The Pros, Cons, and Cost of Stainless-Steel Countertops

Learn more about this popular countertop material, including installation considerations, maintenance and cleaning tips, and average cost.

If you've spent any time watching cooking shows, you know that almost all professional kitchens feature stainless-steel countertops. Nothing stands up to heat, water, and stains better than metal. Yes, it can scratch, and its appearance can be cold if not surrounded by warm tones, but when you don't want to worry about being careful, there is no alternative to the carefree maintenance of metal countertops. Thanks to its durability, stainless steel is the most popular metal countertop material. Learn more about how to install, maintain, clean, and budget for stainless-steel countertops.

black and white kitchen with stainless steel island
Werner Straube

Stainless-Steel Countertop Installation

Once you've decided on stainless steel, the material will need to be cut to size and placed on a wood substructure. For beginner DIYers, this process is best left to professionals. Once finished, this substructure is attached to your base cabinetry or island. There are a variety of edge profiles available for stainless-steel countertops, including beveled and bullnose, though a wrapped edge is most typical. You can also opt to continue the material up the wall for a stainless-steel backsplash.

If you have experience working with metal, then you can conceivably construct your own metal countertop. Soldering seams requires expert skill, but actually assembling the countertop by layering sheet metal over plywood is less complex. However, expensive metalwork, such as copper, should be left to an expert.

Types of Finishes

There are a number of stainless-steel finishes to choose from. Brushed stainless steel, the most popular finish, has a directional "grain," similar to wood. Brushed finishes are also often found on kitchen appliances. Mirror finishes are highly polished and reflective; this finish easily shows fingerprints. Matte finishes, including antique matte, have a dull appearance, which helps hide fingerprints and water stains.

Metal Kitchen Countertops olive oil
John Granen

Performance of Stainless Steel

Make sure to invest in a thick gauge that won't dent for a long-lasting metal countertop that performs. Stainless steel comes in a range of gauges from about 14 (about 1.4 mm thick) to 20. The lower the gauge, the thicker, stronger, and more expensive the material. While 14-gauge stainless steel is common in commercial kitchens, 16- and 18-gauge steel work well for most residential kitchens.

With care, stainless-steel countertops can easily last 20 years or more. If you're worried about scratching, take a look at your stainless-steel sink. Your countertops will develop the same brushed look over time, but like your sink, they can be buffed out and polished. Metal can also be sealed to prevent scratching.

To clean stainless-steel countertops, turn to a microfiber cloth. Dampened with water, this basic cleaning tool can wipe away most fingerprints and water spots. Remove messes and apply any specialty steel cleaners by wiping with the grain of the metal.

How much do stainless-steel countertops cost?

Metal countertops are not cheap, but they can be affordable if used as accents in the kitchen. Prices start at about $60 per square foot. If you're willing to work with a metal sheeting shop, you might be able to lower the cost by having them create your countertops. Another option is to shop at restaurant supply stores. Some homeowners have disassembled metal tables and used the top as countertops and islands.

Alternative Metal Countertops

Stainless steel is the most common type of metal countertop found in the kitchen. Zinc, another popular option, has the look of pewter. You can also apply a chemical finish that will age zinc, creating a variegated color pattern. With copper, expect to pay big bucks, but for some homeowners, the big bang of this stunning finish is worth it. With a sealant, copper will retain its buttery brown hues, but expect some irregularity with color. Left untreated, it, too, will patina to its timeless verdigris finish.

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