A laminate countertop can be cut and shaped to fit its space and your vision.

Laminate is a colorful, moderately durable surface that can liven up any space at a fraction of the cost of other countertop options. Laminate’s fun and inexpensive character makes it popular among those who wish to change the look and feel of their kitchen without the pressure to make a decision for life. Laminate countertops can be purchased ready-made with pre-molded backsplash and molded edges or fabricated on site by motivated do-it-yourselfers.

Laminate Composition and Grade
Laminate is created from layers of decorative paper and kraft paper—a strong, moisture-resistant product with bonded fiber. These papers are treated with resin and fused together using high heat and pressure. To make a fully prefabricated countertop, the laminate is bonded as one piece with the backsplash and edge.

Laminate comes in different thicknesses depending on their intended use. Horizontal grade is the thickest variety of laminate because it is designed for flat, high-impact and heavy-use countertops. It is the most resilient grade of laminate and can withstand the most impact. For postforming—the process of forming the decorative laminate into simple shapes—a slightly thinner grade of laminate is used. Vertical grade is the thinnest and is typically used for low-impact vertical installations, like back splashes. It can be used for horizontal applications if the surface is not expected to withstand heavy use.

Improvements in print technology, types of inks used, and finishes available are helping today’s laminates improve. For example, advances now allow laminate, which is a flat surface, to give the perception of depth and dimension. Some lines of laminate can offer higher wear resistance than standard.

Marketed under such trade names as Formica, Wilsonart, and Nevamar, laminate now comes in popular designs that resemble wood, granite, stone, and engineered stone. Combined with a beveled or curved edge, the designs can appear very realistic.

Easy Cleanup
Laminate kitchen countertop clean-up is simple. Just wipe with a damp cloth or sponge using mild soap or a non-bleach detergent. For stuck-on residue, try scrubbing with a nylon bristle brush. Abrasive cleaners/powders and metal or abrasive-coated pads should not be used on most laminates as they may permanently dull and scratch the laminate and make it more susceptible to staining.

To eliminate a persistent stain on a countertop, a homeowner could gently rub it with a paste of baking soda and water, according to Brenda Hill, public relations coordinator for Wilsonart International. It should then be rinsed thoroughly with water.

Laminate won’t support mold or bacteria growth, so bleach or harsh cleansers are not needed. Nevamar recommends ammoniated and/or vinegar-based glass cleaners if its laminate surfaces are soiled by grease. The manufacturer advises against the use of cleaners with bleach or anti-bacterial formulas as they may damage the finish of laminate countertops.

Protect Against Damage
While a laminate countertop is strong, it can be scratched, cut, or chipped, especially on its edges. Knives or sharp utensils can slice or scratch the surface, so use a cutting board to chop and slice. Abrasive items can scratch the surface, so placemats are recommended to keep the finish fresh.

Certain chemicals can stain a laminate surface, especially inks and dyes. Laminate can also be scorched or separate from its substrate if exposed to temperatures above 150 degrees Farenheit. To protect against damage, place hot pans or dishes on a trivet or hotmat.

Laminate cannot be repaired. Some third-party seam-fill kits may make damage less noticeable cannot completely repair a piece that is damaged.

Sink Limitations
A drop-in or self-rimming sink is typically used with laminate kitchen counters. The raw edge around the sink must be sealed properly so water can’t penetrate between the sink and the countertop. As long as the edge is sealed, problems like delamination are unlikely.

If water problems occur, they typically affect the substrate—the particle or medium-density fiber board—to which the laminate is bonded. When penetrated by water, the substrate actually swells and deteriorates, leaving unsightly warping, bumps, and gaps.

Undermount sinks are typically discouraged with laminate counters because it is so difficult to guard against water penetration. If you are determined to use an undermount sink, consider Counter-Seal’s undermount sink system or work with a fabricator to make an impenetrable seam between sink and counter.

Costs Will Vary
Prices for laminate kitchen countertops vary depending on the area of the country, the design, and the manufacturer. For do-it-yourselfers who plan to fabricate their own kitchen countertops, laminate sheets range in price from $3-$5 per square foot. Prefabricated kitchen countertops can be purchased at a local home store. Purchased counters with a molded backsplash and front edge cost between $12 to $16 per linear foot. To have one installed for you—often with fewer seams and much less hassle—costs range from $36 to $45 per linear foot.

Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac