Essentially, porcelain is made from clay — but not just any type of clay. The clay used to create porcelain is often called China clay, and it contains a high percentage of a mineral known as kaolinite along with silica, feldspar and other mineral oxides which together are responsible for the strength and durability of porcelain.
This combo is put into a kiln and fired at extremely high temperatures. The result is a super dense material that is nearly completely impervious to stains, heat, UV rays, scratching, chips, and cracks.
Pigmented glazes are added during manufacturing to create different colors and patterns on the porcelain slab.
Your porcelain can either be glazed or unglazed. A matte or high-gloss glaze (with or without a pattern) is applied, then it is fired a second time so that the glaze adheres completely.
The glaze decreases porosity (and risk of staining), increases durability, and creates the shiny finish.
However, the pattern or color of glazed porcelain is only on the surface and does not go through the full body of the slab or tile. The interior color may be different and will show if the surface is chipped.
The color of unglazed porcelain extends through the full-body thickness.
Porcelain Countertops Vs. Dekton Countertops
Before diving into the specifics of porcelain countertops, let’s first go over the differences between porcelain and Dekton as these two countertop materials are frequently confused.
Dekton is what’s called an “ultra compact surface,” and in fact, Dekton countertops and competing brand Neolith are made with the same raw materials used to make porcelain. But, the key difference here is that Dekton and Neolith also include the raw materials used to create quartz and glass which makes these "ultra-compact surfaces" even more durable than porcelain.
The Pros and Cons of Porcelain Countertops
Porcelain really has a lot going for it as a bathroom or kitchen countertop but a couple drawbacks to note as well.
Pros of Porcelain Countertops
No surface is 100% stain-proof but porcelain comes close. It is non-porous so liquids do not absorb and the rare stain is usually on the surface and easily cleaned off.
Additionally, porcelain is resistant to most chemicals and will not etch or get dull spots from acidic foods and drinks like marble.
Porcelain countertops are manufactured at extremely high temperatures so it can take the heat. Hot pots set on the surface won’t scorch or damage, but it is always advised to use trivets for hot cookware.
Porcelain will resist scratching with the best of them. Like granite and quartz, it is very difficult to scratch. However, the one thing to be careful of is ceramic knives which can sometimes scratch porcelain.
Hard & Durable
Porcelain kitchen countertops are extremely hard, durable and stand up to most impacts. In fact, their durability is second to stone alone and, generally, are unaffected by wear and tear. Still, chips and cracks are possible.
Ultraviolet Light Resistant
Porcelain is also resistant to ultraviolet light which means it won’t fade from sunlight so it’s a great choice for outdoor kitchen countertops.
Numerous Colors and Patterns
Porcelain can be made in virtually any color and patterns are plenty and with many that look like marble and other natural stone.
Sealing is Not Necessary (usually)
Generally speaking, porcelain doesn’t need any sealing because the fire glazing blocks against staining and moisture. But sealing can be needed in certain cases (more below).
Environmentally-Friendly and Recyclable
Porcelain is made of 100% natural, raw, and clay-based materials. Therefore, after years of use, you can easily recycle your old porcelain counters.
Cons of Porcelain Countertops
Skin Deep Beauty
Unlike stone and other countertop materials, porcelain does not come with its designs built in. Patterns are basically printed onto the top.
This isn’t so much a severe disadvantage as it is a slight drawback. That is, your printed design would not be visible where edges are rounded, for instance.
Also, in the event of a chip, the interior of the slab will be the same color but the pattern does not exist all the way through.
Limited Supply & Availability
One of the only other drawbacks is finding a supplier and then a fabricator who knows the material well. As of now, it’s not an extremely common material for countertops, so the market is limited.
In addition, if you shop around to find someone who makes porcelain countertops, you’ll want to check prices, which can vary wildly.
Overall, however, it should be achievable to find a manufacturer with competitive pricing.
Colors, Design & Installation Options
Like most other types of countertops, many options are available to suit your style and kitchen design along with a couple unique points to consider.
Colors & Patterns
Depending on the manufacturer you choose, there are numerous color shades available — all of which are derived from natural pigments.
A wide variety of attractive patterns and “looks” are also available. You might choose from metallic, wood grain, rusted steel, or cement finishes — all of which look quite natural.
And for those wanting countertops that look like marble, you’re in luck as porcelain offers many colors and patterns that are super marble look-alikes.
Again, just remember that if chipped, these patterns or color designs won’tnecessarily go all the way through the material since the pattern and color is applied to the top surface of the porcelain via glazing.
Smooth or textured finishes can easily be achieved during the manufacturing process. High-gloss polished and matte / honed finishes are the most common.
You won’t have as many finish options as natural stone, but the most popular types are available with porcelain.
Porcelain countertop edges are a bit unique compared to other countertop materials. While it is possible to create all the normal edges like round, beveled, straight, bullnose, ogee, cove, platner, waterfall, and others… you may not like the look of some of these.
Since the patterns in porcelain are only skin-deep, edge styles are more limited than with natural stone or quartz. Cutting a fancy edge with rounded corners, bevels, and grooves would remove the pattern.
However, edges can be mitered with a few different looks to maintain a consistent pattern over the edge. Most opt for a square edge.
Size & Thickness
You would think that such a durable material as porcelain requires extreme thickness, but this is truly not the case. In fact, porcelain can be quite lightweight, which provides additional installations options.
Typical thickness is ¼ inch (6 mm) or ½ inch (12 mm).
Furthermore, porcelain can be manufactured in extra-large slabs around 126 inches X 62 inches (320 cm X 160 cm). Thus, fewer seams are needed and often one slab can cover an entire kitchen island.
Versatile Installation Options
On expense of installing new kitchen countertops is having your old countertops ripped out.
But since porcelain countertops are so thin, you can install them directly over your existing countertops. This can greatly reduce the overall difficulty and expense of removing the older material.
Cleaning, Maintenance, and Repairs
Porcelain countertops are easy to keep clean, but here are some key tips for keeping them spotless and sparkling:
For quick clean-ups, soap and water work, although, consistent use of soap will cause a soap scum buildup. Just hot water is better to wipe up spills and messes.
Using a quality countertop cleaner will remove all oils and soils and leave a streak-free shine that is difficult to achieve with water.
Porcelain is non-porous and hygienic. Nothing can penetrate the surface or cause danger as long as you clean up appropriately. And regular cleaning is really the best defense against bacteria, etc.
For cleaning tough surface stains, harsher chemicals can be used on these countertops because the non-porous surface will not absorb the dangerous chemicals. However, harsh and toxic chemicals should not be necessary and should be avoided. Scrubbing with a countertop cleaner will do the trick in most cases.
Chips, Cracks, & Scratches
For chips in porcelain, there are chip repair kits available to fill the void but repairs may still be noticeable. As noted above, the color goes through the slab so the color inside the chip will be the same as on the surface, but any pattern will not be.
A chip in a solid color porcelain or in a part of the countertop without any pattern can be filled and be virtually invisible, but if in the middle of a pattern, the repair will likely be visible.
Cracks and scratches are not really repairable. You could glue a crack but it will always be visible. Same deal with a scratch as the surface finish cannot be repaired. But chips, cracks, and scratches are rare.
Use a Cutting Board
Porcelain countertops are definitely durable, but you’ll want to remember that they’re not indestructible. Manufacturers and retailers will tell you that you can chop and slice your vegetables directly on the surface of porcelain but it isn’t a good idea.
Ceramic knives are able to scratch the top of your porcelain. Therefore, cutting and slicing on a cutting board is smart. Just no reason to chance it.
Most of the time, porcelain does not need to be sealed because the glazing on porcelain already protects against liquid penetration. Still, specific brands of porcelain or unglazed porcelain will benefit from sealing upon application.
However, sealing once upon installation is a good idea for certain brands of porcelain that are polished.
So, sealing is rarely needed but just a point to clarify when purchasing porcelain.
How Much Do Porcelain Countertops Cost?
The particular color, pattern, texture, and edge style will affect the final price along with the sink and cooktop cutouts, seams, and the overall complexity of the installation.
For slab porcelain countertops...
Expect to pay $55 - $120/per sq. ft. installed
When comparing the cost of porcelain vs. granite or quartz countertops it comes down to all the variables. One material will not always be more expensive or cheaper than the others. Specific quotes from installers are needed for your particular installation.
The good news about the cost of porcelain counters is that once installed, maintenance costs are extremely low.
Choosing porcelain tiles instead of a porcelain slab will dramatically reduce the cost.
Are Porcelain Countertops Right For Your Kitchen Remodel?
As you can see, high-quality porcelain countertops come with extreme versatility and strength, high-performance, and easy installation. They are durable against the wear and tear typical of fast-paced kitchen life, sleek, stylish, and available in many colors and patterns. Even thickness and edge styles can be catered to your tastes.
Disadvantages of porcelain counter tops generally revolve around their “skin deep beauty” — any chips or flaws will almost certainly be noticeable. It can also be difficult to find a qualified installer for porcelain.
Still, in the long run, the benefits of porcelain do outweigh the drawbacks and rank porcelain among the best of all countertop materials. So with the right planning and care, porcelain countertops can certainly be a practical and fashionable choice for your modern kitchen.