You only need to watch a few episodes of any given home-improvement show to see that quartz and granite countertops have become almost the default choice for renovations and new home builds. It’s easy to see why: they’re strong, durable and relatively low-maintenance materials that give your kitchen and/or bathroom a classy look that’s difficult to replicate otherwise. However, you do have other options!
While it was a popular material in the early colonial days here in the US, slate has been making a comeback with homeowners looking for the look and benefits of natural stone, but with a flair of individuality in a sea of granite. Aside from unique looks, there are some practical benefits to look out for as well. Let’s get into why you might want to choose slate for your countertops.
1) Slate is Virtually Waterproof
If you happen to find yourself traveling around Europe (especially Germany), you have a solid chance of seeing churches or cathedrals with beautiful dark slate tile roofs. This is because slate has a water absorption rate under 0.5%, as well as being easy to work with simple hand tools. That made them ideal for the steep, slanted roofs in areas that experience heavy rainfall.
Where this becomes practical for use in your home is in the fact that you don’t have to worry as much about moisture seeping beneath the surface of the countertop like is likely to happen with unsealed granite or marble. That’s not to say that slate doesn’t need to be sealed, however, as it is still susceptible to damage from low or high pH chemicals (more on that below).
2) Slate is Very Durable
While it isn’t as heavy as granite, slate is a very durable material that will stand up to most any average household abuse. Those slate roofs we mentioned earlier? It’s no coincidence that they call them hundred-year roofs — even though they tend to last a lot longer than that in practice.
Slate holds up well to impact with heavy objects (such as pots, pans and serving trays) and also to heat and frost. However, in order to avoid etching, it is still recommended that you seal your slate regularly, as acidic chemicals (low pH) react with the calcium carbonate present in the surface, leading to what look like hard watermarks, but are actually chemical burns.
3) Slate is Easy to Maintain
With slate countertops often featuring honed or clefted finishes, this also means less maintenance in trying to maintain a mirror-like sheen that granite or marble typically features, meaning polishing is no longer a concern. This coupled with the low moisture absorption makes slate a piece of cake to clean.
To avoid etching and damage to the seal, we recommend using a pH balanced cleaner that is safe for use on stone. While they work well on other surfaces acidic (like vinegar) and alkaline (like ammonia) cleaners are both counterproductive for use on stone. Even your average dish soap can lead to clouding on the surface, as they tend to feature organic compounds that leave a layer of film that builds up over time.
Sealing is a straight-forward process as well, you can find our full guide on that here. In general, it’s recommended to seal your stone every 6-12 months, but natural stone with higher porosity and natural stone with areas that see heavy use generally require sealing more often than that. The truth is that you can never overseal your stone, so better safe than sorry is definitely the name of the game here.
You can check the porosity of your stone with the water test: Pour water (about 3 inches in diameter) on the stone in several locations and let sit for roughly 30 minutes. If you see a dark spot, that means water is penetrating into the stone and it’s time to reseal.
4) Slate Has a Distinctive Look
Especially with its unique clefted finish on its own, slate looks like nothing else out there. The typical dark grey or deep black examples fit right in with modern rustic design, especially in offsetting light colored walls, flooring or cabinets.
However, it doesn’t end there! Slate tiles and slabs can be had in a surprising range of shades, such as copper, amber, blue/grey, green and even purple. This can be used to great effect when mixed and matched in flooring and backsplashes, or just to have a uniform but unique color across your countertops. If you’re looking for an interesting touch that most people haven’t seen before, slate can help get you there.
5) Slate is Affordable
When compared to other choices on the market, slate can actually be a bit more affordable compared to granite, marble or even some quartz. This is thanks in part to the numerous quarries in the US, Canada and Mexico, giving them an edge over importing other stone from places like Italy, Spain and Brazil.
Even more exotic slabs and tiles tend to be priced favorably to other stone on the market, where exotic granite and marble can very quickly become prohibitively expensive.
Looking to read up on more natural stone care tips? Check out all the other helpful resources we have on our stone care blog, or give our stone care experts with three generations of expertise a call at 1-800-475-STONE. Also, to make sure you get the most out of your investment, be sure to check out our full line of stone care products!