Laminate Kitchen Countertops


Laminate kitchen countertops have come a long way from the white with black speckled tops that were so popular in the 1960's and 1970's.

Lamination has improved, making your tops more durable than ever.  The color selections have grown to include granites, marbles, woods, metals, not to mention the wide array of speckles and patterns in several appealing colors and shades.

QUALITIES OF LAMINATE KITCHEN COUNTERTOPS:

  • They are made of a plastic coated synthetic that is 1/16" thick, usually adhered to 3/4" particle board.
  • They are durable and can last and be in good repair for decades.
  • Are very easy to keep clean.
  • Come in a wide array of colors, styles, and textures.
  • Inexpensive.  They will be the least expensive of all the countertop materials, yet they hold up well.

COMPANIES THAT MANUFACTURE LAMINATE FOR COUNTERTOPS

There are several companies that actually manufacture the laminate that is used to build laminate kitchen countertops.  They only make the laminate, they do not actually manufacture the countertop form. 

As far as quality, they all seem to be equal, although they will disagree with each other about that!!  Quality really comes into play regarding the individual companies that actually build the countertop shapes and form the countertops (called post-formed) using the laminates (see below - Countertop Manufacturing Companies).

WHAT'S UP WITH FORMICA?

Formica was the first company to manufacture laminate for countertops, so laminate is often confusingly called "formica".  Formica is a brand name, however, and is not laminate itself.

Their are four main companies (brand names) that manufacture laminate sheets used in the manufacture of laminate kitchen counterops:

COUNTERTOP MANUFACTURING COMPANIES - SOME PRACTICAL ADVICE

(Don't Believe the Myth that a Custom Cabinet Shop or In-House Manufactured Countertop is better and more economical than the really good laminate kitchen countertops the larger manufacturing companies make.)

Here is where it get's a bit tricky, and quality counts.

There are several countertop manufacturing companies.  They all purchase their laminate from one of the above companies (Wilsonart, Pionite, Formica, or Nevamar).  They then mould and shape that laminate onto particle board forms, gluing the laminate to the particle board to manufacture countertops. 

If you go to a large building center, such as UBC (United Building Center), Lowe's, or Home Depot, they will usually use a manufacturer like this to obtain their countertops.  That is good for you, the consumer.  You want your laminate countertops to be built by someone that specializes in laminate countertops.

For example, if you are in western Wisconsin, and go to UBC and order a countertop, UBC will take all your information and measurements, and actually order the countertop from one of these manufacturing companies in Marshfield, Wisconsin called Counter-Form.

Counter-Form will build your countertop to order, not UBC.  They will cut it, size it, create the mitered corners (or spline-miters as the case may be), radius ends, etc.

You, as a consumer, usually cannot buy directly from these types of manufacturers, but please use building centers that do.  Ask your building center where they get their countertops (hopefully they don't manufacture them in-house, if they do, think about going somewhere else).

In our custom cabinet shop, we tried to use nothing but countertops that Counter-Form built.  They were always accurate, built excellent corners (miters) that were easy to put together, and if they made an error, they corrected it immediately.  The only problem we had was that customer's did not always understand that Counter-Form made the best countertops in our area, and didn't sell to small shops, only big building centers.  We purchased our countertops from UBC, and rarely had any problems.

Custom cabinet shops can purchase flat sheets of laminate and make their own countertops, and that is what our customer's expected us to do.  If we would have, being a small shop, they would have received an inferior product.  It's okay for a custom cabinet shop to build a laminated desk top or something similar, but if you're talking laminated kitchen countertops that are formed (rounded, have back-splashes, etc., they can't build as good a top as the large companies, and can't come anywhere near the price).

The reason is that companies like Counter Form have multi-million dollar machines, and an expertise that no custom cabinet shop can match.  Even large companies that try to be countertop manufacturer's fall short.

We tried to purchase countertops, from one large building center that built their countertops in-house, for our cabinet shop.  Every time we did, we had problems.  Things weren't ordered correctly, took a long time to arrive, and when they did arrive, had errors.

Be wary of ordering countertops from companies that manufacture countertops in-house.  The quality and accuracy is usually not as good, and when you are installing laminate kitchen countertops, it better be right or you are going to have a mess.

BEWARE OF THE SMALL COMPANIES THAT ORDER FROM THE LARGER LAMINATE KITCHEN COUNTERTOPS MANUFACTURING COMPANIES, AND TRY TO PASS THEMSELVES OFF BEING AS GOOD.

There are several small companies that will purchase lengths of countertop from the larger, more well known, companies.  These small companies will, after ordering lengths from the larger companies, cut your corners themselves, add their own radius's, etc., and pass them off as their own. 

They try to sell to small custom cabinet shops and consumers alike.

The quality of these small countertop companies is also inferior.  They will pose as companies that make their own tops, but in reality, they only cut them to the size you need, and add finished end-caps.  Why bother?  If you have problems, it will take twice as long to get the problem fixed because you are, in reality, going through two manufacturer's.

LAMINATE KITCHEN COUNTERTOPS:  DO'S & DON'TS

If you've gotten a good quality laminate countertop, it will last for years, even decades.  It depends on how well you treat it:

  • Don't cut anything on laminate kitchen countertops (use a bread board).
  • Don't set anything hot on laminate kitchen countertops.  It can burn and melt the laminate.  If you have a candle on the countertop, don't let it burn unattended, and make sure it is on a glass dish, etc., away from the cabinets (you could burn your cabinet finish as well if it's too close).
  • You can use finger nail polish remover, denatured alcohol, or lacquer thinner to remove the glue spots (red marks) left on laminate kitchen countertops after their manufacture.  Don't overdue.
  • Some chemicals (unless you've ordered a special chemical resistant laminate countertop) may hurt your countertop.  It's possible certain hairsprays, perfumes, or extremely harsh cleaners could actually hurt the color of your laminate.  Wipe down your countertop (especially in bathrooms) if you think you may be hurting it.  Special ordering chemical resistant countertops is not necessary, however, for the most homeowners.  The up-charge for such countertops is usually high, and in reality, only those places where chemical resistance is absolutely essential order them (such as hospitals or school science rooms).
  • If you have allergies, there are specially manufactured laminate kitchen countertops that will encase the particle board (which is made from formaldehyde, etc.) so you won't have health problems.  These, of course cost more, but if you have health concerns it will be worth it.  You could also consider using other kitchen countertops that don't use particle board, like solid granite, some solid surface countertops, or quartz.
  • Order a countertop color that is light, or has a pattern to it (even a slight pattern).  All laminate countertops scratch, and all of them scratch equally, however, if you have a lighter countertop, or if you are going with a dark color that has a slight pattern, you won't notice the scratches as much.  When laminate is scratched, it is white underneath.  By getting a light or patterned top, the scratches aren't quite as noticeable.
  • Be sure to radius any exposed corners.  You don't want your three year old (or you) to bump into a sharp corner at the end of the cabinets or island.
  • If your kitchen has a 90 degree corner (or anywhere there is a seam), you will have a miter that you can see.  There is no way around it.  Be sure to order a spline miter, not just a miter.  A spline miter has a groove in the particle board that holds a thin piece of laminate.  This thin piece acts as a transition that helps steady and bring together your countertop corner pieces as they are being bolted together.  In our custom cabinet shop, we found spline miters make a much better corner seam than a miter alone.

Return to our Compare Kitchen Countertops page from this Laminate Kitchen Countertops page.

OTHER RELATED SITES:

Kitchen Laminate Countertop - Styles and Options

Laminate Countertop Undermount Sink - Yes, you can have one, and they are really nice!!



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