Laminate worktops are still the biggest sellers in the UK kitchen countertop market in terms of volume. But just what is laminate? Why is it so popular? What are its pros and cons? And how do laminate worktops stack up against their rivals – granite and quartz?
A breakfast bar / peninsula in wood-effect laminate. Notice the stuck-on edging strip to achieve the curve.
Close-up cross-section of white sparkly laminate worktop
What is laminate? Although it is often thought to be simply plastic, laminate is older than the era of the plastics, and is much more complex in its make-up. The original Formica company started in 1913. It’s products were layered materials, created using papers and resin. This is still the basis of Formica to this day – the word “laminate” doesn’t mean that the material is bonded to some an underlying substrate of hardboard, mdf, chipboard or cardboard, but that the material itself is made up from layers of Kraft paper, bound with resin. It is THIS laminate which is then stuck onto a chipboard base to make the kitchen worktops we all know.
What are the positives of using laminate for worktops?
- Price – laminate is the cheapest worktop material. The cheapest laminates are very economical indeed
- Variety – granites are limited by what you can dig up from the ground; quartz designs require extensive research and development; laminates can be printed and put together with new colours relatively cheaply, and there is a huge range to choose from.
- Length – laminate worktops can be created in lengths as long as 4 metres. This is more than any solid stone product
- Lightweight – although most kitchen units these days can take solid stone at 30mm, actually handling the worktops is far easier with laminate. This leads us to the last point…
- Fitting – laminate can be fitted using tooling that most people have at home. There is no requirement for specialised staff or factory facilities. (I wouldn’t deny, though, the skills of craftsmen who are really good with laminate – especially those who can make the almost seamless joins – very impressive!)
Wood-effect laminate worktop
What are the disadvantages of laminate, then?
Obviously, lumping all “laminate” together may seem unfair – different brands have succeeded in overcoming some of the challenges to a greater or lesser extent. But there are some classic laminate problems:
- The “look” – laminate, however beautiful the prints may be (wood, stone, other effects etc), can’t seem to evade that “plasticky” look which make it look like a cheap product.
- Curves – because laminate worktops must be cut and edged with iron- or glue-on strips, it is impossible to make curved corners and arcs that have the lovely look and feel of real stone.
- Sink options – despite the efforts of some sink manufacturers to create products suitable for mounting under laminate worktops, the real problems of this kind of installation have never been solved. If you are going to wipe down your surface right into an undermount sink, you must have a solid surface that is not prone to water damage…
Typical water-blown worktop
Massive heat damage on laminate
Edge chip on laminate worktop
Intense, localised heat damage on laminate
- Water damage – any water that seeps through to the board base quickly disrupts the structure of laminate worktops, leading to “blowing” of the laminate top. We have all seen it.
- Heat damage – laminate surfaces are subject to catastrophic heat damage in a way that quartz or granite worktops are not.
- Physical damage – the hard surface of a laminate worktop can be chipped and break away – unsightly in itself and making the whole top vulnerable to water penetration. This applies especially to glued-on strips on curves, and those high-shine laminate worktops which are VERY prone to scratching.
The real thing.
Although laminate can copy the look of Azul Platino granite, nothing compairs with the class and style of the real thing. And Azul Platino is by no means an expensive granite! See our case study here.
Solid stone materials can be cut and shaped into beautiful curves. The bevel edge look sets real stone (granite or quartz) apart from the soft, plastic edge of laminate. The picture shows part of the breakfront around the hob in a Radianz Mirama Bronze installation.
Granite and quartz worktops are not absolutely proof against problems. For instance, they can chip too. But damage to a stone edge is simply not as catastrophic as in laminate – not least because there is nothing to fear from water getting inside!
The same goes for heat. The plastic element in quartz CAN char, but the chances of serious damage are far lower than with laminate. And we have heard of granite cracking or surface flaking due to extreme heat shock. But it has to be really extreme – one set of Blue Pearl worktops that we installed did crack when cold water was sprayed on them… by firefighters who were dealing with the dishwasher fire that had broken out under the granite! The brigade told our customer that the granite worktops may well have saved the house, by containing the fire for longer. We don’t sell stone on the basis of fire containment, but worktops that used to be molten lava can really take the heat!
Steel Grey Granite – real volcanic stone in your home!
Our purpose is not to knock either competing materials or the companies that install them. Laminate is economical, has served very well in many homes over the years, and it has its place in the market. We have ALL lived with a laminate kitchen!
And we are aware that that not everyone has the budget for solid stone worktops in their kitchen. However, you may be surprised at just how affordable some of our stock stones can be. Don’t rule out getting the real thing for your kitchen! It is the worktops that really bring the “wow factor” in for a new kitchen, and laminate is left for standing by genuine stone, be it granite or quartz. For class, practicality and durability, quartz and granite worktops take a lot of beating! Call us to chat over your kitchen requirements, or email us to get your granite worktop quotation!