Countertop Cost Comparison
Plastic laminate countertops are the cheapest option for countertop replacement when you take both materials and labor into account. Machine-made ceramic tile may be slightly cheaper per square foot, but labor to install it is expensive. Imitation stone counters, such as Corian, are the next most expensive option, followed by natural stone. Engineered stone counters are the most costly, with price tags up to 10 times higher than plastic laminate.
What Is Plastic Laminate?
Plastic laminate is a tightly compacted composite of plastic and kraft paper (a strong, coarse paper made of wood pulp produced by a chemical procedure called the kraft process). The top layer of paper has a decorative design, essentially a photograph, printed on it, covered by a final clear layer of protective plastic. Plastic laminate was originally developed in the early 20th century to replace heavy and expensive ceramic insulators in the electrical industry.
Plastic laminate comes in different thicknesses for different applications. It's tempting to use the cheaper plastic laminate designed for use on vertical surfaces like cabinets to replace a countertop, but the lighter composite will not stand up to the amount of wear and tear an average counter experiences, resulting in chips and cracks. The unfinished edges of a laminate counter are unattractive, but you can cover the edges with molding in different shapes, textures and colors -- even real hardwood.
Care and Upkeep
Plastic laminate requires some basic care to keep up its appearance. Don't let spills sit for long periods of time; wipe them up as soon as you notice them. Clean the countertop with a mild detergent and a clean sponge or soft cloth, then rinse and wipe it dry to prevent a buildup of soap residue that could cause permanent stains and watermarks. Finally, never use a plastic laminate counter as a cutting board. The blade of a knife will permanently damage the finish.