Slate Countertops Buyer’s Guide

You’ve heard of slate and probably think of it in terms of school chalkboards and those laundry sinks in old-house kitchens as well as footpaths lined with stepping stones. Roofing, flooring, grave markers, and a number of other items have also been linked to slate and its long history.

Slate has other popular uses, which include upgraded countertop looks that can convey a modern feeling, or a provincial aspect from days past. Slate is a versatile and natural stone that has seen a resurgence in countertop use, but before you decide to renovate your kitchen area, you may want to take a look at a some of the information listed in this buying guide. It provides a rundown on what slate actually is, where it comes from, what form of slate is best for countertop use, what colors, finishes and cost factors are involved, its cleaning and maintenance and, finally, the potential benefits and drawbacks of this material.

What is Slate

Geologically, slate is a metamorphic, natural rock made up of various minerals. It is formed from the layering of clay and volcanic ash, and its actual texture is in layers or planes that create splits or clefts in its surface area.

Where it Comes From

The primary areas or regions for slate are Brazil and Spain, but it is also prevalent in Africa, China, England and America. The states of New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont are the main American suppliers of slate, with Vermont producing a high-grade material that is both hard, durable and adaptable to countertop use.

High Quality and Low Quality Slate

The composition of slate can vary and its combination of mineral ingredients will determine its appropriateness for countertops. Since components of slate can be different in their consistency and color, each potential slab should be thoroughly inspected for countertop use.

There are high-quality slabs that are durable and stain and water resistant as well as hard, darker in color, dense and impervious to chips and scratches. Slabs that don’t require sealing, or aren’t easily affected by etching from acidic foods and drinks, are the type of slabs that are most suitable for kitchen countertops.

A lower quality slate slab will appear delicate and unstable and will be porous, impossible to seal well, and will almost immediately show stains. It will crumble, chip, scratch and show chalky spots (etching) from acidic foods, water and even cleaning products.

With the fluctuation in the makeup of slate slabs, its characteristics will determine whether it is truly a fit for a kitchen countertop, so thorough inspection of a slab will determine its suitability and usability.

Colorations, Finishes and Costs


Slate is not necessarily a dreary, dull gray color. It can be found in blues, browns, greens, reds and other colors, which will depend on the mineral content of the various slabs. The more brilliant colors come from Africa, though many distinct colors are found in Vermont. There are shades of gray, charcoal pewter, black, red, purple, and the notable green that comes from that state.

Color changes with slate can occur through what is characterized as weathering or fading. This phenomenon happens when slate materials are open to the environment, which occurs through exposure in the quarrying and cutting process. Those interested in a different look to slate might appreciate this faded effect, while others will prefer an unfaded version. Often other slate colors contain marbling, lines, patterning and more mottled looks, so the choices available are considerably far removed from the more traditional gray and black selections.

When choosing a color, be selective, as more colorful slabs tend to be of lesser quality and stability. Always select a slab that is hard and sturdy that is likely not to easily stain, etch, chip or flake.


Slate finishes include natural cleft, cascade and honed finishes. A cleft finish is simply the natural rough finish of slate, while a cascade finish is one that is almost flat but has a ripple effect to its surface, and a honed finish is one that is extremely smooth with a soft luster.


The cost of slate will vary depending on its origin, color, grade, texture and whether it is prepared in slab or tile form. In comparison to other materials, slate will be less expensive in the tile form, while a slab will be almost equally as expensive as other natural materials. The average price will, again, vary as to region, but slate can run anywhere from $45-$70 in square feet for slate tile, while a slate slab will run anywhere from $65-$115 in square feet. A total cost will always include the addition of particulars that concern cutouts, seaming, and difficulties with configurations and installation.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Any spills on slate can be handled using hot water and a soft sponge to wipe away moisture and food debris. A recommended stone or pH cleaner can also be used to do a thorough cleaning on a daily or weekly basis. Household cleaners, and even soap, will be too harsh for use on slate and will cause soap residue to accumulate as well as dull the surface.

Since slate can scratch, it is suggested that hot ovenware, cookware and utensils be placed on hot pads, trivets and wooden cutting boards to avoid scratches. Scratches can be alleviated with sanding and buffing with the use of steel wool or a cloth, but the process will depend on the type of surface finish or texture of the slate.

What are the Benefits of Slate Countertops?

Any benefits with slate countertops will always depend on the slab chosen.

  • Durable and hard
  • Easily cleaned and maintained
  • Less expensive than other natural materials
  • Resistant to stains
  • Sealing is not always necessary
  • Resistant to heat
  • Less visible seaming
  • Versatile with almost any design
  • Resistant to mold and mildew growth

What are the Drawbacks of Slate Countertops?

  • Slate quality can vary from slab to slab
  • Slabs are often smaller and require additional seaming on installation
  • Flaking can occur
  • Edges can crack and chip from brittle corners
  • Scratches can happen
  • Cracks can occur because of added weight
  • Polishing is limited-no high gloss appearance
  • Colors are limited in comparison to other types of countertop selections

If slate is your one and only choice in a kitchen countertop, look for slate that comes from a region with material of the highest quality. Always test a chosen slab for its reaction to stains and acidic foods and also test for its durability and hardness. Inspection is always the key to finding the right slate slab. Finally, make sure that an expert fabricator is engaged to install your countertops. Should you need to know more about slate and any slab or tile selection you would make, complete the online contact form and an expert in slate countertops will get back to you with the information you need. You can attain smooth sailing with slate with the right information in hand.