The Pros and Cons of Copper Countertops

Close Up of Copper Countertop
Photo Credit: Madison Scott-Clary

Your choice of countertop not only affects the ambiance of your kitchen, but it also affects how much you enjoy preparing meals there. While copper might be better known for cooking pots than for kitchen surfaces, it also has a lot of advantages as a countertop material.

The Advantages of Copper Countertops

In addition to infusing your kitchen with personality, a copper countertop helps you keep your kitchen and the environment cleaner.

A Striking Appearance

Plastic laminate and even ceramic tile countertops are so common that they don’t really do much to give your kitchen a look that’s truly your own. With its eye-catching color, copper stands out from the masses. The bright, rich tones of this metal add warmth to your kitchen, making it all the more inviting for family meals and friendly get-togethers.

As they age, unsealed copper countertops oxidize, developing a complex patina with shades of red, brown, and green that’s unique in each case. Copper like this has a rustic feel and fits in perfectly with kitchens decorated in country, farmhouse, and vintage decor styles. If your kitchen already has a copper sink, range hood, light shades or other features, a copper countertop is a perfect complement.

Sealed countertops keep their shine longer if they’re properly cared for. With their luster and vivid color, these countertops are well suited to modern decor schemes. Both types of copper countertop have enough character to let you design the rest of your kitchen around them.

Easy Cleanup

A lot of countertops require cleaning sprays and scrubbing pads for cleaning. With a copper countertop, all you need is a soft cloth and a mixture of soap and warm water to take off stuck-on food and even light stains. Copper with a patina can be cleaned with a mixture of lemon juice and table salt, then rinsed with water. This not only saves you time, but it also saves you money on cleaning products.

On a sealed copper countertop, cleaning products made for stainless steel or glass will also get the job done. To avoid dulling the shine on your sealed countertop, stay away from cleaners that contain citric acid, bleach or ammonia. These substances react with copper and can cause staining.

Germ Resistance

Some types of copper create a particularly inhospitable environment for bacteria and viruses. In fact, naturally antimicrobial copper alloys kill off microbes even more effectively than stainless steel. This helps cut down on the risk of food-borne illness, as well as other illnesses, being transmitted in your kitchen.

Not all countertops have this property, though. For a manufacturer to claim their countertop has antimicrobial properties, the claim must be registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after independent testing.

Eco-friendliness

Because it’s a natural product, copper doesn’t require a manufacturing process that could produce harmful waste. As a metal, copper lasts for decades and unlike some materials, such as wood, it doesn’t weaken over time. That means it can be removed from salvaged items and recycled into countertops with no loss of strength or durability. If you get tired of your countertop, you can sell it for scrap to be recycled for another purpose.

The Disadvantages of Copper Countertops

While you might love the color and pristine surface of your new copper countertop, you’ll have to accept that it won’t stay that way forever. Copper is easy to clean, but it still requires routine care and even with proper care, it experiences natural changes.

Changes in Appearance

Copper is considered a “living surface,” meaning its appearance will develop and evolve over time. This is true no matter what type of copper countertop you choose or how you care for it.

Matte copper darkens to an attractive reddish-brown tone. Before this patina develops, however, the color might go through a blotchy, brownish stage not everyone finds appealing. If you’d rather avoid this stage or you want a more uniform color in the final patina, choose professionally patinated copper instead of letting the patina develop naturally.

Regular Maintenance is Required

Although easy to clean, copper must be sealed with a protective layer of beeswax or butcher’s wax that helps prevent tarnishing. This helps the countertop stand up to frequent use. If you don’t do this, your countertop will tarnish quickly. You’ll also need to clean up spilled acidic liquids, such as orange juice quickly to prevent stains.

Susceptibility to Damage

Copper is relatively soft compared to other metals. Banging hard objects into the counter can cause dents, knives can cause scratches, and hot cookware straight out of the oven can cause burn marks. On copper with a patina, scratches will appear brighter, making them hard to hide. To keep your countertop looking good, use a cutting board and place pads under hot cookware.

Over time your countertop will accumulate dings and while you can buff out most minor damage, you might not find it worth your time to do so. This means eventually the countertop will take on a textured appearance.

High Cost

Copper is one of the most expensive materials you could choose for a countertop. The cost averages around $100 to $140 per sq. ft., although it can run much higher. Gauge has a major influence on the cost, with heavier gauges of copper costing more than lighter gauges. Any customization, such as special finishes and texturing, further increase the cost.

Heavy gauge copper is favored for the richly colored patina it develops, as well as for its durability and ease of maintenance. Light gauges of copper keep a bright shine, and they’re easier to cut and handle, which brings down your installation costs. Regardless of the gauge you choose, though, installing a copper countertop isn’t a job for the average DIYer. That means you’ll need to factor the cost of professional installation into your total costs.

If you’re looking for a countertop that adds personality to your kitchen and you believe color variations and a few dings and dents give your counter character, then copper is the perfect material for you. Although copper is one of the pricier options for kitchen counter surfaces, it can last decades and its beauty only grows with time.

Additional Resources

http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/2801475/list/surprise-contender-copper-for-kitchen-countertops

http://www.thekitchn.com/copper-countertops-would-you-do-it-196244

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimicrobial_copper-alloy_touch_surfaces

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