Ah, quartz—a popular countertop surface some consider a superhero! It might seem like just another countertop playing it cool in your kitchen, but don’t be fooled; this trendy titan packs a punch of perks. Quartz countertops are all the rage, adding a touch of sleek sophistication to kitchens far and wide. 

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But is this chic choice the right sidekick for your kitchen adventures? Enter the world of quartz with me as we uncover its little secrets and scope out some stylish alternatives for those looking to shake things up a bit.

 

PRO TIP: Quartz and quartzite are often mistaken for the same material. They’re not. Quartzite is natural stone quarried from the earth, like marble and granite. 

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a pin for Pinterest depicting a white and wood-toned kitchen with quartz countertops

The Pros

Quartz countertops embody luxury and practicality that can elevate any kitchen. Known for its robustness and stylish appearance, here’s why it’s become a favorite among many designers and homeowners:

Durability

Quartz is built to take a beating and still look fabulous. Engineered for endurance, it laughs in the face of daily kitchen chaos—from hot pans to spill disasters. This material keeps its cool under pressure, ensuring your kitchen’s style stays sharp and sleek. It’s also acid-resistant. 

It stands up admirably to scratches and chips—thanks to its hard surface, which rates a solid 7 out of 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. This makes it one of the toughest countertop materials, less susceptible to damage from sharp objects or impact.

It Comes in a Wide Range of Colors

The visual appeal of quartz is undeniable. With a spectrum of colors and patterns, quartz offers aesthetic flexibility that few other materials can match. From the pure, pristine whites, ideal for a clean, modern look, to the bold, veined varieties that mimic the dramatic appearance of natural stone, quartz can adapt to any style. 

Low Maintenance

One of quartz’s most compelling attributes is its ease of maintenance. Unlike porous stones that require regular sealing and rigorous cleaning regimes, quartz’s non-porous surface means that spills can be wiped away without a trace. 

There’s no need for harsh chemicals or scrubbing; simple soap and water will do the job. This feature makes quartz an excellent choice for busy kitchens or those who entertain frequently and need a countertop that combines practicality with panache.

a corner of a kitchen with a quartz countertop
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This snap shows a quartz countertop that doesn’t quite pull off the natural stone vibe—a miss for those who love the real deal. Plus, it’s a prime example of a decor faux pas: the pink-beige backsplash clashing with the off-white quartz. A little reminder of how crucial it is to sync your elements for that seamless look!

The Cons

As with any superhero, even quartz has its kryptonite. Here are a few quirks to consider before declaring it your kitchen champion:

Uniformity

While quartz prides itself on consistency, its perfection can sometimes be its pitfall. Some patterns are so precise they miss the mark on mimicking stone’s natural, random beauty, leaving them looking a bit synthetic. I’ve heard whispers of it resembling plastic—yikes! While I have my go-to quartz selections, when a client dreams of that authentic marble look, I often suggest steering towards natural quartzite, budget permitting.

Fading and Discoloration

Quartz can fade in the sun. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can dull its dazzling color, leading to a lackluster appearance over time. Additionally, beware of harsh cleaners! They can cause discoloration, leaving your pristine countertop with unsightly blemishes. It’s a low-maintenance friend, but like any relationship, it requires the proper care.

Vulnerability to Heat Damage

Quartz might be tough, but it’s not invincible against the heat of your culinary battles. Placing hot pots or pans directly on its surface could lead to scorch marks or even cracking. Always arm it with trivets or heat pads to keep it looking its best. After all, even superheroes need a shield! 

a white and wood-toned kitchen with quartz slab countertops and backsplash
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IMO this selection is a better choice. It’s giving me Nate Berkus-Jeremiah Brent vibes.

Calacatta gold extra countertops and slab backsplash with deep green cabinets
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The stunning kitchen designed by Nate Berkus & Jeremiah Brent in their former West Village, NYC home—truly a masterpiece of style and functionality.

The Quartz Quandaries: What to Watch Out For

Despite its many sterling qualities, quartz countertops are not without their vulnerabilities. A primary concern recently surfaced involves health risks associated with the material’s production, particularly the exposure to silica dust. 

This issue has sparked significant attention, especially in countries like Australia and New Zealand, where movements are underway to ban the use of quartz in countertop manufacturing.

Health Concerns During Fabrication

Quartz countertops, celebrated for their durability and aesthetic appeal, are engineered by combining natural quartz with polymer resins and pigments, all fused under intense heat and pressure. 

While this manufacturing process effectively creates sturdy and beautiful surfaces, it has significant health implications for workers who cut, finish, and install quartz slabs.

Silica Dust Exposure

The primary health concern arises during the mechanical handling of quartz materials, where the cutting and sanding processes can release microscopic crystalline silica particles into the air. These fine silica particles are respirable, meaning they can be easily inhaled deep into the lungs. Prolonged exposure to respirable silica dust is perilously harmful.  

Development of Silicosis

Workers exposed to high levels of silica dust can develop silicosis, a debilitating and often fatal lung disease. Silicosis occurs when inhaled silica dust induces scar tissue formation in the lungs, reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. Symptoms of silicosis can include persistent cough, shortness of breath, and severe respiratory impairments, and the disease can progress even after exposure has ceased.

According to a 2022 study by the NIH, silicosis is responsible for over 12.9 thousand deaths worldwide in 2019.

Other Health Risks

Beyond silicosis, exposure to silica dust can increase the risk of other severe health conditions, including lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, airway diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The severity of the risk depends on the duration and intensity of exposure, highlighting the need for stringent safety protocols.

Workplace Safety Standards

In response to these risks, health and safety regulations in many countries mandate implementing rigorous control measures in workplaces where silica dust is present. These measures include using water or ventilation systems to minimize dust, providing workers with respirators, and conducting regular health monitoring. However, enforcement and adherence to these standards can vary significantly between regions and workplaces.

a modern kitchen with large island with quartz that's white with very bold gold veining
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Heads up—this might ruffle some feathers, but I’ve got to say it: it’s hideous! 😂 And there’s a practical snag too—the stark white totally clashes with the flooring. Talk about a decor mismatch!

 

Regulatory Responses

The severe health risks associated with silica dust exposure during the fabrication of quartz countertops have prompted significant regulatory actions, particularly in countries like Australia and New Zealand. These countries are at the forefront of addressing these concerns through proposed stricter regulations and potential bans.

Stricter Safety Standards

In light of the health risks posed by silica, Australian and New Zealand health authorities are intensifying scrutiny on industries that generate silica dust, including quartz countertop manufacturing. These governments are considering implementing stricter safety standards that limit the permissible levels of airborne silica. The objective is to enforce lower exposure limits to ensure safer working conditions in factories and installation sites.

Proposed Bans and Regulations

Discussions have been held in these regions about the potential for outright bans on selling and importing quartz products that do not comply with new safety standards. This drastic measure pressures manufacturers to adopt critical changes in their production processes to significantly reduce silica dust emissions.

New Zealand only has one quartz fabricator – it banned quartz in 2023.

In December 2023, California instituted a year-long emergency technical regulation regarding working with quartz while continuing to study the issue.

Australia has a new law banning quartz, effective July 1, 2024.

Industry Impact and Compliance Challenges

These proposed regulations have sparked a broad dialogue within the global quartz manufacturing industry about the feasibility of such stringent standards and the technological and financial implications for compliance. Manufacturers are being urged to innovate in dust suppression technologies and improve their manufacturing processes to meet these potential new regulations.

Educational and Training Initiatives

Beyond regulatory measures, there is also an increased emphasis on education and training for industry workers and employers. The goal is to raise awareness about silica dust’s dangers and ensure that all personnel know the necessary safety practices and equipment usage to minimize exposure.

Global Influence

The actions taken by Australia and New Zealand could set a precedent for other countries, prompting a worldwide reevaluation of safety standards in quartz manufacturing. This global shift could lead to more uniform international standards, potentially increasing the safety of workers everywhere while also impacting global trade practices in the stone and countertop industry.

Black, white, and wood-toned kitchen with very bold black veining on the white quartz
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This photo captures a daring design choice that’s undeniably cool, yet it might just be too bold for the average homeowner’s taste. Fun for a fling, but likely too much for a long-term relationship with your decor!

 

Consumer Safety Consideration

While quartz countertops are highly regarded for their durability and aesthetic appeal, consumers need to understand the full spectrum of safety, both during production and after installation. The end product poses no direct health risks for homeowners, as the silica content is safely embedded within the resin binders, making the countertops non-toxic and stable.

No Risk of Airborne Silica from Finished Products

Once installed, quartz countertops do not release crystalline silica dust into the air. The fabrication process involves permanently binding the silica particles within the composite material. 

This means that, unlike in the production phase, there is no risk of silica inhalation from the countertops during normal use, cleaning, or maintenance in a home environment.

Ethical Consumerism and Industry Transparency

However, the manufacturing process’s potential health risks for workers have raised ethical concerns among informed consumers. Many are now considering their purchasing decisions’ broader social and environmental implications. 

This shift towards ethical consumerism prompts buyers to seek brands and products that ensure consumer safety, uphold high labor standards, and provide transparent information about their manufacturing processes.

Demand for Certified and Ethically Produced Materials

In response to consumer demand, some companies are beginning to offer certified quartz products for low environmental impact and responsible manufacturing practices. 

These certifications can assure consumers that the products they choose do not contribute to adverse health outcomes for workers involved in their production.

Alternative Material Considerations

The awareness of production-related health risks also leads some homeowners to explore alternative countertop materials. Materials like natural stone, recycled glass, and bio-based composites are gaining popularity as consumers seek options that align more closely with sustainability and ethical labor practices.

Informed Decisions for Home Improvements

As the market evolves, consumers are increasingly familiar with home improvement materials’ aesthetic and functional aspects and their health and ethical implications. This broader awareness influences market trends and manufacturer responses, fostering a more safety-conscious and ethically oriented-approach to home design and renovation.

corner of a white kitchen with quartz backsplash, zellige-style backsplash and wooden floating shelves
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It’s pretty, no doubt, but let’s keep it real—it’s got that unmistakable faux flair.

 

Marvelous Marble and Other Alternatives

For those whose tastes or needs steer them away from quartz, the world of countertops offers a rich palette of alternatives that can suit every style and requirement:

Marble

Often synonymous with luxury, marble is a natural stone that never fails to make a statement. However, it’s known for being porous and prone to staining. Enter companies like Antolini, which have developed innovative finishes such as Azerocare, which provides marble surfaces with stain-resistant and antibacterial properties. 

This treatment allows homeowners to enjoy the timeless beauty of marble—think classic veined patterns and warm hues—without fretting over every spill. Whether it’s a splash of wine or a dollop of sauce, these treated surfaces are much more forgiving, letting you preserve the aesthetic integrity of your countertops without constant vigilance.

A slab of natural marble Calacatta Gold
Here's the real deal - natural Calacatta Gold marble.
A slab of silestone Calacatta Gold
A slab of Silestone's version of Calacatta Gold.
Cambria Brittanica Warm which I was told by a Cambria rep is their answer to Calacatta Gold.

A side by side comparison of Calacatta Gold

But we Americans like things to always look shiny and new, so many of us discount marble for our homes. Europe is filled with marble that has stood the test of time—some for centuries. From the charming cafes and bakeries of Paris, Rome, and Barcelona, boasting marble counters, to the grand marble steps found in castles and public squares, these surfaces have endured the wear and tear of countless interactions. Despite the scratches and stains, they retain the breathtaking beauty only natural materials offer. European homeowners wouldn’t have it any other way.

Granite

A stalwart in the realm of countertops, granite offers a compelling blend of durability and natural beauty. Each granite slab boasts unique mineral patterns, making it a favorite for those looking to bring a piece of earthy elegance into their kitchens. 

Granite is comparably hard to quartz and resists scratching and chipping well. Although it requires periodic sealing to maintain its non-porous qualities, the maintenance is a small trade-off for its robustness and the distinctive character it brings to spaces.

a slab of Andromeda granite
Behold a slab of Andromeda granite—note how granite offers subtler movement compared to the dramatic swirls of marble and quartzite.

Quartzite

Quartzite stands out as a stellar choice for those who adore the look of marble but crave the durability of granite. This natural stone is renowned for its hardness and resilience, making it an ideal candidate for bustling kitchens. Quartzite is less porous than marble, offering better resistance to staining and scratching. Yet, it showcases similarly striking veined patterns that uniquely captivates each slab.

While it may require minimal periodic maintenance, like sealing to optimize its resistance to spills, the effort is minimal compared to the breathtaking appeal and longevity it adds to your kitchen. Quartzite bridges the gap between beauty and practicality, making it a luxurious yet sensible choice for sophisticated spaces.

2 bookmatched slabs of calacatta quartzite from Brazil - these are the slabs in my kitchen
Check out these stunning bookmatched slabs of Calacatta Quartzite from Brazil that I installed in my kitchen—true showstoppers!

Going Ultra-Modern with Ultra-Compact Surfaces

For those seeking a contemporary twist, ultra-compact surfaces present a cutting-edge alternative. Brands like Dekton and Neolith manufacture these surfaces by sintering mineral particles under extreme heat and pressure, creating countertops that are not only visually striking but also exceptionally resistant to heat, scratches, and UV light. 

These qualities make ultra-compact surfaces ideal for both indoor and outdoor kitchens. Stainless steel countertops are used in commercial kitchens. With a sleek aesthetic and minimal maintenance requirements, they cater to the modern homeowner who values style and substance.

A slab of Dekton Taga
A slab of Dekton Taga
slab of neolith manmade porcelain
A slab of Neolith Blanco Cararra porcelain

Eco-Friendly Options

Numerous sustainable alternatives are also available for the environmentally conscious. Recycled glass countertops, for example, offer a colorful and unique surface made from repurposed materials. Additionally, bio-based composites are emerging, which combine natural materials like flax or hemp with eco-resins, offering an eco-friendly countertop solution that doesn’t compromise on style or durability.

My Quartz Selections

Pompeii Quartz XX White slab

Pompeii Quartz’s Extra Extra White—the pristine choice gracing the guest baths in my home. This is the quartz to use when you need to match a true white cabinet or floor.

a slab of Cambria's White Cliff quartz
a slab of Cambria's White Cliff quartz

Cambria Quartz’s White Cliff—my choice for my primary bath. Notice how White Cliff offers a creamy white hue, adding a touch of warmth to the elegance. In the kitchen photo, this creamy white coordinates with the floors.

a slab of Pompeii's Misterio on deep blue-gray cabinetry
a slab of Pompeii's Misterio

Pompeii’s Misterio—first spotted in my friend Diana’s chic kitchen update. I was so taken with it, I now recommend it to my clients who insist on quartz.

a slab of Pompeii Quartz's honed Concreto in a bathroom
a slab of honed Concreto quart by Pompeii

Pompeii’s Concreto—sometimes, it’s just the perfect choice. I find it especially captivating in homes with sleek, modern architecture.

a wood-toned kitchen with Cambria's Fieldstone counters that resemble soapstone
a slab of Cambria's Fieldstone quartz

Cambria’s Fieldstone quartz channels the classic look of soapstone. While it shines in the featured modern kitchen, it also pairs beautifully with a traditional white kitchen—imagine a setting straight out of Barefoot Contessa’s charming home.

In Conclusion: To Quartz or Not to Quartz?

Quartz countertops, showcased beautifully by companies like Dwyer Marble and Stone and Innovate Stones, offer a blend of beauty and resilience that makes them a top choice for many. Yet, as we navigate the evolving landscape of home materials, it’s worth keeping an eye on emerging trends and health advisories.

Remember, whether you choose quartz or opt for an alternative like timeless treated marble, your kitchen is a place to live, love, and express your style.

If you need help coordinating your kitchen, contact me. As a True Color Expert™, I’ll ensure all your selections are spot on!

Keep Dancing, Darlene