The Key Differences Between Engineered and Natural Stone

Megy Karydes
Written by Megy Karydes
Updated May 10, 2022
A beautiful kitchen with granite countertop and glass fronted cabinets
Photo: hikesterson / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

The pros and cons of natural vs. man-made countertop materials

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While they may look similar on the surface, there are significant differences between engineered and natural stone. With so many options and variations, choosing among the list can feel daunting. Here, you’ll learn the differences between engineered and natural stone countertops to help make choosing one for your lifestyle, design preferences, and budget easier. 

Engineered Stone Pros and Cons

The interior of a kitchen with engineered stone countertop
Photo: John Keeble / Moment / Getty Images

Engineered stone countertops, also referred to as human-made stone countertops, are produced in a factory by holding crushed stone together with a resin binder.

Pros

  • Wide variety of styles: Since engineered stone is human-made, you’ll find many colors, styles, and looks, many of which look like natural stone.

  • Durable: Engineered stone countertops often are scratch-, heat- and acid-resistant, and non-absorptive, making them low-maintenance and easy to care for. Bonus: They don’t need regular sealing.

  • Cost-effective: According to HomeAdvisor, engineered countertops typically cost less than natural stone at $25 to $170 per square foot.

Cons

  • You need to know what you’re looking for: Not all engineered stone can be used for countertops.

  • Not quite the same: While many engineered stone countertops mimic the look of natural stone, they don’t have those unique characteristics that come with natural materials.

Natural Stone Pros and Cons ​

Close-up of a quartz countertop and a kitchen sink
Photo: Thapakorn Rujipak / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Natural stone, as its name implies, is produced in nature, created over thousands of years by water, wind, minerals, or lava, and extracted from a quarry.

Pros

  • It’s hard to match the beauty and warmth created by nature. Natural stone countertops have a unique and luxurious look that most homeowners seek when creating a one-of-a-kind kitchen or bathroom.

  • Long-lasting and durable

  • Because natural stone is quarried from the earth versus produced in a factory, many consider it eco-friendly.

  • It may be cleaner. Depending on which stone you choose, you can usually get it as one solid piece, which means no grouting is needed, and there are fewer places for bacteria to lurk.

Cons

  • Installation challenges: In some cases, the cost to install a natural stone countertop can be higher than human-made materials because of the weight and size of the pieces.

  • Maintenance: Some types of natural stone are more prone to scratches and stains and need to be sealed regularly as part of their maintenance.

With many types of engineered and natural stone countertops to consider, here are some of the most popular options:

Quartz

If you’re torn between quartz or granite, most granite is actually made from quartz. A mineral, quartz is an umbrella term for different types of engineered quartz. Most quartz countertops are produced in a factory.

Pros

  • Available in many colors, textures, and designs

  • Can contain recycled materials

  • Produced in different sizes, thicknesses, and edge profiles

  • Scratch, stain, and chip-resistant

Cons

  • Difficult to differentiate among many different brands

  • Lacks the unique textures and tonal variations of natural stone

  • May have seams showing if you need multiple pieces

  • Can deteriorate over time

  • Not heat-resistant

Corian

Corian is a solid-surface material, meaning it is a human-made material with the same composition from the inside out. DuPont Corporation offered it as a replacement for marble, granite, and other higher-end materials, though other companies produce a similar product.

Pros

  • Easy to clean and maintain

  • Resistant to water stains and moisture

  • Seamless, as it's often produced in large sheets or slabs

  • More affordable compared to quartz or natural stone; corian costs $40 to $65 per square foot

Cons

  • May not be as attractive to buyers as quartz or natural stone

  • Will scratch and chip easier than other types

  • Not heat-resistant and is prone to damage from hot pots

Sintered Stone

Sintered stone is like quartz, but harder and less pourous. Interior decorators and architects use this stone in kitchens, baths, and even floors. It’s made from a variety of natural minerals in a process called “sintering,” which uses intense heat and pressure to transform the materials into a solid mass.

Pros

  • Extremely durable, resistant to scratches, heat, and discoloration

  • Available in a wide variety of colors, textures, and thickness

  • Harder than granite

  • Non-porous (doesn’t require sealing) and is easy to clean

Cons

  • Polished ends of the countertop have a different finish and texture than the top surface, as colors and textures do not carry through the entire thickness

  • Chips and knicks, though rare, are difficult to repair

  • Prices can be on the higher side compared to similar materials

Quartzite

The differences between quartz and quartzite are small but mighty. Quartzite is almost all quartz grains, while quartz is a mixture of quartz and resin that gives it a distinct style and color. Quartzite is usually white or gray.

Pros

  • More scratch-resistant than quartz

  • Not affected by hot pots or dishes

  • No two pieces are alike

Cons

  • Some quartzite is highly porous and should be sealed to prevent stains

  • Limited color options

  • As a luxury natural stone, quartzite is more expensive than quartz at $70 to $200 per square foot

Granite

Granite is among the hardest, strongest natural stones when it comes to countertop materials. It’s also truly natural, which means that each granite slab will have unique fissures, swirls, and flecks of shiny iron bits.

Pros

  • Highly heat resistant—you won’t have to worry about placing that Thanksgiving Day turkey or other hot pans on the countertop.

  • Virtually unlimited range of colors and pattern variations

  • At $40 to $100 per square foot, granite costs less than other natural stones

  • Resistant to stains, bacteria, and dirt when sealed properly

  • Requires minimal maintenance and is easily repaired if damaged

Cons

  • Prone to staining  if you don’t seal the surface regularly

  • Can crack with sudden temperature change or sudden force

  • Finding matching colors when needed can be difficult

  • Should be cleaned with a special stone cleaner

Marble

The marble countertop of a modern kitchen
Photo: PBNJ Productions / Getty Images

Marble is a timelessly classic yet thoroughly modern luxury natural stone. Many debate choosing either marble or granite, thanks to its timeless beauty and high-end elegance. Pros

  • Every slab is unique with luxurious hues, veins, and designs

  • Durable enough to cut veggies on the countertop without scratching

  • Higher-grade marble is heat-resistant

  • May increase the value of your home

Cons

  • Softer than other stones, which makes it susceptible to scratches and spills (clean up that coffee or wine right away)

  • At $40 to $180 per square foot, marble countertops are more expensive than most natural stone countertops

  • Needs to be sealed regularly

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