If you need assistance choosing countertops for your sensitivities, please contact me for a one-on-one consultation.
For the rest of a non-toxic kitchen series, see dedicated posts on:
Almost all the countertop options here an also be used as non-toxic vanity tops in a bathroom.
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Granite and Marble Counters
With granite and marble you will want to find out what was used as a sealant and resin, or find a raw piece that does not contain either of those.
Ubatuba granite does not need a sealer which is a major plus side. Other types of dense granite don’t require a sealer (you will have to find out how dense it is/perform a water test).
The downside of most types of granite and marble is that they need to be resealed every year or two and you need to make sure you can tolerate a sealer being used inside the home.
Walnut Oil works great on granite and marble if they are not glossy. Another low toxin sealer is Meta Creme. I tested both and was very happy with the walnut oil and wax because it’s all-natural and performed better in my tests. Meta Creme was fairly low odor, for a synthetic.
Tung oil should not be used on marble – it tends to form too thick of a coating. You can use it on granite, but the thick coating makes resealing difficult. Linseed should not be used on either type because it does yellow.
Granite and Radon
Natural stone can contain trace amounts of radioactive elements like uranium and thorium which produce the gas radon and can emit small amounts of beta and gamma radiation. The EPA does not consider this above the earth’s natural background level of radiation.
Granite is more likely than other stone slabs to contain these elements, but not every slab will contain them. If you wish to test the granite you can use a Geiger counter for radioactivity and a radon test for radon gas. Be sure to test your house as a whole for radon first, as radon comes up through the foundation in many areas, and in much higher levels, in most cases, than a granite slab could produce.
Granite and marble don’t always need plywood as an underlayment, it depends on the thickness. You could also try using a different type of underlayment.
Epoxy glue is used on the seams, which does cure quickly.
Cost: Marble $100 to $200 per square foot. Granite $75 to $175 per square foot.
Other Natural Stone Counters
Onyx needs a sealer that is reapplied every few years.
Sandstone is a cool option, just use a non-toxic sealer.
Soapstone is a good natural option that is dense and doesn’t require sealing. It is usually treated with mineral oil often to keep the color, but it can be treated with Milk Paint Soapstone Sealer a natural walnut oil with beeswax.
That soapstone sealer will work on onyx and sandstone as well, as long as the stones are honed and don’t already have a gloss finish.
Cost: $70 to $100 per square foot
Quartzite is a stone that is often very dense, more dense than granite, not requiring a sealer.
With solid slate find out if a sealant has been used. You can use Milk Paint Walnut sealer on raw slate as well as Tung Oil. Code mychemicalfreehouse for 10% off with the Real Milk Paint Company. Though for indoor countertops, tung forms too thick of a finish. Some slate is dense enough to not require a sealer.
Cost: $50 to $75 per square foot
Limestone is a relatively soft and porous stone compared to many other of the options. It can also be sealed with the walnut sealer and requires a little more care.
Cost: $60 to $80 per square foot
Walnut Oil (with beeswax) is the preferred natural oil for sealing honed indoor stone. It’s also highly tolerable. If you buy hemp or walnut through the Milk Paint company you can get 10% off with code mychemicalfreehouse.
Quartz Counters (Engineered Stone)
I used Cambria Quartz in my tiny home (pictured) and it’s absolutely beautiful.
Quartz is made of ground quartz (real stone), pigment and a binder, usually polyester resin.
They claim that the final product is fully cured (no VOCs), but it did have a very minor offgassing odor for the first few days. After that, I found it completely safe.
Silestone is the one brand that contains an antimicrobial, Microban mixed into the structure. I’m not sure why that would be necessary. I would personally avoid Microban.
I did not use any glues to fasten it. Epoxy glues are used if you have seams. This offgasses quickly, but I have lived in many homes where quartz did not have seams.
It is a long-lasting non-porous material that doesn’t need a sealer. I have found it prone to staining from red wine, black tea and many other pigments.
Do not allow them to spray a chemical cleaner on it after they cut it and before they install it. Stay away from the dust while they are cutting it.
Cost: $55 to $155 per square foot. The price is comparable to marble, but more than granite.
Note: Dekton is a type of quartz, but in this brand they add porcelain and glass. It is denser than regular quartz and is virtually impossible to stain. It is also used outdoors and for flooring.
Solid Surface Counters
PaperStone and Richlite (pictured) are paper-based, claim 0 VOC, and are light options (ideal for trailers and tiny houses!)
They are made with phenol-formaldehyde as the main resin. Though there is some misrepresentation by some vendors, it’s not hard to find the documents for Richlite and PaperStone indicating formaldehyde as the resin.
Both brands claim the final product contains no detectable formaldehyde and emits no VOCs. I have found that these brands do offgas formaldehyde when brand new, but they do make good progress rather quickly, depending on the thickness. I have to have my nose up to the product to pick up the formaldehyde.
I would use this product in my home though, I love how it looks and the offgassing is minor and will come to completion.
Richlite is made with new paper, PaperStone is made with recycled paper.
Installation and Maintenance
If you have seams, they are glued with epoxy glue just like stone counters.
You can seal PaperStone with Soapstone sealer. Richlite also makes their own oil/wax as well as a polyurethane finish.
Costs: $45 to $100 per square foot. You can install them yourself which is a huge upside which can really bring the cost down.
Glass & Concrete
Recycled glass counters come in different types. One made with resin is very similar to quartz, and is also considered just as safe.
The other type using cement as the base for the glass.
Icestone is a brand that makes cement & glass countertops – they claim 0 VOC. It needs a stone sealer.
Vetrazzo is another brand that makes glass and concrete countertops.
Cost: $50 to $100 per square foot
Plastic Resin Based
Corian is made from an acrylic polymer and alumina trihydrate. It is GreenGuard Gold certified.
The integrated sinks are a cool feature of Corian (pictured).
Cost: $42 – $65 per square foot
Durat is appealing because it might be the lightest option for a trailer or tiny house. It is low VOC, polyester, and acrylic (made partly from recycled cell phones).
Another plastic option that is super light is Metem, which is recycled HDPE and claims no offgassing. I tested it out and found it very safe. Here is my video about it.
Avonite makes an acrylic option and a “resin” option, that are GreenGuard certified.
This is a non-toxic countertop mix that does not contain fly ash, vinyl or latex.
Fly ash should always be avoided in concrete products as it contains toxic metals and can contain radioactive elements.
You could use white sand, pigments and other non-toxic concrete stains to get different looks. Colorants should be non-aniline dyes free of toxic metals. Mineral pigments free of toxic metals can be used. Davis Colors and Prarie sell pigments and colorants.
Odies Oil and Daddy Vans also make non-toxic oil and wax concrete sealers, but they do not disclose all of their ingredients.
They need to be resealed regularly like real stone.
This can be a very affordable option, especially if you DIY. There are lots of videos on how to make these, but a DIY concrete counter could be prone to cracks if you are not careful, which are difficult to repair in a non-toxic way.
Cost: $75 to $150 per square foot (if you don’t DIY)
Stainless Steel, Aluminum and Copper, & Zinc Counters
Wood is typically used as the underlayment for metal countertops.
Copper would require a sealer.
Stainless steel can look very modern and is one of the most inert safe options for the chemically sensitive.
Stainless steel, unlike raw steel, does not need to be sealed. It will only rust with prolonged water standing. They usually don’t have seams.
Costs: Stainless is $80 to $250 per square foot. Zinc costs $150 to $200 per square foot.
A ground fault interrupter is used as an extra safety measure.
Solid Wood Counters
More and more I’m seeing thick solid slab wooden countertops.
This can be a good option if you can source a solid slab of wood.
They are typically thick, about 2 and a half inches. You can find the wood through a mill or local woodworking supplier.
This can be relatively inexpensive compared to other options. Especially if you do the installation and finishing yourself.
This example is in a bathroom, but I have seen this in kitchens as well.
You will want to use a very durable wood finish.
Butcher Block Counters
In butcher block countertops, the glues may or may not be tolerable for the chemically sensitive. Though most wood glues are very low in toxins.
They can be affordable.
Check to make sure it’s solid wood all the way through. IKEA butcher block countertops are affordable but they are not solid all the way through. The base is particleboard.
Hemp oil is my top pick for a wood finish, beeswax can be added as well.
Cost: $35 – $200 per square foot
This is a good option for those who are chemically sensitive.
The challenge is that safe concrete-based grout is not what is normally used for a tile countertop. Because those grouts are so porous – it’s easy to get grime, food, dust and eventually mold in the grout.
You could add a densifier and a sealer, and some chemically sensitive folks do use this method with concrete based grout because it’s safe and inexpensive. A good non-toxic tile sealer is AFM Grout Sealer.
But most tile counters are not made with concrete grout. More toxic grouts are usually used in this application.
Tile works better as the backsplash.
Cost: $35 – $80 per square foot (if you don’t DIY)
If you like porcelain surfaces you can also find solid porcelain countertops now like iTOP|Ker which are a good option, but pricey.
Tadelakt counters are a unique and beautiful option that are totally natural and safe.
It needs to be a darker color because it is susceptible to staining and many use a wooden edge, as the plaster edge is vulnerable. It requires some upkeep.
Here’s a really handy how-to for earthen countertops. Although it’s very labor-intensive, if you do it yourself it’s very affordable.
There is some misunderstanding on whether laminate is toxic.
The top layer of laminate is melamine plastic which is fairly safe, but the melamine layer has a paper backing does offgas formaldehyde.
I have not found the top layer inks to offgas, though you should get a sample of the brand you want to use.
The substrate that the melamine is glued down to is usually particle board which offgasses formaldehyde. It can also be plywood.
In lightweight trailers, the substrate can be polystyrene (EPS) foam. Even then, the problem can be in the contact cement glues used to hold these together.
There is another way. You can buy Formica sheets at Home Depot and attach them to the substrate of your choosing. You may put this over an existing laminate counter, over offgassed plywood, EPS foam on another substrate.
I tested this out – I offgassed the laminate, offgassed the plywood, had someone else glue them together and then sealed them with shellac.
Although laminate does not look as upscale as many of the other options, it can look chic and modern in some of the new colors like solid black.
This DIY countertop is one of the most affordable options and can be low in toxins.
Cost: $20 to $50 per square foot
Tempered Glass Counters
Tempered glass is costly and unusual but it is a very pure and totally inert option.
You are more likely to find this in a bathroom vanity top (with or without an integrated sink) than in a kitchen.
ThinkGlass makes custom glass kitchen countertops.
Construction Adhesive for Countertops
The best adhesive for countertops, if you do choose to use one to glue it to the cabinets below, is Almighty Adhesive. It’s extremely tolerable and very low in toxins.
In many cases you can attach the countertops mechanically, avoiding the use of glue.
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