns and “looks” are also available. You might choose from marble, metallic, wood grain, rusted steel, or concrete finishes — all of which look quite natural.
And for those wanting countertops that look like marble, you’re in luck as porcelain offers many colors and patterns that are super marble look-alikes.
Again, just remember that if chipped, these patterns or color designs won’t necessarily go all the way through the material since the pattern and color is applied to the top surface of the porcelain via glazing.
Smooth or textured finishes can easily be achieved during the manufacturing process. High-gloss polished and matte / honed finishes are the most common.
You won’t have as many finish options as natural stone, but the most popular types are available with porcelain.
Porcelain countertop edges are a bit unique compared to other countertop materials. While it is possible to create all the normal edges like round, beveled, straight, bullnose, ogee, cove, platner, waterfall, and others… you may not like the look of some of these.
Since the patterns in porcelain are only skin-deep, edge styles are more limited than with natural stone or quartz. Cutting a fancy edge with rounded corners, bevels, and grooves would remove the pattern.
However, edges can be mitered with a few different looks to maintain a consistent pattern over the edge. Most opt for a square edge.
You would think that such a durable material as porcelain requires extreme thickness, but this is truly not the case. In fact, porcelain can be quite lightweight, which provides additional installations options.
Typical thickness is ¼ inch (6 mm) or ½ inch (12 mm).
Furthermore, porcelain can be manufactured in extra-large slabs around 126 inches X 62 inches (320 cm X 160 cm). Thus, fewer seams are needed and often one slab can cover an entire kitchen island.
On expense of installing new kitchen countertops is having your old countertops ripped out.
But since porcelain countertops are so thin, you can install them directly over your existing countertops. This can greatly reduce the overall difficulty and expense of removing the older material.
Finding a fabricator may be difficult. Because porcelain is so thin the full-sized slabs can be delicate to work with and cut and locating a countertop fabricator that is willing to install porcelain slab countertop may be a challenge.
They are easier to crack during fabrication than granite or marble, so many fabricators do not like to work with the material.
Note, though, that once installed porcelain is very hard and durable. Cracking is not an issue after it is installed. It's just handling, moving and cutting very large and thin slabs prior to installation that can give fabricators fits.
Porcelain countertops are easy to keep clean, but here are some key tips for keeping them spotless and sparkling:
For quick clean-ups, soap and water work, although, consistent use of soap will cause a soap scum buildup. Just hot water is better to wipe up spills and messes.
Using a quality countertop cleaner will remove all oils and soils and leave a streak-free shine that cannot be achieved with water.
Puracy cleaner is also excellent for cleaning porcelain.
Porcelain is non-porous and hygienic. Nothing can penetrate the surface or cause danger as long as you clean up appropriately. And regular cleaning is really the best defense against bacteria, etc.
For cleaning tough surface stains, harsher chemicals can be used on these countertops because the non-porous surface will not absorb the dangerous chemicals. However, harsh and toxic chemicals should not be necessary and should be avoided.
Scrubbing with a countertop cleaner recommended just above will do the trick in most cases. For more stubborn spots Bar Keeper's Friend can work magic on surfaces like porcelain and quartz.
For chips in porcelain, there are chip repair kits available to fill the void but repairs may still be noticeable. As noted above, the color goes through the slab so the color inside the chip will be the same as on the surface, but any pattern will not be.
A chip in a solid color porcelain or in a part of the countertop without any pattern can be filled and be virtually invisible, but if in the middle of a pattern, the repair will likely be visible.
Cracks and scratches are not really repairable. You could glue a crack but it will always be visible. Same deal with a scratch as the surface finish cannot be repaired. But chips, cracks, and scratches are rare.
Use a Cutting Board
Porcelain countertops are definitely durable, but you’ll want to remember that they’re not indestructible. Manufacturers and retailers will tell you that you can chop and slice your vegetables directly on the surface of porcelain but it isn’t a good idea.
Ceramic knives are able to scratch the top of your porcelain. Therefore, cutting and slicing on a cutting board is smart. Just no reason to chance it.
This cheap and super-duarable cutting board is fantastic. Grips the countertop, catches all food juices, and dishwasher-safe. But if you want something stylish then these butcher block cutting boards look great and last forever.
Most of the time, porcelain does not need to be sealed because the glazing on porcelain already protects against liquid penetration. Still, specific brands of porcelain or unglazed porcelain will benefit from sealing upon application.
However, sealing once upon installation is a good idea for certain brands of porcelain that are polished.
So, sealing is rarely needed but just a point to clarify when purchasing porcelain.
The particular color, pattern, texture, and edge style will affect the final price along with the sink and cooktop cutouts, seams, and the overall complexity of the installation.
For slab porcelain countertops...
When comparing the cost of porcelain vs. granite or quartz countertops it comes down to all the variables. One material will not always be more expensive or cheaper than the others. Specific quotes from installers are needed for your particular installation.
The good news about the cost of porcelain counters is that once installed, maintenance costs are extremely low.
Choosing porcelain tiles instead of a porcelain slab will dramatically reduce the cost.
As you can see, high-quality porcelain countertops come with extreme versatility and strength, high-performance, and easy installation. They are durable against the wear and tear typical of fast-paced kitchen life, sleek, stylish, and available in many colors and patterns. Even thickness and edge styles can be catered to your tastes.
Disadvantages of porcelain counter tops generally revolve around their “skin deep beauty” — any chips or flaws will almost certainly be noticeable. It can also be difficult to find a qualified installer for porcelain.
Still, in the long run, the benefits of porcelain do outweigh the drawbacks and rank porcelain among the best of all countertop materials. So with the right planning and care, porcelain countertops can certainly be a practical and fashionable choice for your modern kitchen.