Stainless Steel Countertops Perfect for Hardworking, Stylish Kitchens

Among all the countertop choices, the most modern and functional just might be stainless steel. Prized for their practicality, stainless steel countertops are the surface of choice in professional kitchens across the globe. And, whether or not you’re a gourmet cook, there are many reasons that you might choose this type of countertop.

Ultra luxe kitchens from Gullo feature stainless steel work surfaces.
Arclinea’s countertop includes a drop-in cooktop and integrated sink.

What is stainless steel?

Steel is stainless when it contains a minimum of 10.5 percent chromium. This is the substance that keeps the metal from rusting or corroding. While stainless steel comes in a number of grades with other metals mixed in, the most common type is 304, called austenitic steel. This is what is called food-grade stainless steel because it is safe for direct contact with food. This type is also more heat and stain resistant because of its higher levels of chromium and nickel.

A large island in all stainless steel is a focal point for any kitchen.
La Cornue’s island has a stainless steel top.
This La Cornue configuration also features a stainless steel top.

9 Advantages of Stainless Steel Countertops

According to TV home guru Bob Vila, stainless steel is the “workhorse” of countertop materials. You’ll find them in all professional kitchens for a number of reasons, and Consumer Reports names stainless steel among the best choices for a modern kitchen.

  • Durability – More than any other surface, stainless steel countertops will stand up to tough treatment, especially with a large family. The heavier the gauge of the metal, the more abuse the surface can take without being damaged, says Villa. For most home kitchens, 16 – 14 gauge steel is recommended.
  • Burn Proof – Go ahead and set down a hot pot. The composition of the metal keeps the surface safe from burns or scorches.
  • Rust Proof – Again the alloys in food-grade stainless steel prevent it from rusting.
  • No staining –True to its name, Stainless steel will not be affected by acidic foods, red wine or oils. Simply wipe up any spills or drips and the surface is perfect.
  • Very sanitary – The is another major reason professional kitchens choose stainless steel work surfaces. Steel is nonporous so it does not absorb anything, which means it won’t harbor bacteria. It is also a cinch to clean and sanitize. If you want the stainless steel to be shinier, just polish it with a bit of mineral oil.
  • No sealing – Unlike most other countertop surfaces like stone, granite, marble, wood or concrete, stainless steel does not require any type of sealant.
  • Design Neutral – Many kitchens already include stainless steel appliances because the metal works with all types of décor styles. It can be equally at home in a modern kitchen, or a country kitchen, depending upon much much you use and how you choose to use it.
  • Environmentally friendly – Stainless steel is completely recyclable, so you won’t be contributing the landfill if you choose to remodel again later.
  • Easy installation – In most cases, countertops are created specifically for your kitchen’s design. Manufacturers cut sheets of steel to fit your size specifications. These are then used with a wooden structure.
A small section of stainless steel mixes well with other materials.
Scavolini kitchen design with stainless steel countertop and curved lines
Beautiful Aran kitchen with stainless steel countertop and backsplash
Stainless steel built in cooktops
Stainless steel kitchen island bar
Stainless steel countertop – decorate with natural wood accessories

A few downsides…

All materials will have drawbacks for some consumers.

  • Scratches and dents – Just as other countertop materials do, stainless steel will show scratches. Most stainless steel in the kitchen has a brushed surface, which helps hide small scratches. Still, the surface will develop a different look with time and use. Plus, serious blows to the surface can cause dents.
  • Damaging to knives – While you can cut on a butcher block countertop, as well as some other, you cannot do so on a stainless steel countertop. The material will dull and damage your knives.
  • Noise – Stainless steel countertops can be a bit “noisier” than others when chopping, pounding or plopping items down directly on the metal.
  • An industrial look – Many homeowners may want a professional kitchen, but do not really want the industrial look that large amounts of stainless steel provide. That said, stainless steel mixes well with other kitchen materials and can be easily used in conjunction with other countertop surfaces to keep a space warm and inviting.
Stainless steel is the perfect choice for a sleek, minimalist kitchen.
A kitchen with lots of stainless steel exudes a professional feel.

Finishing options

While brushed stainless steel is the most common choice for countertops thanks to its more easygoing maintenance, there are a variety of other types of finishes available, such as antique matte or a polish that is satin or mirror. Of course, the shinier your finish, the more time you will spend polishing off fingerprints.

As with other countertop materials, stainless steel offers some options for edge finishes. The most common is a 1.5-inch wrap that mimics the depth of a standard countertop, using an eased square edge. Other choices are a beveled edge, bullnosed or rounded edge, or no metal on the edge at all.

While not quite a finishing option, custom stainless steel countertops also offer the opportunity to have a fully integrated sink created in your counter.  With this custom option, the sink and counter are all one piece and there’s no intelligible seam between the counter and sink. Of course, this is a costlier option.

Stainless steel is perfect for an integrated cooktop in this design by Comprex.
A stainless steel counter and backsplash work well with wood.

The cost of stainless steel

Stainless steel is neither the cheapest countertop option, nor the most expensive, but it tends to come in at the high end compared to some other materials, like marble. Typically, this surface costs between $70 and $150 per square foot installed. Your price will depend upon the gauge of metal, its finish, the size of your installation, and any other custom options you are choosing, notes Five Star Stone Inc.

If you’re thinking of using stainless steel, especially for an island, you may be able to save money by investigating what restaurant supply companies have to offer. Lots of professional kitchens use a standalone stainless steel table as a work station and this may suit your needs at a much lower cost.

There are a few additional installation costs such labor, as well as metal fasteners, adhesives, polishes, nuts, screws and bolts. Improvenet says that the average cost of supplies for approximately 100 square feet of stainless steel countertops is $265.88.

A small stainless counter can include your sink and a cooktop.
This Arclinea countertop is perfect for a retractable vent.

Cleaning

Although you can buy all kinds of special cleaners for stainless steel, they are not necessary. According to The Kitchn, you likely already have everything you need to naturally clean and maintain your stainless steel countertops. Mostly, a good wipe with a damp kitchen sponge or cleaning cloth is all you need to for daily cleaning. To work up a good shine, gather up:

  • Water
  • Dish cloth
  • Dish soap
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Soft nylon scrubbie or soft-bristled brush
  • Dish towel or microfiber cloth
  • Mineral or olive oil

Start by wiping down the surface with warm water a bit of dish soap.

Next, do a light scrub with baking soda and vinegar using a non-abrasive material or scrub brush in the direction of the grain. Never use abrasive cleaners, steel wool or a rough kitchen scrubbie to clean stainless steel. Use a clean damp dish cloth to rinse the surface and then dry it with a paper towel or microfiber cloth, also in the direction of the grain. This helps prevent streaking.

Lastly, polish the surface by putting a tiny bit of mineral or olive oil on a clean cloth. Apply the oil in the direction of the grain and then use the clean side of the cloth to buff the surface. This step will prevent fingerprints.

To remove lime scale, it’s best to use diluted vinegar and for coffee deposits, clean the area with baking soda. Using chloride-free glass cleaner is also another way to get a quick shine.

This Nolte kitchen shows how a second material can “warm up” stainless steel.

Can I DIY?

Professional installation is recommended unless you are experienced in construction and kitchen installations. That said, whether you can do it yourself or not also depends on the complexity of your project and how big it is.

If you are simply installing a new top on your island, or a small section of your kitchen, it is possible to do it yourself. There are many videos online about the steps involved. Once you have measured and planned your project accurately, you will need to work with your local metal fabrication shop to have the top made and wrapped over your wooden base.

For greater cost savings, you can opt to purchase a stainless steel sink that comes with an extended drain board on each side. While this is not really a stainless steel countertop it’s a bargain way to add some stainless to your kitchen design for a lot less money.

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