Stainless steel counter tops are ideal for commercial kitchens and required by many state and local health and safety codes. Unlike porous materials, metal does not allow bacteria or residues from cleaning agents like bleach to penetrate its surface, improving food safety. Since it does not trap moisture, the surface is easy to clean and resistant to mold and mildew. In addition, stainless steel is resilient enough to withstand high temperatures and durable enough to endure years of use.
In recent years, the rising popularity of stainless steel appliances has led to an increase in the use of matching counters in home kitchens, where they create a sleek, unified look. If you are searching for counter tops for new construction or a remodeling project in your home or commercial space, you'll have a variety of options to choose from thanks to the popularity of the metal for use in counter tops. Shopping for counter tops is not an activity that you likely perform often, and the durability of steel means your kitchen counters will last for decades. It's important to make an informed decision as you shop to ensure that your counter tops remain useful in your space for that long as well.
We created our Buyers' Guide to Stainless Steel Kitchen Counter Tops to guide you through the shopping process. We've included all of the major features that you'll want to consider as you shop for your new counter tops. Read through the guide for a quick lesson in all things counter tops and then refer to it as necessary while you shop to choose the perfect work surface for your kitchen. Getting Started
Counter are sold in sheets: flat, thin pieces that are installed on top of your counters. If your counter tops are a standard, rectangular shape, shopping for replacements is easy; you simply need to select pieces that are the appropriate length and width. To limit the number of seams, you'll want to buy the largest sheets possible and keep the number of pieces to a minimum.
If one or more of your cabinets are irregularly shaped, you will likely need to have your stainless steel counter tops cut to suit your needs. The easiest way to handle irregularly shaped counters or sections of counters is to purchase a sheet that is larger than the entire counter area and then have it custom cut to the appropriate size. If this is not possible, you will need to fit together smaller pieces. In cases where you must combine sheets, you'll want to limit the number of pieces to keep seams to a minimum.Drawing a Diagram
The easiest way to determine how many pieces of counter you'll need for your commercial or home kitchen is to create a diagram that you can refer to while shopping. Although this may seem like a time consuming task, there is no better way to plan for your counter top purchase. Don't be tempted to skip this step; unless you are only purchasing one section of stainless steel counter top to replace a current one, the diagram is vital to your shopping.
To start your diagram, you'll need a pencil, a piece of scratch paper, a one-foot ruler and a tape measure. Graphing paper is ideal for counter top diagrams, but if you don't have any, ordinary paper will do. Once you have the necessary items, complete the following steps:
Using Your Diagram
- Look at your counter tops and identify what regions exist in the space. Each uninterrupted section of counter top can be considered its own region. For instance, the space from the start of your counter to the sink would comprise one region, while a center island would be another.
- Using your graph paper, pencil and ruler, create a diagram of your kitchen. Typically, it is best to turn the paper, so that the wider side is oriented horizontally. In addition to drawing each region of counter top, make marks for your sink, stove, oven and any other appliances that interrupt the flow of your counter tops. Shade in these objects to make it apparent that they are not the counter tops. It's not necessary to draw the diagram completely to scale, but do your best to make the differences in the lengths of the regions of your counter tops evident on your sketch.
- With your tape measure, record the length and width of each of your counter top regions on the scratch paper. The length is measured along the front edge of the surface. When measuring the length, ensure that you have your tape measure on the counter top and not the cabinet beneath. The width is measured from the front of the counter top to the back. Keep all of your measurements in inches as this as they are the standard units for most U.S. manufacturers and stores.
- Add the measurements to your graph paper. For each dimension, draw a straight line adjacent to the cabinet and then record the measurement above or below that line. Length measurements should be written either above the cabinet or below the cabinet, while width measurements belong to the right or to the left. Avoid writing the measurements on the actual cabinet figures to make your diagram easy to read.
Once you have your diagram drawn, it should be easy to see how many regions of counter tops you need to purchase. You'll want to keep the diagram handy to refer to as you shop, and if you decide to have any of your counter tops professionally cut, you can give a copy to the metalworker. Some people like to scan their diagrams, so that they can be viewed on their cellular phones or other portable electronic devices.
As you shop, study the measurements provided for the counter top sheets. Typically, product descriptions list the length first and may mark it with an "L" to identify it. The width is usually provided second and may have a "W" used to denote it. Remember that the ultimate goal is to cover your counters with as few sheets as necessary to keep the number of seams to a minimum.Special Features
Standard counter tops are simply flat metal sheets over a core of some sort. While these are adequate and aesthetically pleasing, special features are available that can enhance the utility of the counter tops and your kitchen as a whole.Backsplashes
Backsplashes are metal lips that extend upward from the back of your counter top and are used to protect your walls. Backsplashes are usually used for counter tops that are against a wall rather than for center islands. If you need to mix and match counter top sheets to fit an irregularly sized cabinet, you'll only use back plash pieces for the back of the surface and will need to pair them with standard counter tops at the front, if necessary.
Manufacturers produce backsplashes in a variety of heights; the taller the backsplash, the more of your wall will be protected. For commercial kitchens, consult your local health codes to see if a backsplash is required in your area; some codes also stipulate a minimum height for all backsplashes.Marine Edge
A marine edge counter top is slightly raised along its edges with a slight depression at its center. This slightly recessed area traps liquid messes on the counter area and prevents them from reaching the floor. Sometimes marine edges are referred to as "no drip" counter tops.
While it's not impossible to have marine edge counters on an irregularly shaped region, it can be difficult to achieve. You will need to piece together counter top sections to keep the marine edge on all sides with a flat section in the middle. Since marine edge counters are usually more expensive than standard models, many people find it impractical to have the feature on irregularly shaped areas.Gauge
The gauge of your counter tells you how thick it is. The thicker the steel, the stronger your counter top will be against heavy weights. While this may not have much an impact in home kitchens, gauge is very important in commercial kitchens where heavy equipment is frequently used.
Manufacturers use a standard system for identifying the gauge of metals. Gauges for stainless steel counter tops are given in numbers, typically ranging from 14 to 20. The lower the number, the thicker the counter top surface. Use the following guide to interpret gauges:14 gauge
- 1.98 millimeters 16 gauge
- 1.6 millimeters 18 gauge
- 1.27 millimeters 20 gauge
- 0.95 millimetersType
Most of the stainless steel counter tops that you'll encounter while shopping will be Type 304
steel. This type of metal is made by combining iron and carbon with a mixture of alloys, so that 16 percent of the volume is chromium with either manganese or nickel. Type 304 stainless steel is considered food grade because it is safe to use food that has been placed directly on its surface. While other types of steel with different alloys are available, such as ferritic Type 430 and martensitic Type 410, these metals are better used in industrial settings rather than as counter tops