Laminate worktops continue to dominate the UK kitchen market in terms of volume. What is laminate? Why is it popular? What are its pros and cons? And how does laminate stack up against granite or quartz worktops?
A wood effect laminate worktop with a full arc on a
breakfast bar peninsular
A white sparkly laminate worktop in close up
What is laminate? Although it is often assumed to be plastic, laminate predates the plastic age, and is rather more complicated. The original Formica company began in 1913, making a layered material using paper and resins. That is still the basic method – the term laminate doesn’t refer to the fact that this material is bonded to some kind of mdf or chipboard, but that the material itself is laminated from layers of Kraft paper, held together with resin. This is then stuck onto the thicker board to make a worktop.
What are the advantages of laminate worktops?
- Price – laminate is cheaper than any other worktop material. Seriously cheap laminate is very economical indeed
- Wide range of designs – 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.
- Length – laminate worktops can be found in lengths as great as 4 metres. This is more than any solid stone product
- Lightweight – although almost all units can now handle solid stone at 30mm, actually manhandling the worktops is far easier with laminate. This leads us to the last point…
- Fitting – laminate can be cut and fitted using tooling that most people have at home. It doesn’t require specialised staff to do the job. (Though to do a good job – especially with the joins, a skilled craftsman is still needed!)
Wood effect laminate worktop
What are the disadvantages of laminate, then?
Obviously, lumping all “laminate” into the same mould may be a bit unfair – different brands have managed to overcome some of the issues to a greater or lesser extent. But there are some classic laminate problems.
- The “look” – laminate, however beautifully printed with wood, stone or other effects, can’t seem to evade that “plasticky” look which people feel gives it away as “the cheap alternative”
- Curves – because laminate worktops have to be cut and edged with ironed-on or glued-on strips, you can’t have curves that have the lovely 3-d feel of real stone.
- Sink options – despite strenuous efforts by some sink manufacturers to create products suitable for undermounting with laminate, the problem has never been solved. If you want to squeegee your surface straight into an undermount sink, you need a solid surface that is not susceptible to water damage…
Large area of heat damage on laminate
Chipped edge to worktop
Intense heat damage on laminate
- Water damage – any water that reaches the board base through or under the hard outer laminate surface quickly disrupts the structure, leading to “blowing” of the laminate top. We have all seen it.
- Heat damage – laminate surfaces are more prone to catastrophic heat damage than other worktop products.
- Physical damage – the hardened laminate surface can be chipped and break away – unsightly in itself and making the whole top vulnerable to water penetration. This applies especially to those glued-on strips on curves, and the high-gloss laminates which are VERY prone to scratching.
The real thing.
Although laminate can be made to look like Azul Platino granite, nothing can compete with the class and style of natural stone. And this granite is not an expensive one! See our case study here.
Solid stone materials, whether granite or quartz, can be cut and shaped into beautiful curves. The bevel edge look sets real stone apart from the soft, plastic edge of laminate. The picture shows part of the breakfront around the hob in a Radianz Mirama Bronze installation.
Because it is solid, stone can be used around sinks with no fear whatsoever of water damage. Here is a close up of the sink cutout and a drainage groove where an undermounted sink has been fitted to Blue Pearl granite.
Granite and quartz worktops are not bomb proof – they can chip too. But damage to an edge is rarely as catastrophic as with laminate – not least because there is nothing to fear from water getting inside!
The same goes for heat damage. The plastic element in quartz especially 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 extreme – one set of worktops 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 Blue Pearl 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 magma can take the heat!
Steel Grey Granite – real igneous rock in your kitchen
Our purpose is not to put down either competing materials or companies. 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!
We know that not everyone has a budget for solid stone. But you may be surprised at just how affordable some of our stock stones can be. Don’t rule out the real thing for your kitchen. It is the worktops that really bring the wow factor in, and laminate is left standing by real stone. For class, practicality and durability, quartz and granite worktops take some beating. Call us to chat over your kitchen needs, or email for a quotation!