A trip to a kitchen showroom these days will reveal a dizzying array of natural quartz slab designs and patterns that remarkably resemble real marble and other natural stone. Quartz, on the other hand, has come a long way! These slabs, which first appeared in Italy in the 1960s, were created by combining ground quartz particles with resin into a slab as an alternative to stone that would not easily crack or break. While the resins provided just enough flexibility to get the job done, the early quartz slabs were a dull cream or tan color. Thanks to advancements in solid-surface technology, quartz has gone from functional to fabulous. With a plethora of finish options and limitless color and edge style combinations, you’re sure to find something stunning.

Not only will you love the look of quartz, but you’ll also find it remarkably easy to care for—unlike marble and natural stone, which require a special sealant and can be finicky to care for. Quartz is made up of 90 to 94 percent ground quartz and 6 to 10 percent polymer resins and pigments, which are combined to create a granite-hard slab that can mimic the look of mesmerizing marble swirls or earthy natural stone without the upkeep. Quartz is also more resistant to scratching and cracking than many natural countertops, with a hardness rating of “7” on the Moh’s scale.  Marble, on the other hand, receives only a “3.”

 A word of caution to homeowners considering a remodel: don’t confuse quartz with quartzite when looking at countertop options. Quartz is engineered with pigments and resins, whereas quartzite is actually sandstone that was exposed to intense heat during natural metamorphism, causing it to solidify. For countertops, quartzite, which is mined from large stone quarries and cut into solid slabs, is also available. However, unlike quartz, it must be sealed before use and once or twice a year thereafter.

Because of its nonporous nature, quartz is mold-, stain-, and mildew-resistant, making it simple to keep not only clean but also germ- and bacteria-free. Quartz is also resistant to heat damage—to a point. Quartz is marketed as being able to withstand temperatures of up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (one reason it works well as fireplace surrounds). However, “thermal shock” can occur when a hot pan is placed directly from the oven or stovetop onto a cold slab which can cause cracking or discoloration. And, while quartz is stain-resistant because liquids cannot penetrate its surface, it is not completely stain-proof. To preserve the original color of the natural quartz slab, spills should be cleaned up as soon as possible.

The most significant disadvantage of quartz is its high cost. While a preformed or laminate slab will set you back a few hundred dollars, quartz slabs range in price from $70 to $100 per square foot, installed, which is comparable to the cost of a natural quartz slab. They can easily cost a few thousand dollars for a mid-size kitchen. If you’re planning a backyard kitchen, avoid quartz entirely. It is not suitable for outdoor installation because the sun’s UV rays can degrade the resin binders and cause fading and eventual warping.